Cabo Pulmo, Baja Sur

Cabo Pulmo National Park ©2017 Steve Smith

San Jose del Cabo Aeropuerto, Baja

Much like the Conquistadors used sailing ships to reach the New World in search of gold, the woman seated beside me on this plane came searching as well — only this was for gold liquor from Baja’s legendary watering hole “Bibliotheca de Tequila”. She freely admitted to feeling no restraint whatsoever whenever tequila’s involved.

However, my quest is different but also satisfies an obsession. I came to circumnavigate the southern peninsula by car, chasing the Baja of generations past.

Even though it’s been years since I last visited, I too feel little restraint.

Still Baja, After All These Years?

After an amusement-park line winding through a large air-conditioned customs auditorium, I make my way past hawkers to the rental car desks and arrange a shuttle for pick up. I’d reserved with Antonio at Cactus Car earlier by phone, so my vehicle was ready to go.

Since the route includes a large portion of off-road driving, a 4WD SUV is essential. My choice is the Hyundai Tucson "“ the V-6 engine provides plenty of power but remains easy on gas, a good thing when driving the sometimes long distances off-road between available fuel supplies.

Entering the Los Cabos Corridor

Leaving the airport my path heads south towards San Jose del Cabo. At the large traffic circle I take the westbound exit (BCS-1) towards Cabo San Lucas and enter the Los Cabos Corridor.

Rated as one of Mexico’s top tourist destinations, the coastline between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas is popularly known as just “The Corridor”. This road provides access to many of the finest all-inclusive resorts, and although much is still undeveloped, construction is occurring at a rapid clip so that ‘wild feeling’ is departing fast.

A few miles into the Corridor I find a perfect road trippers home base. The central location, the collection of 20+ high-end indoor restaurants only a stroll away, the gas station and convenience store next door, the secure underground parking, and the very helpful front desk personnel "“ all make Hampton Inn the perfect base for my exploration of the area.

Into the Spanish Colonial Character of Baja

“Head east into San Jose del Cabo and slow down a bit”, the front desk tells me. “It’s much different than Cabo San Lucas”.

I took this advice and found that when assessing San Jose versus Cabo San Lucas, something I’d read is true — it’s like comparing twin sisters with different personalities. San Jose is refined and shy, the other’s a party animal.

Because active road construction makes navigation difficult in San Jose I choose to walk the streets lining the colonial Plaza Mijares. This square holds the town’s original church and city hall. Being Sunday, the plaza’s central bandstand is surrounded with families dressed in their colorful finest as church lets out.

After a late lunch at a traditional restaurant nearby, I return to my base along a coast set on fire by the setting sun.

Todos Santos via Baja Affluence

Early the next morning I leave for Cabo San Lucas and the terminus of BCS-1. One of the original Spring Break party spots, Cabo has today become a capitalist Oz of Walmart, Costco, and some of the largest multinational shopping venues.

For the road tripper this works out quite well — Walmart is the perfect one-stop-shop for road supplies like food and drink. Plus road tripping means, to me anyway, traveling prepared for the unexpected — so I pick up a couple cans of flat fix, a quart of oil, road flares, and a couple gallons of bottled water.

Navigating through Cabo San Lucas streets turns out a bit more tricky than I’d anticipated. The junction of BCS-1 and BCS-19 north to Todos Santos is clear enough, but road construction (November 2017) soon gets me turned around. After a stop and quick directions from a random store, the route once again becomes clear.

Magic in Todos Santos Town

Traveling north from Cabo San Lucas I’m driving on what one friend describes as a “National Park drive without entrance fees or tolls”. Groves of cardon cacti line the new 4-lane highway connecting Cabo day-trippers with an adventure, although one somewhat gentrified by numerous foreign Ex-Pats.

Todos Santos was named a “Magic Town” by the Ministry of Tourism and is known for its art galleries, upscale restaurants and boutique hotels. Here my road trip pauses and my base becomes a vacation home in the La Poza district, where the oasis meets the sea.

Among many things, the owners of Casa Oasis Todos Santos, Patricia and Charles, are self-described “Tequila Sommeliers” and greet me with different brands, limes, and salt to begin my education in things agave. However that is not the only education I receive, because my friends are also hooked into the local scene and offer many suggestions on things to do and see.

One is a downtown walking tour winding through streets lined with buildings from the glory days, when cane sugar was king in this ex-company town. Another of their recommendations is the El Mirador Restaurant.

Whenever I’m somewhere surrounded by the world’s best fishing oceans I naturally expect fantastic seafood, which I get here. But it was the once in a lifetime sunset, a sunset that slowly kept sinking through clouds on its way into the ocean and lasting a full 15 minutes that topped everything. It provides a simply stunning ambiance for a great meal.

However, it’s the Dia de los Muertos celebration which is the highlight of my visit – 3 days of colorful pageantry and delicious foods.

Halloween It’s Not — A Di­a de los Muertos Triduum

First off, Di­a de los Muertos is not Halloween. Its popular association with that holiday probably comes from a Celtic celebration beginning on the eve of October 31st. That honored Samhain, Lord of the Dead, which is probably the main reason for this misconception.

Second, it’s not a one-day celebration — the Mesoamerican tradition it sprang from lasted a full month. When the Church arrived it co-opted this into the Catholic Triduum of Allhallowtide, or All Saints Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day.

Third, Dia de los Muertos is an event celebrated mainly on All Souls Day – a few days after Halloween – and set aside for building ofendas (offerings or alters) or visits to cemetery shrines to honor deceased relatives.

Taking the chance to walk through the town cemetery, I see families honoring ancestors by cleaning and adorning their tombs. Most of all it’s a holiday outing filled with laughter and music, a celebration where all things happen joyfully.

Continue with my journey to visit the Cape’s wilder side in Part 2


When you go:

Cactus Car Rental:
Casa Oasis Todos Santos Vacation Home:
Guaycara Boutique Hotel:
El Mirador Restaurant:
El Faro Beach Club:
Eco Adventures Todos Santos Tour:
Hampton Inn: Hampton Inn Los Cabos

Written by: Steve Smith

steve smith pic Steve Smith inherited the wanderlust and has always needed to see what’s around the next corner. In his college years he enjoyed many memorable (and cheap) forays into Mexico sleeping under the stars, but today that’s all changed. Since 2006 he’s contributed stories and photographs to In The Know Traveler, and in 2014 he assumed an editor role with the same. Published both in digital and print formats, his international assignments have taken him to the Middle East, Asia, North/Latin/South America, Europe, and the Caribbean. Follow his Facebook page Steve’s Roadtrippin’ Travels that spotlights both his photography and how global road travels intersect with digital storytelling using dynamic space-age mapping technology.

Baja Sur West map built by Steve Smith, all rights reserved

For more ITKT travel stories about Mexico
For more ITKT travel stories about Central America

For more of Steve’s ITKT travel stories