Writing about the luxury hotel market, it’s hard to keep track of the number of players. That said, if you want to divide the luxury market into tiers, few would argue that One&Only is on the highest tier of luxury groups. I would put them alongside Peninsula Hotels, Dorchester Collection, Oetker Collection, Montage and a few others which are small enough that there are no dogs so to speak. Le St. Geran in Mauritius, the original O&O, is being closed next year for a full renovation.
In fact, One&Only Palmilla in 2014/15 was also closed, although this due to damage from Hurricane Odile. It did, however, result in a head-to-toe renovation that covered everything in the resort. Los Cabos is an increasingly crowded market in the luxury category, ranging widely in what one can credibly describe as luxury. When I asked veteran travel advisor Rudi Steele of Dallas’ Rudi Steele Travel what he thought of One&Only, he said it was a strong emphasis on personalized service and operations, a strong team of general managers, and attention to details, with small surprises, such as perhaps having framed pictures of your pets in your suite or villa when you arrive.
Mickey Weill, a vice president at Los Angeles-based Protravel International tells a story about a client from Chicago whose son had left a collectible, autographed football at the property and was extremely upset. After it was found, one of the butlers flew to Chicago to deliver it personally, not wanting to chance express mail. Among what I thought were the most salient comments from the travel agents I spoke with, as well as comments from past guests, is that once you go, you go back. The resort has a long-serving staff that builds relationships with guests year after year, so as much as these reports are about the hard product, a great deal of what makes O&O Palmilla so awarded is its people, and the vibe of returning customers. One&Only Palmilla is located on the tip of the Baja Peninsula between San Jose Del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas. It is on one of the few swimmable beaches in the area, and occupies 250 acres of a 900-acre master planned community, including multimillion dollar private residences, and a 27-hole Jack Nicklaus golf course you have access to. While it wasn’t the first, One&Only Palmilla certainly has been a flagship for the group. Launched by legendary hotelier Sol Kerzner, the company is now owned by Investment Corporation of Dubai, Goldman Sachs and Colony Capital, each of which has extensive experience owning luxury management companies and hotels.
The transition which saw Kerzner leave the company several years ago has had no material impact on the operations, say travel agents who sell the properties to their guests. The big news at Palmilla after the post Odile renovation, which included a new Jean-Georges Vongreichten restaurant concept (see below in Dining section), and new everything, was the opening of 4-bedroom Villa One (discussed below in Accommodations), a large oversize villa with a huge expanse of outdoor living space. Weill says, “They keep pushing themselves to do new things. They are always thinking, how can we improve the offering.” He points to adding a traditional men’s style barber shop in addition to a full salon for women. As you probably know, I always start my research on a property scanning review websites for the bad reviews. My goal is to identify any recurring problems that might impact your stay. On Trip Advisor, there were only five Terrible or Poor reviews in two years out of over 1,100, and the complaints centered around booking during the holiday, and not getting an upgrade, expensive champagne, room not ready during the holidays for early arrival, and yes, the resort is expensive. Over on Expedia, which verifies reviews, and has the hotel at a 4.9 out of 5.0 points, the only complaints were there was no central place to watch sports on TV, and there is a policy about having outside guests at the pool.
David Odaka, vice president of All Star Travel Group in Los Angeles, says, he particularly recommends One&Only Palmilla for families with children below the teens. He says, its size – 173 keys – appeals to customers who want a larger resort, with lots of different areas, activities and a wide variety of facilities. “It’s not for the person who wants a boutique property,” he says. Weill says, “It’s casual elegance. It’s not ostentatious. It’s relaxed. So if you want a lot of pomp and circumstance, it’s a different type of luxury, but it’s perfect for a beach resort.” Not surprisingly, O&O Palmilla gets a good deal of press in the luxury media, partly based on its Hollywood history. Departures Magazine last year wrote, “The (original hotel on the location) was built in the 1950s as a luxury escape for the President of Mexico, and was at one time accessible only by private plane or boat…the space still feels intimate and exclusive with Spanish Colonial buildings tucked in among lush grounds with swaying palms and birds of paradise.” Post-renovation, it specifically notes the addition of an “adults-only outdoor lounge area, a new 22,000-square-foot spa with private treatment villas, a men’s salon, and the steakhouse SEARED-a restaurant from Jean-Georges Vongerichten with a glass-walled meat cellar showcasing different cuts from around the world.”
