The magic of travel is that it changes how we perceive the past and the present, and how we shape the future. A visit to any one of Baja’s Magic Towns, Pueblos Magicos, is a wonderful, mind-altering experience!
by Ashley Curtin
Baja’s Magic Towns are more than just a concept in a travel guide: They are actual places that have been designated by the government as magical. The Pueblos Magicos (or Magic Towns) are villages or cities throughout Mexico that have been characterized as historic, beautiful and culturally symbolic. Currently, there are more than 80 Magic Towns that have been identified, and three of those are in Baja California and Baja California Sur.
The Ministry of Tourism of Mexico originally created the program as a way to highlight towns that represent the nation’s indigenous past, and that feature the dramatic visual legacy of Spanish colonial influence as well as the cultural traditions of Mexico. To be considered Pueblos Magicos, each town must have a population of at least 20,000 residents, be located — by ground transportation — no further than 124 miles from a major tourist attraction, and retain beautiful architecture. The program is also being used as a way to honor citizens in the towns for carrying the rich historic culture though the generations.
Right at the US/Mexico border, Tecate is a small town — easy to navigate — bursting with Mexican charm and traditions. This quiet but growing pueblo was once home to the Kumiai people and boasts strong indigenous origins. From traditionally made Kumiai houses constructed with twigs to designed Mexican ranchos, the Museo Comunitario de Tecate (Tecate Community Museum) offers tourists a true understanding of the town’s history. And Tecate has stayed true to its origins with its traditional infrastructure: The main plaza (zocalo) is located in the center of town, and from there churches and the town hall are alllocated within walking distance. Within this plaza is Parque Hidalgo that is alive with vendors selling typical Mexican arts and crafts. Tourists and locals alike relax on benches and under large trees in the park area of the plaza taking in the town’s happenings — or even playingcheckers.
Tecate is nestled in a valley and rolling hills and mountains surround the town. Cuchumá Mountain is a prominent place, with supposed mystical powers, where people hike or bike. Because Tecate is at an elevation of 1,775 feet, the climate is typically dry and warm during the summer and cool and windy in the winter. Olives, grapes and grains are staple crops of the town. Green vegetation and wild flowers bring distinction and beauty to the region, as well. And, the Magic Town is home to coffee processing plants and the famous Tecate Brewery. Although a border town, this peaceful colonial place will ‘transport’ tourists to another kind of Baja with its serene environment bustling with traditional Mexican culture.
Located on the Pacific Coast of Baja near the Tropic of Cancer, Todos Santos is the sight of the Festival del Dia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, a major festival that is held in October. The mission, which houses the statue of the Virgin Pilar, is the primary focal point of the event and celebrates the founding of Todos Santos and its patron saint. The traditional Mexican festival takes place over a course of five days and also includes a parade, along with dancing, the arts and a representation of traditional Mexican cuisines. Todos Santos attracts tourists from around the world to its pristine beaches to swim, surf and even stand-up paddle board. The warm climate of the coastal town nurtures orchards of papayas, avocados and mangos. It is also home to many artists who have migrated from other parts of Mexico to paint the luscious landscapes and natural beauty of the town. Maintaining its customs and traditions, Todos Santos is a magical destination.
The first capital of Baja and situated on the Sea of Cortez, Loreto provides a peaceful environment — but with an adventurous side! This magical town features many historic monuments, the Mission of Our Lady of Loreto being the most important. There are several beaches that tourists flock to year round because of the tropical climate and azure waters but, even more alluring are Loreto’s water activities, such as kayaking, sailing and diving. World-class fishing and golfing are also a major tourist attraction. The town remains largely undeveloped, preserving its beautiful desert and mountain landscapes. Within the La Giganta Mountain Range, there are many prehistoric cave paintings done by the indigenous groups of Baja. These remarkable depictions have been named a UNESCO world heritage sites. Cuevas Pintas and La Pinguica are two of the most famous caves where paintings can still be viewed. Once a Spanish settlement, Loreto has a collection of religious artwork along with weapons and tools from the Spanish missions dating back to the 18th century. With its natural beauty, location on the sapphire Sea of Cortez and its cultural richness, Loreto is a must-visit in Baja California Sur!
As the Pueblos Magicos program continues to expand, identifying more charming towns throughout Mexico to add to the list of Magic Towns, Baja California and Baja California Sur proudly claim the jewels of Tecate, Loreto and Todos Santos as part of Mexico’s national treasure.
Visit all of the Magic Towns in Baja and send us photos of what you think makes them magical!
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