At the end of the Baja California Peninsula, some 1,000 miles south of any troubles along the Mexico-USA border, the Los Cabos region is a seaside playground that seems far removed from the rest of the world. Although the airport and resort area are commonly called Los Cabos, your hotel will be situated in San Jose del Cabo, Cabo San Lucas, or on the corridor in between the two.
Los Cabos is a hilly desert region at the confluence of the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortes, which translates to lots of marine life and plenty to do on the open water and the sparsely populated land to liven up your days in Los Cabos when you take a break from the Mexican sun and tequila. For most tours, if you reserve in advance the company will pick you up from your hotel: a big plus in such a spread-out resort zone.
Here are some of our favorite things to do in Los Cabos.
“In January, you can almost walk on whales,” one San Jose del Cabo resident told me when I visited at the wrong time of year. This coast is right on a popular migration route for humpback whales, so from December through March you may even see some from an ocean-view hotel balcony.
If you go on a whale watching tour though, you won’t need a super-zoom camera to get shots worth posting on your Facebook page. See the mothers with their young and get up so close you can touch them by visiting a calm bay sanctuary by panga on a Baja whale watching tour.
Kayaking Through the Bays
The Los Cabos coastline is marked by sand dunes and rock formations, with dramatic waves crashing against the shore. Once you get on a kayak, you’ve got access to coves and secret beaches that can’t be reached by road. Plus on a Los Cabos kayak tour, your guide will lead you to ideal snorkeling spots where you can dive in a see all the colorful fish under the surface.
Zipping Down the Beach on an ATV
For the most part, the beaches in this area are great for strolling, but terrible for swimming. Picture monster waves as high as your head bashing the shore and riptides strong enough to drag you 100 meters offshore before you can say “Ay carumba!”
One nice side effect of this is that many of these large, wide-open beaches are almost empty most of the time. Inland, there’s nothing to avoid but thorn bushes and lizards, so you can get on a Los Cabos ATV adventure tour that goes fast over the dunes without worrying much about anyone getting in your way.
Horseback Riding Along the Shoreline
For most northerners coming to Mexico on vacation, the usual horseback riding terrain they’re used to is woodlands, fields, or western ranches. In southern Baja, you mount your horse and ride along a deserted beach at sunset or make your way through sand dunes and cacti. Baja horseback riding tours are generally two hours, led by a guide, and are fine for beginners and children 10 and up.
Mountain Biking Through the Desert
Want to see the desert landscape on two wheels instead of from the back of a horse or ATV? On a Los Cabos mountain biking tour, you can work off some calories on a designated course on a ranch, stopping to learn about the local flora and maybe catching sight of ospreys, hawks, or roadrunners.
All you need to pack for it is sunscreen and a camera. The mountain biking tour includes all the bike equipment, water, lunch, and even a shot of tequila to reward you for your efforts.
Fishing for Big Catch
The Pacific Coast of Mexico has long been known as a prime zone for hooking big fish. Cities like Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas really got their tourism start as destinations where Hollywood actors and manly novelists came to fish all day and party all night. (Steinbeck and Hemingway both spent time in Los Cabos.) Before this area got a big airport and luxury hotels, most of the residents were involved in fishing.
If you go out on a local fishing trip, either on a private charter or on a scheduled tour, it’ll be an unusual day if you and your shipmates don’t reel in some photo-worthy catches. Scheduled trips generally run for a half day, charters can be for a half day or full; the price includes an experienced captain and at least one mate.
Playing Some of the West Coast’s Best Golf Courses
On the one hand, southern Baja is a desert, so maintaining a golf course here has its challenges. On the other hand, the course designers had plenty of land and gorgeous scenery to work with on their blank slate. The water part they’ve mostly solved by desalinization: using treated sea water for irrigation. So you can enjoy the stunning views as you tee off without feeling a lot of guilt. Book at tee time at the Jack Nicklaus designed Palmilla Golf Course or one of the other top golf courses of Los Cabos strung along the corridor.
The luxury hotels of the Los Cabos region dominate the editors’ lists and reader polls at major travel magazines. Many of them are perennial favorites for their attentive service, plush rooms, and great facilities. Where they really blow away the North American competition though is in their spas. Hotels such as Las Ventanas al Paraiso, One&Only Palmilla, Esperanza, and the new Capella Pedregal each have a menu of treatments that would take weeks to try and an indulgent staff that’s ready to get you completely relaxed.
Most of the luxury resorts accept spa clients staying at other resorts if you book in advance, so even if you aren’t up for paying the $500+ per night to stay at some of Mexico’s best high-end hotels, you can book a massage and relax in their extensive spa facilities for the afternoon, escaping from the mid-day sun. Here are reviews and contact links for the eight best hotels in Los Cabos.
Art Walk and Fine Dining
San Jose del Cabo is the grown-up brother of Cabo San Lucas. Go to the latter for the nightlife and parties, and the former for more refined pursuits. San Jose del Cabo is the more relaxed, slower-paced city of the two and over the years many artists and gallery owners have settled here, some of them opening display spaces in historic buildings in the center. An art walk here is an uncomplicated affair: most of the galleries are clustered around the town square and along Calle Obregon. Works on display range from local painters making their debut to Huichol beaded animals to international contemporary art stars like Mexican sculptor Jorge Marín. (You’ll need a credit card with a very high limit to cart away one of his bronzes.)
On Thursday nights between November and April you can wander around on your own, when most galleries stay open until 9:00 pm; or book a Los Cabos art tour and you’ll get more background on what you’re seeing and dine at one of the best restaurants in town when it’s all over.