Todos Santos has a sense of style that is all its own. Bounded by the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra de la Laguna mountain range, the charming coastal town has evolved from its industrious days as a sugar capital, and is now one of three places in Baja to be legally designated as a pueblo mágico - literally, a magical village.
This evocative honorific perfectly captures the unique aesthetic of downtown Todos Santos: a festive whirl of colorful art galleries, red brick buildings housing bookstores and bodegas, and restaurants serving first-class fare, some amid a clutter of surfboards.
Luckily for overnight or longer-term visitors, this enchanting combination of chic appointments, laid-back attitude, and stunning natural settings - the inimitable Todos Santos style - also distinguishes some of the town's best boutique hotels.
There are a few moments driving down the long, winding, dirt road to Posada La Poza when you might question where you are going, and whether anything good can possibly be at the end of a road this bad. But the off-the-beaten-path route – with its enormous ruts and rocks – is an essential part of the journey, and only heightens the sense of wonderment when you finally arrive at your destination.
To say Posada La Poza is a feast for the senses is an understatement. Visually, it’s breathtaking. The property faces west over a magnificently nurtured and sculpted garden – home to over 30 types of palm trees, 50 kinds of cactus, and 100 species of birds – to a large freshwater lagoon, and the vast Pacific Ocean beyond.
Founded by Swiss transplants Juerg and Libusche Wiesendanger, this secluded, eight-suite boutique hotel is a world unto itself. Libusche grew the garden, and has also provided paintings and helped to curate the art for the exquisitely appointed ocean and garden view accommodations. The master suite has its own lounge area and fireplace, as well as a king-sized canopy bed, and a bathroom larger than the average studio apartment, with a hot tub for two. The spacious terrace, shaded by a traditional palo de arco pergola, looks out towards the sea, and is bounded to the north by a dense and picturesque palm grove. Guests can enjoy incredible sunsets from the terrace hammock, drink in hand, while serenaded by the sound of exotic birds and crashing waves.
Breakfast includes fresh fruit and juices – including mangos right off the trees during the summer months – and is served on a small patio graced with colorful paintings and evocative sculptures. Just inside, there is a bar stocked with artisanal tequilas and mezcals. The destination drinking and dining spot at Posada La Poza, however, is El Gusto, which features spectacular ocean views from its elevated “Whale Deck” (yes, transiting whales can be viewed during the winter months). El Gusto serves up some of the finest food in Todos Santos, and is a popular luncheon spot for local couples and families, as well as hotel guests. Organic produce and freshly caught local seafood are the specialties of the house, most notably served Mexican style in smoked tuna flautas and shrimp quesadillas.
The grounds are so spacious that one rarely runs into other guests unless it is at the restaurant, the swimming pool – contoured around a palm tree, or course, with a blissful waterfall nearby – or the adjoining outdoor fitness facilities. Privacy is part of the allure here; the natural beauty is profound, and lends a sort of meditative majesty to the experience that is only enhanced by the superb service.
The Hotelito has its own kind of magic, but one that’s hard to define.
The owner is an architect and designer, and both skills are evident throughout this strikingly distinctive bed and breakfast…yet it also has a laid-back, almost rural charm.
The property showcases upscale amenities like a 48-foot saltwater lap pool, and top-of-the-line beds shipped specially from the U.S. for maximum comfort…yet guests are invariably invited to meet the meet the onsite menagerie, which includes dogs, goats, a sheep, a horse and a donkey.
The Hotelito is quiet and private, with scenic views of the neighboring orchard and palm grove…yet it’s also very close to the downtown area; within walking distance, and less than two minutes by car from Todos Santos’ top restaurants and art galleries.
It’s stylish and elegant…yet offers warm, downhome service.
The magic is that none of these disparate elements clash. Rather, they combine to create a kind of perfect harmony.
Like most of Todos Santos’ best boutique properties, The Hotelito offers limited lodging – only four casitas, and three rooms at the Hacienda El Chilicote – but with plenty of space; in this case, five sprawling acres just off the Avenida General Topete.
The four casitas are stand-alone guesthouses named according to their dominant color palette (Violeta, Verde, Rosa and Azul), each inspired by notable artists or architects. The beds always draw raves – “a great night’s sleep makes up for any small mistakes,” the owner says – but are complemented by one-of-a-kind furnishings and accents, many bought at auction. Bathrooms feature large, walk-in showers and historical Mexican photographs. Casitas also come with a small selection of books, which may be enjoyed on the private terraces, all of which are outfitted with hammocks and patio furniture.
The Hacienda de Chilicote is an ideal option for traveling families, with a large, high-ceilinged living area complete with fireplace, plus an expansive terrace, and both indoor and outdoor dining spots. Sleeping quarters include three bedrooms, each with its own en suite bathroom.
