An hour’s drive through the desert from either La Paz or Los Cabos will bring you to the wonderfully strange Pacific coast town of Todos Santos.
Imagine a Marin County artists’ colony crossed with a sleepy Mexican pueblo. Throw in a handful of baby-boomer tourists and a literal oasis of palm trees and cool blue water surrounded on three sides by desert and on one by the Pacific.
On a dark desert highway…
The main attraction in Todos Santos is — and has been since 1947 — the Hotel California.
While this particular hotel didn’t actually inspire the Eagles’ song, it’s easy to see why that myth has been so persistent: the “dark desert highway” that leads you there, the candlelit alcoves, the funky combination of modern art and Mexican handicrafts, the mysterious air of the old building.
You can almost believe it’s a hallucination, or a song.
It’s worth the splurge to spend a night or more in one of the comfortable, colorful rooms (each one’s different), especially if you’re traveling with your sweetie.
Either way, drop by for a shot (or a margarita) of the Hotel California’s award-winning tequila in the hotel bar, La Coronela — or check out the stars (and wild modern art) from the outdoor dining room as you sip.
For the backpacker’s budget, Todos Santos and the nearby town of Pescadero offer relatively few, but extremely cool, accommodations.
In Pescadero, Jaime’s Surf Camp gives you the option of camping-style palapas or more private casitas — AND a BYOB swim-up bar. Also get deals on surfboard and boogie board rentals, as well as a shuttle to the beach. Pizza and beer (and reggae night on Wednesdays) are within easy walking distance.
In Todos Santos, try La Sirena — again, rentals for ocean sports and basic but comfy casitas with a shared kitchen at reasonable prices.
Run by American expat and turtle warrior Francesca and her Mexican partner (and their two bicultural kiddos), you’ll get friendly advice on how to best spend your time in Baja, including tips on hikes, wildlife viewing, great food, and of course all things turtle-related.
Or, you can always go for the classic surf vacation option of camping on the beach — for free.
Away from the surf and sand
If you tire of the beach, the Todos Santos museum is free, and a weird, disorganized, and oddly fascinating jumble of local history (including haunting photos of Todos Santos’ founding families), reproductions of Frida Kahlo paintings, the work of local artists, and artifacts from the indigenous groups that once inhabited the area.
While Baja doesn’t have much to offer in the way of local handicrafts (most of the ones you’ll see for sale are from Oaxaca and Tlaxcala), it has local artists in abundance.
You could easily spend an entire afternoon browsing the galleries, and if you take a look at one of the local papers or magazines, there’s a good chance you’ll find an opening, reading, or at least a yoga class to attend.
Ask around for directions to the oasis when the heat gets to be too much. Swimming under towering palm trees, plucking a convenient mango when you get hungry — the whole trip might just be worth it, right there.
But…Is Traveling to Mexico Dangerous? Read Julie Schwietert’s take and decide for yourself.
Many community blogs have also been written on the region.
There are plenty of opportunities to give back in Baja. For starters, click over to First Person Dispatch: Caring for Orphaned Kids in Mexico and Saving Turtles in Baja California Sur, Mexico.
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Teresa Ponikvar is a former Matador editor, a current reluctant English teacher, and a future mini-farmer. She lives in rural Oaxaca, Mexico, with her husband, young son, and assorted animals and arthropods. She blogs here.
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