If they had a World Championship for Insult Hurling, China’s entry of “Son of a Turtle!” may not seem like obvious prize material. But a review of sea turtle reproductive habits reveals why the insult might be a contender: A female sea turtle will mate with several males prior to nesting season, storing the sperm of all her paramours in oviducts separate from her eggs for extended periods of time – sometimes years. When the time is right for nesting, her body will allow the sperm to fertilize the eggs, resulting in what scientists like to call “multiple paternity” for her offspring. In other words, little baby sea turtles have no idea who their daddies are. Get it?
At Todos Santos Eco Adventures we run 4-day hiking trips in the mountains of Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve, a little-explored but fantastically beautiful area in Baja California Sur. We asked 6 former guests to share what they found most memorable about the trip. So here, in their own words, is each guest’s description of their Sierra trek:
Photo by Thea Thomas
“A few adventurous friends of mine in Baja had hiked to the Sierra de la Laguna and told me how amazing it was, but it was more wondrous than I imagined. At an elevation of 7,000 feet it is a world of its own, an “Island in the sky” as one friend described it. The forests of oak, pine and madrona are host to unique plants and animals. For me as a birder seeing the Yellow-eyed Junco, Oak Titmouse, Baja morph of the American Robin and Acorn Woodpecker was great fun. Our trip was lead by an incredible guide, Mauricio Durán, from Todos Santos Eco Adventures. His knowledge of the natural history of the area added greatly to our experience.”
Thea Thomas, Cordova, Alaska
Photo by John Valentine
“One of the highlights of the trip was meeting our guide Sergio. He is so knowledgeable about everything, a true renaissance guy. I learned so much about geography, birds and the natural world from him. I often think about that trip. The hike itself to the top was more difficult than I thought it would be but absolutely beautiful. What I couldn’t believe is the diversity of trees. There were parts of it that looked exactly like Colorado. The most exciting point was the freak electrical storm one night. I think we had a few snowflakes and our water bottles had ice in them. I have never seen or heard such an electrical display. I remember the beauty and serenity of the camping area and the hikes we took each day to the peak and waterfalls. The beauty and diversity of this area nestled between the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez—so different from the normal Baja tourist itinerary. People need to see the incredible beauty of Baja beyond the beaches.”
John Valentine, Kansas City, Missouri
“Your effort to get to the top will be well rewarded. Seeing both the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific at the same time was an extraordinary experience!”
Jon Dallman, Seattle, Washington
Photo by John Dallman
“I’m 58 years old, and consider myself in pretty good condition. I ride mountain bikes three times a week. Practice yoga in-between. But no matter how much you do, climbing to El Picacho in Southern Baja’s Sierra de la Laguna Mountain Range is a challenge, and our hike to base camp took about 6 hours. The most welcome sight at the end of our hike up was that picture-perfect camp, completely set up with pitched tents and snacks laid out on the table. I felt as if I was on a photo shoot for one of those Abercrombie and Fitch high-end tours of Africa. We spent the night enjoying delicious al dente pasta, and a choice of excellent wines by the light of a crackling fire. We camped along the shores of an ancient dry lakebed at an elevation of about 6,000 feet. Giant pine and oak trees sighed in the breeze. Vaqueros (cowboys) had carried all of our gear and food up on muleback. The mules, now hobbled, were happily munching the tawny grasses of this high mountain meadow. It was a scene straight out of the old west.”
Mike Brozda, Todos Santos, Mexico
“My greatest memory of the trip was the bells. The cowboys hobbled their horses and mules so they would not leave the meadow and each of the animals had a bell around its neck. The bells created a symphony under the starlit night, and it was spectacular.”
Patty Romanchek, New Buffalo, Michigan
“I went swimming on my birthday in a frigid mountain lake. Everyone was going to join me…but after I took the plunge, they all were still on the rocks
Photo by Craig Ligibel
laughing. That was the coldest birthday swim I have ever had. One of our group was a urologist. He assured me that a certain appendage that had almost disappeared would be sure to return the next day. I’m glad he was right!”