Breakfast is served to all guests in an airy al fresco café, and casitas share their own kitchen area for cooking and food storage. The vibrantly colored pool lounge is walled off for privacy, and in addition to the enormous saltwater pool, includes tables and chairs, chaise lounges and hammocks. The outdoor shower is set directly beneath a mango tree, a nice tropical touch that yields delicious results during the summer months.
This lovely downtown hotel features many unique amenities, among which is the oldest swimming pool in town; a refreshing and picturesque outdoor splash-around spot that dates to the 1950s, when guests from Rancho Las Cruces would visit Todos Santos for the superb white-winged dove hunting. Rancho Las Cruces, for the uninitiated, was the original Baja California Sur based vacation resort, an exclusive and expansive seaside getaway southeast of La Paz that regularly hosted celebrities like Clark Gable, John Wayne, Bing Crosby and Desi Arnaz Jr., as well as U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The founders of Rancho Las Cruces were themselves rather famous. Abelardo “Rod” Rodríguez Jr. was the son of a Mexican President, and like many regional pioneers, an aviator. After serving as a transport pilot during World War II, he became a test pilot, and set a speed record flying between Los Angeles and Mexico City. His wife, Lucille Bremer, was an actress who had co-starred in a film with the legendary Fred Astaire. Together, they turned the then sparsely populated coast of southern Baja into a destination attraction among the smart set, following their success at Rancho San Lucas with Hotel Palmilla, the first true hotel in Los Cabos, and Hotel Hacienda, the first in Cabo San Lucas proper.
The Rodríguez clan remain the region’s first family of hospitality, although patriarch Rod is enjoying his retirement at age 99. Rancho Las Cruces still enjoys an elite clientele, and Rod’s daughter Kali has transformed Hacienda Todos los Santos from a hunting lodge into an utterly charming collection of boutique accommodations, from the roomy suites in Casa de los Santos to fully-furnished, standalone casitas (guesthouses) overlooking a beautiful palm grove.
One suite, Casa Santa Cruz, boasts a wood-burning fireplace, and all suites and casitas feature king or queen-sized beds, comfortably appointed living areas, scenic terraces, kitchens and wet bars, and bathrooms with hand-painted Talavera counters and sinks. Yet another Rodríguez has contributed incredible photos of Todos Santos, which along with the regional paintings and tapestries, clamshell-shaped wall hollows and sunken living areas, give the casitas their distinctive, trademark style.
The location could hardly be improved upon: set at one end of the town’s main road, Calle Benito Juárez, the hotel is no more than five minutes from anywhere in downtown Todos Santos; yet completely private and secluded. Just look for the pedestal-set bust of beloved President Juárez which marks the property’s entrance, and which was donated to the town by the Rodríguez family.
No lodging speaks to local history quite like Todos Santos Inn, whose ebbs and flows over the past century and a half have largely mirrored the fortunes of the town itself. Built in 1872 as an estate for a sugar baron, the imposing and stately brick edifice later served as a schoolhouse, notably for future Brigadier General and hero of the Mexican Revolution, Melitón Albañez. During the 1930s, at the height of the Mexican Muralism Movement, artist C.C. Zamora painted the foyer with the lushly evocative murals which still enchant visitors. Zamora’s work prefigured Todos Santos’ rebirth in the 1980s as an artists’ colony, and its subsequent emergence as a destination getaway for discerning travelers.
The weathered old wooden bar in La Copa, the watering hole just off the lobby, looks as if it once supported the elbows of Albañez, Zamora, and every other famous or forgotten figure who passed through town. Nowadays, however, it’s mostly a congenial spot for a mojito or margarita before dinner at the more secluded La Copa Cocina, where Chef Patrick “Patricio Mullen’s eclectic bill of fare ranges from comfort food to dishes featuring fresh local seafood, and even a Japanese style Chicken Nagoya.
But history is never far from one’s mind at the Todos Santos Inn. Not only is the façade reminiscent of another time, but so too are the eight onsite rooms and suites, with their canopied four poster beds, Saltillo tile floors and vintage armoires, desks and dressers. Reclining in a welcoming chair on the flagstone terrace, looking out through splendid red brick arches at palm fronds waving lazily in the breeze, it’s rather easy to imagine oneself as a wealthy 19th century planter, or a character in a novel by Gabriel García Márquez.
Modern conveniences do exist at the Todos Santos Inn, of course, but they remain inconspicuous and unobtrusive. This is not a place where televisions or telephones are standard amenities. It’s an oasis, a haven, a retreat from the hurly burly.
It’s an amazing trick, really, when you consider the Todos Santos Inn has the most central location of any of the town’s small, boutique lodgings: only a block from the plaza principal, in the heart of the gallery district. It’s not hidden, but it does have that quality of all great hotels, of filtering out everything that does not fit its carefully imagined and cultivated world.
Visitors never make it past the elegant-long necked swans that Zamora painted on the entryway walls over 80 years ago. Access beyond that point is exclusively reserved for guests, those fortunate few who get to experience Todos Santos as it once was, and still is in a handful of fashionable places.
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