Author: Aida M Garcia-Toledo
Date of Trip: April 2008
To be perfectly honest I was not really sure what to expect when I prepared for my trip to Los Cabos. In my mind Los Cabos brought up images of Hollywood starlets and sophisticated luxury hotels, romantic vistas and beautiful raw beaches. My husband, on the other hand, had a completely different image. For him Los Cabos was everything bad that exists in Cancun, minus the pretty beaches: tacky, cheap, dirty and sleazy, drunk gringos doing tequila shots all night long…. huge all-inclusive mega resorts The thought put me in a panic. Was I about to go spend my 2nd year anniversary in a Cancun Spring Break Hell?
After speaking to a friend who had just visited Los Cabos and doing some intense research I decided it was worth the trip. Both my husband and my views were absolutely accurate which is why a trip to Cabo requires planning and research to make sure your trip is as spectacular as ours ended up being!
Los Cabos is a land filled with contradictions. You are in Mexico, but everyone insists on speaking to you in English (being a native Spanish speaker I had to insist on speaking Spanish). You can enjoy a leisure afternoon admiring the art galleries and Mexican culture in San Jose del Cabo or you can bar hop and do tequila shots all day long in Cabo San Lucas. You can swim and/or snorkel in crystalline calm waters or you can surf or admire ferocious waves as they pound onto the coast. You can play a round of golf on the bright green golf courses with majestic views of the ocean or you can explore the desert’s harsh dry cactus filled terrain in a 4X4. You can stay in the some of the most luxurious hotels in the world or you can choose a cheap hole in the wall for the price of breakfast at the other hotels. This is Los Cabos. You can run into a famous celebrity or VIP touring the coast on his or her mega yacht, just as easily as you can have a beer next to a plane old Joe.
We arrived at the San Jose International Airport and as our plane made its way to the runway we could see the line of private jets neatly parked nearby. We made our way outside, careful to IGNORE the dozens of people waiting for us outside the luggage collection. We had, luckily, been warned to walk past these people who, like piranhas, were looking for a poor innocent tourist to fall into their time-share selling trap. Once we had rented our car (probably the best decision we made in the entire trip. Taxi’s from the airport to the hotels can run up to US $85 one way. With cars being rented for as little as $30 a day, and giving you the flexibility to explore Baja California Sur, it was a no brainer!), we went off on the only main highway, make that the only highway, towards the Hotel corridor where most of the nice hotels are located.
Cabo is what you want it to be. For us is was a magical place. A place where the beauty and rawness of the desert converged splendidly with the multifaceted ocean. Where a sleepy little town can show off its charm as it develops into a artistic and chic center of Mexican Culture. Where the gastronomic experiences match some of the best restaurants in the world. You just need to know how to ‘DO’ Cabo correctly.
1. DESTINATION: First and foremost you will not visit Cabo San Lucas. Do not waste your precious time. Your destination in Los Cabos is anywhere BUT Cabo San Lucas. If you are short on time I suggest focusing on the beaches and San Jose. If you have a longer trip planned you can venture to Cabo Pulmo or Todos Santos. San Jose was for hundreds of years the only inhabited community in the southern tip of Baja California. In 1730 a small Jesuit mission settled in San Jose and today San Jose is a sleepy Mexican town coming alive with art galleries, chic decorating and jewelry boutiques and exquisite dining. It will not take you long to fall in love with the bright colors and narrow streets of San Jose. The people are as warm as can be, eager to help or point you in the right direction. San Jose’s Art District is filled with original pieces and treasures from artist from Mexico and beyond. The Church, in front of the town’s main plaza on Hidalgo Street is the quintessential small town Mexican Church. It, along with the plaza, remain the center of socializing and activity for the local townspeople. On weekends weddings and concerts take place. Local nuns sell baked goods and the children play hide and seek. Activity fills the air on weekend evenings, but is a relaxed and heartwarmingly authentic activity that portrays what life is really like in this small town.
Time seems to stands still here so take your time and enjoy San Jose del Cabo.
