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July 30, 2022
Just ahead of sunset, I turn down a dusty back road in the seaside village of Pescadero. Hesitant at first, I do as my invitation instructs and follow the wooden signposts for Dead Blue Van Ranch. When I see a dome made of wooden sticks resembling an upside-down bird’s nest—the only structure in an otherwise desolate desert field—I know I’ve arrived at the right place.
I’m here for a performance by Teatro Pescadero, a new outdoor theater company run by American couple and seasoned Broadway performers Dillon Porter and Mehry Eslaminia. As the sky turns tangerine, I take my seat inside the dirt-floored theater, beneath a tangle of bitter melon vines, and settle in for a production inspired by Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet.” Porter enchants me with his acoustic guitar solos, and Eslaminia captivates my imagination with her soulful recitations of the Lebanese poet’s most famous lines.
The performance is my first stop on a road trip around the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California Sur peninsula, a landscape filled with vast expanses of wild desert and pristine beaches just to the north of the more developed Los Cabos area. Over the next few years, more development in the way of luxury resorts is set to arrive in Baja Sur. But I’m here to explore a movement of entrepreneurs and artists who, like Porter and Eslaminia, fell in love with the area and migrated to its tiny desert towns, bringing their creative energy and sustainability-driven ethos with them.
The next day, I find myself in the breezy outdoor living room of Paradero Todos Santos, a new 35-room, brutalist-style hotel that sits between Pescadero and Todos Santos. While I admire the Oaxacan jute floor pillows and handwoven Yucatecan hammocks, the property’s founders tell me the origin story of their hotel, which is set within a traditional farming community. Joshua Kremer and Pablo Carmona, both born and raised in Mexico City, initially fell in love with the nearby surf break at Playa Cerritos. But after realizing they had an opportunity to show a different side of both Mexico and Baja Sur, they decided to build a retreat that focuses on experiences in nature and communities, eschewing the common poolside lounging and margaritas-driven resort model of Los Cabos. “By immersing our guests in nature during hiking, farming, and surfing activities, we instill a reverence for the land,” Carmona tells me. “It’s our fundamental belief that experiences like these encourage a greater understanding of sustainability, community development, and conservation.”
When I set off on my own explorations through Todos Santos, I realize I’m learning lessons about my surroundings at every turn. The property sits at the confluence of five ecosystems that support everything from palm trees to 200-year-old cacti. I explore much of it by foot or bike, observing the towering Sierra La Laguna mountain range and a palm oasis on an untouched stretch of Pacific coastline.
The next day, I drive 90 minutes northeast toward the coastal city of La Paz, the region’s capital on the Sea of Cortez, and set off with the team of Todos Santos Eco Adventures on an hour-long boat ride to Camp Cecil, a tented camp on the island of Espíritu Santo, characterized by its towering cliffs, sandy bays, and swirling lava formations formed millions of years ago. While at camp, I learn the founders and couple, Sergio and Bryan Jáuregui, were among the first to offer a sustainable touring option in the region. It feels as if I’ve landed in the heart of the Galápagos: On a swim, I spot sea lions and whale sharks, while a kayaking excursion takes me near rocky islets where frigate birds and blue-footed boobies congregate in the thousands.
Three days later, I head back toward La Paz for the new Baja Club hotel by the Mexican developers Grupo Habita. In the courtyard of the renovated Spanish colonial-style villa, I meet Brandon Rus, the owner of Conserva Collective, a sustainable botanical brand based in Baja Sur.
Over tapas, Rus tells me how he was working on his master’s thesis at the University of Miami’s School for Marine and Atmospheric Sciences when he proved the economic viability of harvesting sargassum, an invasive seaweed that harms local maritime flora, and turned it into block-style soaps scented with damiana, plumeria, and gardenia, some of which will be used in future Baja Sur hotels. In an effort to benefit the local economy, he works with professors and researchers in La Paz, while the soaps are made in San Jose del Cabo by two sisters from the nearby East Cape area.
Later that afternoon, Rus takes me to La Duna, an eco-camp a 45-minute drive west of La Paz, where I shadow him as he harvests sargassum. With buckets in hand, we walk the rocky coastline and scoop up big handfuls of the stringy seaweed. “Conserva is experimental,” explains Rus. “If anything, we represent the potential to incorporate various demographics into a collective marine conservation initiative.”
After we’ve collected enough supply and head back down the peninsula, Rus’s words linger in my mind as we spot a handful of new resorts in their final stages of construction—a glimpse at the not-too-distant future of Baja Sur. And I find myself heartened to see that stewards like Rus are paving the way for richer and more sustainable encounters with the region’s untamed beauty.
Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines both offer daily flights from SeaTac to Los Cabos International Airport. Check into Paradero Todos Santos (from $550), Camp Cecil (from $375, minimum 2 nights), or Baja Club (from $300).