If you are going with a group, even if you are in a villa or suite, it notes, “Every room at the One & Only is ocean-facing,” so no complaints from members of your group. Robb Report put Palmilla on its list of “10 Best” luxury resorts for surfers. The Wall Street Journal added, “For old-world Los Cabos glamour, it’s hard to top the One&Only Palmilla, whose vast spa, pools and 173 completely redesigned suites and villas are a favorite of celebrities…Each guest is assigned a butler who takes care of even the tiniest details.” The Montreal Gazette reports, “Expect ridiculous attention to detail, to the point where some guests suspect the maids match the threads in the in-room sewing kit to the color of the clothes they spot in your closet.”
Accommodations come in single-story and three-story buildings O&O calls “casas,” encircling the resort grounds along the beach of the peninsula (see map above). All 173 rooms, suites, casitas and villas offer 24-hour butler service and a patio or balcony facing out towards the sea with unobstructed sea views. There are 12 categories of accommodations, and so you can asses which ones might be right for you, we review below the villas, casitas and suites.
Protravel’s Weill says the one bedroom suites (covered below) offer connecting room options that are good for families with young children. Amenities include butler service, flat screen TVs and Bose surround sound, pillow and linen menus, unpacking services, daily fresh fruit, aromatherapy turndown service, and what is described as “very good” high-speed WiFi.
Villa Cortez (4-bedrooms)
At 8,500-sq. ft. of interior and another 2,000 sq. ft of outdoor space, if Villa Cortez was residential real estate, you would be looking at a property valued at $10 million. Modeled after a Mexican hacienda, the villa’s interiors feature stone patterned floors, wood-beamed ceilings, fire urns and sconce wall lights. There is expansive living space and four bedrooms, each with en suite bathrooms, along with an office, private spa and gymnasium. There is also a cinema seating 12 guests. The living room wall retracts to connect the interior space to a long beachfront patio with an infinity-edge pool, whirlpool, fire pits, shower, and day beds. Manicured gardens are dotted with Mexican fountains and redbrick barrel ceilings decorate the entryway and private terrace. There are two master bedrooms, both with private terrace and ocean views, and two more bedrooms with double queen bedding and private patio. An outdoor Palapa overlooking the Sea of Cortez seats 10. There is a guest’s pantry and full kitchen for the culinary team, making Villa Cortez ideal for entertaining or as a central point if you are hosting a group of family or fellow executives. There is an ocean infinity-edge pool surrounded by chaise lounges and daybeds, hot tub and outdoor rain shower, flat-screen satellite TV, surround sound audio system, private butler accommodation, and direct beach access to your own dedicated beach cabana.
Mickey Weill says, he recommends Villa Cortez for clients who want direct access to the beach, but don’t mind that it is right above the beach, whereas Villa One (below) is on a hill, with 360-degree views, and has complete privacy, and better for guests who want total seclusion. You also get daily breakfast for villa guests (to be selected from Villa menus), a private villa cellar for the first bottle and special pricing for select wines by the case, first bottle of selected spirits, pre-dinner cocktails for all villa guests from selected spirits, daily snack selection, two round trip airport transfers, 24-hour butler service, dedicated fitness trainer, 1 hour per day up to 8 guests, preferred seating times at all resort restaurants, and up to 12 garments pressed daily.
