Affording Los Cabos

A Baja break that won’t break the bank

By: Maxine Cass

LOS CABOS, Mexico Hunting for golden beaches in greater Los Cabos does not have to break the bank, despite the area’s reputation in Mexico and elsewhere as an expensive destination catering to the well-heeled, deep-pocketed tourist.

Since not every client with a desire to experience this Baja destination can afford top-of-the-line travel, we set out to find budget Cabo.

What we found is that the words “all-inclusive” have added value in this high-end vacation paradise. At resorts of this variety, rooms, taxes, meals, snacks, drinks and most watersports are free, once the traveler has pre-paid for an all-inclusive stay.

At the Royal Solaris Los Cabos, an all-inclusive in San José del Cabo, guests who arrive before check-in time don’t even have wait to hit the beach.

“If a guest checks in and the room’s not ready, we have the 96-locker Hospitality Room off the lobby with showers and bathrooms, so a guest can immediately use all of the resort services,” general manager, Gilberto Bermúdez, informed us.

Extending “all-inclusive” into the cyber realm, some Royal Solaris packages even include free use of three computer stations and Internet access.

The Royal Solaris is located in an enclave of other all-inclusive properties, including the Presidente Intercontinental Los Cabos Resort and the Crowne Plaza Los Cabos Beach Resort. To get into downtown San Jose del Cabo from these properties, guests can take the resort shuttles for $10 or opt for a money-saving 20- to 30-minute walk to town in the cooler hours of the day. Walking will help to offset the tendency to overindulge at the all-inclusive resorts’ all-you-can-eat buffets. If it’s too hot to walk, the local bus costs less than $1.

To get away from the smorgasbords, one day we had a hot meal cooked to order at a local restaurant, El Sazón Mexicano (corner of Calle Hidalgo and Alvaro Obregón). Bean soup with tortilla strips preceded a chili relleno covered with egg batter, stuffed with zucchini and cheese, topped with freshly made tomato sauce and served with rice and warm tortillas. Horchata, a sweetened rice water drink, and desert were included, for less than $4.

Another day, we walked down the beach to the Estero San José to watch its hundreds of birds stir, chirp, trill and cry as the sun rose over the lagoon. By 7 a.m., the heavenly smells of the Pan del Triunfo Panaderia & Pasteleria bakery (Calle Morelo) were irresistible.

During the summer, the Presidente Intercontinental offers free room upgrades, and children with parents stay free. (Families with kids are housed away from the adults-only wing of the cactus-landscaped property.) As a lure for golfers, the Presidente offers 20 percent off the standard green fee to play the Palmilla course’s 27 holes.

In this competitive market, each all-inclusive tries to offer its own unique features. The Crowne Plaza Los Cabos Beach Resort operates the only wave runners in the area and has its own water desalinization and bottling plant on the premises. Its landmark observation tower has a Sky Bar on top. One evening, the bar’s incongruously named and intensely red house drink, Miami Vice, a strawberry coco colada, foreshadowed a red and romantic sunset literally above it all, with 360-degree views of the sea, desert and mountains.

Ed Jackson, the president of San Francisco-based Runaway Tours, sees “wonderful opportunities in Cabo.”

“There are more hotel rooms than there are tourists today,” he said, adding that there’s value to be found in older properties that can better control costs.

Another moderate-for-Los Cabos property is Cabos San Lucas’ oldest, the Hotel Hacienda Beach Resort. Its location, one block from the marina, provides room views of cruise ships anchored offshore, as well as of Los Cabos’ famous Arch.

Guests can economize by making a meal out of the tapas in the hotel’s Cosmic Oyster Bar with its kitschy 1960’s mural art and game fish on the walls.

Despite its proximity to those renowned Los Cabos discos, the family-owned 115-room hotel with 27 acres of gardens is quiet and has earned a high 35 to 40 percent rate for returning guests. “One of the advantages of a family-owned hotel is that three to four generations of a family have worked at the hotel,” said director of operations, Randal Lehr.

And several generations of guests keep coming back. At breakfast one morning, servers waited on a group of San Francisco Bay Area fishing buddies who have been coming to the hotel for the past quarter of a century.

Lehr remembers his first visit to Los Cabos in 1960 when “fuel was a can on the beach, and pangas (small fishing boats) were it.’’

“Everything is here now,” he said, “twelve cinemas and the Puerto Paraiso mall just a five-minute walk around the marina.”

With so much to do, along with affordable and well-appointed all-inclusive resorts, there are still plenty of ways for clients to enjoy a Cabo vacation without feeling pinched.


Crowne Plaza Los Cabos Beach Resort

Hotel Hacienda Beach Resort

Presidente Intercontinental Los Cabos Resort

Royal Solaris Los Cabos

Adventuring Los Cabos

“People think when they come to Cabo, they will only stay in their resort,” said Alejandro “Alex” Vidal, partner and general manager of Baja Wild, based in Los Cabos. Guests tell the eco-tour operator, “If I had only known, I would have brought hiking boots and tennis shoes.”

Vidal is on a mission to get guests out of their hotels and off the beaten track.

“There are two sides to Cabo,” he explained, “the tourist places, bars and restaurants, and the little known Adventure Cabo a Virgin Cabo no one knows about, with beaches and places to go and hike.”

At this eco-tour operation, the three partners do it all. They guide kayakers out to Cabo San Lucas’ famous Arch for an up-close and personal encounter with crashing waves, coach snorkelers, teach surfing, lead scuba diving expeditions at the East Cape Cabo Pulmo Marine Park, take clients whale watching, and lead them into the mountains above the desert on camping and hiking trips.

Santiago, a 45-minute drive from San Jose del Cabo, is “an oasis in the middle of the desert,” according to Vidal, a jumping-off point for November through June trips into the 7,200-foot-high Sierra de la Laguna. Here, there are canyons to explore and waterfall-fed pools to swim in.

This year, Baja Wild rolled out a multi-day camping trip, complete with a pack donkey, for clients willing to pitch their own tents. Another tour package offers one day of sea kayaking with another spent hiking.

Best of all, Baja Wild’s pricing allows travel agents to take a 25 percent commission on the net rate.