Todos Santos: A Colorful, Seaside Town in Mexico

Writer Kassondra Cloos walks through an arts and crafts market in central Todos Santos.

Writer Kassondra Cloos walks through an arts and crafts market in central Todos Santos.

Story by Kassondra Cloos; photos by Michael Ciaglo

Kassondra is a freelance travel writer based in Mexico City. Michael Ciaglo is a freelance photographer based in Denver, Colorado.

Local handicrafts, artfully tiled walls and baby turtles delight visitors.

When we arrive in Todos Santos, known for its artisan culture, my friend Michael and I make a mad dash for fish tacos. We settle in at El Santo Chilote, where we order coconut shrimp, tuna and avocado tacos, and massive goblets of horchata, a sweet, refreshing drink made of rice, almonds and cinnamon.

Just an hour in, we can tell that this Mexican town on the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur suits us. About an hour’s drive north of Cabo San Lucas along Highway 19, Todos Santos is home to some 6,500 people. As we walk back to Guaycura, our historic boutique hotel, we stop frequently to admire the beauty around us.

Attention to detail is evident everywhere. Banners of colorful, intricate pierced paper decorations — papel picado — stream from the roof of our hotel to a building across the street. At an open-air art market in the center of town, I admire colorful, hand-woven bracelets and tote bags. Across the street is a wall of painted tiles featuring floral and geometric patterns in a wide array of colors. Outside a row of shops, the sidewalk is studded with iridescent mother-of-pearl, another artistic detail.

Founded in 1723 by Jesuits, Todos Santos once was known as a major producer of sugarcane, with eight processing mills. Today, the surrounding farmland produces vegetables and fruits. An air of calm seems to emanate through the narrow cobblestone streets, many of them framed by old stone buildings. It feels as though it’s illegal to be stressed here, a vibe we adore immediately.

Helping Turtle Hatchlings Reach the Sea

That relaxed atmosphere emanates outward from the city to the shore. Some nearby beaches are known for their strong surf, and they’ve attracted “vanlifers,” people who live in their converted cargo vans. Some have driven from as far north as Canada, drawn to the swells so they may fall asleep a few hundred feet from the waves.

With plenty of time before sunset, we drive about 10 minutes north to Tortuqueros las Playitas, a beachfront nonprofit that protects sea turtles, situated at the end of Camino Internacional where it intersects with Calle de los Mangos. At night, volunteers there scan a 22-mile section of beach for leatherback, olive ridley and black turtle nests, scoop up the eggs and bring them inside a greenhouse-like hatchery, offering the baby turtles a better chance of survival.

Nearly every evening from December to April, the organization lets visitors carry plastic basins of baby turtles close to the waterline and tip them over onto the sand. Then everyone watches as the hatchlings scramble toward the water, get tossed around by the rising tide, right themselves and make another go, undeterred.

A quarter-mile away, we spot gray whales spyhopping — sticking their heads out of the water — just feet from a surfer who’s filming the giants. We sprint through the soft sand to get closer. I’ve never been so inspired to run, and Michael and I laugh as we gasp for air.

I sink to my knees, caking my jeans with wet sand. I see one whale, then two, then three. The sun begins to set. A stingray leaps out of the water. The surfer lunges forward with the waves, then back. Another whale pops up, and then I count five all at once. The stingray jumps again.

I feel a sudden sense of urgency to look at everything individually and together all at once, the way I sometimes try to tune in to individual instruments while enjoying a concert. I pan from the Sierra Laguna mountains to the crowd helping sea turtles to fishers casting lines from shore to the whales directly in front of me — and back to the mountains.

How fitting for a perfect day in such an arts-minded town to culminate in this, a visual orchestra.


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