Is Todos Santos too Touristy? Vanlife Adventures in Baja, Mexico

Todos Santos is a small, yet bustling town located along the coast where the Sierra de La Laguna meets the Pacific Ocean, just a 1-hour drive from Cabo San Lucas and the tip of the Baja Peninsula. Established first as a mission, then as a sugar cane producer, and now as a hub for tourism, arts, culture, and agriculture, the town has a long and interesting history dating back to 1724. In 2006, Todos Santos was designated a Pueblo Magico (magic town) in recognition of its history and artistic charm. In recent years, the town and its charms have been discovered, drawing increasing numbers of tourists and new residents.

When we first visited Todos Santos 6 years ago, it was a quaint, sleepy little town. Tourists lingered around the famous Hotel California (more about that later), but most of the streets were quiet and within a couple of hours, we had seen what there was to see. Upon arriving in the town this year, we were shocked by how much it had changed. It’s now a bustling tourist town with a booming real estate industry and all the most obvious signs of gentrification. Some people – locals and ex-pats alike – are worried about how much the town is changing, but in our opinion, it’s still pleasantly touristy and absolutely worth a visit.

As Vanlifers, we have the benefit of having our own set of wheels, which makes it easy to explore all the area has to offer. In this post, we’ll share our latest experiences in Todos Santos and the 3 activities you shouldn’t miss. 

Exploring the Town

The town of Todos Santos is undeniably cute. With its cobblestone streets, restored colonial buildings, and tastefully designed new developments, there’s eye candy for streetscape lovers in every direction. Our number one favourite thing to do in Todos Santos was to wander the streets and admire the architecture, colourful scenery, artwork, and to people watch (… there’s no shortage of people to watch)!

The iconic Hotel California is arguably one of the biggest tourist draws and the location where tour operators drop off visitors from Cabo San Lucas by the busload. Urban legend has it that this hotel is the famous ‘Hotel California’ from the Eagle’s song. Unfortunately, that legend is fiction, and the Eagles filed a lawsuit against the hotel in 2017 for trademark infringement. But… we still couldn’t leave without getting the pic.  

Todos Santos is jam-packed with good restaurants and cafes, most of which are very dog friendly. We did our best to sample as much local fare as we could and based on those experiences, we can highly recommend the fish tacos from the ‘El Mar Azul’ taco stand, breakfast at La Esquina Café, ice cream from Baja Tasty (best palettes we’ve had in Baja!), and coffee at Doce Cuarenta – a small Baja chain with adorable branding.

If you’re a lover of the arts, there are plenty of little boutiques, shops, and galleries. The town also has art, film, music, and food festivals, though none were on when we were visiting.

We spent a day and a half exploring the town’s centre and easily walked up and down each street at least twice. Unfortunately, Todos Santos doesn’t have a good RV Park or campground, so we opted to park for the night right on the street, across from Hotel Casa Tota. The street was noisier than expected but it was a safe spot and right across from one of my favourite murals. There is one RV park in town – El Litro – but it has consistently terrible reviews on iOverlander – mostly related to rude hosts and an abundance of fleas (ack!) – so we decided to give it a miss (only Walter benefits from flea protection).

Hiking the Trails

Many visitors to Todos Santos don’t realize there’s a great trail network just a 15-minute drive southwest of downtown. We initially learned about the trails from one of our favourite YouTube Channels – Mr. & Mrs. Adventure – and found good hiking maps on All Trails and TrailForks.

We woke up super early in the morning to get to the Puerto Viejo trailhead, located at the ruins of a historic sugar cane mill before the sun was too strong. From the ruins, we hiked the winding trail up the hillside to a cliff overlooking a picturesque, turquoise bay. On a calm day, it would be a gorgeous place to take a dip in the Pacific but when we were there, the waves were crashing on the rocks, making it much too dangerous to venture into the water. We turned back at Puerto Viejo but there are miles of trails to explore if you’re feeling ambitious.

For Vanlifers, we highly recommend parking for the night at the trailhead if you want to get an early start. We didn’t realize it would be possible until we arrived for the hike (full disclosure – we didn’t spend the night) but it appears to be a safe spot with lots of fishermen, shuttles from the San Cristobal hotel, and hikers passing through.

As mentioned in our previous post about the Sierra de la Laguna, Todos Santos is also a popular departure point for single and multi-day hikes up into the mountains.

Camping, Surfing, Strolling & Whale Watching at the Beach

There are several surf beaches within a 15-minute drive from Todos Santos.  We camped at two of the beaches during our visit – La Pastora and Los Cerritos. These beaches were very different from those along the Sea of Cortez. They feel much wilder with large waves crashing onto the shore, surfers bobbing in the water and a strong breeze cooling the air. A visit to Todos Santos wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the beach to camp, stroll, or surf the waves. If you’re visiting at the right time of year, it’s possible to participate in the sea turtle hatchling releases and see gray whales frolicking right from the shore.

La Pastora was by far our favourite beach in the area. There are no facilities (we don’t need any), and it is free to camp on the beach for as many nights as you like.  The main beach access can get overcrowded with campers and surfers during the winter months but while we were there, it was relatively quiet.  We also found a slice of beach all to ourselves a couple of miles north of the main access, however, we couldn’t get past the entrance with our 2WD van. The views from our back door were perfect but we were surrounded by dirt and cow patties… it was one of those moments we wished we had 4WD.

After spending a few nights at La Pastora, we decided to try Los Cerritos beach for a change of scenery. It costs 200 pesos (~10 USD) per night to camp at the beach, which includes access to the bathrooms. Maybe we caught Los Cerritos on a bad day, but this isn’t a beach that we’d recommend to Vanlifers. The camping area was a dirt parking lot with very limited views of the beach. The bathrooms were dirty (no showers), the garbage cans had long since overflowed and the beach was a bit crowded. To be fair, there were some positives. The waves were small, making it possible to safely go for a swim and it would be a good place to learn to surf.  Nevertheless, we were completely underwhelmed by the experience and happy to pack up after one night and head to our next destination – Cabo Pulmo. But more about that in our next post.

Even the tiny waves terrify Walter, lol

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2 thoughts on “Is Todos Santos too Touristy? Vanlife Adventures in Baja, Mexico

  1. Thank you as usual for your well written and enticing descriptions of places to add to my “to do” list. Hugs to you both!

    Like

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