When I was 19 years old, I crossed the border into Tijuana, Baja California for the first time on a surf trip. Young and Invincible but aware of the dangers, we were 4 surfers looking for good waves. At the time, I was living in San Diego studying for my undergraduate degree in anthropology while learning to surf. After a couple of weekend northern Baja trips, we decided to drive the entire length (732 miles) of the peninsula in search of waves. Baja is a desert, like no other desert I have visited. Some areas are so desolate that a crow's wings can be heard flying high above. Only tall Cardón cacti and maybe some scrub brush are visible but the encompassing night sky and silence are incredible. We felt like the only people on an alien planet.
When we reached the area of Todos Santos in southern Baja, we sped right by a sign indicating a town somewhere to our left. A minute or two later an unmarked vehicle pulled along side us into the oncoming traffic lane hailing us down. We pretended to have no idea why. We pulled over and the Mexican Policía informed us that we ran a stop sign. Truth, it was in the middle of nowhere along the Transpeninsular Highway 1. We were unable to safely stop at our racing speed; so, we were exhorted for some pesos on the side of the road. When I returned to Todos Santos in 2016, I was amazed to see the vibrant coastal community that has sprouted; art galleries, boutique hotels, funky shops, live music, international cuisine alongside taco stands and markets with local organic fruits, vegetables, fresh fish from the Pacific Ocean, surf shops, and yoga studios. No longer a sign post, Todos Santos is a dynamic and festive coastal town spread across the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains only an hour drive from nearby crowded Cabo San Lucas.
The art galleries are filled with local desert landscapes, contemporary art and stylishly quirky paintings and sculptures made from skulls, bones, driftwood, fishing boat parts and other interesting reused items.
The history of Southern Baja is the familiar Spanish imperialistic tale of conquering and destroy. However, due to the harsh environment and hostile natives, it took nearly 150 years of repeated attempts to colonize. In 1532, after the destruction of the Aztec Empire, Hernan Cortés sent an expedition to explore Baja California. Thereafter many expedition teams, including Cortés himself, tried to establish settlements in present-day La Paz, Loreto, and Cabo San Lucas but inhospitable conditions and the hostility of the indigenous people prevented any lasting colony. Even King Felipe II of Spain ordered Baja to be colonized in 1569 and each attempt met with aggressive native tribes. Not until 1697, when Jesuit missionaries arrived and established 16 missions did settlement finally occur. It is believed due to the previous contacts with the Spanish, the natives suffered major casualties due to European illnesses, thus, weakening the resistance against colonization. The mission in Todos Santos was established 1724. Although the mission still stands in town, most of the original building was destroyed during the rebellions of enslaved natives used to farm the arable soil for mostly sugar cane. Due to the abundant water sources of an underground aquifer and seasonal arroyos from the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains coupled with the cool breezes from the Pacific, Todos Santos hosts an ideal environment for agriculture and unrivaled living conditions in all of Baja.
During our visit, we surfed, hiked, camped by a mountain stream, attended dinner with a local rancher's family, played Lotería with the grandchildren, leisurely drank crafted cocktails poolside or at the beach and in the evenings we wandered the colonial streets enjoying authentic Baja cuisine and live local music.
When the surf is good, photography is the last thing we are thinking about. So we hardly ever have pictures of us surfing.Bloody Mary at Rancho Pescadero poolside with infused habanero vodka. Touring the gardens of Rancho Pescadero, a 5-star resort that crafts cocktails and their exceptional restaurant menu from extensive gardens including a fruit tree orchard. If you visit Todos Santos from Cabo, stop here for an incredible cocktail or a meal overlooking the Pacific from the rooftop deck.
Todos Santos has been designated a 'Pueblo Mágico' or 'Magical Village' by the Mexican Tourist Board for its historical and cultural relevance as well as it's beautiful surroundings. It is the only town in the Baja Peninsula to receive the award. The locals are some of the most friendly and welcoming people I have ever met in all my travels. Visit the enchanting and sophisticated old-world town of Todos Santos for a true Baja experience.
During our visit, several boutique hotels welcomed The Botanical Journey. Each place was an outstanding experience. Thank you.
Rancho Pescadero is luxurious with the most fabulous accommodations, including a deep bathtub that I spent more time enjoying than the pool. I mean who doesn't love a deep soak while sipping Champagne and reading a book on vacation? Do it! http://ranchopescadero.com
Villas la Mar, the view from our room or the infinity pool perched on the cliff side overlooking the Pacific Ocean is so romantic for lovers and for surfers. Reasonably priced accommodations, not far from town. Check out the website for a fantastic view, https://www.villaslamarbaja.com
Flor del Mar, located on 3 acres and a short walk to the beach, we opted to cook our meals in and stargaze by the fire. An added bonus is the sweet dogs of the owner that hang around like family and even follow you to the beach. Affordable with a home cooked breakfast in the main house every morning. http://floradelmar.net
Serendipity is a Hacienda experience. The owner Sharon Morris invited us for a tour and a delectable home cooked meal in the remarkable architecture of the main house, all because of our article about Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. She is originally from New Mexico and wanted to meet us. We will definitely book a room next visit. http://www.serendipityventures.com
*Photography by Jennifer Trandell & Cody Jones