Villa One (4 bedrooms)
With 5,300-sq. ft. of interior space and 9,650-sq. ft. of outdoors, Villa One opened late in 2015, and features and entry to a great room, opening to where glass doors open 30 ft. wide revealing the 48×13 ft. infinity pool, tropical grounds and out to sea. For Protravel’s Weill it is his go-to for clients who want complete privacy. “You really never have to leave, and it has everything you want right there, so you don’t even need to go to the rest of the hotel, if you want to be completely secluded. Style is modern with natural materials from Mexico and clean architectural lines. Inspired by glass house design, there are floor to ceiling glass doors throughout, yet landscaping provides privacy from other resort guests. The living and dining areas are joined with a display kitchen, so the villa is a good choice if you are planning a multi-generational family retreat, wedding, celebration or high-level board meeting. Weill says, both Villas One and Cortez work for both families and couples. “There is plenty of space, but it is well laid out, so they are both nice for couples as well, even though they are both four bedrooms.”
The master suite has a walk-in closet, floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors and an en suite bathroom with ocean views. There is also second suite with king-sized bed, ocean views and fire pit on the terrace. A third bedroom features double queen beds, private terrace and outdoor shower. The latter two have a shared bathroom, while the fourth bedroom features a king-bed with en suite bathroom. Among the features are large plasma screen TVs with sound bars in the living room and all bedrooms, a surround sound audio system, private butler accommodation, a screening room for eight with up to 2,000 movies, and a private spa treatment room. There is a glass, infinity-edge pool, surrounded by chaise lounges and a palapa with a hanging day bed. The upper courtyard breakfast terrace has seating for eight, a dining terrace with seating for 12, lower terrace with sunken fire pit and built-in seating, and even a refreshment area with popcorn maker and foosball table.
Among the inclusions are daily breakfast for villa guests, Private Villa Cellar for the first bottle and special pricing for select wines by the case, first bottle of selected spirits, pre-dinner cocktails for all villa guests from selected spirits, daily snack selection, two roundtrip airport transfers, dedicated culinary and household staff, 24-hour Butler service, dedicated fitness trainer, 1 hour per day up to 8 guests, preferred seating times at all resort restaurants, and free pressing of up to 12 garments per day.
Ocean Front One&Only 1-BR Pool Casita Suite
Spanning 2,000 sq. ft. of interior space, located in Casa Playa, the Ocean Front One&Only Pool Casita Suites offer views of the Sea of Cortez. A wrap-around infinity-edge pool and separate hot tub frames the entire outdoor living space complete with daybeds, sun lounges, outdoor shower, and tables and chairs arranged for in-suite dining and entertaining. A marble bathroom is adorned with tile work inspired by Mexico, indoor and outdoor rain showers, a sculptured bathtub and twin vanity. Available with one King-size bed.
Ocean Front 1-BR Pool Casita Suite
The Ocean Front One Bedroom Pool Casita Suites are in Casa Playa and Casa Sirena featuring a private ocean front infinity-edge swimming pool and separate hot tub. Situated adjacent to Turtle Beach with views over the Sea of Cortez, the pool terrace is ideal for al fresco dining and entertaining, complete with sun lounges, daybed and tables and chairs. There is a separate bedroom and living room, and the suite’s décor is inspired by the surrounding land and seascapes, blending earthy tones with Aztec patterns and splashes of vibrant color. The contemporary marble bathroom features tile work, a rain shower and twin vanity. Available with one King-size bed. Weill recommends getting #2214 if you can.
Ocean Front 1-BR Grand Suite With Pool
At 1,400 sq. ft., the Ocean Front One Bedroom Grand Suites with Pool are located in Casa Gardenia. Every part of each suite allows for scenic views, from the living area and bedroom. There are walk-in closets and in the bathroom, a sculptured bathtub and rain shower. The ocean front patio is designed for outdoor entertainment and features a personal plunge pool with Jacuzzi, daybed, seating and side table. Available with one King-size bed.
Ocean Front 1-BR Grand Suite
At 1,400 sq. ft. the Ocean Front One Bedroom Grand Suites are similar to their cousins with pool (described above), except without the pool, and are a good choice if you are with toddlers, and you specifically don’t want a pool or plunge pool as part of your suite.