Craig Ligibel, Annapolis, Maryland
“Sergio led us on a 3 hour climb up the face of El Picacho itself, the literal and metaphorical high point of the trip. The trail winds through shady pine forests before emerging into oak-covered scree. We threaded along a razor’s edge portion of the trail, with a sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean on our left, and the Sea of Cortez on the right. We descended about 100 feet–down the distinctive notch you see in El Picacho–before scrambling up
Photo by John Valentine
huge granite boulders to the top. We spent about 90 minutes at the top of the world in Southern Baja, drinking in the view, munching on snacks, and snapping photos. That evening, back at camp, we had a meal of delicious fajitas, rice and beans, fresh hot tortillas with guacamole, fresh vegetables, and toasted our success.”
Mike Brozda, Todos Santos, Mexico
For more information about trekking in the Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve please visit our web site at www.tosea.net and/or email us at
Imagine a fellow mammal with a body so magnificent, so enormous, so dominant that it takes a heart the size of a Mini Cooper to power it.
Imagine a fellow creature with a voice so commanding, so forceful, so potent that it can be heard up to 1,000 miles away.
Click to compare the size of a blue whale to the space shuttle, dinosaurs and more.
Imagine the bone structure of a fellow vertebrate so long an NBA basketball court can’t hold it, that weighs so much 8 DC-9 aircrafts can’t lift it, and that is so loud it drowns out the noise of a jet engine.
Imagine arteries so large that an adult human can swim through them; imagine a heart beat so powerful it can be heard two miles away; imagine a tongue as large as an elephant!
If you can do all that then you’re able to conceive of the largest animal ever to inhabit the earth, the blue whale. And as so often happens here in Baja, you don’t have to visit your imagination to encounter some of the planet’s most remarkable beings – you can see them right here. Please enjoy this video of our blue whale encounter on a recent outing in the Sea of Cortez, video courtesy of our guests the Moffats: [youtube=http://youtu.be/DxdFOCTCM5A]
With this enormous size you can well imagine that blue whales have few predators, but it doesn’t mean that they’re not under attack. To learn more about how ship strikes are harming blue whales and what you can do about it, please click here and visit the Great Whale Conservancy website.
The blue whale fun facts in this article are all part of National Geographic Channel’s Kingdom of the Blue Whale video program. They have a great interactive piece comparing the size of the blue whale to various animate and inanimate objects that you can reach by clicking on the blue whale image above.
Nature Lover’s Day One: Desert Triple Waterfall Adventure and Surfing/Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Start off the day with a lovely walk through a desert canyon with Todos Santos Eco Adventures that features the incredible sight of three waterfalls sending their waters down the hill, only to disappear entirely into the thirsty desert sands. The drought that gripped Baja California Sur had stripped the canyon of the falls for the last two years, so it’s a great time to celebrate their return. The water creates a mini-oasis in the canyon, so you can enjoy a great variety of Baja flora and fauna. If you’re game for a ladder climb you can enjoy your picnic lunch at the lovely third waterfall before heading back down to the coast for a surfing or stand up paddle boarding lesson at the incomparable Playa Los Cerritos. What makes Los Cerritos such a great spot for beginners is its smooth, sandy bottom (no coral or rocks to scrape you up if you fall), clean waters, and a wave dynamic that means there are always smaller waves closer to shore for beginners, while more advanced surfers can enjoy the larger waves further out.
After a shower and some relaxation at your hotel, head over to the rooftop bar of the Hotel Guaycura to enjoy a sunset drink while taking in the lovely view over the Todos Santos palm oasis. For a wonderful meal go down the street to the Caffe Todos Santos, and enjoy an after-dinner drink next door at La Copa Wine Bar of the Todos Santos Inn.
