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!
About 50 miles north of Cabo on the Pacific side of the Baja peninsula is a pueblo magico called Todos Santos – All Saints. And truly, the handiwork of all the saints seems to be reflected everywhere in our home town. It’s easy to imagine that St. Anthony (San Antonio), the Patron Saint of the Desert, had his hand in the underground springs that make the town a true desert oasis, thick with palms, lush with lagoons and filled with the birds they attract. St. Francis (San Francisco), Patron Saint of the Environment, seems like a sure bet for the town’s seemingly endless miles of pristine beach – home to 5 of the 7 turtle species found in the world, host to surf breaks that make the town one of the best surfing destinations on the Cape, and favored people watching spot of gray whales on their annual trip to Baja because they can get so close to shore. St. Isidore (San Isidro), Patron Saint of Agriculture, almost certainly got in on the act with the vast orchards of mango trees and fields filled with strawberries, chilies and herbs, while St. Peter (San Pedro), Patron Saint of Fishermen, could easily be the wily soul who ensured no natural harbor in the town to keep the waters from being overfished and therefore full of bounty for the intrepid local fishermen, masters of the surf launch and landing.
But perhaps the saint who most shaped the town with his piece of manna was St. Aaron (San Aron), the Patron Saint of anyone who lives a passionate life. Todos Santos may be a tiny town but it is filled with Mexican and expatriate artists, chefs, musicians, fishermen, photographers, philanthropists, surfers, sculptors, farmers, film-makers, potters, spiritualists, naturalists, adventurers, entrepreneurs, explorers, yogis and more, all pursuing their passions in this paradise that draws, inspires and drives them. The result is one heckuva place to indulge your passions for travel and adventure so grab your St. Christopher (the Patron Saint of Travelers) and head to Todos Santos for (at least) three perfect days.
Now perfection, like beauty, is really in the eye of beholder, so we’ve created 3 sets of 3 perfect days, each of which shows off a particular aspect of the town and the surrounding environment.
I came down to Baja one February to escape the cold grey of Oregon and hang out with my family. My sister Bryan – who owns and operates Todos Santos Eco Adventures with her husband Sergio — was excited she had arranged for us to come at the perfect time to see the grey whales in Magdalena Bay. I was excited we had yet another entertaining way to spend a day in paradise while waiting for Sergio’s killer margaritas to appear at dusk.
I had been whale watching in Oregon before, and found it hard to recommend: Go out in a large boat with a bunch of strangers in the rain, get mildly seasick, look for whales for about 2 hours, finally catch a glimpse of one swimming 50 yards off, pursue it until it disappears, then call it a day. Oh yeah, and get totally drenched and freeze to death. I was glad I could look forward to better weather.
On the appointed day, my family goes out onto Mag Bay in a 40-foot open boat. We putter along for a while admiring the smooth open water and arid landscape. After about an hour, the panga driver starts turning the boat around. Sergio, who can always spot wildlife a mile away, gets an intense look on his face.
“Ballena!” We all turn in the direction Sergio is pointing. And there is the unmistakable shape of a grey whale fluke disappearing into the bay – about 50 yards away. I’m thrilled. We’re all thrilled. It’s like a Sierra Club calendar cover shot. We hoot and holler and jump up and down as best we can without tipping the boat. I am completely satisfied with the trip, as I have never seen that classic image in real life – and so close. Awesome. And I’m still dry and warm. I’m thinking Todos Santos Eco Adventures might want to expand their business to Oregon.
The panga driver cuts the motor back and we start sort of drifting around in the middle of the Bay. I’m thinking a margarita might be nice to celebrate our sighting. Then I hear again: “Ballena!” On the right side of the boat about 10 yards off, we see a whale flipper sticking out of the water, turning – as if the whale is flopping onto its back for a rest. Sergio says it’s a juvenile – probably 40 feet long – the size of our boat. Gulp. Where’s Mom?
The next thing I know Bryan and Sergio are diving towards one side of the boat where we can see the juvenile just five feet under the surface a few feet away from us. Holy smokes, he’s big! The panga driver starts banging the boat and Bryan and Sergio are singing and calling out like they’re calling their cats: “Hey Ballena; here ballena. Come to mama; come to papa. Here ballena.”
Well, I think, crazy’s what I’m good at, so what the hell? I throw myself along the edge of the boat, leaning out as far as I can over the water: “Here Ballena. Hey baby. Come here, cutie.” A moment later, I am gobsmacked when the little sweetheart lifts his huge head out of the water — right under my outstretched hand! I almost dive in the water to embrace him, but somebody’s got a firm hold on my jeans from behind.
Blair and Pinky in Magdalena Bay
I pet and scratch his head and back and coo and laugh. As Bryan points out, he really likes it when you scratch his chin and barnacley parts. She calls him Pinky. So I keep petting and scratching and cooing, wishing the moment would never end. My baby stays with me a good long while and then, finally, turns and looks me straight in the eye with a sweet smile to say thank you and farewell.
At that moment, gazing into that beautiful eye, I know. You may think that angels have wings. But I’m here to tell you they have fins and flukes and are covered with barnacles. I have never had such a feeling of peace and connectedness with any of the many sentient beings I’ve encountered on this planet. That sweet young whale radiated total kindness, beneficence and fun. Anthropomorphizing? I don’t think so. Ask my family. Pinky was generous. He let everyone love him and pet him and feel that amazing connection, the grace of encounter.
This is all by way of saying that if anyone suggests you spend a day or two whale watching with Todos Santos Eco Adventures – as opposed to say, another day of walking on the beach, eating at all the fabulous Todos Santos restaurants, or drinking mas margaritas with your pals – you might want to seriously consider it. It’s not Oregon. Just sayin’.