Old World Charm Meets Modern Artisania in Nature’s Paradise
Todos Santos, Baja California in Mexico
What quaint town in Southern Baja has everything one needs for the perfect mix of adventure, relaxation, historic charm and hipster modernity? Look no further than Todos Santos. This small town on the Pacific Coast of Southern Baja was once the site of a Jesuit Mission in the 1700’s. When the mission was abandoned, the town continued to grow and thrive as a sugar cane capital. By the late 1950’s, piracy, war and the loss of the town’s most abundant freshwater spring had brought an end to sugar cane farming. It could have been the end, but the town was brought back to life in the 1980’s when the Mexican government paved Highway 19, making travel from Los Cabos to the quaint seaside village easily accessible. The new route opened up transport lines for fishermen and farmers, and with them, tourists. In 2006, the Mexican tourism board designated Todos Santos a Pueblo Magico. We like to describe the designation as an official ‘adorable pueblo with cool stuff to do’ certification. Todos Santos is one of just three cities in Baja to have been thus honored. Today, the area is a haven for visitors seeking surf as well as solitude and there truly is something for everyone.
Perfectly planning your trip to Todos Santos
Todos Santos offers the perfect balance of luxury and adventure. Of course, you don’t have to choose balance. Depending on what you’ll do there, we guess you’ll either pack some comfortable walking shoes, a wide-brimmed sun hat and your camera, or you’ll load up the 4X4, strap your surfboards to the roof rack and throw in some hiking shoes for good measure. In either case, you’ll want to have Mexican Pesos, and it’s easiest to order this from your home bank before you travel. We suggest small bills, such as 20’s, 50’s and 100’s. In this small town, many of the local tiendas won’t have change for your 1000. Larger hotels and restaurants do take credit cards or US Dollars, but paying in cash generally offers you a better exchange rate.
If you prefer to opt out of the large Cabo area all-inclusives and instead wander cobblestone-paved streets in search of ice cream and art galleries, this is your place.
How to get to Todos Santos
With a new toll road in place allowing a bi-pass of Cabo San Lucas, a trip from the airport in San Jose del Cabo is a quick 40 minutes through Baja’s unique, and beautiful, landscape. Flights to San Jose del Cabo (SJD) are easy to come by, and often inexpensive, which we love! Most major airlines offer a regular schedule of flights in and out. Transportation from the airport can easily be arranged through your hotel, or through one of the town’s transportation providers, such as Todos Santos Private Transportation. We recommend renting a car so you can easily do extra exploring on your own. Driving this stretch of southern Baja is relatively safe and easy, and roads are well paved. As you head north along Highway 19 you’ll be flanked to the east by the Sierra de la Laguna mountain range and you’ll enjoy grand views of the Pacific Ocean to the west. We arrived in February one time, and as we drove down the highway at 60 miles per hour, we could see Humpback whales breaching in the distance. Southern Baja is indeed a magical place.
Not flying? Todos Santos is a short drive from La Paz to the north or the East Cape towns of Cabo Pulmo and Los Bariles. This makes Todos Santos a must-do stop-over if you’re exploring anywhere on the southern peninsula.
Where to stay in Todos Santos
Lodging options abound in Todos Santos and there’s a solution for every price point and level of service you seek. Many gringos and mainland Mexicanos make Todos Santos a second home, and their homes are often available to you via AirBnB or VRBO. Renting a home lets you live like a local, and rates as low as $50/night can frequently be found. If you’re seeking a more contemporary, Instagrammable experience, choose a boutique hotel such as La Bohemia Baja Hotel Pequeño or The Hotelito. For history buffs and lovers of Colonial Mexican architecture, stone walls, dark rooms and antique furniture, we love the Todos Santos Inn or Guaycura Boutiqe Hotel. Ask them about their ghost stories. If beachfront luxury is more your style, Rancho Pescadero is a dreamy option. Rooms there average $300/night. Sort any of the above options by choosing a remote, coastal experience with ocean views, or a more urban experience at the core of the town.
Did we say something for everyone already?
Local Transportation in Todos Santos
If you opted not to rent a car from the San Jose del Cabo airport, taxis are available, albeit not that easy to come by unless you’re picking up at the center of town, or have assistance from your hotel concierge. The good news is, it’s a small town, and you can easily walk the full town center, even in flip-flops. If you’re day tripping with a tour operator, they will most likely pick you up from your hotel or rental, even your surf instructor will give you a ride to the beach.
Guests with limited mobility should be warned that Todos Santos is on a hill, the sidewalks are old and uneven, and there could be cobblestones or stairs to navigate at crosswalks.
What to do in Todos Santos
What to do? Anything and everything. If you’re looking to stay close to town center, just start walking. Art galleries are everywhere and offer a variety of traditional Mexican crafts, fine art in all price ranges and genres, as well as contemporary painting, drawing and print making. Our favorite galleries include La Sonrisa de la Muerte for contemporary prints and gifts, Manos Mexicanas for hand made crafts and Galeria de Todos Santos for museum quality pieces. Around town you’ll also find boutique shops offering everything from the latest moda nueva, or contemporary fashion, to tourist tchotchke such as luchador masks and day-of-the-dead-ish skeletons. Two surf shops in town, La Katrina and Todos Santos Surf Shop offer everything you’ll need for a day at the beach or the skate park. And yes, there is a skate park. If you’re not ready to jump on a board, head out there to watch the local kids do their thing.
