The largest town along this stretch of Mexico 1, Santiago, was founded as a mission settlement and has evolved into a modern-day agricultural commerce center with a population of around 2,000.
Located two kilometers west of Mexico 1, the town is overlooked by most Baja visitors, which allows it to retain an authentic Mexican feel despite its proximity to the Los Cabos tourist corridor.
The Arroyo de Santiago divides the town into two halves, Loma Norte and Loma Sur (North Hill and South Hill). All around the slopes are mango, avocado, and palm orchards. Local farmers now grow much of the organic produce that appears on many Los Cabos menus, and the town’s palm orchards supply the palms used to make the ubiquitous palapa roofs used up and down the peninsula.
Set at the base of the sierra foothills, Santiago is also an access point for backpacking trips into the Sierra de la Laguna.
The town has one well-known restaurant and hotel, plus a few tiendas and produce markets.
Santiago is the last town you’ll see on Mexico 1 southbound before crossing the Tropic of Cancer (latitude 23.5°N). Although the climate has likely felt tropical since Mulegé, this crossing makes it official.
Santiago Town Plaza
On the north side of Santiago is the ever-charming town plaza, with tall trees for shade and a handful of colonial buildings around its perimeter. The plaza makes a relaxing stop for a stroll or a place to enjoy a picnic lunch after a trip to the hot springs or waterfall nearby. Santiago hosts its town festival on July 25, the feast day of St. James. Services on the plaza include a post office, gas station, minimarket, produce market, and a few stores.
Cañon de la Zorra
Freshwater is a sight to behold in the Baja desert landscape. For those travelers who would like to venture into the sierra but do not have time for a multiday hike, there is a 10-meter waterfall just 9.6 kilometers beyond Santiago that has a swimmable lagoon and is reachable by foot.
At the far end of the divided avenue that leads into Santiago (as you approach the plaza), turn right and set your trip odometer to zero. At 0.48 kilometer, go straight through the dirt road intersection and head up the hill, past a sign for San Dionísio. At 1.29 kilometers and the crest of the hill, turn left.
At 1.77 kilometers, turn right across a small arroyo and follow this road to 4.02 kilometers, where the road forks and there is a sign pointing to the right fork marked Cañon de la Zorra. Follow this fork to the end of the road at 9.66 kilometers and park at the trailhead.
Small wooden outhouses are popping up in remote areas of the cape, and you’ll find one of them here. Go through the gate and follow the trail for 10 minutes down to the river bottom and the falls. The state has installed concrete steps to get to the waterfall now, instead of the rope, which used to scare off some potential visitors. And there is an entrance fee now of US$5.
Note: As part of the Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve, this is a protected area, and pets are not allowed inside the park. The use of sunscreen is also prohibited if you are going to swim.
Rancho Ecológico Sol de Mayo (Calle Guadalupe Victoria 40 B, tel. 624/130-2055, www.ranchoecologicosoldemayo.com) offers rental cabanas and guided trips into the mountains. Stop by the office in town to make arrangements.
Misión de Santiago El Apóstol Aiñiní
Italian Padre Ignacio María Nápoli founded the mission (1724–1795) at Santiago after attempting to build settlements on Bahía de las Palmas on the East Cape and at Santa Ana in the Sierra de la Laguna.
As was the case at the other Southern Baja missions, the Pericú resisted the Catholic way of life. Santiago was the first mission attacked in the massive Pericú rebellion of 1734. Missionary buildings and possessions were burnt to the ground and the padre in residence was murdered.
Survivors began to rebuild the settlement in 1736, but uprisings and epidemics continued, and the Dominicans abandoned the site in 1795, moving the last remaining indigenous people to San José. A modern church (1958) on Santiago’s Loma Sur (South Hill) is believed to have been built on the ruins of the original mission.
Several waterfalls and hot springs are a short drive into the sierra from Santiago. Finding them involves navigating a series of turns along mostly unsigned dirt roads, although the state is beginning to make the area more visitor friendly with more pavement and signs at each of the ranchos to indicate what they grow or produce—and what they may have for sale.
The main hot springs are called Agua Caliente, El Chorro, and Santa Rita—and all three are just a few kilometers from town. Many residents and hotel managers along the East Cape can provide accurate turn-by-turn directions to these sites. The Hotel Palomar (tel. 624/130-2019) is a good place for information. A nominal admission fee (around US$3–5) may be required to enter the sites.
Hotels and Restaurants
Decorated with local fossils, the highly regarded Palomar Restaurant-Bar (tel. 624/130-2019, 10:30 A.M.–7 P.M. Mon.–Sat., mains US$11–15), south of the plaza on the east side of Calzada Misioneros, serves seafood, enchiladas, steak, and burgers. Fresh guacamole is made from avocados grown in the courtyard. Homemade soups and pescado al mojo de ajo (fish cooked in garlic butter) are house specialties. It also offers six plain but clean rooms with air-conditioning around a shady courtyard for US$45.
Past the Hotel Palomar on the north side of town, a road heads northwest to Rancho San Dionísio (23.5 km) and the Cañon San Dionísio approach into the Sierra de la Laguna. Owner Sergio Gomez (tel. 624/130-2019) can also contact guides from Rancho San Dionísio for hikers.
Tacos La Cascada (no tel., dinner daily), 200 meters from the plaza on the way to the waterfall, offers excellent carne asada, mixto (carne and cheese), and fish tacos for US$1.50 each.
Getting to Santiago
To get to Santiago, turn west off Mexico 1 at the Pemex station at Km. 84–85 and follow this road for two kilometers to a boulevard that eventually meets the plaza.
Eight kilometers northeast of Santiago on Mexico 1 (around Km. 93), Las Cuevas marks the exit ramp for La Ribera and El Camino Costero Rural. Services include a mini-super and bus stop.
© Nikki Goth Itoi from Moon Baja, 9th Edition