Sunday, November 18, 2018

T is for: Todos Santos, Baja California Sur {el Pueblo Magico}

There are some places you visit, perhaps even enjoy immensely, but never return on account of you wanting to visit more wonderful places.

And then there are the destinations that intoxicate you. Seduce you. Make it so you never want to leave. And when, inevitably, you're forced to say good bye (because, well, life and non-refundable plane tickets), you immediately start plotting your return.

Todos Santos is one of those places.

This enchanting town in Baja California Sur was designated by the Mexican government back in 2006 as one of about 100 "Pueblos Magicos," or Magic Towns, recognized for beauty, history and culture.

And perhaps that is simply the best way to describe it... magical.

How to get there: Todos Santos is about a 60-90 minute drive from the Los Cabos area. I recommend flying into the San Jose del Cabo airport and renting a car so you have the flexibility to explore the area on your own. That said, car rental can be a daunting experience in Mexico, as many companies will do a bait and switch with pricing. Similar to when I visited Tulum, I went with a more local company and cannot recommend Cactus Rent a Car enough. The price they give you includes the required insurance (Mexican law), and they will pick you up and drop you at the terminal with a shuttle that was never longer than a couple minutes wait. (Ask for Antonio!) Also, there are A LOT of dirt roads in Baja, so I would recommend something with 4 wheel drive it you can swing it.

If you are looking to save a little money, there are other ways of getting to Todos Santos, such as the local bus or a shuttle service, or as part of a day trip/group tour based from Cabo. You will be more restricted in how much you can explore on your own, but it will most likely be more cost effective.

Where to stay: We actually split our time in Todos Santos between two different properties... one in town and one just outside of town. We absolutely loved both locations, so choose whichever fits what kind of vacation you're looking for. (Full disclosure: they are both owned by the same awesome, American couple.)

Gypsy Canyon: If you are traveling with a large group or looking to plan a retreat down in Baja, then Gypsy Canyon is a no-brainer. It is a "glamping" resort set in the middle of a cactus grove, with real beds inside large tents. The bathrooms are shared between campers, but there are plenty of them to go around, and the showers include hot water.

They can also go mobile and transport the whole camp to a location of your choosing, making it great for adventurous wedding parties. Cheers to that!

There is a large palapa with an outdoor kitchen and large communal table, complete with a full kitchen (including French Press carafes for your morning coffee!) Soon, there will also be a new bar area and yoga deck (with a view of the ocean) that were both being completed during our stay. I especially loved all of the bright colors and artistic details in every corner.

Scattered throughout the property are shaded hammocks, which are great for napping, relaxing or catching up on your latest book. (Also key because the tents can get rather hot during the day, though you're likely going to be out exploring anyways!)

Gypsy Canyon can also work with you to arrange all of your meals, yoga and other wellness programs at an additional cost, or you can do your own if that's what you prefer. During our stay, we received a nice little sampling of everything they have to offer. Daphne, a chef and local hotel owner, prepared us a special Dia de Muertos dinner and everything was as flavorful as it was beautiful.

The next day, local yogi Liz Campbell lead us in a morning yoga practice, and Dominique (who is set to open a grab-and-go vegetarian restaurant soon) made us a healthy breakfast of "raw-nola" (raw granola), banana "ice cream," chia seed pudding and freshly cut fruit.

La Bohemia Hotel Pequeño: If you prefer to have the comforts of a hotel, but still like the idea of a smaller, family run property, then La Bohemia is the perfect home base for exploring the area. It's a converted hacienda conveniently located in town, and boasts the title of oldest B&B in Todos Santos. The American owners, Erin and Andy, have done a wonderful job restoring and updating the property, and it's truly a mini oasis with a cheerful and welcoming vibe.

There is a boutique on site, as well as a small pool, and a palapa for enjoying the complimentary breakfast that is freshly prepared each morning. At night, it transforms into a little happy hour bar, where you can sip on a refreshing cocktail, served up by their resident mixologist, Axel. The one drawback is the local neighborhood dogs who like to bark at night, but the hotel thoughtfully provides ear plugs to help remedy the problem. (Truth be told... we had one of the smaller, interior rooms, and we never had an issue with it!)