Nature Lover’s Day Two: Cliff Walk, Spa and Stars
Maybe limber up this morning with a yoga class, then head for the cliffs to enjoy Todos Santos Eco Adventures’ cliff walk, one of the most spectacular walks you’re likely to encounter in the Baja peninsula. Starting at Punta Lobos, the sweeping Pacific beach where the local fishermen of Todos Santos ply their trade, a quick walk up the hill brings you to breath-taking views of a different kind of coastline, with dramatic rocky outcroppings and crashing surf. Throughout the walk you’ll have the stunning vision of the desert landscape racing its way to the sea, and you’ll encounter a good deal of weird and wonderful flora and fauna along the way. The walk takes you past an active sea lion colony as well as the old shipping port of Los Algodones. During several months of the year you’re likely to spot both humpback and gray whales from this high vantage point. After about 3 hours of walking you’ll arrive at the idyllic beach of San Pedro where a picnic lunch will be waiting for you. San Pedro features a beautiful marsh filled with bird life and a protective cove ringed by towering palms. Here you can eat, relax, sunbathe, swim, read – just enjoy the bliss of being in Baja!
Now at this point of your stay you’ve completed a couple of walks, done some surfing, maybe a little yoga, so chances are it’s time to treat your muscles to a nice luxurious massage, and the perfect place to do that is Los Bules Day Spa. Los Bules is a true Baja institution where Maria and her sisters share their bountiful talent for deep tissue, hot stone and Swedish massage in simple, palapa-style huts, decorated with the incredibly imaginative and fun gourds that Maria’s husband Scott grows and turns into works of art. Maria also has a temezcal, an authentic Aztec sauna that you can take advantage of as well. Now if some in your party don’t want a massage or if you have to wait for your turn never fear, Scott can entertain you for hours in his gourd garden and gourd art gallery, and most visitors find it’s an excellent opportunity to buy some truly unique and fun gifts for family and friends back home. Tel: 612-118-1062
This evening branch out from all the incredible Mexican food you’ve been eating and take in a little something different. Korean-born Suki Lim of Suki’s Restaurant serves up absolutely delicious Korean, Thai and Japanese food in a very charming outdoor garden, while Italian Chef Angelo Dalbon serves up favorites from the old country at Tre Galline, his lovely restaurant on the main street with both indoor and garden dining. You’ll be extremely happy with whichever cuisine you choose. Then head over to our home for an evening of Champagne and Stars. We’ll grab a glass of champagne, get out the telescope, and settle in while Sergio outlines the constellations and tells not only the vivid Greco-Roman stories associated with them, but the Aztec and Mayan ones as well.
Nature Lover’s Day Three: Fishing ‘n Whale Watching in Todos Santos, Horseback Riding
Today it’s time to head out to sea with the local fishermen of Todos Santos but you have a tough choice to make before doing so: do you go fishing for some of the many species that inhabit the waters around Todos Santos including dorado, tuna and sierra? Or do you go whale watching to get up close and personal with the humpback and gray whales that come around town to do a little people watching? That’s a trick question because you can do both when the whales are in town! And no matter whether you focus more on the whales or the fishing, half the fun of the trip will be in the surf launch and landing. With no natural harbor in town, the fishermen of Todos Santos launch their boats directly from the shore, a process that involves being pushed by a pick-up truck from the beach while being pulled by another boat from the sea. And when it’s time to land? The captains circle until they catch the perfect wave, slam the motor into high gear, then race for the beach at top speed. Fishing in Todos Santos is a lot of fun; interacting with the whales is an indescribably thrilling experience; a surf landing on the beach in Todos Santos is more exhilarating than anything they could come up with in the theme parks in California! You can watch the video here.
Whether you choose the fishing or whale watching option, you definitely shouldn’t leave the fishermen’s beach without some fresh fish because this evening you can take it over to Erik Castellanos’ Fonda El Zaguan, a tiny restaurant on the main street of Todos Santos that serves up some of the best seafood in town, and have them cook up it for you on the spot. They’ll include a nice organic salad and some rice in their fee, and of course you can order wine and other accompaniments from the menu. It’s another delightful Todos Santos experience.