Ocean Front 1-BR Premier Suite
Located in Casa Margaritas and Casa Mañanitas, each 1,250 sq. ft. Ocean Front One Bedroom Premier Suite features a separate bedroom, lounge and dining area designed with handcrafted pieces by local artisans. Waterscape views are visible from sliding glass doors that lead onto a patio or balcony, furnished with a daybed, dining table and sun lounges. The bathroom is appointed with a separate rain shower and bathtub and twin vanity. Available with one King-size bed.
Ocean Front 1-BR Suite
Located in Casa Mañanitas, the 1,100 sq. ft. Ocean Front One Bedroom Suites offer views of the sun rising over the Sea of Cortez. Featuring handcrafted Mexican woodwork and decorative art, each suite features walk-in closets and a marble bathroom with double vanity sinks. There is a living area with a wet bar and the private terrace has a daybed. Available with one King-size bed.
Dining and Bars
There is no shortage of dining options here for a 173 key resort. US News & World Report, writes, “When hunger sets in, head to SEARED, the celebrated on-site restaurant helmed by Michelin-starred Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. While some past visitors bemoan the exorbitant menu prices, others describe the steakhouse fare as well worth the high price tags.” Both travel advisors, Weill and Odaka, applaud the diversity and quality of the dining. In addition to SEARED, the resort offers three other eateries to choose from that serve everything from a variety of ceviches to inventive sushi dishes. US News ranks the resort #1 in Los Cabos. No surprise, but naysayers mainly harp on price, however, the good thing about Los Cabos is that if you are looking for local and less expensive, there are alternatives outside the gates. If you are interested in private dining in spectacular settings, scan down to the variety of options we’ve reviewed in the Meetings section (below).
SEARED by One&Only
Featuring Wagyu A5 and Kobe certified rib eyes and tenderloins, 15 different cuts of the highest quality beef are prepared to exacting standards, Jean-Georges Vongerichten wanted SEARED by One&Only to compete with the world’s renowned steakhouses. The menu takes advantage of the sea as well, with local spiny lobsters and whole red snappers grilled, and chilled seafoods and Hamachi sashimi. There is also Dover Sole if you like the maestro’s classic touch. The Jeffrey Beers designed restaurant features a glass-walled meat cooler. Dinner is 6-10pm daily.
Aqua by Larbi
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a seaside location, Aqua by Larbi offers indoor and outdoor dining on all-day menus of Mexican specialties. Inspired by his extensive travels throughout Mexico, Moroccan-born Chef Larbi Dahrouch presents a seasonally driven menu, with some items changing daily depending on the fresh catch and produce of the day. Interactive dining includes hand-made tortillas, authentic moles and signature guacamole and ceviche made table side.
Chef Yoshiaki Akaike brings his native Japan’s reverence for sushi to Suviche, preparing a menu of fresh sushi together with a selection of Mexican ceviches. Look for offerings infused with the signature French-Asian influences of Jean-Georges. An extensive tea and sake menu, and an expert Sake Sommelier assists with recommended pairings. Dinner is 6-10pm daily.
Open from 7am-5pm, Breeze overlooks one of the resort’s two free-form infinity-edge pools, with a la carte breakfast, and an all-day menu of light fare including salads, sandwiches and Mexican snacks such as quesadillas and guacamole, inviting guests to linger poolside as long as they wish.
There are three bars and lounges. Agua Bar is located next to Agua by Larbi with ocean views, light fare and positioned for sunset libations. If you want an air-conditioned sunset view, One&Only Lounge has low slung couches and floor-to-ceiling windows. Outside of SEARED and Suviche, One&Only Terrace features comfortable seating and a fire pit as its main attraction, making it popular for pre-and-post dinner drinks.
Fitness and Wellness:
The spa features 13 private treatment rooms, saunas, indoor and outdoor relaxation areas, along with hot and cold rock pools. The spa menu includes a dedicated Men’s Menu, and a wide range of treatments from an Abdominal Detox to a 3-hour “In Harmony” couples session at $850. If you don’t want to spend that much time at the spa, there are also a variety of 60-90 minute offerings, including hot stone, scrubs and a maternity massage. There is also a full salon with pedis, manis, etc., plus a traditional barber shop, from 10am-5pm. The fitness center includes TRX Suspension Training plus Technogym cardio and weight training. Minimum age is 16 and the gym is open 6am-9pm.
