There’s a change afoot in the small colonial town of El Triunfo in Baja Sur. The mining ghost town that time once seemed to have forgotten is now abuzz with hundreds of tourists each weekend. The old colonial buildings are being restored, chic cafes and restaurants are busy with visitors, and new projects are being infused into the once-sleepy town. All of the attention is leaving some people wondering—is El Triunfo the next Baja “it” spot?
Gold and silver once came out of the mines in El Triunfo during the town’s heyday. The first mine was originally founded in the late 18th century by Manuel de Ocio. In 1878 the British El Progreso Mining Company took over the mine and brought prosperity to El Triunfo. At one point, El Triunfo was the largest town in Baja California Sur, with a population of over 10,000 people. When the mines closed in 1926, most of the people left town in search of jobs elsewhere and the town eventually became a mere shadow of its glory days.
Where to Eat
The change in El Triunfo started slowly a few years ago when Marcus Spahr, who had previously run Caffé Todos Santos for 16 years, left the West Cape and opened Caffé El Triunfo (tel. 612 157 1625, 9am-5pm daily). There’s a wood-burning oven where they bake fresh breads and make pizzas that are a favorite of all who pass through. There are a number of outdoor patios and areas for eating, drinking, and relaxing. The restaurant is also open for breakfast.
Caffé El Triunfo has recently been joined by the refreshingly chic Bar El Minero (Calle Progreso, tel. 612/176-3939, 11am-6:30pm Wed.-Mon.). The building that houses El Minero is over 120 years old and was once the laboratory for the mines. Today, the space is beautiful and inviting with upcycled bottle light fixtures, locally-crafted wood tables, and a long bar. The expansive outdoor space has plenty of seating, fire pits, and views of the old smokestacks. El Minero serves craft beer on tap, as well as house-made artisanal sausages, salads, and local cheeses. Chef Felipe studied culinary in San Diego and Tijuana and his sophisticated understanding of flavor profiles shines through in everything he makes. On Sundays there’s a large paella fest that draws locals and visitors for a fun afternoon. Don’t visit without dressing up to take your photo with the bronze sculpture of Sofia and Juan Matute in the courtyard.
What to Do
A trip to El Triunfo isn’t complete without a walk through the old mining grounds. Access to the area can be found on Calle Libertad (just head toward the tall smokestack). Here, visitors will find old mining equipment, brick ruins, and old smokestacks. The largest smokestack, “La Romana” is 35 meters tall and is rumored to be designed by Gustav Eiffel (of Eiffel tower fame). Follow the path lined by the white rocks to head up to the mirador lookout, where you’ll get a beautiful view of the little town and the surrounding mountains. Halfway up the path to the mirador is a side jaunt to the walled-in Panteon Ingles cemetery with 13 white aboveground mausoleums of English citizens who once worked in the mines.
The planned Museo de Plata will be a mining museum opening to the public by the end of 2016. The museum will tell the history of the mine and the region through interactive exhibits that will bring to life the rich history of the area. Stay tuned for more information.
During the prosperous years of El Triunfo, the town was a cultural center and for music and dance. The old Museo de la Música (no tel. 8am-2pm daily, 20 pesos entrance fee) music museum is still in town, housing pianos and other instruments that were shipped to El Triunfo from all over the world during its prime. Unfortunately, the curator of the museum, Nicolás Carrillo, (affectionately known as “The Liberace of Baja”) passed away a few years ago, and the museum has not been well taken care of since then.
For those who love shopping, there are a few small shops and galleries in town across from Caffé El Triunfo.
Just a few kilometers north of town is the Santuario de los Cactus (Km. 167 Mex 1, no tel., 9am-5pm daily, US$4). This 50-hectare cactus sanctuary is an ecological reserve home to endemic cacti and plants found only in this part of the world. There are a few informational signs along the path that point out some of the unique flora and fauna found in the area.
Where to Stay
There are currently no hotels in El Triunfo, but it’s an easy drive (about 45 minutes) from both La Paz and Los Barriles. The small La Fortelezza (firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. 011-52-624-182-4068) has two rooms for rent in El Triunfo or the nearby Rancho LaVenta (tel. 011-52-612-156-8947) is located in between San Antonio and San Bartolo.