The Adventure Traveler’s Guide to Todos Santos, Mexico from Outside wsiler

Hi there. I’m writing you from a beach in Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, Mexico. My wife and I have been coming down here a couple times a year since 2018, were married here just before the pandemic was declared in 2020, and are currently spending two months in town, enjoying the warm weather while we recuperate from a major surgery.

Why do we love it? One of the reasons is for the things it doesn’t have. There are no golf courses, no night clubs, no shopping malls or supermarkets, and honestly not a lot of the other amenities many American tourists deem essential. Which is perfect—they’re the people we are trying to get away from. And while it’s starting to feel a little less like a sleepy seaside town, it’s still very much a haven for people who want to be a part of the local culture.

And it’s a great place to enjoy nature. From the sea turtles nesting on the beach, to the jumping whales I can see as I write this, or the pelicans my dogs are chasing, or the knock-your-socks-off sunsets that happen nightly, it’s just a stunning backdrop for taking it easy.

If you think simple pleasures, a slow pace, and making new friends sounds nice too, then I think you’ll enjoy it. Here’s how I make the most of my time in Todos Santos.

Baja’s area is full of stunning hiking trails like this coastal gem. (Photo: Wes Siler)

What’s the Best Way to Get to Todos Santos?

If you’re visiting from the United States, then it’s probably going to be easiest and cheapest to fly in and out of San Jose del Cabo (SJD). It’s serviced by most major airlines, and there’s direct flights from as far away as Salt Lake City and Denver. La Paz is another option, but its smaller airport isn’t as convenient.

From there, renting a car is the best option for most travelers who want to venture outside a resort. Conventional taxis and ride share services aren’t really available here, and outside of the town center, things aren’t walkable. If you’re doing that, make sure you book a flight that lands at least four hours before nightfall, so you have plenty of time to take the shuttle bus to the rental car location, go through that checkout process, then complete the hour-and-a-half drive north before it gets dark.

When we borrow cars from local friends, or arrange travel for friends and family, we use Todos Santos Private Transportation for the journey to or from the airport. At $200 one-way, it’s not cheap, but the vehicles are brand new, the drivers are competent, and the pickup times are 100 percent reliable. The pickup area at SJD is horrifying glimpse into tourist trap hell, and the company gets us out of there as fast as is humanly possible.

There are also various bus services, which can run as low as $50 one-way.

Driving from the U.S. is by far the best way to get here, though. The thousand-mile or so journey from the border is arguably the best camping road trip on earth, and should be on every Outside reader’s travel bucket list. We just spent two weeks camping our way down from our home in Bozeman, Montana, and plan to do the same on our way back up, in April. For some reason, Americans are often under the impression that Mexico is dangerous. Statistically speaking, you’re actually safer here than at home. Road conditions can prove hazardous, though, more on that below.

Where to Stay in Todos Santos

Staying at Todos Swell isn’t just comfortable, the owner will also give you insider access to everything the area offers. (Photo: Todos Swell)

Best Hotel For Budget Travelers

Located just a few minutes’ walk from the town center, Hotel Quinta Santa Rosa offers a stylish, comfortable, friendly environment that’s also affordable. While rooms in the converted motel are clean and basic, the pool, bar, and outdoor hangout spaces provide ample options for socializing, or finding a private place to work or relax.

And while Todos Santos is very safe, travelers showing up by vehicle may appreciate secure parking, if only because the return trip would be evermore challenging without that vehicle. Quinta Santa Rosa’s friendly staff are happy to open the hotel’s main gates, so you can roll right into the courtyard. Rooms start at $125 a night.

Best Splurge Hotel

Looking for a splurge? The recently renovated Todos Santos Boutique Hotel rivals the elegance of the nicest hotels in major cities, complete with old-world charm in a space that was originally constructed in the late 19th century. A small, and very private pool is hidden inside the courtyard, surrounded by marbled verandas. The ten suites are surprisingly spacious, and feel incredibly romantic. But be prepared to pay for all that private luxury. Rooms start at about $1,100 a night, depending on conversion rates.

The first time we visited, we were surprised by the extra taxes tacked onto the advertised room rates by hotels at check out. Don’t forget to budget for an additional 16 percent in value added tax on top of your total bill.

Want to Rent a House? Do This.

When we rent houses, we use Ricardo Amigo Real Estate. RARE has the nicest properties in town, and their friendly, helpful staff are always on hand to help out when small problems arise. That level of service really elevates the experience above AirBnBs.

An exception there is Todos Swell, where my buddy Jed rents out three poolside casitas. He lives onsite, and can also offer local insights into anything you want to see or do while you’re here. Swell is much nicer than anything else costing $72 a night.

Where to Eat in Todos Santos

Pretty much every restaurant here is outdoors. It’s a good idea to bring along a heavy sweater, fleece, or light puffy as temperatures fall after sunset. (Photo: Hierbabuena)

Food is a big part of this town’s appeal. From the the Carnitas Machin taco stand in Pescadero (just south of Todos Santos proper), to 1890, Todos Santos Boutique Hotel’s fine dining restaurant, you just can’t go wrong. There’s no way I could fit all my recommendations here, but here’s a start:

FYI, Locals Love Their Italian Food

Want to eat Italian food (a local favorite), while watching an epic sunset? Il Giardino is located in a palapa on a hill above town, giving you excellent views to the coast. Another great Italian option is Tre Galline, located right in the town center. The latter makes all of its own pasta in-house.

Best Mexican Restaurants for Tacos, Quesadillas, and More

Hungry for table service tacos? Pacifica Fish Market just north of downtown, or 5 Tacos and a Beer in Las Tunas (that’s their speciality) are both serviceable, casual, walk-in options. The food at Barracuda Cantina in Cerritos (one hill further south than Pescadero) is better, but involves a 15 minute drive. If you go there, make sure you order a smoked fish quesadilla.

