Los Cabos is justifiably famous for its line-up of luxury resorts, gorgeous beaches and top rated golf courses. These amenities are some of the finest in the world, and a good reason that the area is featured in the high profile glossy ads that are featured in luxury travel and lifestyle magazines.
But there’s another part of this area that has its own appeal – the authentic charm of authentic Baja Sur. Just around the corner from these impressive coastal features and luxury hotels lies the Baja of times past, the Baja of small villages, dusty side streets and smiling, friendly faces of the people who work hard to make a living for their families.
If you’d like to discover some of the charms of the backcountry in southern Baja you can follow Highway 1 towards and past the airport in San Jose del Cabo and you’ll quickly find yourself passing through two small, sleepy villages with an “old Baja” ambiance. Miraflores is located about 20 minutes north of the airport and is known for its fruits, vegetables and cheeses and a fine leather factory located on an access road between the highway and the town center. It’s a great place to shop for bargains on leather hats, belts and bags.
A little further up the road is Santiago, a community located in the middle of a fertile, palm-filled valley. Santiago is known for its colonial mission, founded in 1723, and the El Palomar Hotel and restaurant located on a shady lane in the middle of date palms, mangoes, sugarcane and papayas.
The Palomar’s restaurant gained a reputation for solid cooking, and Barbra Streisand once and declared the Palomar a favorite new restaurant after dining on fresh pescado prepared mojo de ajo (garlic butter) style. Don’t miss the photo of Bing Crosby with the original owners on the wall. If you have the time you can also visit the quaint little zoo in the village, the only one in Baja Sur. While nowhere near the scope of a metropolitan zoo, it features many indigenous local animals, bears, tigers, monkeys, wolves, ostriches and rattlesnakes in a viewing pit. Admission is free.
Continuing on the drive north on Highway 1 past the East Cape you’ll see the backdrop of the Sierra de La Laguna mountains. The area was declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1994, and is home to an incredible diversity of animal and plant life. Today much of the wilderness is uninhabited and attracts naturalists, mountain bikers, climbers, and hikers. A number of small farming towns are located deep in the arroyos of the Sierra de La Laguna.
Continuing along Highway 1 you’ll come to San Bartolo, a lush oasis known for its fresh fruits, homemade marmalades and baked goods. For a fresh, healthy treat, stop at one of the stands along the road for mangoes, avocados, and a local treat – fruit filled empanadas. A number of places in town also serve authentic burritos with fresh local cheese, salsa and beans.
Further on you pass through San Antonio, a town that dates back to 1748. During this period a rich silver vein was discovered in the area and San Antonio became home to more than 10,000 residents. When an earthquake heavily damaged Loreto in 1829, San Antonio served briefly as the capital of the Californias, before the capital was transferred to La Paz. Today San Antonio’s population has dwindled to less than 1,000.
Winding through the mountains you’ll finally reach El Triunfo, a former mining town with crumbling colonial-style buildings, a stately church, and ruins of old silver mine foundry with a towering brick smoke stack. In 1862 rich silver deposits were discovered in nearby San Antonio, and through the late 1860s El Triunfo profited from rich silver lodes. The town’s population swelled and it became the fourth largest city in Baja Sur. In 1918 a hurricane flooded the mines, the ore gradually declined in quality, and mining was finally stopped in 1926. This picturesque little village today is a reminder of Baja’s former mining importance and a place to enjoy a walk and the oven-fired pizzas and breads at Cafe El Triunfo.
From El Triunfo you can continue up toward the state capital of La Paz, or swing south on the new road connecting La Paz and Todos Santos for a visit to that well known and charming Pueblo Magico.
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