This afternoon finish up your vacation with a lovelyhorseback ride along some of Todos Santos seemingly endless miles of pristine, undeveloped beach. If you’re lucky perhaps there will be a turtle release as the sun slips below the horizon, and you can help some of the Olive-Ridley or Leatherback hatchlings make their first foray safely into the sea.
Celebrate all the wonderful things you’ve seen and done with a margarita at the roof-top bar at Hotel Posada La Poza, where you can look out over the freshwater lagoon and its attendant bird life, as well as the ocean. Then head downstairs to one of the most elegant dining venues in Todos Santos, El Gusto! The restaurant features floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides, essentially placing diners in the spectacular gardens that the owners created from scratch a decade ago. Swiss owner Juerg Wiesendanger mans the kitchen with Mexican and German sous chefs, producing a delightful “Swissmex” cuisine that combines the Italian, French and German sensibilities of Swiss cooking, with the ingredients and culinary concepts of Mexico. A very pleasing result for all!
Famous Iron Chef Rick Bayless created an episode called Todos Santos Magic for the recently-aired Season 8 of his PBS series, Mexico, One Plate at a Time. We created much of Rick’s itinerary for the Todos Santos segment, and Sergio appears in a fair bit of the program with Rick. Now you can enjoy some of the same, off-the-beaten path places and activities that Rick did – as well as a few more gems he didn’t have time to get to!
Food Lover’s Day One: Treasure of the Sierra de la Laguna
Doña Ramona at her stove
Today you’ll head into the Sierra de la Laguna mountains to meet Doña Ramona, a woman honored by the state of Baja California Sur as a state cultural treasure – and you’ll see why soon enough! Working in the outdoor kitchen that her husband built for her 50 years ago, Doña Ramona, with help from her daughters and daughters-in-law, will instruct you on preparing incredibly delicious beef or fish machaca in the traditional manner, using her family’s metate (grinding stone) to shred the meat, cooking it over the wood-fired stove in her kitchen, and serving it up with traditionally prepared tortillas and other side dishes that you’ll make yourself. Doña Ramona is a fabulous cook, but it’s actually the pottery that she makes for cooking and dining for which she has won such great acclaim, and during your class you’ll see why leading Todos Santos restaurants like the fabulous Café Santa Fe use her pottery in their kitchens. It’s a cooking class unlike any you’ve ever had before, and what made her one of the stars of the Rick Bayless show on Todos Santos!
This afternoon head back to Todos Santos to relax and treat yourself to a trip to La Bodega de Todos Santos, the town’s only wine store that exclusively features Baja California vintners. Started in 2010 by California wine country native Mac Sutton, La Bodega is the perfect complement to what he describes as “the incredible, inventive gastronomy of Todos Santos” and reflects his philosophy of Eat Local, Drink Local. There are tastings on Monday nights from 5 to 8 PM, with 3 glasses of wine for 140 pesos and complementary tapas, and there is also Big Red Wednesday (same hours), during which guests can buy red wines by the glass and enjoy tamales and tostadas from Doña Guillermina. It’s a wonderful introduction to Baja wines. Mac and his sweetheart Perla Garnica are also the organizers of the most excellent GastroVino Festival de Todos Santos. Building on the extraordinary success of their debut 2012 festival, the 2013 festival will be May 18-19, and will again feature wine and food pairing dinners, Baja wineries, local restaurant cuisine and live entertainment. It’s definitely an event to mark down on your calendars! La Bodega’s regular hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 12-7 PM.
This evening enjoy one of Todos Santos many extraordinary restaurants. The Café Santa Fe has long been justly considered one of the best restaurants in Baja, and a meal there should be included in any Todos Santos itinerary. Another option is the lovely Landi’s, where high Mexican cuisine is served in a lush garden setting.
