Our first ‘palapa’ or traditional thatched roof ‘El Rustico’ style bungalow
Psssssssst! Wanna know a secret??????? Well, one of the best-kept secrets in La Paz is a very unusual ‘bed-and-breakfast’ actually located on the grounds of the El Rustico restaurant. The restaurant, itself, is very well known–especially among cruisers for its authentic Italian style pizza.
The owners are, indeed, transplanted Italians. The food is outstanding, and some of the other items on the menu make the pizza pale by comparison. This is without a doubt some of the best Italian food I have ever eaten. The staff and the owners make the evening a delight.
The setting is an open-air restaurant in the center of town with the feel of a small villa in southern Europe. Try pulling that off in Baja California Sur!
Even though the El Rustico is well-known among cruisers, what is not well known is that there are two small ‘palapas’ on the property that are for rent in a traditional bed-and-breakfast’ arrangement. We found these when we were looking for a place to stay for the time that Spiritus was in the shipyard–on stilts and out of the water. The Atalanta yard does not allow owners to live on the boat while they are working on it. Mostly, this is thanks to a couple of Americans who managed to get hurt or needed medical attention while in the yard with mixed results. The ensuing liability issues convinced the yard that no one should be on the boats when on the stilts.
With this in mind, about two weeks before we went on the hard Carolyn started looking for a place for us to stay. Criteria: It had to be comfortable, quiet, and close to either the center of town with buses, taxis, and places we already knew or close to the boat. We almost stayed at the Marina Hotel near the Atalanta shipyard because of its proximity.
But once we saw the palapas at El Rustico, we were convinced that a longer walk to the boat yard was worth it.
They are oddly private considering that they’re in the middle of a restaurant. Easy to get to. Informal in the extreme. And the staff, while available, was not omnipresent trying to help us. We got treated like a family members almost. ‘Homey’ is nice when your world is upside down (bad metaphor for a boat) or out of its element.
The owners show up about 7:30 a.m. every day and set out coffee, mugs, and fruit. They start preparing the home-made breads for the day. Staff shows up throughout the day till about three o’clock when everyone arrives and has a small meal together. This starts their workday. The restaurant really starts hopping about six in the evening when the customers start arriving. It is very popular with both the more affluent locals and the Americans and Europeans here on boats.
These palapas are probably what is considered quaint. They are not modern in any sense except that they are meticulously clean and well maintained (your room is cleaned every day of your stay). The unit we stayed in has a small kitchenette and–in alcoves behind the head of the bed–a very nice tiled shower under a thatched roof and on the other side a functional bathroom. There was a small table built into the wall. Additionally, there was a huge old-style armoire for clothes.
The two palapas are nestled in a small grove of citrus fruit trees. You can pick oranges, limes, and tangerines right outside the windows. The grove is enclosed within a walled compound so security is not an issue. It is quite literally, a hidden garden! Next to the hut is an old-style windmill and water cistern from the days of La Paz before city water and the outlawing of private wells.
The grove and palapas originally were owned (as the story goes) by an American who had a skill useful to the cruising fleet. He built the palapas himself with the help of local labor and lived there for some years. When he died, the property was purchased by the restaurant and became part of it. The grove became one of the features of dining at El Rustico.
The palapas were kept.
They are rustic. You can expect comfort and tranquility. What they do not have is TV, internet, telephone, or a cable internet connection. They do have an air-conditioner (though we only needed it a couple of hours a day). So, be self-entertaining and self-contained about your connectivity and entertainment needs. As boaters, we are used to having to make do. We used a 3G connected iPad and a laptop with a Banda Ancha Telcel modem. We also have a Telcel phone we use down here for a local number. There was no difference than when were home on our boat.
You get really tempted and we gave in to eat at the restaurant. We were weak! That is how we discovered the other dishes that everyone passes over for pizza. As good as their pizza is, I swear to you, the rest is even better. The lasagna is perfection–light with just the right textural balance in its layers of cheeses, home-made sauce, and pasta. The calzones easily feed two people. And the panna cotta for dessert is pure joy for the taste buds–it made my tongue smile.
In closing, life in the palapa turned what we anticipated would be an awful week, out of the boa,t into a ‘second honymoon’–almost. We were having such a good time that, one day, we even took a bus and went to Todo Santos like tourists. Had lunch at the Hotel California … THE HOTEL CALIFORNIA!
This quiet place–still and calm–in the center of La Paz is a little slice of Paradise (or Paradiso). No one we have talked with knows about it. It is not well-advertised. But it is worth the search. Thus far, it it remains a secret; find out for yourself how delightful it truly is. http://www.ilrusticolapazmx.com/us/about.html
Sometimes, less is more. This place is one of those times.