Inspired by the Aztec calendar, this sun monument, located in the theatre plaza of Manuel Márquez de León, was created by local artists with community support.

Wanderings: Todos Santos, Mexico

South of the U.S. border looms large in winter with dreams of warm weather, azure seas and miles of white beaches, along with the siren’s call of exotic cultures, handsome mariachis and haunting boleros. Year after year, Mexico has been ranked by the National Travel and Tourism Office as the top destination of choice for American travelers, with more than 31 million recorded U.S. visitors in 2016.

Map: © Daphne Gillam

A hospitable corridor in the Guaycura Hotel.

Mexico’s Secretariat of Tourism has designated Todos Santos (a lesser-known but enchanting coastal oasis on the Pacific side of the Baja California Sur peninsula) a Pueblo Mágico (magic town) because of its unique and historically significant characteristics. About an hour north of upscale and tourist-packed Cabo San Lucas and about an hour south of La Paz, from mid-November through May, Todos Santos’ high season hums with creativity, culture and fun. For those who like a quieter scene, consider visiting in June and July (shoulder season), when temperatures can range from perfectly mild to hot due to Pacific Ocean breezes, but most restaurants, shops and galleries remain open. It’s wise to give Baja a pass from August through October, as it is hurricane season and weather can be unpredictable.

Todos Santos was established around 1724 when the Jesuits founded a mission there to convert the native peoples to Catholicism. The church’s efforts failed, but the site’s abundant water and fertile soil in the midst of a drought-ridden desert led to a vibrant sugar cane and agricultural industry. It wasn’t until 1984, when the road from Todos Santos to Cabo San Lucas was paved, that artists and other creative people looking for a tranquil lifestyle in an authentic Mexican village began to migrate here. Today a stream of international travelers are drawn to the rich cultural life of the town, many returning annually and some staying on full time.

El Mirador Restaurant at the Guaycura offers fine dining amid ocean views. Photo courtesy of Guaycura Boutique Hotel, Beach Club & Spa

Most visitors fly in on one of the daily international flights to the airport at San Jose del Cabo. Upon arrival you have two options: Rent a car or arrange for a shuttle in advance. A rental car gives you more flexibility during your stay, but be sure when booking to include insurance. There is plenty to do and see in Todos Santos without a car, so it also works well to reserve a shuttle. Ecobaja Tours regularly provides transportation between the airport and Todos Santos, but an advance online reservation is a must. The shuttle drops off at the town bus station and from there you can hail one of the many taxis across the street. Depending on the exchange rate when you go, shuttle fare is about $40 round trip, per person.

Galería Gabo presents the bold work of Gabo and his son, with paintings and sculptures also on view at the California Hotel.

The Hierbabuena restaurant serves cusine harvested from their organic gardens, plus fresh margaritas. Photo courtesy of Natasha Lee

For a town of 6,000 residents, there is an amazing array of accommodations in Todos Santos — boutique hotels, historic haciendas and bed and breakfasts — each with a unique personality. You can stay in the heart of the historic district or further out, but still within walking distance to the town and the beach. The town is not located directly on the beach, although it’s only a short walk away, and does not echo the all-inclusive resort-after-resort scene of some of Mexico’s coastal destinations. That is a major part of its charm, and there is so much to do and all of the ocean’s beauty and adventure is there when you want it. (But do check with your hotel about where it is safe to swim.)

“Wanderings” assignment photographer and avid traveler, Dana Aaberg chose the Vibe Bed & Breakfast for his stay. Its eight urban-designed spacious suites, four on the first floor (with private patios and hammocks) and four on the second floor (with small balconies) are brightly decorated, clean and comfortable. Air conditioning, kitchenettes and vintage bikes are included in its reasonable rates. “My mornings began with a cappuccino or espresso and their complementary continental breakfast,” he reports. “The Vibe’s unique location is perfect for walking and discovering the town’s unique galleries, shops, historic architecture and restaurants.”

This colorful mural depicts Todos Santos’ history.

A beach-side option is the Rancho Pescadero, located on a secluded stretch of sand 6 miles south of downtown. And for an artistic escape, the Guaycura Boutique Hotel Beach Club and Spa offers painting classes with recognized international artists in a historic, 19th-century brick building.

Internationally known American artist Doug West, a full time resident of Todos Santos.

Throughout the year, music, art, film, food, wine and other festivals enliven the warm days and star-studded, breezy nights, along with an almost unlimited number of other attractions: surfing, swimming with whale sharks, dancing, hiking, day trips on the water and a range of dining options.