Beaches, swimming and surfing
In Todos Santos proper, the beaches are not safe for swimming. Where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez, close to the southern point of Baja, a variety of intersecting swells create riptides and unpredictable waves. However, these same forces work to create some of Baja’s best surf spots. Locals can tell you about La Pastora and El Pedrito, or head ten minutes south to Cerritos Surf Beach where, due to the shape of the point, it’s safe to surf or swim. This is a terrific family-friendly swim beach with a variety of surf and boogie board rentals and a nearby beach-front restaurant and bar. Take a surf lesson with Mario Surf School, or just spread out a Mexican blanket and relax all day on the sand.
Excursions and sports in Todos Santos
If adventure is more your thing, you can find it! The Sierra de la Laguna mountain range overlooks the city and offers a variety of hiking, although please go with a guide, as this is Baja. Todos Santos Eco Adventures or Adventure19 can take you on day or overnight hikes and will show you all the secret waterfalls and desert oases. Stick with either of these two adventure tour groups for snorkeling excursions, whale watching, or horseback riding. Be it a family or romantic vacation, there’s nothing like finishing the day with a sunset horseback ride on the beach.
In this healthy, outdoorsy pueblo, there’s also no shortage of yoga. Daily public classes are offered at Baja Zen, just a short walk from Cerritos Surf Beach, or at Rancho Pescadero. Check out the schedule at Cuatro Vientos on the north side of town for a variety of programming. You’ll find yoga, but also dance classes, tai chi, meditation and Brazilian Capoeira.
What to eat while in Todos Santos
If we’re not adventuring, surfing or napping in Todos Santos, we’re eating. We found excellent tacos everywhere, many in open-air sidewalk-adjacent taco shacks. With fishermen bringing their daily catch to shore straight from Punta Lobos, fish, shrimp and lobster were always on hand, and always good.
The best places to eat in Todos Santos
You do not have to pay a lot of money for good food, one of our best meals was at Carnitas Barajas. For a healthy, hipster experience in the heart of El Pescadero, the organic farming region, we recommend Hierbabuena. You might wait a while for a table, but they make it easy with a variety of cocktails and a charming garden atmosphere. Large groups are welcome at Los Adobes, and the food is excellent.
Recommended specialty dish in Todos Santos
Try the Chiles en Nogada at Los Adobes, a traditional mainland Mexican dish done to perfection at this eatery. You’ve likely never before experienced the combination of pork, beef, creamy walnut sauce and pomegranate. One in our party confirmed “it tastes like Christmas.”
History and museums in Todos Santos
To soak in the history of Todos Santos, all you need to do is look around.
Take a peak into the church on the main town square. It stands where the original Jesuit mission once did, and is now a home for theater and community events in addition to church services.
Visit the old 1940’s theater on the town square, soak in the architecture and landscape.
El Centro Cultural, a small museum in town, offers a more detailed history lesson along with artifacts from the town’s past. We found the interior murals and the recreated Palo d’Arco living quarters of the town’s historical inhabitants especially fascinating.
Unique to Todos Santos
With an eclectic group of resident artists, chefs and musicians, Todos Santos may perhaps be the festival capital of Southern Baja. May’s Gastro Vino Festival celebrates Baja’s best food and wine, and invites chefs from across the state. During the summer months the harvest is celebrated with the Mango Festival, the Chili and Strawberry Festival, and more. Mexico’s Independence Day on September 16 offers up parades and celebrations in the town square, while Mexican Revolution Day does the same on November 20. October’s the month for the town’s largest annual festival, four days of celebrations honoring the patron saint of Todos Santos, Nuestra Señora del Pilar.
In February 2018 the 9th annual Open Studios event takes place in which artists across town open their doors to the public and showcase their works and works in progress.
When to visit Baja
Baja is a beautiful destination year-round, but there are some variations to take note of depending on your desired itinerary. The surf is best during the summer months, and the water continues to get warmer through early autumn. Unless you love it hot, however, we recommend avoiding a stay from late September through October, during which many local businesses take their own holidays due to the heat.
The winter months of December through February is high season for tourists escaping the cold of the north, and just happens to coincide with prime whale watching season as well.
The Grey Whale winters in Baja January through March where they give birth in the warmer, protected waters before returning to Alaska with their babies. If you’re lucky enough to see one of these gentle giants, you’re lucky enough. Humpback Whales can be seen in Todos Santos from October through April. If you’re anywhere along the coast during this time, chances are high that you’ll see one of these beauties breaching, or displaying their tail. Whale watching tours can offer you an up-close experience that’s like no other.
Tortugeuros Las Playitas is a non-profit that collects and protects sea turtle eggs in Las Tunas, just north of the main town. You may participate in their turtle hatchling releases between the months of December and April. This once-in-a-lifetime experience is free, and priceless.
We can’t get enough of Todos Santos and all it has to offer. The balance of options for those who want to relax, adventure, explore and/or eat make it a terrific spot for singles, friends, families, and travelers of all ages. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure trip for the traveler who’s looking to soak in some culture along with their surf. In this one small town, you get a taste of every single reason why we love Baja. There’s just so much to love.