In a land known for its inexpensive travel destinations, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, is one of the priciest—and one of the most popular—as travelers are willing to pay handsomely for what the area has to offer: fine beaches, world-class restaurants, sumptuous resorts, excellent golf courses, lively nightlife and some of the best sportfishing in the world.
Los Cabos, the name Mexican tourism officials bestowed upon two once-remote Baja California communities—Cabo San Lucas and nearby San Jose del Cabo—are connected by a stretch of coast, known as the Corredor Turistico (Tourist Corridor), that saw rapid development beginning in the 1990s. The high-tone resorts it contains are sought out by Hollywood's A-listers. John Travolta, Jennifer Aniston, George Clooney, Susan Sarandon, Brad Pitt, Reese Witherspoon and Britney Spears are among its visitors, celebrating birthdays at its reclusive and exclusive hideaways.
Visitors from abroad often find Cabo San Lucas—and the whole Los Cabos area—one of the most Americanized resorts in Mexico with English as common as Spanish, many expatriates running businesses, and prices on restaurant menus, in shops and in bars given in dollars instead of Mexican pesos. The Baja port also receives several cruise liners a week, which has spurred the building of the strip malls and eateries around the marina.
Its climate, geography, terrain and former life as the last frontier on the Baja Peninsula all bring visitors to Cabo San Lucas, as do the deep blue sea, coves and beaches, dramatic rock formations and desert landscapes.
Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, as well as a 20-mi/32-km stretch of shoreline called the Corredor Turistico (Tourist Corridor) that connects these two towns, combine to make the Los Cabos region.
The four-lane highway traversing the Corridor parallels the coast and is lined with upscale resort developments and golf courses. Los Cabos lies at the southern end of Mexico's Baja California Peninsula in the state of Baja California Sur. The dramatic juxtaposition of desert against the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez is striking.
The Baja Peninsula is bounded to the west by the Pacific Ocean and to the east by the Sea of Cortez, which is also sometimes called the Gulf of California. Los Cabos' most distinctive geographic feature is El Arco, a wave-cut arch and headland jutting out into the sea at Land's End, the tip of the Baja Peninsula.
Note: Some businesses in Los Cabos are located on unnumbered streets and labeled as "s/n," or sin numero (without number). Most taxi drivers are able to recognize places by their names.
Seafarers have long been attracted to the shores of what is now Los Cabos. In the late-16th and early-17th centuries, legend has it that notorious English seafarers such as Sir Francis Drake and Thomas Cavendish concealed themselves in the bays and coves along the southern coast of the Baja Peninsula, slipping out to ambush passing Spanish galleons. Later, Spanish missionaries attempted to convert the Guaycura and Pericu natives, but by the early 1800s, European diseases had decimated the indigenous population.
After the missionaries moved on, the rocky spires and arches that characterize the southern tip of Baja went pretty much unnoticed until after World War II. That's when private planes began flying in celebrities—Bing Crosby and John Wayne among them—to go deep-sea fishing. Because the area was remote and difficult to reach, it remained the private hideaway of a few well-heeled travelers until the 1970s, when the Mexican government completed the Transpeninsular Highway.
The highway gave Californians a straight, 1,060-mi-/1,705-km-long shot to the tip of Baja. This improved access and the area's beautiful setting made it a natural pick when the Mexican government went scouting for resort sites, and construction has been going on in earnest since 1976.
Today, Cabo San Lucas and the Los Cabos areas are internationally renowned tourist destinations that attract more than a million visitors each year. All this development has brought prosperity to the region, as well as crowding and environmental concerns.
Cabo San Lucas's main attractions are its beaches, golf courses, and lively bars and nightclubs.
Several of the luxury hotels, especially those along the Corridor, were designed by well-known Mexican architects and are worth visiting for their innovative and spectacular designs.
The area's biggest natural draws are the gray whales that arrive each winter from their Arctic feeding grounds. Tour operators in Cabo San Lucas offer a variety of options for getting up close and personal with these giant marine mammals.
Those wishing to explore the Baja's history and culture can do so at the Cultural Pavilion in Cabo San Lucas. Near the marina, it has a museum, library, shops, restaurants, an open-air theater with 1,130 seats, a main theater with 740 seats, administration offices and, eventually, a hotel. It hosts international exhibitions and large performances. Otherwise, visitors can make side trips to towns such as San Jose del Cabo, Todos Santos and La Paz, which have historic areas, museums and a more authentically Mexican atmosphere.
For a look at what Cabo San Lucas was like before the development, drive northeast of San Jose, past the Puerto Los Cabos complex and up the Eastern Cape Road. You'll soon leave modernity behind and discover tiny, paradisiac beaches and little towns such as Los Frailes, Los Barriles, Cabo Pulmo and, after 60 mi/97 km, the town of La Ribera. Much of the road is dirt, but it's passable for passenger vehicles except after heavy rains.
For those who want to know where the party is, we've got the word: Cabo San Lucas. The nightlife scene there attracts a young—and often rowdy—crowd to the raucous bars and clubs lining the side streets (many visitors say it reminds them of Key West, Florida).
Drinking, dancing and mingling with potential dates are the big attraction. Anglers also congregate to boast about the day's catch over a beer and shots of tequila.
Bars and nightclubs generally don't have a cover charge and are usually open until the early morning hours, often well past official closing times.
In Cabo San Lucas, those with children or who wish to skip the bar scene (if only for a night) might head to Puerto Paraiso for video games, a 12-lane bowling alley or the 10-screen cinema.
The dining scene in Cabo San Lucas has expanded as award-winning chefs from the U.S. and Europe test their talents with the local seafood, fruits and herbs. Fresh fish—particularly dorado, tuna, wahoo and snapper—is definitely the area's specialty. If lobster or shrimp is on the menu, ask if it's been frozen. Those delicacies are usually imported.
Really experiencing Cabo's culinary diversity requires not only an evening of excess at an exclusive Corridor restaurant—where you'll discover the best of Thai, French, fusion, Pacific Rim and Italian whipped up by celebrity chefs—but also a meal or two at the area's more modest eateries, where you'll dine with as many locals as visitors.
Be sure to sample regional Mexican dishes such as carnitas (slow-roasted or deep-fried pork served with tortillas, pork cracklings and salsa), traditional mole (a rich, dark Oaxacan sauce flavored with nuts, spices, chocolate and chiles) and tacos de birria (tacos made with beef or goat).
Cabo San Lucas has inexpensive family-style restaurants as well as plenty of upscale restaurants (especially along the marina).
Along the Corridor, you'll find only high-end restaurants, most of them inside the resorts; the majority of these offer exquisite dining rooms or patios with stunning ocean views. Many restaurants price menu items in U.S. dollars.
Expect to pay within these guidelines for a meal for one, not including drinks, tax or tip: $ = less than US$25; $$ = US$25-$49; $$$ = US$50-$75; and $$$$ = more than US$75.
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