World-class sport fishing put the southern tip of Baja California on the map for U.S. tourists nearly 50 years ago. Now five-star resorts are keeping it there.
Los Cabos, an umbrella term for the cities and tourist developments in the region, has evolved from fishermen's paradise to vacation focal point for celebs and the ultra-rich. Hundreds of luxury hotel rooms have opened, with hundreds more to open soon.
The region's appeal? It's a two-hour plane ride from Los Angeles, and you can speak English, stay in American-style resorts and pay for souvenirs in U.S. dollars.
The last time I visited the area, more than a decade ago, there was a lot of cactus and dirt and not much else between Cabo San Lucas, on the Pacific Ocean, and San José del Cabo, about 20 miles away on the Gulf of California. Now 10 miles of that coastline has filled with hotels and services.
I spent five days in February in Los Cabos getting acquainted with the beachfront hotels that opened over the last year and those due to open soon. Some are architecturally beautiful (Viceroy Los Cabos), some have impeccable service (Montage Los Cabos), and some offer tranquillity and an artistic experience (Solaz Los Cabos).
Here's a closer look at eight Baja newcomers:
Four Seasons Resort Los Cabos, to open this summer, is part of the new Costa Palmas community on the East Cape of the Gulf of California, an isolated region known for its scenery. The 1,000-acre development, about 35 minutes north of San José del Cabo, includes multimillion-dollar homes and an Aman resort, which is still under construction. There will also be a marina capable of holding private yachts up to 200 feet. From $645 per night.
Info: Four Seasons Resort Los Cabos, Calle Hacienda Eureka, La Ribera, Los Cabos, Mexico.
Garza Blanca Resort & Spa: This spacious, all-inclusive resort midway between Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo has had a soft opening, with a grand opening scheduled for May. Guests can grab special rates in the meantime as the hotel adds the finishing touches. From $290 a night for two, including meals and activities.
Info: Garza Blanca Resort & Spa, Kilómetro 17.5 Transpeninsular Highway, Los Cabos, Mexico; (877) 208 0689
Le Blanc Spa Resort: Looking for a good time? Try this all-inclusive Palace resort, which specializes in fun, with lots of pool games and a giant spa. Think of it as a cruise ship on land. It opened in September and is midway between Cabo and San José del Cabo. Spring rates from $800 per night for two, including meals and activities.
Info: Le Blanc Spa Resort, Kilómetro 18.4 Transpeninsular Highway, Los Cabos, Mexico; (888) 702-0913
Montage Los Cabos: One of Orange County's favorite luxury resort brands last year launched its first international hotel here on a beautiful bay that once was home to the Hotel Twin Dolphin. It's one of the area’s few resorts with a swimmable beach. The style is more Scottsdale, Ariz., than Baja, Mexico, but if you like cushy digs, exclusivity and tranquil surroundings, this place is for you. From $825 per night.
Info: Montage Los Cabos, Kilómetro 12.5 Transpeninsular Highway, Los Cabos, Mexico; (800) 772-2226
Nobu Hotel Los Cabos: If you like Nobu’s fusion restaurants, you may want to try this 200-room beachfront hotel and golf course. It’s the first Mexican property from the high-powered team of Robert De Niro and chef Nobu Matsuhisa. It combines contemporary Japanese minimalism with Mexican wood, stone and marble. The resort hopes to open Monday with special rates of $490.75 per night, including breakfast.
Info: Nobu Hotel Los Cabos, Poligono 1 Fraccion D, Fraccionamiento Diamante, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; (011) 52-624-689-0160
Riu Palace Baja California: The Riu chain runs more than 100 hotels in 19 countries, but it isn't well known in the U.S. This newcomer opened in December and joins two other Riu hotels along the coast of Los Cabos. It's all-inclusive, adults only and is higher end than its brethren but lower end than other hotels here that have opened recently. All-inclusive rates from $147 per night, per person, including meals and activities. Take care when booking; the two older Rius with similar names are next door.
Info: Riu Palace Baja California, Camino Viejo a San Jose, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; (888) 748 4990
Solaz Los Cabos: Some U.S. residents go to Mexico to stay in American-style hotels. Others go to learn about Mexico. Solaz, a Luxury Collection Resort, is chock-full of Mexican art, style and striking desert landscaping. The 128-room beachfront hotel is midway between Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo and is the Luxury Collection‘s first hotel on the Baja Peninsula. Each room is designed with local Huanacaxtle wood and bamboo-textured marble, custom furnishings and an original wall sculpture by Cesar López Negrete. From $402 a night.
