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Magic Towns of Mexico: Tequila and Todos Santos

 
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A Pueblo Magico (or Magic Town) is an honor designated to towns across the nation that are rich with culture and history, preserving their 18th-century heritage and ancient Mexican traditions in the present day. Pueblo Magicos are scattered across the country, and while some are better known than others (Tulum, for example), each is worth a visit — though, for this article, we’re playing favorites. 

Trips to Cabo and Cancun are so last year (or so pre-pandemic, to be specific). Now that travel is back with a vengeance, why not explore countries we already know and love with fresh eyes?

Tequila and Todos Santos are two gorgeous destinations with more in common than just their esteemed magical status. Both cities share an energy and a spirit that embodies the culture and vibrancy of Mexico (sometimes literally). 

Perfect for culture-loving travelers, these trips demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that there’s more to Mexico than the beach. Vamos a buscar la magia!

TEQUILA

Jalisco, Mexico

Tequila, Mexico

(Image of Tequila provided by Adobe Stock)

Though many travelers are aware of France’s rich history in wine and spirits — champagne originated in Champagne, Bordeaux wine was invented in Bordeaux — it’s still something of a revelation for people to discover that tequila comes from Tequila, Mexico. The rich history of tequila in Mexico was nothing short of a revelation for me during my first trip to this Magic Town in Jalisco this past spring. 

Tequila is home to mountains, deserts, and rolling hills lined with perfect rows of blue agave plants — the fields just as gorgeous as any vineyard in the Loire Valley. Despite its intoxicating beauty (pun intended), Tequila is often overlooked by travelers headed for the coast. And even though tequila has become more fashionable in recent years — celebrity tequila brands range from George Clooney to Kendall Jenner,  Nick Jonas to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson — it’s often dismissed as a drink you drink to, well, get drunk. (A remnant association from college tequila shots, perhaps). 

But visitors to Tequila will quickly learn to hold the salt and resist the urge to erase the aftertaste. Tequila, like wine, is meant to be savored, and I was surprised to learn that my favorite chaser was salted crickets. (They taste like sunflower seeds). 

In Mexico, tequila is more than just a drink. 

The official liquor of Mexico, tequila encapsulates the nation’s spirit (pun, as always, intended) and history — reflecting the intermingling of Spanish and Mexican cultures. Indigenous Mexicans established fermentation, and Spanish settlers introduced distillation. Ancient Mexicans viewed the agave plant as having healing properties — a belief that continues today. 

“If you have a disease, you eat agave or drink tequila, and you forget everything,” says Sonia de la Spinola, director of the Jose Cuervo Beckmann Foundation

Jose Cuervo created the first tequila beverage 250 years ago, and the family-owned company maintains its prominence in the industry today — and nowhere is that more apparent than in the brand’s hometown of Tequila. Tequila was first harvested in 1795, and — thanks to the efforts of Jose Cuervo and others — this 18th-century heritage is still preserved, earning its distinction as a Pueblo Magico and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One visit to the city of Tequila will have you convinced that magic does exist, and it grows on the leaves of an agave plant. Salud!

TODOS SANTOS

Baja California Sur, Mexico

Day of the Dead skeleton decorations

(Image of Day of the Dead decorations provided by Adobe Stock)

I first visited Todos Santos this past fall on the Day of the Dead, which, in hindsight, was the perfect day to fall in love with this Pueblo Magico in Baja California Sur. As the Baja peninsula is quite sprawling, this gorgeous, charming city in Los Cabos remains somewhat under-the-radar despite being quite fashionable amongst stylish travelers.  A 45-minute drive from Cabo San Lucas, it may be a cliché to declare that the journey is part of the destination, but in Los Cabos, it truly is. On your drives across the peninsula, you will pass stretches of unspoiled desert, charming seaside villages, and dramatic mountaintops.

Start your morning with an acai bowl at Cafelix and dine on fresh Baja oysters and delicious micheladas for lunch at the Oystera restaurant in Santa Terra. Santa Terra is also home to a wonderful boutique — and the shopping experience is always enhanced by a cocktail or two. Pay a visit to the Hotel California, and — though historic — it is not the namesake of the famous song by the Eagles. 

The architecture in the city is positively charming, a desert oasis with open-air markets and sweeping views of the surrounding countryside. While the rolling hills and endless valleys are spectacular, the innovative craftsmanship and storied history of its artisans set Todos Santos apart as a magical city. A visit to Local Loco Art is mandatory for all visitors. 

I purchased a painting constructed from cactus and other local materials and a truly unhinged assortment of woven baskets and painted skulls from the local market. (It was Dia De Los Muertos, after all). 

The Day of the Dead originated thousands of years ago as a festival to honor the deceased in ancient Mesoamerica on the first day of November. It was only later linked to the Catholic celebration of All Souls’ Day and — even later — with the costumed mischief of Halloween. But the holiday’s actual meaning is far more powerful and rooted in pre-Columbian Mexican rituals. The artistry of Todos Santos is on full display during Dia De Los Muertos, as the city is decorated to honor and celebrate the memory of loved ones who have passed. 

It’s believed that on this day, ancestors rise from the dead for a night of celebrations with their families before returning to the afterlife. The painted skulls I was entranced by in the open stalls and boutiques are known as Calaveras, Spanish for “skull,” and are decorated and displayed in honor of the dead. The intricate designs and vibrant colors of the Calaveras symbolize the duality of existence, the intermingling of life, and the afterlife. They represent both the beauty and the inevitability of death. 

Todos Santos has the ability to make these traditions, and the country’s rich history, come alive. There’s more to Mexico than margaritas on the beach — what truly sets the nation apart is its culture and heritage. After my trip to Todos Santos, I found myself believing in Magic (Towns, at the very least). And I’ll raise a glass of tequila to that. 

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