Summary: A small town is just a small town. The pueblos, interesting as they might be (for an hour or so) remain small desert villages, with minimal paved streets and dusty side-streets. Expats, building waterfront or seaview homes, introduce planned communities with lots staked out in sub-divisions in the hills or on the beach, HOA sensibilities, private lots, and “off the grid” opportunities. In town, a restored building sits next to one that is falling down. It’s rustic, but it’s cool, if you can adjust to the authenticity and incongruity.
The Bahías – La Ventańa and El Sargento
For the sole purpose of a day trip, we drive southeast to two small fishing villages. We leave the highway and once we reach the villages, the pavement abruptly ends. We follow the sandy, rutted, dusty curving road and find stunning Agua Caliente beach, set against a backdrop of sandy mountains. Past the beach “No Name Road”, becomes too much of a challenge, and we turn around, leaving it to the 4-wheelers to make it to the natural hot springs. (Dig in the sand…and the water is muy caliente!) The villages, La Ventańa and El Sargento,are barely two streets wide, but are busy with
- Kitesurfing schools all over the place – premier kitesurfing /windsurfing destination.
- Prime area for big game fishing – marlin, swordfish, dorado, sailfish, and tuna.
- Remarkable off-the-grid housing, on the isolated, rough, dusty, stark, desert “Unnamed Road” at El Sargento.
Beyond El Sargento lies remote, off the grid housing. If you follow the unnamed road a couple of miles to the end, it terminates at a fishing village, and a natural hot springs. Dig into the sand, and you find hot, hot water. Muy caliente.
Back in town, a stop at Playa Central Bar, a gathering spot for the kite-surfers.
Bahía de los Sueños (Bay of Dreams)
We backtrack and turn towards another coastal area. At one time, the dreams were big at the Bay of Dreams. The master planned community built a golf course, equestrian center, tennis courts, but most of the facilities have been closed down and are for sale. Perhaps this explains the picturesque gringo housing mentioned above at El Sargento – cool houses on a stark desert, dreaming for the expat boom. Lunch is at a seafront restaurant with stunning views overlooking a pristine snorkeling area and the beautiful Sea of Cortez.
Note: The original name of the bay was Bahía de los Muertos (Bay of the Dead). The (defunct) development company thought the name off-putting so renamed it. The locals still use the original name.
El Triunfo (“thre UN fo”)
El Triunfo is 45 minutes south of La Paz in the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna mountains. Once the largest and richest town in Baja California Sur, it became a ghost town when the silver mines closed in 1926. Just opened in the town is a well-curated Museo Ruta de Plata (Museum of the Silver Route), the brainchild of Christy Walton (Sam’s daughter). We walked around the old mine ruins and brick smokestacks.
El Triunfo is now a big weekend hangout due to a couple of chic restaurants, a few nicely restored buildings in this tiny dusty town.
In its glory days El Triunfo was a cultural center and many pianos and musical instruments were shipped from all over the world, but ultimately abandoned. The instruments are here in the Museu del la Música, but the museum has fallen into disrepair…it’s a mess.
Todos Santos – a Desert Oasis on the West Cape.
On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair. Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air.The Eagles. – Hotel California
After miles of barren desert we drive into Todos Santos. After the highway was paved in 1980, the town was noticed by hippies, and they never left. The art scene is strong, the lifestyle bohemian. The Hotel California is prominent on the main street. The fact that it is not the actual inspiration for the Eagles song does not matter (rumors claim otherwise).
A Pueblo Magicó, Todos Santos is one of three on the Baja peninsula (and lies on the Tropic of Cancer). The mostly paved and dusty streets crisscross with old brick and adobe buildings that are studios and galleries. Todos is an escape from the Cabos – earthy and laid back (yoga is a favorite pastime). Every street’s aging sidewalk has steps up and down to traverse – not handicap accessible. There are cool places to stay (no resorts) and this agricultural community is quite a culinary scene.
One evening on a side street we found a small, nondescript wine shop and were waved in by Anastasia, the owner. No problem that closing time was in 15 minutes; if you were in the door before closing…all good! What mattered was 5 expats, perched on stools, sharing several bottles of wine that they had purchased. “Come on in…have some of mine, try this one!” We helped Jeremy finish his bottle. Thank you, Jeremy.
Todos Santos is home to a non-profit sea turtle rescue center dedicated to restoring leatherbacks. The turtles are on the verge of extinction; there are only 2300 female leatherbacks in the world. Tortugeros Las Playitas collects and incubates eggs after nesting and releases the hatchings to the sea. With so few mommas left to nest, it is dear to my heart.
A kilometer or two west of town, off narrow one-lane dirt roads, are endless miles of the Pacific ocean coast. The beaches are stunning with crazy surf. Ah yes, waterfront housing…expats. Here is where the artists live.
Once a remote fishing and agriculture village, El Pescadero benefits from expat development. You find surf camp, yoga retreats and beach sprawl – dozens of mostly Gringo-owned individual houses, of various size and value, scattered along dusty roads with many empty lots in between.
Away from the beach is a small downtown area and a busy 4-lane highway with taco stands and small bars on both sides of the road. It is hazardous for people crossing back and forth. A bar owner petitioned officials for speed signs, speed limits, or voles (speed bumps), but was only able to secure two cut outs of cop cars, placed at either end of town.
The Cabos (Cabo San Lucas, the Corridor, San José del Cabo)
At the southern tip of the peninsula, Los Cabos is the region between San José del Cabo (where the international airport is located) and Cabo San Lucas (where the Spring Break parties are). This Baja is completely different from all the rest of the peninsula…there is big money here. Yachts and cruise ships fill the marinas. Dance clubs and bars are busy.
Cabo San Lucas – Ciudad
The hedonistic spring break capital of the west is at the tip of the peninsula. No longer a small town, some think it has grown into a monster. We stopped at the marina, a busy tourist spot with upscale stores, beachside restaurants, souvenir shops, bars, tour operators, cruise ship passengers, etc. A water taxi took us out to the famous El Arco rock (Land’s End Arch), the most photographed landmark in Baja, where the Sea of Cortez and Pacific ocean converge. The rocks that extend out into the Pacific are magnificent.
Our water taxi dropped two people at Lover’s Beach, a calm two-sided beach accessible only by boat, and then swung around to show us the backside which faces the Pacific Ocean, the water too rough for swimming (Divorce Beach).
San José del Cabo
Between Cabo San Lucas and San José stretches “the Cabo Corridor”, a long string of exclusive resorts on the most beautiful beaches. The upscale look continues into San José (reminiscent of West Palm Beach, Florida). But the traditional historic center, Plaza Teniente José Antonio Mijares, is low key. Many of the historic buildings have been renovated into art studios and galleries, yet the area retains authenticity. The plaza streets are ringed with handicraft shops, typical dress and hammock goods, restaurants, and anchored by a mission church. San José del Cabo is a pretty town.
Los Barriles – The barrels, & Santiago
On the East Cape, the fishing village of Los Barriles (population of 1,200 and one paved street) is still on our list. Legend says the conquistadors buried gold in barrels in the hills, thus the name. And in Santiago (population 730) you cross the Tropic of Cancer, again.
Ciudad de La Paz: And here is where we spend our time.