Chef Dany at the Hotel California
Food Lover’s Day Two: Preparing the Perfect Meal – It Takes a Village
Today you’ll take in the glorious scenery and nature of Baja, all the while preparing for the evening’s master cooking class with Hotel California Executive Chef Dany Lamote. Start the day off with a trip to Basilfields, a beautiful organic farm that supplies many of the restaurants in Todos Santos. Here the owner will give you a tour of the farm and help you pick out the fruit or vegetables you want to have transformed into tortillas for the evening meal. Yep, that’s right. Whatever fruit or vegetable strikes your fancy – spinach, tomato, strawberry, nopale, basil, mint – we’ll take it to a local tortilleria that will turn it into a batch of fresh, delicious tortillas for you by the end of the day. With the tortillas in process, head out for a desert canyon walk to learn more about the beauty and bounty of the desert, then reward yourself for your exertions with lunch at one of the town’s great local restaurants like El Pastorcito – best place in town for tacos al pastor, or Compa Chava’s – a cute local joint serving up dynamite ceviche. After lunch head over to the beach at Punta Lobos to procure the final ingredient for tonight’s meal – the fish! Todos Santos is home to two fishing cooperatives whose captains and crew are all 4th generation fishermen and you’ll buy the fish from them right as they land with the day’s catch. Doesn’t get much fresher! After stopping to get the tortillas, you’ll head to the Hotel California where Chef Dany will be waiting for you with a multi-course dinner menu and the Baja wines and tequila to match each course. If you’re lucky there’ll be avocado milkshakes for desert. While the cooking class at the Hotel California is extremely fun and very informative, you can also choose to have a wine-pairing dinner prepared for you at Dany’s own restaurant – Santo Vino – which specializes in the wines and cuisine of Baja. It will be a magnificent feast either way!
Food Lover’s Day Three: How Sweet it Is
This morning find your way over to Los Colibris Casitas for a Huevos Rancheros Master Class with local lawyer-turned-chef, Iker Algorri. Connoisseurs of huevos rancheros may argue among themselves about what makes great huevos rancheros great, but they all agree that the secret is in the sauce. And it should be known to all comers that Chef Iker has created the definitive huevos rancheros sauce– the Coloradito. So this morning you’ll learn from the master himself about his Coloradito Sauce, and a few others as well, so that you too can return home a true Mexican breakfast master.
Chef Iker Algorri at Los Colibris Casitas
Now as some of the sauces might have a little kick to them, your next stop should be Paleteria La Paloma, surely one of the best ice cream shops in Baja and home to an inspired range of local ice cream and sorbet flavors including lemon-rosemary, rose petal, passion fruit, pitaya, corn, mamay and guava, as well as the more traditional fare. Ice cream not your thing? Then keep on heading to the edge of town to the dulcerias, or sweet shops (Rick Bayless enjoyed a stop here.) The Todos Santos dulcerias are famous for their locally-made candies including cocada (coconut macaroons), jamoncillo (milk and piloncillo – unrefined sugar), zorrillada (milk, piloncillo and requeson – a special kind of cheese), coyotas (sweet baked empanadas with cajeta or cheese) and chimangos (sweet fried bread). You can also often find local honey from the ranches as well as damiana – a local aphrodisiac – in liquor or leaf form in season.
Playa Las Palmas
This afternoon walk off your morning indulgences at one of the most beautiful beaches to be found anywhere, Playa Las Palmas. Nestled between two rock cliffs, this beautiful expanse of sand is framed by a huge grove of Washingtonian palms growing right up to the beach and a fresh water spring that has created a lovely marsh area for birds. There are horses that live in the palms so don’t be surprised if they come over to see if you’re carrying any leftovers from your foodie endeavors. If you don’t feel like the beach then take your stroll in town and enjoy the town’s many terrific art galleries and creative shops.
This evening enjoy one last meal at one of Todos Santos’ restaurants relatively new restaurants started by young Mexican Chef Sergio Rivera, who creates spectacular seafood, sushi and steak dishes at La Casita Tapas and Wine Bar. You can’t go wrong!