Info: Solaz Los Cabos, Kilómetro 18.5 Transpeninsular Highway, Los Cabos, México; (833) 887-6529
Viceroy Los Cabos: This stunning hotel opened in May and has been wowing visitors ever since. Architect Miguel Angel Aragonés wanted to “bring the ocean inside” and used tranquil pools to create mirrors. Water surrounds the 192-room hotel, wrapping around its white buildings that are connected by elevated walkways. It's a blissful experience for people who like to shoot pictures or videos. If you visit, don't miss the Nest, its lounge/restaurant.
Info: Viceroy Los Cabos, Paseo Malecón San José, Lote 8, Zona Hotelera,San José del Cabo, México; (844) 222-6987
More resorts on the way
Unlike some Mexican resorts where the tourism engine has sputtered, growth is strong in Los Cabos, with 4,000 new hotel rooms scheduled to open in the next five years. Most will be top-end rooms and suites.
Aiding the region’s popularity is its proximity to Los Angeles — it’s only a 2½-hour flight — and its ability to draw glitterati, including George Clooney, Jennifer Aniston, Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps.
Everywhere I went, people asked how long it had been since I visited. When I said 10 years, most laughed. “Oh, it has changed,” they all said.
Some went on to tell me there has been too much growth, which is taxing limited resources, but Rodrigo Esponda, managing director of Los Cabos Tourism Board, said development has been carefully planned.
“There are restrictions on the heights of buildings, on density, on billboards and outside advertising, and on the number of hotels that can open in the next 20 years.
“We’re going to continue to grow, but in the right ways as a well-cared-for destination,” Esponda said.
What about crime? I asked. It’s an issue that worries many tourists.
Common sense is key, he said, “just like it is in Los Angeles or Chicago or any other urban area. You wouldn’t walk down the street in the middle of the night drunk.”
I found security tight at every hotel I visited. No one is admitted to the grounds without being on a master list. At one resort, a guard wouldn’t admit me even though I should have been on the list and was obviously a tourist.
When I couldn’t reach my contact at a hotel by phone, I had to call Esponda and wait for him to call the hotel’s director before I could tour the resort. And I could do so only in the company of an employee. No wandering around.
It was one of the few ways Baja’s beachfront hotels differ from those in Southern California. Otherwise, visiting Cabo is like going on a resort getaway at home. Seventy-five percent of rooms here are rented to U.S. citizens, with 40% of them hailing from California.
But staying here isn’t cheap. The average daily room costs $300 per person, Esponda said, with a 70% occupancy rate. Cancún, at the tip of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, pencils out to an $80-per-day rate with 95% occupancy, he said.
“We like it that way. We like lower density.”
Among the newbies, however, are hotels with lower rates, Riu Palace Baja charges $147 per night, per person, including meals and activities. And Garza Blanca Resort & Spa, a beautiful new hotel midway between Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo, has an opening all-inclusive rate of $290 per night for two, a super deal.
THE BEST WAY TO LOS CABOS, MEXICO
From LAX, American, Alaska, Delta, Interjet, Southwest and United offer nonstop service to San José del Cabo, and American, Alaska, Aeromexico, Delta, Interjet, Southwest and United offer connecting service (change of planes). Restricted round-trip airfare from $224, including taxes and fees.
To call the numbers below from the U.S., dial 011 (the international dialing code), 52 (country code for Mexico) and the local number.
WHERE TO EAT
Flora Farms, Carretera Transpeninsular, San José del Cabo, Km. 30 Las Ánimas Bajas, Baja, Mexico; (624) 142-1000. Los Cabos also is seeing changes and growth in its restaurants. Many are following the lead of Flora Farms, originator of the local farm-to-table movement. The down-home restaurant features picnic tables surrounded by kitchen gardens and other crops; it began serving organic foods in 1996 and packs in tourists and locals nightly, despite being off a rugged dirt road near San José del Cabo. Dinner entrees from $22
Jazamango, Calle Naranjos las Huertas, Todos Santos, Mexico; (612) 688 1501. Jazamango is the new hot spot in Todos Santos, a sleepy surfing town northwest of Los Cabos. Chef Javier Plascencia serves dishes that are a mix of local products and organic ingredients from the surrounding orchard. Entrees from $10.
Esperanza, Kilómetro 7 Carretera Tranpeninsular, Manzana 10, Punta Ballena, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; (866) 311-2226. Esperanza, considered one of Baja's cushiest resorts, transformed its well-known clifftop restaurant Cocina del Mar late last year, changing the design and adding a new menu that features Baja seafood and flavors. Entrees from $30.
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