What to do: Explore town! Definitely set aside at least one day to simply explore the town of Todos Santos and discover for yourself why it's considered a "Pueblo Magico." There are plenty of galleries, shops and restaurants to get lost in as you wander the colorful, flag-lined streets. If you are interested in taking home some Mezcal, Mexican vanilla or chocolate, definitely stop into Mexico Gourmet.

Experience the culture: We were fortunate enough to plan our visit during Dia de Muertos, which has turned into a three-day affair in Todos Santos during the first couple days of November. It was so eye-opening to see how the culture in Mexico does not fear death or the deceased like we do in the U.S. Instead, they respect the loved ones they've lost by setting up ofrendas (altars), painting their faces, dancing, and honoring the dead with a beautiful celebration. We even attended a party in the nearby cemetery, which was part of the celebration. Instead of feeling creepy, it was serene and peaceful. On the final night, the town plaza was home to a giant fiesta, complete with food, drinks and a performance by a famous Mexican band. Even if you don't have the chance to visit during this wonderful festival, there are plenty of other events held throughout the year, including a food and wine festival in the spring!

Hit up one of the local beaches: There's no shortage of beautiful "playas" in the area to hike, explore, swim or simply eat a tamale and soak in some sun. My absolute favorite beach of the entire trip was Playa Las Palmas, a hidden cove that is literally off the beaten path. The entrance is located just outside of town, where an unmarked, bumpy dirt road leads to a makeshift parking area. From there, it's another 10-15 minute walk through a palm-tree lined path that opens to a stunning beach that we basically had all to ourselves for the afternoon. There are no services here, so make sure to pack water, food and plenty of cerveza. 

(Pro-tip, grab some tamales at the little cart next to the Mercado del Sol II convenience store on the way from Gypsy Canyon and eat them on the beach.)

If your rental is not made for off-roading, or you want more conveniences at the beach like food service, massages, umbrellas, etc, one of the most famous ones is Playa los Cerritos. It's one of the few truly swimmable beaches in the area, and a popular spot for surfers. While there is a fantastic taco truck there that you should absolutely visit (more on that in bit), we found the beach to be crowded and overrun with vendors trying to sell you things. However, if you want to take a surf lesson, it will set you back just $45 USD, and most spots on this beach will let you keep the board for at least an extra hour after the lesson or, sometimes the rest of the day. Most places also offered umbrellas, chairs, boogie boards, paddle boards, and other aquatic equipment for rent. A shaded beach massage was just $30.

Whale watching & sea turtle release: If your visit falls during the months of December-March, you'll have the opportunity to see the grey whale migration AND possibly witness some baby sea turtles hatching. The whales start arriving from Alaska in December, and begin mating and breeding in January. Also in December begins the Liberacion de las Tortugas, where local conservation teams release sea turtle hatchlings into the ocean at sunset most evenings from December to March in Las Tunas. I was a little sad to miss both of these things, but that just gives us all the more reason to go back!

Take a day trip: While we could've definitely filled our entire four days in and around Todos Santos, we decided to explore the surrounding area as well. The city of La Paz is located about an hour from Todos Santos on the Sea of Cortez side of Baja. We were surprised to discover that it's the largest city on the peninsula and the capital of Baja California Sur. The beaches there are much more suitable for swimming, and the temperature runs about 10 degrees warmer. The snorkeling is supposedly amazing in this area due to the calmer waters. Our favorite La Paz beach was Playa Balandra (it's also a popular choice among locals.) It's a secluded cove that does not allow boats or jet skis, so it is relatively quiet, family-friendly and very clean.

If you do venture over to La Paz, make sure to stop at Mc-Fisher for a fish taco (the cheapest of the trip at only 22 pesos... or about $1 US). While we preferred our little slice of heaven back in TS, it was fun to take a drive and experience another area.

And speaking of food...

