Unveiling the Lesser-Known Treasures of Los Todos Baja
As I camped on the beach under the brightest night sky, seeing shooting stars more frequently than I’d see another person. I felt an overwhelming sense of appreciation for the simplicity of life. The seclusion you find at each beach allows for the most serene moments of solitude.
When you think of Baja, most people think of white sand beaches with turquoise water, and there are plenty of those, but there is so much more it has to offer. Wild horses roam these beaches, drinking out of the fresh streams coming down from the mountains.
Waterfalls and hot springs line the valleys of the Sierra de Laguna’s. Mobula rays, in packs of hundreds, gather to glide together through the calm clear waters of Cabo Pulmo, while hawks perch on hundred year old cardón cacti near the shoreline. There is beauty to see in any direction you choose to look, you just have to be open to receiving the magic Baja has to offer you.
The Baja Sur peninsula has a loop that goes from the city of La Paz, along the coastline and through the mountains connecting La Ventana to Todos Santos, stopping in San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas along the way. La Paz’s famous malecón is a wonderful colorful street, filled with restaurants, shops, and local vendors.
You’ll often see people skating along the malecón, fishing off the piers, and swimming in the brilliantly blue water of the calm bay. When the wind picks up, it’s a great time to make your way over to La Ventana, to watch, or participate in the perfect kite surfing conditions.
Head a bit further south and enjoy fresh coconuts on the beach, or a stroll through town to find the best churros of Los Barriles. Leaving either Los Barriles or the Cabos, you can opt to take a dirt road that follows the south eastern coastline to complete the circle, filled with secluded beaches that are perfect for camping, diving, and surfing.
If you are headed north on the western side of the loop, you will find yourself first in the town of Cerritos, which is a surf town, filled with gorgeous ocean views, nestled within the desert hillside. Soon after you’ll reach Pescadero, which is a wonderful more locally catered town, that hosts beautiful swimmable beaches and wonderful farm stands.
Driving in to Todos Santos, you will begin to see an increase in Palm Trees and greenery. Secret coves follow the beaches throughout the entirety of the town, giving you calm warm bays to hike down into and lookouts to watch the sea lions and whales from.
No matter where you go down here, you’ll find something incredible to experience. You’ll meet the sweetest locals, and share stories with fellow travelers, and although the pace of life is slow in Mexico, your time spent here will fly by quite quickly.
Blending Solitude and Community
The desert down here brings plenty of silence, but the spirit of Mexico brings lively music and joyful conversation. The perfect balance if you ask me. A year and a half ago, I made my way south to the tip of the Baja peninsula.
With no plans or expectations, I took off on my solo journey like I do every other, windows rolled down, music playing, and a big smile on my face. Traveling solo for a few weeks, at a solid 35 mph, I rolled through small towns and towards secluded desert camp spots, taking my time to stop at the best surf breaks, taco stands, and local shops along the way.
Eventually I made my way down to the well known town of Todos Santos, where in that moment my life would unknowingly change forever.
A sense of peace washed over me as I drove up to a beach hidden between towering cacti and swaying palms. Pink filled the sky as the sun was just about to set, in the distance, a woman shouts out my name.
I had a mutual friend who had arrived in Todos Santos previously, and she shared my information with this woman Simone. I pulled up my van as far as I could towards the sea, right before my rear wheel drive van would make me begin to sink into the dunes. I get out and introduce myself to a group of the kindest people I had ever met.
Quickly greeted with freshly caught fish tacos, a homemade Maracuya salad, and a refreshingly cold paloma. As the orange glow of the sunset began to fade into the deep blue of the night sky, our laughter quiets down and we settle into our beds for the first time in this new wondrous location.
This group of travelers quickly became my family, as I know many nomads can relate, this happens quite often living on the road. When you travel, relationships form almost instantaneously, time is accelerated due to the close proximity of your living quarters with one another.
If you don’t have a big budget for traveling, staying in a hostel, backpacking, and living in a vehicle, are wonderful ways to immerse yourself in the travel community and become friends with strangers quite fast.
The people you meet and spend time with become not just your neighbors, but your roommates, and best friends. You cook together, you wake up together, you work together. You create your own version of a community.
We shared many days diving in the sea, cooking up breakfast for twenty fellow travelers, sharing laughs over a campfire, mapping out constellations under the dark sky, and towing each other out on a regular basis from the deep sandy back roads of Baja Sur.
You’ll notice bonding happens fast when you’re in situations like that. The next six months were filled with ‘family’ dinners, plenty of soaks in hot springs, cliff jumping into emerald green river water, rock climbing at the edge of the sea, catching waves on breaks you can only get to by sailboat, and solo excursions through the less traveled back roads of the mountains.
