If you want to escape to small-town Mexico during your trip, consider adding Santiago, Baja California, to your itinerary. Just over an hour away from Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, Santiago BCS is a hidden gem nestled at the edge of the Sierra Laguna mountain range.
I recently had the opportunity to visit Santiago on a Baja California road trip. Despite the natural beauty that surrounds this small town is incredible, yet still largely undiscovered by international travelers.
If you’re wondering whether or not to visit Santiago, this article is for you.
PS: Santiago BCS is not to be confused with Santiago Apoala in Oaxaca. Both are incredible towns that I highly recommend, but they are located miles apart in different areas of Mexico. I highly recommend bookmarking or pinning my Santiago Apoala Oaxaca guide for future reference.
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A Quick History of Santiago Baja California Sur
Santiago is part of the ancestral homeland of the Pericues indigenous tribe of Baja California. Unfortunately, the tribe became extinct several hundred years ago due to colonization.
The town was established in the 17th century by Italian Jesuit missionaries and called “Misión de Santiago el Apóstol”. Only a few years after the first church was built the first Pericú insurrection occurred. A priest was killed and the church building was damaged.
The church was later rebuilt, but the town Santiago has remained quiet and small, inhabited mostly by farmers and ranchers. If you’re curious to learn more about Santiago’s history, check out this article or visit the town’s main church.
6 Reasons to Visit Santiago BCS
1: Soak in natural hot springs
Natural hot springs are abundant in the small villages deep in the Sierra Laguna mountains surrounding Santiago. And yes, the water is actually hot!
Many of the area’s hot springs are on private property, but locals have opened up their land to visitors for decades. The two most accessible hot springs include El Chorro Hot Springs (currently closed) and Santa Rita Hot Springs (or Aguas Termales Santa Rita in Spanish).
Since El Churro was closed during my recent visit to Santiago, I spent my time at Santa Rita Hot Springs, which was incredible. The hot springs are part of Rancho Santa Rita and are about twenty minutes from the center of Santiago Pueblo.
The hot springs are piping hot (but not too hot), and a large cool stream runs beside them with natural pools and small waterfalls. You have to pay about $150 pesos to visit for the day, but it’s well worth it!
2: Take in the beauty of a desert oasis
Santiago may or may not be classified as a real desert oasis (it was unclear in my research). Whatever it is, Santiago is gorgeous! Lush greenery thrives along riverbeds amid the dry Baja desert. Palm trees dance in the wind, and water glistens in the harsh sunlight.
Mirador de Santiago
To find one of the best views in Santiago, route your GPS to Mirador de Santiago, a stunning viewpoint along a dusty road. If you visit Fox Canyon and the Sol De Mayo Waterfall, you’ll likely drive past this mirador. Be sure to stop and take it all in.
3: Swim in natural pools below stunning waterfalls
Santiago is home to dozens of tranquil swimming holes and waterfalls (if not more). Cool, gentle water fills up into gorgeous turquoise-blue pools below cascading waterfalls.
Natural pools and waterfalls at Rancho Santa Rita
Sol De Mayo waterfall in Santiago BCS
Some of the area’s most accessible and beautiful waterfall swimming holes include Sol De Mayo and Rancho Santa Rita. As mentioned above, Rancho Santa Rita is also home to the Santa Rita Hot Springs. The waterfalls at Rancho Santa Rita are small, but the swimming holes are gorgeous.
Twenty minutes down the road from Rancho Santa Rita, Fox Canyon is home to Sol De Mayo, a 40-foot waterfall with a large pool below. The waterfall is a 15-minute hike from the parking lot and is completely worth a visit if you have time.
4: Hike in the Sierra Laguna mountains
The Sierra Laguna mountains are home to some of the best hiking near Cabo. The surrounding area was designated as a National Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2003 and has been explored by locals and outdoor lovers for hundreds of years.
The most popular hiking spot is Rancho Ecologico Sol De Mayo, where the 40-foot Sol De Mayo waterfall is located. The short 15-minute hike to the waterfall is one of the best things to do in Santiago.
If you’re looking to go on a longer hike, I recommend booking a guided tour like this one, which includes round-trip transportation from Cabo San Lucas.
5: Cross paths with cows, bulls, goats, and other animals
Cows, bulls, goats, and other animals roam (somewhat) freely throughout the dusty roads of Santiago. There are gates that keep the cattle from wandering too far from home, but you’ll certainly encounter them on any trip through the backroads of Santiago.
In my experience, the animals are gentle and friendly. If you want to see a variety of animals, head to Rancho Ecologico Sol De Mayo, where you’ll see cattle, goats, cows, turtles, and dogs.
6: Experience rural Mexico
Part of what makes visiting Santiago BCS so special is the experience of entering into small-town Mexico. Most of the area’s attractions, including waterfalls and hot springs, are in small villages on private ranches (ranchos in Spanish).
Driving through the dirt roads of Santiago, you’ll get a glimpse into the local way of life and meet friendly ranchers.
Essential Mexico Travel Resources
Have a Mexico trip coming up soon? There are a lot of travel companies out there, but some are better than others. After traveling to dozens of countries and living abroad on several continents, here are some of my favorite websites and resources for planning unforgettable trips.
Santiago, Baja California Photo Gallery
Final Thoughts: Santiago Baja California Sur
Santiago BCS is a hidden treasure worth exploring on any Baja trip. Whether you are a history buff, an outdoor enthusiast, or simply looking for a peaceful retreat away from Los Cabos, Santiago is definitely worth a visit.
As you plan your Mexico trip, check out these other travel guides:
Los Cabos, La Paz, & Baja California Sur Guides
★ 21 Best Day Trips from Cabo
★ 5 Best Balandra Beach Tours from Cabo
★ Sol De Mayo Waterfall, Santiago
★ Santa Rita Hot Springs, Santiago
★ 21 Stunning La Paz Beaches
★ Playa Balandra, La Paz (called the most beautiful beach in Mexico)
★ Playa El Tesoro, La Paz
★ The Ultimate Guide to Vegan Travel in La Paz, Mexico
Other Mexico Travel Guides
★ Playa Carrizalillo, Oaxaca (my favorite beach in Mexico)
★ Muyil River Float (unforgettable experience near Tulum)
★ Cenote Aldea Zama, Tulum (the only free cenote in Tulum)
★ Ultimate Travel Guide for Vegans and Vegetarians in Mexico
★ Jalatlaco, Oaxaca (a cute neighborhood in my favorite Mexican city)
★ La Punta, Puerto Escondido (backpackers paradise beach town)