Go Here Instead is a series of occasional stories showcasing under-the-radar places to visit as alternatives to popular destinations.
We were looking for a quick warm getaway, and flights to Mexico were reasonable. We immediately poo-pooed the usual spots: Cancun, Cozumel, Cabo, Acapulco . . . too crowded and over-visited. (Set the alarm early so we can snag a pool lounger? No thanks.)
And then we read an interesting article about Paradero, an eco-friendly resort that recently opened in Todos Santos. The reviews (and photos) of the resort were stunning: an architectural marvel, an eco-tourism triumph, a lush oasis in a vast desert. And Todos Santos? Located in Baja California Sur, about 90 minutes north of the Cabo San Lucas airport, the Mexican town was described as a small enclave of artists and hippies, with walk-up taco stands and surfer beaches. It sounded perfect to us.
We arrived at Paradero late afternoon. The resort is located down a dirt road, flanked by acres of community farmland, set at the edge of a desert dotted with soaring cacti. There were mountains in the distance and peek-a-boo views of the ocean. But the resort, a brutalist cluster of cement, low-rise adobe-style buildings, stole the scene. Set on some 5 acres, the property features an open-air living and dining area, with drapey sun cloths fluttering overhead. There’s a sunken, below-ground spa and wellness center, a 130-foot-long, half-moon infinity pool, and a 100,000-square-foot garden with more than 20,000 indigenous plants, herbs, and vegetables. The landscaping throughout the property is extensive, with 80 percent of its acreage dedicated to plants.
And then there are the rooms, 41 suites, each with private outdoor spaces overlooking the desert to mountain to sea landscape. Second-floor sky suites feature giant outdoor hammocks and cushions for star watching. Our first-floor suites had private outdoor soaking tubs, overlooking a field of 200-year-old cardon cacti. Rooms are minimalistic yet comfy, with neutral tones, Mexican handmade textiles and furnishings, and separate open-air bathrooms.
That evening, we dined at the resort restaurant, perched at the counter overlooking the large, open-air kitchen. It was theater. We watched as chefs tended and stoked wood fires, and grilled fresh seafood, poultry, and veggies. A woman, dressed in a black apron over a puffy winter coat, rolled balls of fresh tortilla dough before flattening and blistering them on the hot Oaxacan clay comal. We ate spicy hiramasa fish tacos, burnt cauliflower, crispy roasted chicken, and zarandeados shrimp.
The next day, we joined a guided morning hike. Todos Santos, named a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, has five ecosystems: desert, mountains, Pacific coast beaches, an oasis of palm trees, and farmland. We would see all of them on the morning’s short jaunt.
The hike was gorgeous, starting at a historic stone building that was once used to process sea turtle meat, and passing overlooks with sweeping views of jagged mountains and dry, desert valleys, sliced with rivers of green. Very little rain falls in the Baja, usually during July and August. But, when it comes, it roars down the slopes of the Sierra de la Laguna Mountain range, creating deep arroyos that looked like green ribbons against the sandy, dusty slopes. We ended the hike atop cliffs overlooking the sea and an abandoned fishing port, listening to the pounding surf and the barks of sea lions.
Our afternoons were spent exploring the village of Todos Santos, with its refurbished haciendas, colorful murals, playful parks, and tucked-away courtyards. The town was initially founded in 1724 as a mission, and later became a thriving center for sugar cane production. When that industry died, the town faltered. But artists and surfers came, drawn by the scenery and golden light, and cheap places to stay. In 2006, the Mexican government designated Todos Santos a Pueblo Magico, one of 100 or so small towns honored for its rich, historic culture and natural beauty.
We’d begin our afternoons always with food and drink. One day we had strong margaritas and enchiladas at Tequila’s Sunrise Bar & Grill. (When we remarked on our drinks, our waiter told us they’d won seven national margarita competitions.) We enjoyed a generous bowl of locally caught fish ceviche anointed with spicy chile on the rooftop of San Toro Agave Cantina. And we enjoyed raw local oysters at contemporary, upscale Oystera.
Fortified, we’d walk the streets, browsing the souvenir shops and artisan galleries, filled with embroidered table runners, hand-blown glassware, colorful pottery, and original art. We visited the Centro Cultural, an interesting local museum housed in a former school, with a lovely courtyard and historic murals and artifacts, and popped into several galleries, including Mangos with amazing textiles. We peeked in the Casa Paolo Galeria with its lush courtyard and walls filled with art, and the lovely Todos Santos Inn, a historic hacienda hotel built in the 1870s as a sugar cane baron’s estate; we’d return later to have cocktails in its cozy, wonderfully worn bar.
On our last day, we joined a taco tour — of course we did! Our first stop was the lively Barracuda beach bar and taco truck in nearby El Pescadero, home to Playa Cerritos, which is a favorite beach with the surfing crowd. The laidback, sand-in-your-toes vibe of the open-air restaurant complemented our lunch: ultra-fresh, crispy, fried fish tacos, along with cold bottles of Modelo. We also enjoyed ceviche served on house-made tortillas at Tiki Santos, a bamboo thatched shack on the outskirts of town. We ended back at Paradero with possibly the best taco we’ve ever tasted: a wood-fired tortilla stuffed with grilled, just-caught soft-shell crab. Did the three tastings of local, smoky mezcal add to our feel-good vibe? Of course they did.
If you go . . .
For general information on Todos Santos, visit www.todossantos.cc. Paradero Todos Santos has 41 suites, starting at $550 a night (www.paraderohotels.com). Stays include breakfast and a host of guided activities, including yoga and fitness classes, hiking and biking tours, morning and sunset walks, and garden and farm tours. Other activities, like surf lessons, beach setups, and taco and art tours, can be arranged for an extra fee. The resort can arrange private transfers to and from the Cabo San Lucas airport, and back and forth to the village of Todos Santos, but this can be expensive. We’d recommend renting a car.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org