Months of non stop adventures lead me to allow myself a season of rest, of being stationary. This is where my journey in Todos Santos really began. I’ve never quite had everything mapped out while traveling. I’ve realized in the short amount of years I’ve been alive, that allowing room for the unknown, allowing space for things to flow and fall into place, is what makes living, and traveling, so beautiful.
Experiencing these moments presently, wholly, allows you to truly be grateful for even the mundane decisions you make on the day to day. I feel grateful daily for having the ability to wake up in a new forest, a new beach, or a new town.
To watch the sun set, as day turns to night and light slowly sinks behind the mountains. I am grateful to take work breaks soaking in a stream, or snorkeling around a reef, and I am grateful to be present within my life. Presence always brings gratitude, and I feel immensely grateful to feel present every day.
I didn’t plan on falling in love with Todos Santos, but there is a magic there that once you visit, you feel it within you to be drawn back, again and again. I felt a feeling of anticipation, of excitement for what’s next, and a sense of contentment and peace for being where I am, at that moment.
As I began to meet more expats, I realized I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. A woman who became my close friend, Bojanna, moved there from Serbia. She said as soon as she stepped into the town of Todos Santos, she felt at home.
She met people who confirmed her decision to stay daily, like myself. Chatting about how many people we met who agreed that Todos Santos is magic, we realized how many wonderful and loving souls resided in this little town.
We are not sure what draws us all in, but it seems that all the people who do find themselves sticking around longer than anticipated, all describe this feeling as magical. I swear if you’re meant to be there, you’ll feel an energy that matches with yours and guides you to stay.
The people of this town are some of the most incredible humans I have ever had the pleasure of getting to know. They welcomed me in with open arms, and gave me the opportunity to establish a community there. As an artist and surfer, I found myself immersed into those communities pretty immediately.
El Nido is an art group, curated by different artists from all over the world. It is a beautiful open art community and gathering space. They show documentaries, host workshops, dance nights, and more. Allowing you a space to connect with other artists, to express yourself creatively whether you are a professional artist or it’s your first time ever holding a paintbrush or pen.
A commissioned mural was a blessing that came out of meeting my friends at El Nido, and one of my most monumental personal growth moments, was attending a writing workshop where I shared a piece of my writing out loud for the first time in my life. Mexico brought lots of firsts for me.
It brought lots of time for me to explore myself, my boundaries, and push my limits. As I began to connect with myself on deeper levels, I found what I love and began following those passions even more fearlessly.
The overwhelming love and support that everyone gives each other allows for such a safe space to experiment with who you are, to see yourself for who you truly want to be.
Savoring the Rhythms of Todos Santos
Dancing and movement, have always felt tightly tied to my identity and my happiness. Jardin Alquimia is a bar, known for its lively atmosphere and astounding salsa music. The owner is an incredibly kind and charismatic man, who welcomes all in with a smile.
Live saxophone and bass fill up the room as women spin with their dance partners under the star lit sky. Friends gather every week to dance and laugh. Every night no matter what, you can find live music to dance to.
Given the ability to constantly move my body, to have freedom of expression, is something I found to be a highlight of living down there. If you don’t feel exhausted after dancing for a few hours at Alquimia, you can head over to the towns night club, El Santo.
If you can make it even further, end the night with a bonfire, dancing around under the stars at La Pastora. In the dark early hours of the morning, you might even be able to catch the bioluminescence. A magical show of dancing light radiating from the living organisms we share the ocean with.
The ocean supplies Baja with some of the most incredible food you’ll ever taste. My dear friend Claudia, born in Sinaloa, has been living in Todos Santos for sixteen years. She began taking me to a new local spot to eat every week.
The best restaurants I have ever been to were simple stands on the side of the road, or the backyards of peoples houses. After dancing, we would make our way to a window that a woman opens from her kitchen, whenever she feels up to it.
Hoping to stop and grab a late night papa relleno before heading home. Santi, an incredibly kind and funny ten year old boy, who helps out his family at a restaurant called Muñes, will serve you the most incredible agua fresa and homemade blue corn quesadillas you will ever eat in your entire life.
La Esquina, located directly across from Cuatro Vientos is the perfect place to stop for a fresh mango smoothie after yoga. Located in a palm oasis of its own, you have your own cozy nooks and corners to settle into, whether reading alone at breakfast, working for the day, or getting lunch with your whole family.
I couldn’t, well to be honest, didn’t want to, go a day without stoping at Doce Cuarenta for a chai latte. I became friends with the women who worked there, always being greeted by name, with a smile and a long conversation. Our friendship soon drifted over to beach days and late night dancing.
