Only 73 kilometers (about 43 miles) north of Cabo San Lucas on the Pacific coast sits Todos Santos, below the towering Sierra de la Laguna mountains at the end of a beautiful and scenic drive along the Pacific Ocean coast. On a mesa overlooking a valley of orchards and gardens, a mile or so from the Pacific, Todos Santos is verdant with groves of Washingtonian palms, mangos, papayas, avocados and other crops. As recently as 1990, it was a sleepier place.
During the Mission Period, this oasis valley was deemed the only area south and west of La Paz worth settling, as it had the only reliable water supply. Colonized in 1723 by Jesuit missionaries, an outpost mission was established, followed by the full-fledged Misión Santa Rosa de Las Palmas in 1733. At the time, the town was known as Santa Rosa de Todos Santos, in honor of its benefactor Doña Rosa de La Peña. It was eventually shortened to its current name, which translates to “All Saints.”
Padre Taraval was sent up from San José del Cabo to baptize and serve in the mission. He later returned south, narrowly escaping death from the Pericue Indian uprising of 1734. By the end of the century, most of the natives were dead from epidemics and in the early 1800’s, the mission was almost abandoned. During the 1840’s by the Governor’s decree, mission lands were redistributed and the town went into a deep sleep until its rebirth a decade later as a sugar cane center.
At its peak in 1850, there were eight sugar mills driving a thriving agricultural economy. By the turn of the 19th century, the economic prosperity fueled a refined, vibrant culture that included two theaters. Todos Santos became the home of artists and sculptors and others involved in the arts. Most of the beautiful colonial style buildings and private homes were financed by sugar monies.
The riches of sugar production lasted nearly 100 years when in the 1950’s, a geologic event caused the water table to drop to nearly nothing. Suffering from drought and falling sugar prices brought on by the aftermath of World War II, the town was left for dead once again and many of the fine buildings fell into ruin.
1981 saw a miraculous return of the water, however, the sugar cane industry was not revived. Organic agriculture and farming replaced the cane fields and ranching was reinstated as a way of life in the fertile lands surrounding the town. Paving of the highway in 1984 from La Paz to Cabo San Lucas opened the town to tourism and provided the stimulus for Todos Santos to grow to a population of approximately 7,000 inhabitants. Highway 19 intersects town ablock from an abandoned red brick sugar mill stack on Calle Juárez, the main street. Sugar mill ruins can also be found at El Molino Trailer Park, behind the town’s central Pemex gas station. Crumbling chimneys from destitute cane mills and vintage wrought iron creations adorned with colorful sprays of bougainvillea blossoms permeate the town with the vivid colors of Mexico.