For breakfast, you won’t find friendlier service or better Spanish lessons than those at Cafelix. For lunch, I usually order tacos de pescado capeado at Bahia Pescadaria, but don’t skip Quesadillas Muñe for heartier dishes.

Make time to visit Hierbabuena in Pescadero for dinner. That’s farm-to-table, with food mostly coming from the farm you’re dining right in the middle of.

Where to Drink in Todos Santos

Todos has gotten way more expensive, but The Green Room is still a great spot to watch the sunset while drinking a margarita. (Photo: The Green Room)

For Cocktail Enthusiasts

Visit my Norwegian friend Freddy at Teatro No. 6 for one of his handmade cocktails, and good conversation. He’s open Wednesday to Saturday from 6 P.M., and runs out of barstools fast. La Copa in the Todos Santos Boutique Hotel is also great, and you won’t have a problem finding a seat.

For Wine Lovers

Note that wine is going to be surprisingly expensive, due to taxation and shipping. Sergio Madera is the best sommelier in town (he did our wedding), and works out of Benno, Hotel San Cristobal’s seafood restaurant. He also does private wine and mezcal tastings. Message him on Instagram to arrange one of those.

For Beer Drinkers

Book a bar table (you definitely need a reservation) at The Green Room, north of town, to coincide with a sunset at some point during your visit. And if, like me, you enjoy a good beer, Bajavaria Biergarten in Las Tunas is a must visit, with loads of options on tap from Mexico and beyond.

What to Do in Todos Santos

There’s worse travel plans than organizing your day around watching sunsets in Todos Santos, like this one from Hotel San Cristobal. (Photo: Wes Siler)

Most people come to shop for art, eat good food, chill at the beach, and surf, all in an environment that’s still significantly less touristy than anything available in Los Cabos.

Best Beaches for Surf and Sunsets

As a note on beaches, any place near town, north of Pescadero, is going to have a gnarly shore break and dangerous riptides. Go to Pescadero or Cerritos if you want to get in the water. The beaches in town are still great places to hang out and watch the sunset, though. If you want to do that while someone brings you Piña Coladas, day passes at El Faro Beach Club start at about $50 for a couple. Ask for Chacon. Not only does he make a mean drink, but he’ll entertain you with stories all day, too.

Head to the Sierra to Hike

If you like hiking, devote a day to drive out to the Sierra de la Laguna mountains that you can see on the east side of town. There you’ll find scenic swimming holes, cliff jumping spots, and some seriously stunning trails. That’s an especially nice destination when it’s too hot on the coast—the mountains reach 6,800 feet above sea level.

Check Out The Art Scene

A great place to start your journey into Todos Santos’ art scene is at Galeria Todos Santos. There, Michael Cope and Erik Ochoa paint and sculpt in-house, host weekly events, and represent a dozen or so other artists. Michael has lived here for 30 years, and will talk your ear off.

For Ocean Adventures, Make Friends

Want to go fishing, or explore areas outside of town? You’ll need to make friends, which really isn’t hard to do. There aren’t conventional fishing charters (as Americans understand them), but you can catch a ride on a panga from Punta Lobos if you can talk them into it, and simply throwing a line into the surf usually turns up a catch.

The view from our rental house in Todos Santos (Photo: Wes Siler)

What to Avoid in Todos Santos

Don’t drive after dark in Baja: Seriously. I’m a trained race car driver, have worked as a precision driver in car commercials, drive a truck equipped to survive an impact with large animals and with lights that reach a mile into the darkness, and I still try to avoid it when at all possible.

Watch out for road obstructions: Not only are the roads here often too narrow for two vehicles to pass each other safely, but their shoulders are dangerously crumbled, huge potholes and invisible speed bumps abound, and livestock ranges freely across the peninsula. If you haven’t before traveled to remote, undeveloped parts of the world, the level of danger is nothing like any you’ll have experienced before. Hell, I almost hit a cow on the highway yesterday, in the middle of the afternoon.

Give yourself time to get around: Travel times estimated by navigation apps cannot be relied upon. Allow plenty of extra time to reach your destination before nightfall.

Keep cash close: Speaking of driving, keep some small bills on hand. There’s about $11 in tolls between here and the airport, and when you stop for gas, the attendant will wash your windshield. In return for that service, hand them 20 pesos.

Text like a local: Like most countries outside of the U.S., people here text via WhatsApp. Go ahead and get that downloaded and setup before you arrive. As an added bonus, WhatsApp is operating system agnostic, so you won’t have trouble with group messages if one of your friends still insists on using an iPhone.

Driving to Baja allows you to have awesome adventures along the way. (Photo: Wes Siler)

Do You Need to Speak Spanish In Todos Santos?

You’ll certainly have a better time the more Spanish you speak. Neither my wife or I approach fluency, but we’re learning. And even our limited ability to respect the local culture has enabled use to make friends, which then opens up all manner of interesting new possibilities.

When friends from Bozeman flew down a couple months ago, their half-decent Spanish enabled them to make friends with the manager at a hotel, who then invited them to come fishing with his family the next morning. We know a guy we can text on WhatsApp who will drive us to dinner and back for a few bucks, so we can avoid drinking and driving. When we saw a Mexican trio play at a local bar, we were able to ask them to perform at our wedding. Friends we’ve made here invite us to their homes and events. We can easily make reservations at the best restaurants. And all that takes is a little practice ahead of time, and a willingness to smile our way through a little embarrassment on the frequent occasions we get something entirely wrong. Todos Santos is very much a place for people prepared to do the same.

The post The Adventure Traveler’s Guide to Todos Santos, Mexico appeared first on Outside Online.

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