2. BEACHES: Not all beaches in Los Cabos are equal. Before going on, it is important to understand the geographic layout of Los Cabos. Los Cabos is made up of 2 towns: San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas. Both towns are connected by an 18 mile stretch of spaciously separated waterfront hotels, golf courses and luxury home developments. Most of the waterfront hotels are on lovely wild beaches, where you quickly become hypnotized admiring the power of the waves crashing down on the shore. It is the ocean showing off through a majestic show of power and beauty. I don’t know how, but the hours flew by as I simply stared in awe at the waves, feeling the mist of the ocean on my skin. I have never understood why people would go to a beach that they can’t swim in, but during this trip I understood the almost drunken effect a wild beach can have on you.
There are, however, beaches you can swim in. This is another reason it is a good idea to rent a car. A short drive away, off the corridor are two lovely beaches: the beach at Bahia Santa Maria and Bahia Chileno. Both are blessed with calm crystal clear waters and ideal for snorkeling. Bahia Chilena is slightly nicer (plus is a bit more civilized with public bathrooms and a on call policeman and lifeguard). We arrived early: 9:30 am and enjoyed about an hour of complete solitude, our own private beach. By 10:30 a couple more tourist trickled in, not too much….but it was shortly after that that a HUGE catamaran filled to maximum capacity came towards us. I felt a cold sweat break out as this monstroutious thing floated towards me, but started breathing a bit easier when I saw that the catamaran and its passengers stuck to the opposite side of the beach where I was. (when you arrive walk all the way to the left of the beach to settle in, as the snorkeling tours usually stay to the right of the beach) and so I went on to enjoy a swim in the refreshing water….. that is until I felt a sharp sting on my ankle and realized I had been stung by a small yet poignant jellyfish. Maybe it was bad karma for wanting the tourists to go home and not enjoy the beauty of the beach with us. In any case I was reminded that caring does mean sharing (even a beautiful beach) and that in Los Cabos you DO have to be careful with the jellyfish!
SIDE TRIPS: if you have some extra days a side trip to Cabo Pulmo. a one hour drive north of San Jose del Cabo, is a must. Inside Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park are some of Cabo’s most beautiful beaches (warmer and much more tranquil than the rest) with superior diving and snorkeling opportunities. Cabo Pulmo is one of only 3 living coral reefs in North America, with over 236 different species of fish, many of them protected, and five of the seven types of marine turtles that exist who come here to nest. During The Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort has diving and snorkeling trips everyday, and offers a good option for those who want to stay the night. As with any National Park responsible tourism and respect and consideration to the environment are of the utmost importance.
3. HOTELS: Ok, not all of us can stay at luxurious and beautiful hotels like the Ventanas al Paraiso or the One and Only Palmilla. If budget was not an issue these would be my main recommendations. However, if you are not keen to shelling out $600 (and up) a night, there are a couple of other hotels that are lovely and are a good alternative. Casa Natalia is a good alternative in San Jose. This charming, boutique hotel is located right in the middle of the town, and has one of the area’s best restaurants ‘Mi Casa’. Although it is landlocked the hotel has a beach house on the water and a shuttle that runs back and forth throughout the day.
The Hacienda del Mar Resort (from the Sheraton family), is another alternative, which really is where you can get your best ‘bang for your buck.’ Hacienda del Mar IS a large mega resort, however it doesn’t feel as large as some of the other’s on the Corridor thanks to the fact that rooms are located on different small buildings throughout the property. The main building is lovely with a real feel and look of an authentic Mexican Hacienda. The beach, rough, but wide enough to allow for privacy and nice sunset walks. My only recommendation: if you want a beach chair by the pool facing the beach get up early as most are already reserved by 8:30am! Better yet get away from the crowds and take a chair on the beach (no need to reserve! Not many people choose to sit on the beach, so you will have much more peace and quiet).
HOW TO GET THERE Many major airlines including Aeromexico, Mexicana, American Airlines, Continental and Delta fly into the San Jose International Airport.
WHEN TO GO Thanks to Los Cabo’s year round great weather, high season runs from October through July, and low season is brief; August and September. Some hotels, however, do have lower rates starting in May. Hurricane and tropical storms can affect Los Cabos so if you are planning on traveling from July – November a good cancellation policy or travel insurance is recommendable.