Martinez, the baker, would bring me out fresh pastries every single time I walked through the door. While the laidback atmosphere made it a great place to work, I’d find myself still there, five hours later and three chais deep, peacefully working, cozied up in their outdoor gardens.
Lastly, I would highly suggest making time for a stop at Santo Chilote for a fried avocado taco, or taller 17 for a sticky bun, and if you can get here while they’re open, look for a blue food cart, across from the Banorte (bank) in downtown for the the most delicious mango salsa and shrimp tacos. The centro is small, made up of about ten main roads, it won’t be hard to find!
Embracing the Differences
Although Baja has sun 300-360 days of the year. It’s not always sunshine. The reality is that things are different. You have to have an open mind, and embrace Mexico for what it offers. There are some differences that I have known to be challenging for people. The inability to take long showers, let alone hot showers.
The grocery stores have everything you need, but not too much more. Sometimes there are a few isles, sometimes just some stands in the middle of a room, but always stocked with the freshest produce! Food runs out, products you enjoy very often won’t be available.
Shipping things from another country sometimes isn’t possible, and if it is, it takes an increased amount of wait time, and the possibility it won’t show up. I have plenty of packages that are still lost in the mail to this day. All I can hope is that someone is enjoying them somewhere!
You have local papelerías to collect packages from, because most homes don’t have addresses. The one in my town is run by the kindest man and his wife, who will have insightful and spiritual conversations with you every time you visit.
The elements of nature are always factors to consider, there are storms where you lose power for two weeks at a time on a regular basis. The dirt roads will flood and you’ll be stuck at home for a week when the arroyos start to run during hurricane season.
It’s extremely hot, and most homes don’t have AC’s. The monsoon season brings out all of the animals, and they know no bounds when it comes to the inside of your home. Many homes aren’t fully closed in either, due to the need for breezes.
There are usually either open windows, doorways, or even walls. On a damp rainy August morning, I had my first experience having to capture a rattlesnake in my kitchen. How to handle that safely for both the snake and I, was my main concern, and a brand new thought process for me.
There are scorpions that will sneak into bed with you, to steal the warmth of your comforter. These are just some differences that I, and other friends who weren’t born there, found ourselves not used to. These differences are not negative, they are just factors I became accustomed to, things I had to become comfortable with.
Allowing myself to embrace the differences by changing my way of thinking. Knowing there’s so many different ways to live in the world, you have to be able to adapt to the life of the culture you decide to show up in. When you let go of expectations and embrace what is presently in front of you, life begins to show up in numerous beautiful ways, even through the moments you may find more difficult.
The reason I share these differences, is because I always want to show up as authentically as possible, and to share my most honest experiences when writing. Truly because I want people who don’t travel as often, to understand its not always as glamorous as some people make it out to be.
Of course some types of travel are, but that’s not the travel you’ll see me doing most often. To be honest, the discomfort has allowed for me to adapt, to grow, to acknowledge my own strength and intelligence, and it has given me opportunities to expand my horizon in a plethora of different areas of life.
I wouldn’t trade it for the world, except maybe I’d trade scorpions in my bed, to sleeping alone. Through reading these, I want you to know, that they are minuscule in compared to the tremendous amount of easy and wonderful components that make life and living down in Mexico a dream. The positives outweigh the hardships by an overwhelming amount.
A Season of Transformation
While many of my nomadic friends were leaving to head back up north for the summer, I made the decision to commit to staying until the next winter. Through hurricane and monsoon season, through the high temperatures, hot sun, and buggy air. I learned to recognize the scent of the desert after a summer rain, and the way the sky lights up while the waves calm down after a tropical storm.
Summer is a special time in Baja. The indescribable heat brings tranquil warm water, green lush grasses that begin to cover the mountains, rose pink flowers that bloom only after a strong rain, and the quiet that comes from a touristy town in the off season.
Effortlessly, connections began to form, and it became easy to integrate all these new people and experiences into my life. During the summer I started meeting locals out at different events. Weekly salsa night quickly became something I looked forward to.
Although music and dancing has always brought me joy, my first time ever salsa dancing I felt instantly more connected to myself. Dancing with another person allows you to connect on a deeper level with others as well, it allows friendships to be formed without talking. As Spanish wasn’t a language I’ve spoken before, dancing and art were both ways I found that allowed me to understand my friends with minimal communication.
One time, while out with my friend Mayra, I apologized because sometimes it was difficult to express how I felt, or reply to what she was saying on a deeper level, since I was still learning how to speak Spanish. She grabbed my hand and explained to me in partial English partial Spanish, ‘it’s all energy, we feel each others beautiful energy, words are just words, you don’t need to know the right words, to feel our love for one another’.
