Todos Santos, Mexico: Santa Fe Baja Style
Todos Santos could become one of the most celebrated centers of art and culture north of Central America.
By Ron Elledge
Today the eclectic Mexican village of Todos Santos is Baja Mexico’s version of a fledgling Santa Fe, New Mexico. Its mystique transported me back in time and stirred up memories and feelings of Santa Fe as it was fifteen years ago.
Initially founded as a Mission in 1724, Todos Santos is located a leisurely one-hour drive north of Cabo San Lucas on Highway 19 and a one hour’s drive southwest from La Paz.
While Santa Fe has no access to pristine beaches, it’s perfect for whale watching and surfing.
Todos Santos sits on the Pacific coast side of the Baja California Peninsula and has several beaches that are close in proximity to town.
Todos is replete with comparable architecture, shops, and eateries found in vintage Santa Fe.
However, today, the “warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air” has been supplanted by that of tacos, chili rellenos, and the same creative juices that made Santa Fe one of America’s premier art colonies.
In Todos, you’ll find delicious food, friendly people, and a festive atmosphere with galleries, museums, and shops tucked into every nook and cranny.
I suggest you pop into the Tequila’s Sunrise Restaurant and Bar for arguably the best chips, salsa, and margaritas on Earth.
It’s entertaining to gawk at the signatures and graffiti fancifully covering the walls. Be aware, because it is located directly across the street from the Hotel California, you will pay tourist prices at TS.
Where the Expats Congregate
La Bodega de Todos Santos – If you are looking for locals and expats, try the La Bodega de Todos Santos. The food is appetizing and the drinks are muy buenos all the time, but Wednesday night is a favorite of locals.
Wednesday is Big Red night, that’s when they break out samples of Baja wines to accompany some remarkably brilliant entertainment.
El Compa Chava -If you are looking for delicious Mexican seafood, you are looking for El Compa Chava. Here the atmosphere is laid back, the people are very friendly, and the prices are inexpensive compared to the rest of the town.
Nowhere will you find better ceviche tostadas, the crab and “descondido” ceviches are simply amazing. Be sure to try some of their home made spicy sauce.
Baja Beans-If you are wearing your tie-dye shirt and huarache sandals, your vibe is still alive and well at Baja Beans.
It may be a short drive south of Todos Santos in Pescadero, but this is the spot for coffee lovers who long for the hippy days of yesteryear.
One can enjoy any coffee drink imaginable and a wide variety of savory pastries.
It’s a Place for Everyone
I love that in Todos the old beater pick-up truck stands proud, parked between the Tesla and Mercedes. When the drivers meet on the streets they stop and exchange pleasantries.
The atmosphere of Todos has a way of jogging the memory of simpler times and restoring balance in perspective of life.
This may be why people from all over the globe are migrating to towns and villages throughout Mexico. The Todos Santos expat community, though small, is strong and growing.
The first people we met on the street were a couple in their 30’s who moved to Todos Santos from Canada, they encouraged us to do the same.
Their observation was that they could feel a magical vibe in the village. They also enjoy the fact that housing and cost of living are a fraction of those back home.
Todos Santos Inn – If you surf the Inn’s official website, you will read this as their opening paragraph:
“Built in the 1870’s as a sugar baron’s estate, the Inn is the only historic hacienda hotel in Todos Santos. With an ideal location in the center of town, the Inn is walking distance to all the restaurants, shops and galleries, as well as a beautiful beach for whale watching.”
We sat in one of the Inn’s courtyards and visited with a gentleman named Scott. Scott returns to Todos every year and on every trip, he stays for several days at the Todos Santos Inn.
Scott, a US citizen, lives in Tijuana, Mexico and works in San Diego, California. He is one of the many expats from around the world who are flocking to Mexico for its climate, culture, and affordability. He recalled many of his ventures throughout the region and recommended dining and must see stops along the way.
We said adios to Scott and strolled through the brick and adobe-walled corridors, relaxed in the gardens, visited the bar (too early for business) and absorbed the quiet, historic atmosphere of this great Inn.
The scenic walk from the Hotel California to the Todos Santos Inn conveys one from hustle and bustle to repose and reflection, both have their place.
It has been said that if you’re in search of a peaceful location to read a good book (or even write one), you’ll find the Todos Santos Inn is the perfect retreat.
Hotel California – This is the quintessential tourist hotel which can be found around the world but entering the lobby from the street produces an unexpected change in elegance.
The reservation desk is stylish yet understated but the lobby area is candy to the eye. Once again we are reminded of Santa Fe by the art pop and flair of right-brained creativity.
However, walk through one door, and you find yourself in the world of commercialism. The gift shop area is a great place to get a t-shirt, very nice shirts, $17.50 any size.
You’ll find jewelry, clothing, and every trinket you can imagine. My wife purchased a beautiful bracelet, paid a fair price and enjoyed the exchange of banter making up the negation process in Mexico. I think I could have bought it for less, or been thrown out.
Step through the back door on a trek in search of the restroom and a fiesta feels imminent. Tables, chairs, decorations and center stage create the perfect place to hold a fiesta and hold them they do. The patio and bar areas make for party central in the evenings.
When You Go:
Whether you plan to make Todos Santos a day trip from Cabo or La Paz or stay for a week, this town is one not to be missed on a trip to the southern tip of the Baja.
Here are a few things to keep in mind.
You’ll find the vast majority of the Mexican people are muy amable – very kind, just remember you are still in Mexico. Leave any presumptions behind, and enjoy the traditions of a people who are friendly and inviting, but move to a different tempo than those in many slices of the world.
In this area of Mexico, the main highways are very good, mostly four-lane, but it’s still suggested that traveling is done during the day.
If you rent a car, be ready to pay much more for insurance than for the car itself. Many foreign policies and credit cards offer extended coverage while in Mexico.
However, it’s important to have Mexican liability insurance. It may keep you from the loss of your vehicle or a night in jail. Their country, their rules!
Last of all, come prepared to have a rewarding adventure as you enjoy the people, climate, and customs of Mexico.
How Do I Get There?
From La Paz, take the federal highway 1 towards Los Cabos which joins federal highway 19. Todos Santos is approximately 50 miles. From Cabo San Lucas, take federal highway 19 that runs along the coast approximately 45 miles.
Ron Elledge is a Freelance Photographer/Writer who splits his time between Phoenix, Arizona, and Albuquerque, New Mexico when not on a photo shoot or world adventure Ron’s photography can be viewed at www.RonElledgePhotography.com. His love of travel is shared by his wife, Shelli, with whom he travels the globe and together they document their journeys.