Mexico has a destination for everyone. You can hit the beach or stroll through non-coastal towns like Oaxaca and Cuernavaca. You can taste tequila and mescal straight from the source, or you can go wine tasting. One of Mexico's most gorgeous coastal destinations sits all by its lonesome on a long, skinny peninsula—Baja. Separated from the rest of Mexico by the Gulf of California, the Baja Peninsula is home to Cabo San Lucas at its very southern tip. Skip the big beach resorts, though, in favor of Baja's more charming, laid back towns like Todos Santos and Pescadero just an hour and a half away by car. There, you'll find prime whale watching opportunities, great hiking, and fantastic cuisine that goes beyond what you know about Mexican food.
Empty Beaches and Whale Watching
While May is not the best time for whale watching (go between January and March—Magdalena Bay is the prime spot), traveling in Baja during this "shoulder season" is deliciously tranquil. Playa Las Palmas (or Palm Beach) in between Todos Santos and Pescadero is well worth the minor trek on foot through the otherworldly palm grove. A local hint for fitness enthusiasts: six lengths of the beach is roughly three miles. Perfect barefoot running. After your exertions, take a swim, but do be careful: the riptide can be strong.
Fish Tacos and Ceviche
On the truck route heading out of Todos Santos (or into town if you are coming from Pescadero), two of the most authentic seafood experiences await you. There is a taco stand with a surfboard out front that is run by a mother and daughter whose fish tacos are unrivaled. On the same side of the street is a Sinaloan stand (the sign says "Mariscos"), which is more of an outdoor restaurant with lovely shaded tables. The tacos are excellent but it's their ceviche that really wows—super-fresh and a ridiculous bargain. It's the perfect post-beach lunch, complete with a cold cerveza.
Both Todos Santos and Pescadero are filled with natural wonders like hidden Pacific ports, secret waterfalls, and the exquisite Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve, which all remain fairly unknown. La Sirena Eco-Adventures have been leading travelers for years and provide excellent bilingual guides as well as juicy local lore.
Would you believe that one of the best Italian restaurants in the world is in a small town in Baja? Ezio and Paula Colombo of Cafe Santa Fe are rightly credited with bringing tourism to Todos Santos. Their seafood salad, carpaccio, pastas, and even Bistecca Fiorentina (I'm starting to salivate) are really that superb. They have never advertised. Ezio (a robust Northern Italian) created the menu with his mother's recipes, and they've taught a generation of locals to make ravioli, grow arugula, and dust their famous bread with just the right combination of rosemary and sea salt. Plus, they make the world's greatest margarita. Trust me.
Yes, hammocks. There are many excellent ones for sale along the roadside, but if you have a few more pesos to work with, book yourself a room at Rancho Pescadero, down a dirt road through rows of lush palm trees. And after a day spent at one of the dramatic beaches (don't forget to take a surf lesson at Cerritos Beach with Mario), hiking an old port, savoring fish tacos on a truck route, or dining upscale Italian al fresco, go retreat to your elegant room, where a hammock will be positioned perfectly, overlooking the Pacific, and the pink sun will slide into the sea. You will be sun-kissed and relaxed and you'll look forward to the next morning's freshly roasted coffee at the garden oasis of Baja Beans Roasting Company, where—if it's a Sunday—a festive farmers' market will be underway.
You will ask yourself, as I do, each and every visit: How am I ever going to bring myself to leave?
Joanna Hershon is the author Swimming and The Outside of August. Her short fiction has been published in One Story and The Virginia Quarterly Review. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, the painter Derek Buckner, and their twin sons. Her latest book, A Dual Inheritance, was just released this month.
Photo credits: Whale watching in Magdalena Bay via Shutterstock; Fish taco condiments courtesy of Flickr/Ms. Phoenix; Hiking in Todos Santos courtesy of La Sirena Eco-Adventures; Cafe Santa Fe courtesy of Cafe Santa Fe; Beach and sunset view courtesy of Rancho Pescadero