Seeking enlightenment, meditation, healing or yoga? There are many programs to choose from, including the popular classes and workshops at Cuatros Vientos, which has been designed deliberately in alignment with the four directions. Or try Ecoadventures for a host of day trips, including water sports, visits to the Sea of Cortez, bird and whale watching, hiking, cooking and fishing. Visitors to Todos Santos can be as active as they wish or simply end a relaxing day at a spa with cocktails and a stunning sunset at Guaycura’s Sky Bar or El Faro’s El Mirador ocean-view restaurant.

Galería Logan features artfully designed broken-tile murals, garden settings and contemporary paintings.

With such an inviting menu of experiences available, it is no wonder that artists such as Doug West, a well-known painter, formerly of Santa Fe, New Mexico, chose to build a home here and make it his full-time residence. “First of all, there are so many serious artists here who create through various mediums and styles, and many others who dabble but are interested in leading creative lives,” West says. “We have clean air, fresh organic veggies and seafood, plus a variety of excellent restaurants. I love Todos Santos because it is small, quaint and there’s a wonderful, everchanging view of desert, mountains and ocean — all of which I find inspiring.”

Additional artistic highlights include Galería de Todos Santos, a long-established showcase for local talent, and Galería Logan, the studio and gallery of painter Jill Logan. And La Sonrisa de la Muerte features work by Mexican and international artists, many of whom specialize in graphic design and screen printing.

Time to start planning your next cultural beach-side vacation!


IF YOU GO…


ACCOMMODATIONS

Sculpture by Benito Ortega Vargas

Hotel Casa Tota
23300 Calle Alvaro Obregon 619.400.3089; hotelcasatora.com

Hotel Guaycura Boutique Hotel
Calle Legaspi esq. Topete 877.448.2928; guaycura.com/es

Hotel San Cristobal
Playa Punta Lobos; 855.227.1535; sancristobalbaja.com

Hotelito Bed & Breakfast
Rancho de la Cachora +52.612.145.0099; thehotelito.com

Todos Santos Inn
Calle Legaspi 33; +52.612.145.0040; todossantosinn.com

Vibe Bed & Breakfast
Calle de Pilar esq. Hidalgo +52.612.145.0482; thevibebb.com

La Bohemia Hotel Pequeño
Calle Rangel 108, Entre Hidalgo y Obregon; 805.430.5260; labohemiabaja.com

GALLERIES

Galeria de Todos Santos
Huerta Las Palmas, Cañada del Diablo; +52.612.145.0500; galeriatodossantos.com

Galeria Logan
Calle Juárez y Morelos +52.612.145.0151; jilllogan.com

La Sonrisa de la Muerte
Colegio Militar esq. Hidalgo +52.556.114.9836; lasonrisadelamuerte.wordpress.com

ATTRACTIONS and EVENTS

Café La Esquina’s open-air restaurant, away from the main plaza, is a favorite of locals and visitors alike.

Cuatro Vientos
Calle Topete and Horizonte en Camino a Las Playitas; cuatrovientosbaja.com

Todos Santos Eco Adventures
619.446.6827; tosea.net/todos-santos

Mario Surf School
Los Cerritos Beach;+52.612.130.3319; mariosurfschool.com

Nomad Chic
Juarez y Hidalgo; 415.381.9087; nomadchic.mx

El Faro Beach Club and Spa
Camino al Faro; +52.612.175.0800; guaycura.com

RESTAURANTS

Café Santa Fe
Calle Centenario #4; +52.612.145.0340; cafesantafetodossantos.com

Chez Laura
Calle Hidalgo entre Rangel y Cuauhtémoc; +52.612.145.0847; chezlaura.com.mx

Hierbabuena
La Paz: 707.738.2157; hierbabuenarestaurante.com

Pacifica Fish Market
Calle Horizonte, Brisas del Pacífico; facebook.com/pacificafishmarket

La Casita Tapas & Wine Bar
Calle Juarez; +52.612.145.0192; lacasitatapaswinebar.com

El Mirador Ocean View Restaurant
(10 minutes from downtown, accessible via Pedrajo Street) +52.612.175.0800; guaycura.com/en/restaurants/elmirador
Sky Lounge Oasis View Tapas Bar: Calle Legaspi esq. Topete; +52.612.175.0800; guaycura.com/en/restaurants/skylounge

Restaurante Jazamango
Calle Naranjos; +52.612.688.1501; facebook.com/jazamango

La Esquina
Calle Horizonte; +52.612.145.0851; laesquinats.com

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