PHOTO: Hacienda Cerritos, Todos Santos, Mexico. (photo by Noreen Kompanik)
Roald Dahl once said, “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it."
The opposite must be true for those of us who do, and that magic can be found in a captivating Mexican coastal town with undeniable charm.
An easy one-hour drive from Cabo san Lucas on well-maintained roads, the palm-fringed desert oasis of Todos Santos provides an ideal respite from the touristy chaos of Cabo. Situated at the foothills of the rugged Sierra de la Laguna Mountains on the Pacific side of the Baja Peninsula, the quaint village is the perfect blend of Mexican history, culture and hospitality.
Todos Santos means “All Saints” and is one of 36 unique Mexican towns to be designated a Pueblo Magico, or magic town for its natural beauty, cultural riches or historic relevance.
MORE Destination & Tourism
In the sixteenth century, mutineers, explorers and pearl hunters arrived on the shores of the peninsula, but later departed, never appreciating the many natural treasures they’d left behind. A mission and farm community was established here by Jesuit Padres in 1724 to feed and take care of the local community.
Fertile soil and the abundance of fresh water from underground aquifers produced a rich bounty of vegetables, fruits and grapes for wine making. Harvesting the land is a tradition still carried on today. Local restaurants have been featuring their own farm-to-table organic products long before it became popular elsewhere.
And there’s no shortage of papayas, avocados, strawberries, chili peppers or organic produce at the town’s farmers market.
Nestled amongst ancient mango and palm orchards, with spectacular views overlooking the white sandy beaches of the Pacific Ocean, Todos Santos today is what Cabo san Lucas was 20 years ago according to the locals. Home to artists, musicians, filmmakers and surfers, the town captivates and intrigues with an appealing blend of easy, peaceful, laid-back atmosphere and an air of cultural sophistication.
Yet, the village maintains its traditional Baja Mexican flavor: Townspeople are friendly, hospitable, gracious and happy to regale visitors with tales of its rich history and centuries-old traditions.
READ MORE: Mexico Tourism Board Harnesses The Power of Tequila Clouds
On our visit to this Pueblo Magico, we strolled along narrow cobblestone side streets, browsing in the many delightfully colorful and unique craft, jewelry and boutique shops tucked away along the main avenue. Many were traditional Mexican, but some included a distinctive North American bohemian flare. Over 30 galleries and artist studios displayed paintings, sculpture, ceramic tile designs, stained glass and photographic art.
Drawn to a large, magnificent watercolor print that perfectly captured the alluring spirit and beauty of Baja, I asked my husband, “now how am I going to get this one on the plane?”
Todos Santos sports a surprising the number of restaurants for a small town, ranging from street-side taco stands and family establishments with typical Mexican fare to fine dining. The tantalizing aromas and welcoming atmosphere of Tequila’s Sunrise lured us to its colorful open-air entrance. Claiming to make the best guacamole in town (which we believe is true), the main fare of shrimp and lobster chile rellenos was a mouth-watering lunchtime feast. In the outdoor courtyard, a guitarist serenaded diners with his hauntingly beautiful chords.
Tops on our curiosity list and, to be honest, one of our main reasons for visiting Todos Santos, was the surreal and somewhat bizarre Hotel California.
Founded in 1947 and made famous by the Eagles song in 1973, the vibrant, quirky hotel whose name predates the legendary iconic song, adamantly denies the rumor that the Eagles were in residence when the song was written. The bartender, however, confirmed countless stories and firsthand reports of spirits and ghosts in the courtyard of the hotel reminiscent of the lyrics.
Such a lovely place, such a lovely place.
READ MORE Six Most Picturesque Views for a Romantic Getaway
Just on the outskirts of town, Hacienda Cerritos provides a strikingly different feel from lodging in the artisan village. This elegant Spanish guest house invokes the aura of a days-gone-by Mexico.
Perched high on a private cliff overlooking picturesque Cerritos Bay, the enchanting villa is visible from miles away. Spectacular sweeping Pacific Ocean views from its whale watching bar are almost indescribable.
Although relatively new, Hacienda Cerritos skillfully weaves an impression of vintage and timeless presence. With its lofty bell tower, flowery courtyard and tiled corridors, this remote and hauntingly beautiful 10-bedroom luxury boutique hotel could have easily been inspired by the the Hotel California song. Even if unintentional, the hacienda certainly captures its essence.
A mere 15-minute drive from the town transports visitors to some of the most isolated and beautiful beaches in all of Baja. Locals guided us to Playa Las Palmas explaining, “the only footprints you’re likely to see in the sand are your own.”
Following a short dusty path to the beach, desert cacti lining the mountainside to our left contrasted sharply with the lush, green saw grass and towering palms on our right. We called it the "desert meets the tropics". The locals were spot-on: The secluded half-mile of beach was completely devoid of humans. Seabirds foraging in the still clear waters of the lagoon were our only companions.
Located nearby, jaw-dropping Playa Los Cerritos provides the area’s safest swimming and best surfing. Most importantly, it was a great place to wiggle our toes in the sand under a shady palapa with a couple of cold, refreshing margaritas.
Lime, salt, tequila, palm trees and a warm ocean breeze. This is what Baja is all about!
As a gloriously stunning sunset guided us back to our villa in Cabo San Lucas, it was comforting to know our decision to get off the grid and explore a new locale with true Mexico throwback charm and history handsomely rewarded us with an unforgettable, authentic, magical Mexican adventure.