Oh, Los Cabos

Arizona Daily Star, 1-8-2006 http://tucson.com/tr ... 13566.html

If Tucson were next to an ocean, it would likely look much like Los Cabos, the region at the tip of the Baja California peninsula where the deep blue Pacific Ocean and the aquamarine Gulf of California meet the stark contrast of the desert.

It's the best of both worlds for ocean lovers and desert dwellers alike.

People come to Los Cabos for many reasons. Some venture down in winter to watch 50-foot gray whales on their migration, and others to witness giant turtles laying eggs on the sandy shore. Some simply sit on an expansive veranda, margarita in hand, watching vivid sunsets.


Visitors have a choice of staying in Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo or what is called the tourist corridor — a 20-mile stretch of beachfront properties in between the two towns and a retreat of elegant resorts and timeshares, along with seven golf courses designed by professionals such as Jack Nicklaus and Robert Trent Jones II.

The three areas could not be more different. Locals refer to Cabo San Lucas as a "fiesta" town, San Jose del Cabo as a "siesta" and the corridor as the place to relax on some of the world's most pristine and sparsely populated beaches.

Cabo San Lucas is also a contrast. On one end, it is home to breathtaking natural sights such as The Arch, Lover's Beach and Land's End, the spot where the shattering surf of the Pacific meets the tranquil Gulf.

On the other end, it is a party town with an Americanized feel to it in a beachy kind of way. Think tequila body shots in an endless array of clubs. Think Costco, American fast-food chains and even Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. Lots of people, and shopping, shopping, shopping. Truth be told, Cabo San Lucas was the brainchild of the Mexican government, a "created" tourist destination much like Mexico's other tourist resort towns. It's definitely a party town and definitely a place to find more than a few outstanding locally owned restaurants, such as Mi Casa and Edith's.

San Jose del Cabo is a true Mexican town replete with a small plaza in front of a twin-spired church and wide, tree-lined streets. Wandering musicians, children chasing balls, families listening to free concerts in the bandstand and a fountain water show along Boulevard Mijares cast the small-town atmosphere.

At the end of Boulevard Mijares, in the center of town, is a 125-acre estuary, home to more than 200 species of coastal bird life such as ring-necked ducks, herons, egrets and pelicans. It was this water source that appealed to the early Spaniards and convinced them this was a good spot to set up camp.

Although this doesn't look like a town where you would find fine dining, looks can be deceiving. Several good restaurants exist, and they are much more affordable than those found in Cabo San Lucas or the corridor.

Damiana, housed in an 18th-century hacienda at the plaza's eastern edge, is probably the best-known. It specializes in local seafood, offering up specialties such as Abalone in Guajillo Sauce and Bay Scallops Ceviche. Open since 1983, it has been reviewed by numerous publications, including Bon Appetit magazine. Romance lives on its 40-seat patio, replete with candlelight, the splash of a fountain and tiny lights twinkling in a towering old tree that grows center stage.

Another one not to miss is La Panga Antigua on Ignacio Zaragoza. Its chef and co-owner studied at the Culinary Institute of America. Don't miss the lobster starter with pumpkin seed sauce or the sautéed shrimp in chardonnay and butter sauce studded with chipotle and pineapple over polenta.

In between the two towns, the corridor is home to many of the area's most elegant resorts. It's easy to check into one of these establishments and not leave until it's time to return to the airport.

With magnificent beaches, reverie-like infinity-edge swimming pools, swim-up bars, beachside spas where you can get a massage under a palapa overlooking the water, tropical settings and truly outstanding restaurants, there's really not much reason to leave. One can simply fade into bliss here, and that's certainly not a bad way to spend a vacation.

Los Cabos history

Although Los Cabos was settled by local indigenous groups, Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés is credited with discovering the area for the Western world in 1535. With its abundance of fresh water, wildlife and protected coves, he thought it would provide a much-needed respite for Spanish galleons sailing between Manila and Acapulco.

Unfortunately, the area also provided the perfect hideaway for pirates who sought to relieve the galleons of their treasure. In 1635, King Philip II of Spain ordered permanent settlements that remain today in San Jose del Cabo, La Paz and Todos Santos.

The area slumbered until pilots flying over the tip of Baja during World War II spotted schools of big game fish in the waters and returned after the war. During the postwar years, the area became the play yard of wealthy yachtsmen and celebrities eager to try their hand at landing the giant billfish for which the area became well-known.


But it wasn't until John Steinbeck published "Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research" in 1941 with marine biologist Ed Ricketts, followed by "The Log From the Sea of Cortez" in 1951, that much of the world became familiar with the region. Over six weeks they sailed 4,000 miles from Monterrey, Calif., to the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez) and back, collecting sealife specimens and inspecting tidal pools in what was then a little-explored coastline.

If you go

With the completion of Highway 1 that runs from the U.S. border to the tip of Baja and the opening of a new Los Cabos airport, the Mexican government has made the area highly accessible to tourists.

A number of airlines service Los Cabos, including Aeromexico, AlaskaAir, Aero California, American Airlines and America West.

Reserve a car ahead of time at any of the national car rental services such as National, Avis or Dollar or reserve a shuttle to your hotel with one of the transport services: www.cabosexpress.com/ or www.transcabo.com/nuevo/ or airportshuttle@travelcabos.com. Airport shuttles must be reserved at least 72 hours in advance but are well worth the effort because you will pay half for a round trip what a taxi will cost one way.

If you rent a car in Mexico, be sure to buy Mexican insurance; it usually costs about $15 a day. American auto insurance does not apply in Mexico, and if you run into trouble you'll need the Mexican insurance coverage.

When you walk through the terminal, beware of the time-share salesmen. But if you have a lot of time and don't mind spending a morning at a presentation, you can garner some valuable tour and dinner certificates and a free bottle of tequila.

Shopping deals: Look for silver from Taxco with the authentic .925 or .950 sterling mark, local arts and crafts, hand-painted Talavera pottery, and locally designed and manufactured resort wear.

High season, meaning higher hotel rates, runs November through Memorial Day.

The average year-round temperature is 78 degrees. During the high tourist season, the temperature is typically 80 during the day and cools to the 60s at night. In the low season, May to September, the temperature will go up to 100-plus during the day and stay in the upper 70s and low 80s in the evening. The average year-round water temperature in the Gulf is 72. During the summer months, the water temperature can reach the mid-80s. Average annual rainfall is 10 inches, most during September and October.