If you can’t speak another language, please don’t let that stop you from traveling. Yes, it can be nerve racking, but you can communicate with people in so many non verbal ways. You will still find yourself forming relationships with others, whether you understand each other perfectly or not.
I knew though, if I planned to stay here, learning better Spanish was crucial for me. I started taking classes at a local school called Hablando Mexicano, where I worked with wonderful women who started teaching me the basics of getting by. In all honesty, speaking and listening to my local friends and their families is how I learned the most.
I would ask them to correct me, and I would communicate the best I could until things started making more sense. As the months passed by, I became more fluent and was able to converse more effortlessly. The more time I spent around locals, the more I began to learn. Not just about language, but about them as individuals, about their families, their businesses, the history of the town.
They taught me how to make the best huevos rancheros, and how to dance a proper tango. As I became more aware of what living in Mexico was really like, I began to gather a new sense of peace within my life. A slower pace.
Slow Living and Unfolding Journeys
Living on the road, especially in a 1990 Volkswagen Vanagon, I was pretty much already accustomed to the slow life. I enjoy seeing the scenery slowly pass as a I drive by, feeling the wind on my face, because there’s no AC. I love the conversations with strangers and fellow VW lovers.
I like cruising at a pace where I can really take in the sights around me, where I can breathe in the fresh air as a I drive. Moving slowly though life in all forms, allows for stillness, stillness allows for me to listen to myself, to understand myself more, to learn and to grow. In Mexico, nobody is in a rush.
There are no deadlines that are forced to be met. Life just unfolds as it unfolds, and you walk down the streets slowly, with the purpose of nothing more than to enjoy your walk. The slow, calm pace of life, was another inkling that Todos Santos felt like home.
Starting to settle into this new town, I realized that this lifestyle was something that made me feel at ease. Being so at peace, I figured it would be a great time to try a yoga class. I was never into taking classes, I preferred practicing on my own, but a friend had mentioned how beautiful the studio Cuatro Vientos was, and something inside me felt like it was the right time to try again.
Nestled in a palm oasis on the north side of town, Cuatro Vientos (four winds) allow breezes from all directions, in the open air concept bungalow. A calm energy washes over you as the scent of incense fills your nose. There is an ethereal quiet, only shattered by the sounds of tropical birds, and palm leaves brushing up against the palapa.
Regular yoga classes became a safe haven for me. Throughout my time there, I started experimenting with restorative yoga. A yoga that is made to rest, relax, and restore. There is little to no movement, it is all about sinking into stillness.
Again, a match made in heaven for life in Mexico. Mar, a kind and knowledgeable woman, spoke to me about becoming a restorative yoga teacher. I decided to take the opportunity to get my certificate solely because I felt she had lots to teach me. I didn’t have intentions on teaching, but knew I wanted to understand my body more deeply.
Throughout the hot summer mornings, I would bike over to the studio. I would ride down the dirt roads, dust in my eyes and a smile on my face. Looking back at my small one bedroom casita, tucked in to the desert hillside, overlooking the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean.
Allowing time to stop at my favorite local fruit stand, partially to grab fresh maracuya and partially because I loved conversations with Juanita. The woman who owned it whose smile would bring you happiness on your worst days. Summer in Baja brings incredible stillness in the towns, and immeasurable movement in the desert.
The snakes, birds, and horses are roaming more than ever. The plants are growing tall and green, the flowers are blooming. Within the stillness of summer, I met a woman who offered me a teaching job. The woman had heard of me through a mutual friend and felt like I would be the perfect fit.
The following month, I started teaching kindergarten in Todos Santos. I am forever grateful to all of the wonderful children and their families. I learned so much from all of them and will continue to treasure those months for the rest of my life, and look forward to teaching more on my return to Mexico.
Where the Heart Resides: A Soulful Reunion with Todos Santos
Todos Santos will forever feel like going home to me. Cobblestone streets are strung with lights. The soft crinkly sound of rainbow papel picado blow gently with the breeze above you as you walk. Murals cover the walls of stores and bright beautiful flowers surround the cacti throughout the town.
Music is always playing, every stranger you pass by says hello. Palm trees cover the center square, where everyone gathers to celebrate their special occasions. The breeze of the ocean near by, in its own little alcove within the mountains, where desert meets the sea… and the sunsets are lit on fire.. and although the nature and scenery is unbeatable, the town wouldn’t be what it is without all of the incredibly talented and kind people who live there.
Throughout the next year, I was lucky enough to make a couple trips to the mainland to explore different parts of Mexico. I look forward to continuing to seek out all the other wonderful communities that reside within this country.
But for now, my most excited feeling comes from knowing I’ll soon be back in Todos Santos. I’ll soon be going home. For years prior, and years to come, my van is and will always be my home, but now I know, that my heart can reside in more than one place at once.