By Dan & Lisa Goy
Baja Amigos RV Caravan Tours
A regular stop for us on tour always includes the Hotel Serenidad, located just south of Mulegé, the gateway to the beautiful Bahia Concepcion. The hotel has seven RV spaces that include power, water, showers and dump stations at each site. The sites are practical, reasonably priced and, best of all, a one-minute walk from the Hotel Serenidad. A real Baja treasure! Two different WiFi connections are available at the hotel, one in the restaurant and another in the bar, which can be accessed from the outside patio and poolside. The restaurant opens at 6am for the early birds and closes late as long as patrons want to stay and enjoy the ambience.
To many Baja travelers, Mulege means the Hotel Serenidad. Many guests fly private planes into the adjacent 4,000-foot airstrip, “El Gallito.” Over the years, the hotel has drawn regulars such as John Wayne, Olivia Newton-John and many other celebrities. When folks think of the Serenidad, they usually think about its affable host, Don Johnson.
The Hotel Serenidad has a long and fascinating history. The Serenidad (Serenity) Hotel was originally developed in 1961 by Leroy Center. Don Johnson, who had earlier been part owner of the Loma Linda, was the Serenidad’s boat manager during the 1960s. In 1968, he bought the resort with partners Fernando del Morel and Chester Mason. Don Johnson and his wife Nancy have owned the Serenidad ever since, and Don’s name has become synonymous with the place. The airstrip next to the Serenidad has always been the main source of travelers for the hotel. By the early 1970s, the hotel offered modern accommodations, patio dining, a bar, and a new swimming pool. The Serenidad became like its name, serene, with large, beautifully furnished rooms strung out across tropical grounds. A big outdoor patio was built and is still used for dining alfresco.
Johnson first traveled to Mulege in 1960, arriving by boat from San Felipe. A few years later, at age of 35, he was looking for a change from his life in San Jose, California, so he returned to Baja and settled in Mulege for good. Johnson married a local girl, Nancy Ugalde Gorosave, the granddaughter of Mulege rancher Don Jose Gorosave, and the two raised three daughters, Diana, Sara Laura and Sandra Lynn. Until recently, the oldest, Diana, ran the hotel.
Saturday Night Pig Roast
Johnson started a tradition at Serenidad that has been going strong for almost 45 years. Every Saturday night, the hotel hosts their famous Pig Roast. Baja pilots still fly in just for the feast, which includes one margarita, all the roasted pig you can eat and sometimes live music or other entertainment. We have attended many of the roasts.
Ray Cannon, a Baja legend and author of the bestselling Sea of Cortez book, wrote about the Serenidad and the beginning of the pig tradition in 1970: “Most of our group stayed at the Hotel Serenidad, where another old friend, Don Johnson, is co-operator and where he sees to supplying gas and supplies to the boats at his pier. Don had a whole pig barbecued for us on an old style spit beside the outdoor dining veranda. The evening was a gay one…”
Occupation of the Hotel Serenidad
On July 14, 1996, three decades of serenity at the Hotel Serenidad came to an abrupt end. It was a Sunday, and the hotel was packed with guests, when 94 Mexican locals invaded and occupied the hotel. This was a dispute over land ownership and the ejidatarios, or Mexicans who own land communally, evicted the owners and guests and seized the hotel and airstrip. Locals in cowboy hats replaced well-heeled tourists beside a pool that was soon filled only with two inches of green pond scum.
Don Johnson & Nancy Ugalde de Johnson, a fifth-generation Mulege native, spent six months in court to prove that Nancy, Mexican born and bred, was the legal owner. Eventually, a federal judge in Mexico City ruled that they had legal title to the land. The hotel did reopen, but years later, there is still underlying tension between some members of the Mulege community.
Baja Legend Don Johnson
Don has put his heart and soul into the Hotel Serenidad and has always been a true Mulege champion and promoter. He never stops working on ways to improve the hotel, which is quite remarkable given the multiple hurricane and floods they have suffered just in the past 10 years. Last season we showed up with the caravan and Don was in the parking lot directing a dump truck with a load of new gravel for the parking lot. When Don saw us he grabbed a shovel to spread the piles around so not to catch the bottom of the RVs. Not bad for a guy who is closer to 90 than 80 years old. For the last couple of years, he has been working on a new RV Park on the adjacent Shangila property. He wants to provide a place in Mulege that can accommodate 20 to 30-foot rigs for larger RV caravans.
Although Don no longer personally runs the hotel, he still serves as the unofficial ambassador at the Serenidad, constantly visiting and chatting with his guests. It’s a comfortable role for him, as he became the American consulate in Mulege in 1980; a job he’s performed for 13 official, and 20 unofficial, years. Don loves to tell stories and engage the guests and he always has time to answer questions about the area and the history. You can always count on Don to be one of the most interesting and gracious hosts Mulege has to offer.
Whether you are RVing or staying in hotels, don’t miss the Serenidad. Stay and experience the unique character and tranquil ambience of this establishment, decades in the making. Don’t forget about Nancy’s gift shop and be careful of the Margaritas made by Roman!
4 thoughts on “Hotel Serenidad and Baja Legend Don Johnson”
I stayed at the Hotel Serenidad in 1972 for 4 days and have to tell you it was one of the best travel experiences of my life. I have never forgotten about this most wonderful and magical place. I absolutely remember the hospitable Don Johnson. One day I will journey back Hotel Serenidad to relive a great memory.
Just checking if the “new” or “expanded” RV park is open yet at the Hotel Serenidad properties? Or will it b open by the end of February? Planning a stay and would like to know if reservations are necessary for a 26 foot trailer.
The new RV park is not open yet although apparently it’s completed and ready but they are waiting on fixing the entrance. There’s no word on when it will be open. The number at Serenidad is 011-52-615-153-0530 and they can keep you posted on the status of the opening.
It has been a few years since I’ve had the pleasure of staying with the awesome people who make sure your time there is memorable and just a lot of fun. A trip to see them all and relax for awhile is now being planned and it can’t come soon enough! Thanks for all the memories, Don.