Robe Report: Hotel San Cristobal
Uracha Chaiyapinunt goes off the beaten path to deliver this colorful robe report from Todos Santos, Baja California, Mexico.
September 01, 2017
When the car pulled up to Hotel San Cristobal I was surprised we had arrived at our destination. For miles, we passed nothing but giant cardon cacti on our drive. In my research about the town and hotel before the trip, guests had mentioned peace and quiet; even then, I didn’t imagine the location would be so isolated. I couldn’t help but wonder how Austin-based hotelier Liz Lambert came to choose this secluded strip of the coast to open her first international property.
Lambert, the founder and creative director of Bunkhouse Group, has become one of the most influential figures in the hospitality industry. Her eye for design, coupled with her personal aesthetic of minimalist boho-chic, has led to the conception of some of the most unique establishments, including El Cosmico, an 18-acre campground hotel in Marfa, Texas where accommodations range from vintage trailers to teepees. Consequently, no one should have expected Lambert to play it safe anymore; after all, the lawyer-turned-hotelier’s first project, Hotel San José, used to be an old motor lodge before she worked her magic. But even for someone who’s known to make bold moves, Lambert, in my opinion, took a huge gamble with her first property outside of Texas, opening Hotel San Cristobal in what feels like the middle of nowhere. Quite frankly, it all seemed a little random to me.
As I walked into the reception area of the hotel and was greeted by a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean, everything clicked. Honeymooners lounged by the pool—cocktails in one hand, Kindles in the other. A group of friends sat by the bar sharing tacos and chips, while a couple cooled off in the library with a guitar. All of a sudden, it made a lot of sense: Hotel San Cristobal is a world of its own. The off-the-beaten-path aspect of the property only further fuels the hotel’s mission. Because of how removed the hotel feels, no one keeps track of time or how many margaritas they’ve downed—exactly how a vacation is supposed to be.
The robes are a perfect example of Lambert’s attention to detail. I spotted them the moment I walked into the bathroom. They were colorful, soft, and simply put, fun. The 19-colored serape print matched the young and exciting mood of the property’s decor. Even though the hotel practically exudes a laid-back vibe, what made me feel most OK about walking out of the room in my robe was the fact that it didn’t feel, nor did it look, like an intimate bathrobe. It could’ve easily been something I packed for the holiday. For the entire four days, I lived and breathed in my party robe. It was light enough to wear in the desert heat but kept me warm at night under the A/C (my travel companion and I fought over the temperature of the room a lot; the robe allowed me to compromise). I had breakfast in it each morning—I wasn’t the only one—and didn’t take it off until after happy hour each evening. The best part was that I didn’t feel like I was killing my weekend wardrobe—and in turn, my Instagram photos—with it on. It was that charming.
THE ROOMS and THE PROPERTY
Though none of the 32 guest rooms are exactly alike, many come with sweeping views of the ocean or mountains. If you’re splurging on your trip, you can also get beachfront rooms with outdoor soaking tubs and showers. The room we stayed in (‘poolside with view’) was simple but bold, following the tone of the rest of the hotel; the plain white walls and concrete floors contrast with the woven yellow bed covers and the swirly printed tiles in the bathroom. It was picture perfect, much like all of the other Bunkhouse Group’s projects.
The pool was always the most popular spot in the hotel, especially when the sun was at its peak (aka optimal tanning time). But despite it being the main attraction, there’s no need to wake up early and fight over the lounge chairs, hot pink flamingo floaties, or towels. There were always plenty, thanks to the hotel staff who kept watch throughout the entire day. My glass of iced water was never empty.
Having grown up in Thailand, I’ve been spoiled by the clear, calm waters and fine white sands of Southern Thailand, so I’m not someone who gets easily excited by beaches. But, if I had to choose, my favorite part of the hotel is that it’s right next to the ocean. While the sand at Punta Lobos is grainy and the hotel warns you about going in the water alone because of the high surf, what makes the beach in front of Hotel San Cristobal special is the lack of crowds. In the morning the fishermen launch their panga boats and at sunset they return with the day’s catch. Other than that, you pretty much have the entire beach to yourself—spectacular cliffs to the left, ocean to the front, and stretches of uninterrupted shore on all sides.
Room service is always a blessing. The ability to eat in bed instead of dressing up and walking the 50 feet to the restaurant is pure luxury. Unfortunately, at Hotel San Cristobal, room service is an amenity that falls short. First, the menu is limited (the length of a postcard), which means if you really want the good stuff, you gotta hike down to Benno, the hotel’s restaurant. Then, there’s the small “delivery fee” for them to bring the food up to your room. This seemed a little outrageous, considering how short the “delivery” is—I can’t imagine the walk from the restaurant to the furthest room on the property being more than three minutes, maybe four. My final complaint is if you get hungry in the middle of the day (as most people do), you’ll be unhappy to learn that Benno is closed for lunch and you’re stuck with the pool bar. While the food there is fine, the menu items lean more towards bite-sized (or maybe I just eat more than the average person?) and will probably not keep you full until Benno reopens at dinnertime.
It should be noted that my frustration with the hotel’s dining options is only exacerbated by the fact that there are no other restaurants in the immediate vicinity of Hotel San Cristobal. That said, the food is alright. The most outstanding dish, hands-down, was the catch of the day red snapper. Cooked to perfection, the meat of the fish was soft and flavorful. There wasn’t much dressing, but the simplicity of the the dish allowed for the freshness and quality of the fish to really come through.
BEYOND THE HOTEL
Perhaps the best part about Todos Santos is the location. While it’s perfectly acceptable to spend your entire weekend in your robe by the pool, there’s also plenty of attractions and activities not too far from the hotel.
Take a boat ride out to Isla Espíritu Santo - Isla Espíritu Santo, an uninhabited island in the Gulf of California, draws tourists with its impressive landscape and thriving biosphere. There are a number of tour agencies that offer activities such as whale watching, kayaking, and spearfishing, as well as swimming with whale sharks and sea lions. The trip from the hotel to La Paz, where the boats depart, is 1.5 hours. The more affordable agencies organize group tours with pick-up and drop-off from the hotel. However, if you’re willing to spend more, you can customize your own trip and have the entire boat to yourself. I promise it’s well worth it.
Grab dinner and drinks in town - Ask the hotel to call you a cab to take you into town. Once you’re there everything is within walking distance. Watch the sunset from the rooftop bar at Guaycura Hotel (the mango mojito was deliciously sweet). Wander the streets of Todos Santos and pop into some of the local artisan shops. Visit the infamous Hotel California (Note: The Eagles have filed a lawsuit against the property for falsely advertising that the band’s hit song was inspired by the hotel). Lastly, grab dinner at Tre Galline, Cafe Santa Fe, or Jazamango if you're looking for a change from the hotel menu before heading back.
Catch the waves at Playa Cerritos - Surfers from all over the world travel to the Baja to experience the quality waves the region is known for. Lucky for Hotel San Cristobal guests, nearby Playa Cerritos offers surf lessons for newbies and a more adventurous break for the experienced. If you’re looking to stay dry, there is a hiking trail nearby to the top of Punta Lobos with views of the ocean and a sea lion colony.