All saints. That?s a curious name for a town. But once you spend a bit of time in Todos Santos, you can see why all the saints might want to hang out there. It?s rugged and remote, not too far from the southern tip of Baja California Sur, and imbued with spirituality, creativity and adventure. It?s a 90-minute drive from Cabo but psychologically a world away. The place has soul.
As I got to know this town of some 5,000 full-time residents, more then a few people likened it to Tulum. I can see why. There are boho shops?and caf?s, surf schools, a serious culinary scene, boutique hotels, art galleries, Asian-fusion restaurants that boast that their food is ?made with love,? yoga studios galore and, as in Tulum, a big new residential development in the works.
For now, all the saints are dwelling in a town that?s laid-back but animated by culture?Todos Santos punches way above its weight in this department. There are weekends of open artists? studios?dozens participate?literary, film and food festivals and especially the Todos Santos Music Festival. It?s curated by longtime resident and REM guitarist Peter Buck, who invites his musician friends, who all say yes because it?s so chill and it raises money for the Palapa Society, a very worthwhile nonprofit that trains local youth?for professional careers, among other community initiatives.
But Todos Santos has something Tulum does not: breathtakingly wild, rough nature. The Pacific Ocean doesn?t mess around as it meets land here. No gently lapping waves; dramatic crashes instead. Swimming might be tricky, but on a few beaches, the surfing is terrific. And the beaches are narrow?buffers between the sea and the mountains and desert, which is stippled with cardoncactus?think sturdy saguaros by way of the?eight-limbed Durga, times two. (Told you it?s a spiritual place.)
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And then there are the whales. Todos Santos and the areas around it are known for their superior whale watching, as grays breed here in winter before making the long swim back to the north. There are a number of protected?nature reserves. But more on the whales later.
One of the best things about Todos Santos is that has a smart, soulful outfitter that?s setting the standard for adventurous eco-luxury. But first off, let?s define luxury. In my book, it?s not gilded taps, marble bathrooms and pool butlers?anyone can buy all that. Instead, luxury is rarity: having an experience few people get to have, and having it as comfortably as possible. It?s challenge: being pushed ever so gently to the edge of your comfort zone and then being swaddled right back into it?learning and transformation, not just bragging rights (and certainly not just tan lines). And it?s this glorious planet: getting an up-close view of spectacular, little-touched nature, in the company of expert guides whose passion is infectious.
Ten years in, Todos Santos Eco Adventures offers a spot-on example of this new luxury, and is now held up as a leader in eco-luxe circles. The company?s roots sprouted in 2000, when Bryan Jauregui went on a sea-kayaking trip with her sisters to Espiritu Santo, a UNESCO-protected island in the Sea of Cortez, not far from Todos Santos. With a bit of a wingwoman assist from one of her sisters, she fell in love with and eventually married?their Mexican guide, Sergio.
She also fell in love with Todos Santos and moved there with Sergio, built?a home, which has now grown into their delightful eight-bungalow hotel, Los Colibris Casitas, and started a high-end, low-impact adventure travel company. Their plan was to offer outstanding hikes, waterfall adventures, mountain trekking (including an ambitious one, from the Pacific up over the highest mountain range in Baja, some 10,000 feet high, to the Sea of Cortez), visiting local ranchero families who still live traditionally and kayaking in the Sea of Cortez.
Now they?re up to ten top-notch adventure guides?all certified Wilderness First Responders?and a wildlife biologist, and the activities include surfing with the best local instructors, swimming with whale sharks, horseback riding with an accomplished equestrian, cooking classes with talented and personable chef Iker Algorri and especially whale watching and luxury camping on the island where it all began, Espiritu Santo. (Guests can stay elsewhere and just book adventures through the company, or do as I did and stay at Los Colibris, in my case as guest of the Jaureguis.)
The wind didn?t cooperate during my stay (a rarity?thanks, El Ni?o) and I didn?t get to try the signature experience, ?glamping? on Espiritu Santo. I missed out. By next season?the safari-style tents will have real beds with soft mattresses, high-end linens and appealing lighting and decorations?and there?s already an emphasis on excellent?food and drink, with a chef dedicated to the camp. More than that, the island is naturally a fine base for swimming with whale sharks, snorkeling with sea turtles, whale and dolphin spotting, kayaking and SUP-ing, bird-watching, hiking and stargazing.
What I did get to do, and the reason I?m telling everyone to go to Baja Sur, is whale watching in Magdalena Bay. The bay?s long, narrow shape and warm waters make it a preferred breeding ground for California gray whales, which are highly social creatures. After?a friendly whale came up to check out her fellow mammals and scratch her back on the hull of a fishing boat, the fishermen?presumably after being a bit freaked out by a 40-ton animal that could easily flip their 30-foot boat?had the good sense to start selling whale-watching trips to tourists.