The audibles of “city life” in Baja are muted compared to the crushing sound of the Pacific’s waves and the massive wind in the desert’s low-lying shrubbery. The wildlife around Baja seems to remain untouched despite the heavy increase in tourism to the area over the past two decades. Unfortunately, travelers still have to pass by many Viagra-hawking pharmacies conveniently located next to massage parlors, but once you walk past Señor Frog’s-type restaurants an entirely different Baja experience awaits.
We stayed in Tesoro Hotel on the Marina in Cabo San Lucas. It’s located approximately 40 minutes from the airport by way of the new highway opened only two weeks prior to our trip. The resort has little remarkable about it, but the clientele that harbor their yachts there speak of its expansiveness and access to crystal blue, warm waters. The Kismet, billionaire Shahid Khan’s yacht, was anchored there on our first two days.
Cabo is everything you’ve seen in travel brochures and so much beyond that. It all depends on what type of Mexico you want to see. But what you want, you’ll get. One thing is still certain: don’t drink the water.
This trip centered around race cars so custom-built even the company, Wide Open Baja, doesn’t have a name for them. These are the exact cars, however, that race in the Baja 1000 annually. They exceed 140 mph under the control of professionals, but drove only up to 76 mph in my hands. This is by far one of the coolest ways to travel around and see Baja. The guides take you into mountainous areas with oases that evoke images of ancient Egypt while cruising around farms and homes set back in the middle of the desert. The Baja 1000 is like the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras combined for the locals, so typical cautions to slow down came because fans were lining the roads to catch a glimpse of our cars.
Besides racing around Baja’s farmland and mountains, you can head out to sea on fishing charters and scuba diving excursions. There are a lot of English speakers and foreigners living in Baja. Your best bet is to skip the concierge desk and talk with a few people sitting on their boats. The typical half-day charter through a concierge costs $350, so if you can find someone to beat that, take the deal. The boats amble out of the harbor early and wait for local fishing sloops to rush in and sell them bait. It’s a fantastic photo op.
Other ocean-going activities are whale watching (capable of being done right on shore), kayaking, sailing, surfing and yacht charters. The craziest thing about the beauty of the Pacific and Sea of Cortez is the lack of swimmers on the beaches not sheltered from the shore. This could only be assumed to be in part because of the tremendous tides the ocean creates. So sit, relax or go and play on the water. Whatever it is you want to do, Cabo will do its best to provide.
The best food is found away from all resorts. This is a typical statement that is worth repeating in almost every travel article. A quarter of the menus features Mexican food. The rest is filled in with steaks, grilled chicken salad and alcohol.
On our trip, we had specially catered lunches on the Pacific Ocean and in a small town around La Paz. The avocado crema we had at one meal was the smoothest, most nutty avocado on top of fresh ranch cheese quesadillas and carnitas burritos. The beauty of Mexican food is its simplicity. The burritos are not cumbersome or heavily laden with sour cream. They were neatly wrapped tubes of delicious, spiced beef, browned on the outside in a griddle. This trip convinced me entirely that the people who can cook beans the best are Mexicans, in true Mexican spices, served alongside spicy salsa.
The least appetizing meal of the day was breakfast, unfortunately. Be careful, as they do put hot dogs in their scrambled eggs. Hot dogs are noticeably cheaper, even cheaper than chorizo, but the taste is obviously lacking. Resorts most likely will have buffets, but I stuck mainly to Mexican omelets and fruit platters.
To step it up many, many notches, head to the Las Ventanas al Paraiso hotel. There you will find cuisine beyond all recognition of a simplistic Mexican meal. The bar on the top level of the resort is famous for its varieties of tequila and ceviche. One truly unique experience is La Cava, the wine cellar at Las Ventanas. The private room is available only on Fridays and Saturdays, has a five-course tasting menu and wine pairings of either Baja wine (yes, they make wine) or international labels. Our meal there was phenomenal but bordered on being gregariously hilarious. It is a chilly 50 degrees in the wine cellar at all times, but they provide blankets for those who get cold. The service was some of the best I’ve ever experienced, which made the tremendous menu easier to flow through. Las Ventanas is 20 minutes outside of downtown Cabo, so arranging transportation is highly recommended.
Where to Stay
The places to stay around Southern Baja range drastically from resorts built in the boom of the mass tourism age to highly specialized and tailored private residences. There is rarely a middle ground, though. In Cabo we stayed at Tesoro Hotel, and in La Paz at the Seven Crowns. My advice is to always choose a place within your budget and then get out and explore. The locale will be much more exciting than your hotel.
Cabo made its name by allowing Americans the closest access to paradise scenery worthy of the praise. The aquatic and terrestrial landscapes hold flora and fauna rarely seen elsewhere, especially as untouched in vast swaths as seen there. With a healthy mix of tequila, sun and ocean waves, it’s hard not to love Baja.