When visitors come to the southern edge of the Baja California peninsula, most will only go as far as the largest cities, Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, collectively known as Los Cabos. If they stay in one of the many luxurious resorts lining the shore or come in by cruise ship, they will bar-hop, go shopping or head out on an adventure activity.
But some don’t want that kind of tailor-made typical gringo thing. Some might want to venture further to one of the smaller towns or designated pueblos magicos. These “magic towns,” designated by the Mexican government and located all over the country, offer "cultural richness, historical relevance, cuisine, art crafts, and great hospitality." If RAS had been with me on this trip, that’s what he would have preferred doing…and truthfully, so would I.
Todos Santos is one of three pueblos magicos in the Baja California Sur state. It’s about an hour northwest of Cabo San Lucas, along the Pacific coast. It was the one offsite activity our group from the Hacienda del Mar media trip did, and it was a welcome diversion.
Touring (a little part of) the town
We rode up the winding four-lane highway to the town, which only has about 10,000 residents. As our guide from Baja Adventures, Jesus, pointed out, about half of the locals are expatriates from the United States and Canada and came here for surfing, art and (most likely) a change of scenery.
Our visit was confined to the main street of town because we spent a considerable time in a jewelry shop where we learned about the process of cultured pearls. The shop owner (who called himself “Ricky Ricardo”) was amusing and friendly, but I won’t say the business's name because it became one elaborate sales pitch to buy something. We did this sort of thing in Puerto Vallarta, which I personally don’t want to support.
How Todos Santos get its name? When missionaries arrived in the area in the 18th century, they set up statues of saints in the village. When asked how to get there, they’d hear it’s the town with all the saints – “todos santos.”
The town plaza
Since we visited Todos Santos on Dia de los Muertos, locals were setting up ofrendas for the holiday. These are colorful altars with photos of deceased relatives, water and salt for purification of the souls, real and paper flowers for decoration, and their relatives’ favorite food and drink. One of the ofrendas had empty bags of snack foods covering the back.
Mission Santa Rosa is near the plaza and is modest for being a Catholic church. The reason why is the geographical isolation of the area. The usual stones common with larger structures couldn’t be brought in, and there weren’t many people around to build the church. Another interesting feature was a tiny three-foot door (which no longer exists) for a corrupt priest to escape should angry parishioners come after him, which they never did.
Every Mexican town has its own giant lettering of its town name. Todos Santos’ is near the church square, and what makes it unique is how each letter was painted. Local artists created each of the eleven letters with significant historical, cultural and artistic meaning.
Welcome to the Hotel California
Todos Santos has a hotel that may or may not have a connection to the famous Eagles song, “Hotel California.” Whether the song’s writer, Don Henley, visited here is unknown. Still, Jesus made a compelling case for the hotel being its source of inspiration, tying several aspects of its background to the lyrics.
Henley and the Eagles did sue the hotel for trademark infringement, the case of which was settled out of court. A disclaimer on the hotel’s website states that the song and the hotel are not associated. But the story persists.
No matter the truth, Hotel California’s history makes for a fascinating story. Established by a Chinese immigrant in 1947, the hotel was the main place to stay in town for the next 20 years. He also brought in ice, which helped him open a bar and became popular with the locals. In the 1960s, a young woman who worked at the hotel died prematurely. Some male visitors have claimed that a woman has asked them to buy her drink, not knowing that she is the spirit of the deceased hotel worker.
Diversions along the way
We made two stops before heading back to the resort. One was a rug and blanket whose name I didn’t note. But since it was the only shop on the main highway just outside Todos Santos, it would be easy to find. The colorful handmade rugs, blankets and wraps hung ceiling to floor and were folded in tall stacks. I wasn’t tempted to buy anything here, as we have plenty of these things back home. But I did admire the handiwork of the owners.
Finally, we stopped at Baja Adventures’ main center, where RAS and I had done the e-bike beach tour in February. This time, we viewed one of the dressed-up camels used for caravan rides. I’m not sure why we did this because we would not ride them. It seemed like a superfluous activity. But we did enjoy a good lunch of chicken mole, tacos, sides and some tequila.
My recommendation is to visit Todos Santos if you’re in Los Cabos for any length of time. Tolerate the shop visits, but don’t feel obligated to buy anything. And take any story about the Hotel California with a bit of skepticism but allow yourself to be entertained.