Todos Santos – Mexican Flavors
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  Posted February 18th, 2013 by Zdenko  in Travel | 3 comments

Travel Mexico

By: Zdenko Kahlina

Day trip to Todos Santos
Todos Santos is approximately 112km from San Jose. The time it takes to get there depends on whether there is construction on the highway. When we went, the construction was just completed couple of weeks before and there is now a fast four lane highway almost all the way to Todos Santos. It changes to two lane highway about 2 km before Todos Santos.

Hotel California is the main attraction in Todos los Santos

How to get there
We drove in our rented VW Jetta from San Jose del Cabo through Cabo San Lucas where we stopped for few hours to visit El Arco, all the way to Todos Santos. About one hour after we left Cabo there was a turnout from the Mexico Highway 19 to a small village of Todos Los Santos.

Modern Mexican four lane highway all the way to TS

Entering Todos Santos

You can also get there from the North following 80-mile road that connects La Paz and Cabo San Lucas. This is also a smooth four-lane highway through the Baja California desert. The climate in this area is dry and the rainfall is low, but the Pacific Ocean provides some humidity and wonderful views. The powerful ocean to one side and the calm desert on the other provide a breathtaking and invigoration contrast.

At the point where the highway (coming from the north) crosses the dessert and hits the coast you will find the town of Todos los Santos. As you enter the town by car, Todos Santos will delight in this Oasis of palms & fruit trees producing delicious mangos, papayas, avocados & more. Hummingbirds and bright yellow-and-black orioles flutter around lush bougainvillea and exotic cacti in town. Big-eared jackrabbits zip along the paths.

Benito Juarez is the main street in Todos Santos

Todos los Santos is also home to “the” Hotel California from the 1970s Eagles song and it was our main reason to visit this ‘pueblo’. This little fact about Hotel California remained under wraps until the 1990s when U.S. journalist caught wind of it and started traveling to Todos los Santos to write articles about the urban legend.

Todos Santos, in the Baja California Sur, was established as a Spanish mission in 1723; its name means All Saints. The town is finally being discovered, both as a laid-back and colorful tourist destination and as a retirement haven for Americans.

After more than a century as an isolated farming and fishing community, the town opened to easy access with the world in 1986, with the completion of a highway linking La Paz to Los Cabos. Todos Santos is more or less in the middle.

Its sugar mills, born amid a 19th century boom, died about 60 years ago. The paved highway didn’t arrive until the mid-1980s, about the time the first American expat artist, Charles Stewart, moved in. With no airport, no marina, no golf and virtually no nightlife, downtown amounts to just a few blocks of newish galleries, inns and shops in oldish buildings. Outside town, cardón cactuses stipple the hills, and miles of lonely beaches roar under assault by waves so wicked that surfers and swimmers must pick their spots carefully.

In the early 1990s, a group of U.S. artists and writers recognized it as a place where they could work pleasantly and live cheaply. This year, they held the first of what they hope will be an annual “Poets in Paradise” conference. My wife, Jeanne, and I were their guests for a week.

The pueblo ‘Todos los Santos’
We entered the town from the south and found parking close to the small park in the town centre, where the local buses stop to take their passengers. Todos Santos is a cute little place with lots of boutiques and restaurants. It is a haven for artists, craftsmen, and surfers, and has been designated by the government as a “magical city”. Its history dates back to the 1700′s when the Jesuits operated sugar mills in the region. There is a tiny museum, church, some nice art galleries.

The town’s population these days is roughly 6,000, or it might be as high as 15,000, depending on how many surrounding hamlets you include, or how many Canadian snow-birds are currently there. The English-speaking portion up to about 10 percent and giving Todos Santos a bohemian feel. There are basically two paved roads intersected by curving dirt lanes. The town’s single traffic light is often obeyed, and about as often, not working. There’s not much traffic – yet. What there is tends to be Jeeps and small SUVs, heading along the smaller roads that wind by vine-covered stone walls, white gates and the beautiful, handmade fences called palo d’arco. Roughly, “arches of sticks.” If you’re after Mexican flavor, Pacific solitude, desert vistas, fresh food and a seriously slow spring break, this might be your place.

Hotel California
It was easy to walk around several blocks of towns centre. Simms like all tourists are heading in one direction only – ‘where is Hotel California?’ is the common question on the street. In our case, Hotel California was just around the corner from where we’ve parked our rental. This historic building has a lot of character. The hotel was passionately renovated a few years ago and proves to be a major attraction on the the main strip. It has big gold letters ‘Hotel California’ in printed on the front façade. All the Eagles fans coming here to see if this is the place referred to in the song… the jury is out, but the lyrics make you think…

Canadians Brian and Zdenko in front of Hotel California

Vera and Zdenko inside Hotel California, at the bar

The building itself is remarkable in typical Mexican strong orange colors. Built in 1968 this hotel is very charming in the heart of downtown Todos Santos. We didn’t try their food as we only ordered drinks. Based on their Menu, the food was very pricey. They have an incredible fresh pesto, sweet and tangy margaritas (in many different flavors) and very attentive waiters. But we were after the beer, which was served quickly and was cold (as it should be!). The decor throughout the hotel is spectacular – very tastefully decorated hotel. The familiar music bounces from the restaurant’s stereo, with the lyrics: “Welcome to the Hotel California. Such a lovely place…” Colorful bottles of “Hotel California Tequila” line the bar – it’s all big business on Benito Juarez Street here in Todos Santos.

