Todos Santos, Mexico
As the sun sets across Baja California Sur, the light changes in such a way that you might think you're hallucinating. The mountains that rise out of the peninsula's interior — so drab and dusty and uninhabitable just moments before — slowly burst into an impossible wonderland of life and violet blue. Colors swirl into each other like smoke, punctuated by a low breeze and the one-two rhythm of the white-winged doves that flit above the giant Saguaro cacti that dot each ridge. Those, too, seem suddenly alive. They glow in shades of blue-ish green outlined in chartreuse, swaying slowing so that their outstretched arms look like children waiting to be lifted into the fiery sky.
Perched on the southwestern coast of the peninsula, Todos Santos and Pescadero, its scrappier neighbor to the south were two of the most enchanting places we stayed during our trek around Baja California Sur. Moonscape desert landscapes, world class surf, and a historic colonial town center: It's all so special that Todos Santos was recently designated a Pueblo Magico (magic city!) by the Mexican government. But despite so many obvious charms, it's still the kind of place that requires more than a quick glance. During our stay, more than one local told us that the only way to really get to know it is to get lost: "If you see a random dirt road, take it," one new friend told us. "And expect the unexpected." Good advice for anywhere, we think. We took it and found Todos Santos and Pescadero to be great places to get lost in, indeed.
Get there by flying into Los Cabos and driving northwest about an hour and a half. Though the main highway is new and well tended, we recommend renting a vehicle with 4wd — you'll need it if you want to follow the advice above. Though the town of Todos Santos isn't right on the ocean, the beaches are really close. The town serves as a great central point to explore the surrounding area; we stayed at a couple places right in or near the historic center, and though we had to drive about 15 minutes each way to surf every day, we were really happy with our choice. The town is small and quiet (except at night when the local dogs kind of go crazy), with a fair amount of options for dining and hanging out. During the annual Todos Santos Music Festival in January, tourists and locals from Baja and beyond descend in droves. The tiny town comes alive with music and dancing, making for a pretty memorable vibe. If you're into that sort of thing, definitely try to visit during that time.