Camp Cecil: Baja's Best New Getaway
Stay in a chic beach tent, unplugged, by the sea.
For three days this winter I lived in a tent on a beach beside the sea. This wasn't your typical tent. Not even remotely. This tent was more like a fantasy about beach camping you never even knew you had. I still dream about my tent. It had white canvas walls, a real bed (with sheets), and a cotton blanket the color of a cantaloupe. Best of all? When I unzipped my front door two camp chairs anchored a front-porch mat, so I could sit in the sun and drink in the view.
My tent was one of eight that make up Camp Cecil, an artfully designed new "glamping" experience on the island of Espiritu Santo in Baja California, Mexico. Espiritu Santo is a rugged island with acres of undeveloped shoreline just off the coast of La Paz. It's also part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site surrounded by some of the best (and warmest) water in the world for swimming with sea lions, and in winter, migrating whales.
Arriving at the camp's private white sand beach by boat made for one of the most delightful days I'd experienced in years of travel. First, there was the thrill of the boat ride itself (with a stop en route for swimming with whale sharks!) and our beach landing. Once we'd dropped our bags at our tents, there was the fresh salt air, the rhythm of lapping waves, the simplicity of needing no more than a bathing suit and flip-flops. Lunch was served at a long communal table in the sand set with an aquamarine cloth and overhung with a chandelier.
Here we were, camping in Mexico and our meals (prepared in a cook tent), were fresh and delicious. For lunch, we had ceviche, quinoa salad, Pacifico beers, and hibiscus tea. Ivan, the camp's Italian chef who made his way to Baja by way of a Michael Chiarello restaurant in Napa, told me about the 86 and 90-year-old fishermen who'd caught the fish that morning for our ceviche.
"They've lived on this island their whole lives. Their three secrets to longevity? Fresh air, fresh fish, and working outside," he grinned.
After lunch I added a fourth: living off-grid.
I'd forgotten how profoundly restful it is in our hyper-connected world to go for a few days without Internet. What a rare privilege to say, "I'm going to be off the grid with no phone or wifi, so don't even try to reach me!" How healing it is to live by nature's rhythms and how well you sleep when you wake with the sun, turn in with the dark, and can't check your phone.
Slowly, you get your attention back.
After breakfast the second day, there were all sorts of things to do outside: boulder up arroyos; kayak beneath colonies of frigate birds; boat out to swim with sea lion pups; SUP over masses of iridescent fish. There were a thousand ways to spend the day that didn't involve looking at our phones. And so we looked at other things.
I began to notice fellow campers strolling the beach, content in solitude. I focused on the delicate shells and corals at my feet. And, I'll confess: I not only collected some of them but arranged a collage on my front-porch mat and snapped an Instagram pic: #shells.
On our last night at Camp Cecil, after a dinner of albondigas soup, tacos with handmade tortillas, and tequila-grapefruit cocktails, our chief de camp Sergio Jauregui, who founded Camp Cecil as well as Baja-based Todo Santos Eco Adventures 14 years ago (in addition to having worked as an English teacher, an engineer, a boat mechanic, and a clown), invited the group out to the beach for stargazing. We all lay in the sand on our backs and stared up at the darkness. With no ambient light other than a few camp lanterns, the night sky was as black as a screen awash in distant pixels.
"Two thousand years ago, before TV and movies and wifi, people watched the stars for entertainment!" Sergio said, tracing the constellations of Pegasus, Casseopeia, and the Pleides with a laser pointer.
"Throughout all time, all of humanity, people from different cultures have looked at the stars and seen the same things. They've just called them different names."
It was lovely staring up at the night sky together: Americans, Mexicans, a Spaniard and an Italian. The pellucid sea lapped at our toes, and it occurred to me that this was probably one of the best, most relevant bedtime stories I'd heard in years. A few minutes later I stood up feeling restored in a way I hadn't in weeks, found my tent in the dark, and slept dreaming of Pisces the fish, not Facebook.
Camp Cecil costs $275 pp a night, including boat transfers, all meals, happy hour, activities, and bilingual naturalist guides. www.TOSEA.net.