Having a cold beer on their backyard patio

After visiting Hotel California, we decided to walk directly across the street to Tequila Sunrise restaurant, but this place also looked very touristy and pricey. The prices for the specials were about $20 each, while more traditional items on the menu such as enchiladas, etc were about $10. Adjacent shopping centre was interesting and our friend bought a Mexican hat there. Nice shops and a fun atmosphere…

Tequila Sunrise restaurant and adjacent shopping centre

Nice shops and a fun atmosphere…

Bahia Restaurant & Bar
Around the corner in Marquez de Leon street we discovered small fish restaurant. Bahia restaurant is the latest addition to the Todos Santos food scene. It is part of the local pescaderia (fish shop) on Militar and Marquez de Leon. Don’t miss the molcajete with octopus, shrimp and fish and the ceviches. They serve completely delicious array of seafood dishes served up on a collection of white plastic tables and chairs on their patio under an awning next to the fish store. It’s a wonderful addition to the lunch scene in Todos Santos. The food was really good at the half price what we would pay at Hotel California or Tequila Sunrise…

Bahia Fish Restaurant & Bar

That’s us having a meal at Bahia Fish Restaurant

While in Todos Santos we all drank bottled water and beer, but ate all vegetables and salads, and had no gastrointestinal problems. The Mexicans we met were friendly; the word around here is that the gringos are welcome because they bring jobs and prosperity.

Typical corner store in Todos Santos

Many of the town’s 19th century buildings have been renovated for use as shops and galleries, and a small community of Mexican and North American artists has settled here in recent years. More than a dozen small galleries and bookstores are sprinkled among colorful cafes and storefronts crowding its streets. Stores and galleries tend to be wide open; there seems to be little crime, if any, in Todos Santos.

A word of caution: The raised sidewalks are uneven and lack railings, making a stroll around town both an agreeable and exciting adventure.

Another colorful store in Todos Santos

Other notable buildings in the town include the Nuestra Señora del Pilar Mission and the General Manual Márquez de Léon Theater. The mission, built in 1733 by the Jesuits, it the oldest building in town and contains the Virgin of the Pillar statute. The theater, which was inaugurated in 1944, is a result of the area’s economic prosperity from sugarcane farming in the mid 19th and early 20th century. The theater hosts regular performances and workshops, and during the month of February hosts the Todos los Santos Arts Festival.

Dirt road like this will take you to the beach 

Todos Santos beach
We didn’t see the beach here, but we knew it was close by. Just didn’t bother to find which dirt road heads towards the beach. But just like in Los Cabos, the warnings on the beaches are everywhere. Don’t just jump in the ocean. Locals warn guests not to swim at the hotel-adjacent beach because the tide is treacherous. But you can flop onto one of the Rancho Pescadero daybeds on the dunes. Or walk at water’s edge, especially near dawn or dusk, where you’ll get the full effect of near-empty beach coastline: pelicans gliding above the swells, offshore breezes blowing feathered foam off the whitecaps. As it happened, the waves were especially big and glassy when I showed up.

Endless beaches along the west cost on Baja California

The area is also a paradise for fishing enthusiasts looking to catch tuna, sea bass, and snapper. A mile south of the town are the beautiful beaches or San Pedrito, La Pastora, Los Cerritos, Batequito, and Punta Lobos. In addition to fishing, visitors can enjoy the long sandy beaches and frequent sightings of whales, dolphins, and sea lions. Los Cerritos and San Pedrito Pare also a sought after destination for surfers due to their world-class surf breaks.

But as increasing numbers of foreigners buy land in and around Todos Santos, problems can be foreseen. Already, there is concern about water shortages, traffic problems and rising prices. But for now, the town works beautifully.

So long Todos Santos
All in all, it’s worth a day trip for us. We had no trouble driving ourselves. On the way back to Cabo, we were looking for a good spot to turn from the highway and spend some time on the beach.

Only a short driving distance from Todos Santos, was this unmarked turn off to El Pescadero beach. It was a short drive to head out of town, towards the beach via the dirt road that cross through the cacti. We stumbled upon beautiful beach, but totally deserted with big waves making a thunder like sound. The waves were incredible and scary, so we didn’t want to risk it and swim there. We took a couple of pictures and turned away for a search of another safer beach.

Short stop at Pescadero beach, but the waves were too dangerous

As we continued driving south on a highway, just few kilometers down the road and over the hill, there it was: another unmarked side road that popped into our view, and I made a turn. Away we went down this long and dusty road. My wife and our friends in the car probable thought I was crazy. But we drove only 2 or 3 kilometers, and came up over a ridge and there it was. Probably the most beautiful beach we had seen.

Playa Los Cerritos

Playa Los Cerritos
Playa Los Cerritos is a beautiful, sweeping expanse of pristine beach just south of the farming community of Pescadero. Most of the beaches on this side are not swimmable which makes Cerritos beach even more appealing. There is free parking at the end of the road. There was a small restaurant on the beach with beautiful palapas. Very relaxing…

Small restaurant on Playa Los Cerritos

Hacienda Cerritos boutique hotel on top of the hill

The beach has tons of waves of all sizes. We heard that it was good for all levels of surfing as it has waves for everyone. This is a huge beach that goes on forever. The water was gloriously warm. There were several families there which was sweet, but the beach was not overcrowded. The water was shallow for a long way out so even very small children were having a blast playing in the 6 inch deep water.

The beach has tons of waves of all sizes

There is a restaurant (overpriced and mediocre but at least it is available) and there are boogie boards and surfboards for rent and it sounds like there are people who give surf lessons too. We had a beer or two in the restaurant, but when we looked at the menu… this place was overpriced.

View down the Cerritos beach

This place has a rather authentic feel despite a few small hotels nearby on the beach, and I think that is definitely aided by the fact that you have a 5-10 minute drive on a dirt road to get there. Lots of people come here to surf (or learn how) and the current was good for body surfing that day for us. Definitely worth a stop in as you cruise the western coast – it’s located at kilometer 64 on highway 19.

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3 comments to “Todos Santos – Mexican Flavors”

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