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The oceanfront Estero Beach Hotel/Resort has a special place in the history of Ensenada's tourism, having developed organically as visitors from Southern California first began making the trek down the Baja California coast back in the 1930s.
"In 1930, my grandfather Antonio Novelo Cervera came to Ensenada and began distributing water to the tourists and locals on Estero Beach," said Normando Novelo, Estero Beach Hotel/Resort owner and Ensenada's Tourism Board president. "This simple service grew into an enterprise that included a supermarket and the purchase of the land in 1939. With the start of WWII, my grandfather began hauling in sharks from the waters off Baja to harvest shark livers to make vitamins and concentrated food for U.S. soldiers. Over the years, Americans would come down to camp on Estero Beach and my grandfather said, 'Let's help these people and provide services, such as fishing gear and boat rentals.'"
In the early '40s Cervera began building small tourist cottages and what became the first trailer park in all of Mexico. The property continued to grow, with hotel rooms being added in the 1950s and '60s.
"The clientele were primarily middle class families - teachers and soldiers, it was all very family-oriented," said Novelo. "Every summer and U.S. holiday the place was packed. Generations of families have come, and many children who vacationed at Estero Beach are now returning as vacationing grandparents."
Today, the hotel offers garden-view and ocean-view rooms and cottage units equipped with kitchenettes. The hotel's Uxmal and Akumal Presidential Suites are two story suites with two bedrooms, a living-dining area, fully equipped kitchens, a Jacuzzi, a terrace and balconies overlooking the ocean.
Facilities include two swimming pools, restaurants, bars, spa, a tabaqueria, tennis courts and a children's playground. One of the most popular activities is fishing in the waters of the estuary bordering the resort.
An unexpected touch is the hotel's on-site museum, which houses the permanent exhibit "40 Centuries of Mexican Culture." The museum showcases a collection of pre-Columbian art and artifacts from the Olmec, Aztec, Zapotec and Maya civilizations, including sculpture, paintings, jewelry and ritual, funeral and magical masks. The Mexican Colonial period is represented with a collection of ceramics, paintings, furniture and sculpture. The exhibit also includes a room dedicated to the State of Baja California with representative pictographs and marine fossil collections.
The relative affordability of a resort vacation in Ensenada is working in Estero Beach's favor.
"We're receiving tours from China," said Novelo. "One tour operator said to me, 'Do you know how much it costs to give them a resort experience in Southern California?'"
For example, the hotel presently offers a Third Night Free package that includes accommodations in an Ocean View Room, one breakfast for two, two margaritas upon arrival, a 20 percent discount at the gift shop, tennis court use with equipment included and a one-hour complimentary bicycle rental. For Friday/Saturday stays, the package costs $209, while Sunday-Thursday the cost is $189.
The Estero Beach Hotel/Resort is a straight shot from the San Diego border crossing, 68 miles south on Highway 1. The easy flow of visitors from the north has been impacted over the last decade, a situation that is just beginning to turn around.
"9/11 was the turning point when things slowed down," said Novelo. "The waiting times at the U.S. border became longer and new passport restrictions were introduced. This especially impacted the hotels. Many visitors are now coming back, although we still need to do more to communicate to potential visitors that Baja California is, in truth, a safe destination."