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I’ll admit it: I’m a bit of a travel snob.

Visiting between ten and fifteen countries a year can do that to a person. Plus, I find myself in the fortunate position of not only choosing where to go, but also curating all the details for others.

So, when the idea of offering an Escape To Shape retreat in Baja, Mexico was raised, my first thought was, “Touristy, overdone, lacks any sense of culture. It’s called Baja California, so it can’t be that exotic.” In other words, I didn’t take it very seriously.

Fortunately, in addition to being a travel snob, I am also quite open to surprises, so—based on a few inside tips—I packed my bags and headed South of the Border to give it a shot.

But I didn’t go to Cabo San Lucas. Or to La Paz. I traveled to Todos Santos.

The Vibe

If, like me, your sense of the beaches in Mexico includes all-inclusive hotels (to avoid!) or Tulum (which is beautiful, but not exactly off-the-beaten-path anymore), then Todos Santos may be perfect for you. To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. I was overwhelmed by the untouched raw beauty of nature, the welcoming energy of the locals and the low-key surf vibe that permeates this boho-chic beachside town.

The Shopping

As far as un-touristy Mexican beach towns go, Todos Santos is one of the best: from the charming architecture to the sweet shops that sell treasures like local dark chocolate, exquisite handmade leather bags from David Luna, pottery from the Sierra Laguna Mountains by Casa Catalina and beautiful market finds from Oaxaca by Etnica.

The Food

The village has just enough restaurants to keep you table-hopping throughout your stay, almost all of which keep it local, organic and simple. That’s fairly easy to do in a lush region that thrives thanks to tons of fish, fruits and vegetables. Here are some of my now favorite food spots:

1. La Esquina for fantastic chicken tostadas & tortilla soup.

2. Pura Vida for organic spring rolls, green juice and raw treats.

3. La Casita for sashimi and salads.

4. Michaels, for a superb Asian.

5. Heirbabuena, a great newcomer for a farm-to-table meal right on the farm (actually in Pescadero, a 20-minute drive from Todos Santos).

The Great Outdoors 

Still, in my opinion, it is the nature in Todos Santos that is most compelling. 

The Beaches

In all of my travels, I have never come across a beach so vast, wild, large, beautiful and empty as La Cachora. No vendors try to sell you anything. There are no beach clubs with bad plastic chairs and umbrellas—no houses, no hotels, nada. Just pure, vast, untouched nature and soft white sand as far as the eye can see.

The reason this long stretch of beach is empty save for a few horses and their riders, whale watchers, turtle revelers and beach walkers is because the waves are so huge and the currents are so strong that you cannot swim. Consider it a blessing because, if you could, it would surely be ruined by now. 

On any given day, you can see turtles either laying their eggs or hatching (depending upon the season), breaching whales and numerous dolphins. And you’ll see these amazing creatures just feet away, as the water is deep almost to the shoreline, so the whales and dolphins come in close.

Las Palmas beach is a hidden gem: Small, yet lovely and swimmable! This is the home of wild horses, seen constantly basking in the shade of palm trees as you play in the waves.

Los Cerritos is the surfing beach. With two breaks—one ideal for beginners and another farther out that attracts experts—this picturesque beach if full of people ready to play. Though it’s relatively touristy and social, it’s not yet completely exploited. You can find the best local surfers in the area mixing with the tourists and an easy, laid back vibe.

A short drive northeast and you can swim with whale sharks and baby sea lions. Though the whale sharks are seasonal, the sea lions are there year round. This experience felt almost unspoiled and organic much like the Galapagos. It was truly incredible, awe-inspiring, exhilarating and quite humbling.

The Hikes

Each hike has its fair share of challenges, but also breathtaking vistas as reward. One of my favorites, aside from walking the endless beach, is the Pacific Bluffs Cliff Hike. This walk starts with a two-hour uphill climb with a bit of scramble, but nothing technical or dangerous required, followed by a one-hour flat hike atop the canyons. The views along the way are magnificent, as is the fauna found on the path. It’s incredible to find cacti growing just steps away from palm trees, but such is the case all along this stretch of coast. The desert literally meets the beach, and it makes for an at once interesting and picturesque sight. The perspective from this viewpoint, surrounded by nature in ever direction, truly nourishes the soul.

The Perspective Check 

In the end, my trip to Todos Santos proved to be all about perspective. Being so close to nature that I couldn’t help but remember that I too are part of it gave me a whole new respect for the obvious beauty that surrounds us each and every day. To think that all it took was a shift in my environment, a simple two-hour flight south from San Francisco!

And therein lies the beauty of life: it is indeed full of sweet surprises!

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