Where & what to eat in Todos Santos: Everything! We received plenty of wonderful recommendations from our hosts and other friends, and I was surprised to learn there are several top-notch non-Mexican restaurants worth visiting in Todos Santos including: French, Italian & sushi, just to name a few. That said, we pretty much stuck to Mexican since I don't get nearly enough of the good stuff in NYC. Here are a couple of my faves:

HierbabuenaThis is about as farm-to-table as you can possibly get, considering the restaurant is  located ON an actual farm in the town of Pescadero (just a few minutes south of Todos Santos.) They grow all of their own produce and the setting is lush and gorgeous. We visited at lunchtime, but I would love to go back at dinner as well. I ordered enchiladas and a Paloma while Justin had the butternut squash soup. The food was fresh and beautifully plated. I suggest sitting at the counter so you can see the creations come together in the open kitchen. (They are closed Tuesdays and the entire month of September.)

Barracuda Cantina:
This little taco truck/cantina is located at Los Cerritos Beach, so if you are planning a beach day there, definitely don't miss Barracuda. It's located a short walk back from the beach... just ask around and you will find it. (They also have a small parking lot that is accessible from the road.) Dano and his brother Frank have served in the hospitality industry for pretty much their entire lives, and finally opened up their own place last year. They serve up some of the best fish tacos around, and the cocktails were innovative and refreshing; the best I had in Baja. (Closed Wednesdays.)

El Pastorcito: So nice we ate there twice. (No, seriously.) This is a quintessential Mexican taco shop, with bonus points for staying open late. It's a no-frills type of place with plastic furniture and plastic plates. You won't find fish tacos or booze here (nor will you find a menu or anyone who speaks English), but they serve up some delicious chicken, steak and al pastor. Get either a quesadilla or a "vampiro"... which is basically a crispy griddled tortilla piled with meat and cheese. Perhaps the biggest draw here... the giant salsa bar in the middle of the restaurant.

For your caffeine fix: We found our favorite coffee of the trip in the town of Pescadero at Baja Beans. Here, they roast their own single origin, small batch coffee. We happened to visit on a Sunday, when they host a weekly farmer's market where local farmers, artisans and craftsmen sell produce, jewelry, clothing and much more. There was also live music, which made for a lovely place to enjoy a cup of coffee and spend the afternoon. For coffee back in Todos Santos, Taller 17 is really solid as well. They brew Stumptown Coffee and offer a small array of house baked goods. Both places serve cold brew, which was tough to find at times during our 10 day trip in Mexico.

Tamale Cart next to Mercado del Sol II: As I mentioned above in the beach section, we picked up tamales before heading to Las Palmas. This lady has a little cart next to Mercado del Sol II (a little convenience store), and offers two types of tamales (chicken and chile/cheese). She serves salsa in little baggies, and the whole thing will run you just 20 pesos (about $1.) Mercado del Sol II sells snacks and beer, making it a one-stop-shop for beach day.

El Papayon: If your stomach starts screaming "No more heavy food and tortillas!" then definitely swing by El Papayon. It's a juice bar in Todos Santos and they can pretty much make any juice combination you can dream up (at a fraction of the price you would pay in the states.) Bonus... it's located right next to the colorful skull mural on Calle Obregón.

Street Food & a Tostilocos: The street food in Todos Santos was not nearly at the level we saw in Mexico City, but there were still plenty of tasty snacks to be had, including tacos, tamales & elote (corn.) But I was told I could not leave Baja without trying a Tostilocos, which originated in this area and has since become popularized in other parts of the country. Essentially... a bag of Tostitos chips is cut open lengthwise and piled with various ingredients, including: jicama, cucumber, Japanese peanuts, tamarind candy, Chamoy, Clamato, lime juice, Tajin, hot sauce, and a bunch of other stuff I can't remember. The thing weighed about 2 pounds once the lady was done piling it with ingredients. It was certainly a unique dish... and I didn't hate it. That said, I probably don't need to have one ever again. :)

It was truly a magical four days, and we can't wait to get back (maybe permanently??)

Hasta luego, Todos Santos.... tu eres magico.


  1. Wow! Great read. I felt like I was there myself lol. Sounds like a great trip!


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