Close to the tip of Mexico’s arid Baja Peninsula, this quiet, colonial village of some 5,000 people is the relaxed and refined alternative to much more famous Cabo San Lucas, about an hour away. Instead of aggressive time-share salespeople, huge cruise ships and souvenir T-shirts, Todos Santos offers fine dining, art galleries and wide open, wildlife-rich beaches.
The setting is stunning, even by Mexican standards, here in the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna. Saguaro cacti, crashing waves and pretty little adobe houses surround the modest town, built atop a natural oasis. It was once a popular resort for the silver-mining aristocracy of El Triunfo and San Antonio, and has more recently become a magnet for artsy expats and Mexicans fleeing bigger cities. Though “unspoiled” by resort town standards, Todos Santos—declared a Pueblo Magico in 2006—has a wide range of hotels (more boutique properties and laid-back surf lodges than the glittering megaresorts of Cabo), and well-developed tourist infrastructure.
Active travelers can enjoy hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and much more. Long-term guests could take art classes, yoga or surf lessons. Todos Santos can’t match Cabo’s raucous nightlife scene, but that’s part of its charm. You’re here to enjoy the scenery, sample the excellent (and often organic) cuisine and explore all that the pristine beaches have to offer. Relax and stay a while.
1) Tour the Town
Todo Santos is not only smaller and more easily strolled than neighboring Cabo, it is also notably cooler, averaging about 21°C (70°F) year round. Start your promenade through its bougainvillea-topped adobe streets at 1723 Nuestra Senora del Pilar de la Paz mission, which hosts city’s biggest fiesta, in October; its bells were famously mentioned in the Eagles song “Hotel California.” Around the corner is 1943 Teatro Marquez de Leon, also worth a photo.
There are several historic homes, such as Casa Agundez and Casa Dracula, built during the sugarcane boom. The ruins of old molinos, or sugar mills, are scattered around the region, the most famous partially preserved at El Molino Park. History buffs could book a room at excellent Todos Santos Inn, built in the 1870s as a sugar baron’s estate and today furnished with period antiques.
The orchards and lagoons that surround the town are worth a wander as well, and are a particular boon to birders. You can wander at will or book special guided tours to see osprey, ibis, egrets and dive-bombing scissor-tail frigates just offshore.
2) Take a Dip
Todos Santos is close to several fine playas, though surfers and explorers will seek prettier shores within a few kilometers in either direction. The safest swimming beaches are Las Palmas and Cerritos, the latter with several hotels and restaurants (most geared to surfers) nearby. Elsewhere, ask about current conditions, as this coast is well known for its riptides and rogue waves.
3) Surf’s Up
Some folks come to Todos Santos (not to be confused with Isla Todos Santos, famed for its very big waves, in Northern Baja) just for the surf. The most popular spots are around Cerritos, with beach breaks good for beginners and a rocky, scenic point break for more advanced surfers; and La Pastora, with another fun mix of beach and point breaks, though helmets are recommended. While Todos Santos proper is about 13 kilometers (8 miles) from the best surfing beaches, there are several hotels overlooking the Pacific, most clustered in the tiny town of Pescadero and along Los Cerritos. Surf shops, camps, guides, instructors and rentals are abound.
4) Gallery Hop
Though this town was still rather rough-and-tumble even at the turn of the century, just over a decade later, Todos Santos is developing into an appealing destination for both artists and collectors. In addition to high-quality traditional artesanias, the city is becoming known for original art, in particular paintings of typical scenes and the area’s starkly beautiful scenery. These can be perused or purchased at galleries all over town; ask about upcoming openings and events. Art lovers should arrive in February, for the very popular Todos Santos Baja Art Festival.
5) See Turtles
Todos Santos’ pretty beaches attract more than human visitors. Several are important nesting sites for sea turtles, including olive ridleys, black turtles and critically endangered leather-backs. You can book tours to see the lovely ladies nesting almost all year round (July through April, depending on the species), or help release baby turtles back into the sea from about November through June. If you’d like to help preserve these precious species, conservation groups offer volunteer positions.
6) Watch Whales
No one knows why Todos Santos’ shores inspire so many migrating humpback and gray whales to “breach,” or leap entirely out of the water, apparently for fun. No matter – you can watch all the action right from the beach (try Playa la Cachora), or book a boat trip between late December to mid-March, when thousands of whales arrive from the Arctic to give birth in the lagoons north of town.