With 27 holes of Jack Nicklaus designed golf, including the Ocean Course (pictured above), ranked Number 70 in the world by Golf Digest, One&Only is a perfect base if you are a golfer, or share a roof with one. In fact, Golf Digest puts seven of Mexico’s top 11 golf courses on the Baja Peninsula, making for a great golf emergence trip.
There is a “Kids Only” for children ages 4 to 11, and a Teens club for ages 12 to 16. Additionally, the resort offers certified babysitters. Post-Odile, there is now also an adults-only pool area.
The resort has its own One&Only yacht for sunset cruises or charter, there is surfing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and basketball (there is an outdoor regulation court), plus farm excursions where you can help find your dinner, and an extensive art lab and studio with visiting professionals, and classes on different disciplines of making art.
About Los Cabos
Los Cabos is three destinations in one. A recent article in Conde Nast Traveler described it this way: (The destination encompasses) Cabo San Lucas in the west and San José del Cabo in the east, plus a hotel-laden area known as “the Corridor” of around 20 miles between the two cities. You’ll need a car to properly explore the different areas-as well as the stunning cardón cactus-dotted landscapes outside the cities-and neither rental nor navigation is difficult to manage (easy-to-follow Highway 1 runs neatly between the two). The reputations of the two cities spring from their contrasting appearance and vibe. Laid-back San José del Cabo looks like a classic Mexican village, with cobblestone streets, colorful colonial buildings, and a smattering of boutiques and restaurants. More-developed Cabo San Lucas contains the majority of the area’s rambunctious bars and clubs, plenty of water sports, and a mall that wraps around its busy marina. Popular activities include fishing (Los Cabos is host to global fishing tournaments such as the Bisbee in October), where day boat charters are popular. There are also excursions to swim with dolphins and the giant Whale Sharks as well as snorkeling and diving. There are desert safaris and off-road ATV rentals, ziplines and hiking through Boca de Sierra National Park. You can go parasailing, take helicopter tours or rent a boat for a sunset cruise. There is horseback riding, dirt bike rentals and even bird watching excursions. In November (9-13) is the Los Cabos International Film Festival. If you want luxury shopping, Luxury Avenue at Marina Cabo San Lucas as well as several jewelry stores offer top end fashion, watch and jewelry brands. There is also a fairly extensive boutique on property.
Meetings, Weddings, and Special Events
If you are planning a company meeting, wedding or group family get together, One&Only Palmilla offers a wide variety of indoor and outdoor settings for memorable parties and sit-down dinners. If you need to meet, there is a conference center (below) that seats up to 200 and can breakout into four smaller rooms. There is also patio for pre-events.
For weddings, there is an outdoor chapel with seating up to 150…
…and the Bahia Courtyard (below), which can accommodate dining up to 150…
or if you have a really big bash, dine with your feet in the sand on Turtle Beach (below), which can accommodate up to 300. Yes, you can buyout the entire resort…
…or the Aqua Pool Deck (below), seating up to 150…
or at the edge of the surf on Pelican Beach (below), for up to 80…
Los Cabos International Airport (SJD) is an international port with 24 hour restricted operations and a 9,843 ft. runway. There are no slot controls, but parking during peak holiday periods maybe restricted. As a popular private jet destination, there are some 10 handlers with a new airport operated FBO. One&Only Palmilla is about 20 minutes away via the highway, just under 15 miles.
Los Cabos Weather:
- Travel+Leisure World’s Best Awards: ranked #6 amongst the ‘Best Resort Hotels in Mexico’
- Travel+Leisure Mexico Awards: recognised for ‘Best Room Experience’
- Celebrated Living Platinum List Awards (US): recognised amongst the ‘Best Interior Design’ hotels and resorts
- Brides Best Honeymoon Awards: ranked #1 amongst the ‘Top Mexican Resorts’
- Conde Nast Traveller China: Readers’ Choice Awards: recognised amongst the ‘Best Hotels in The Americas’
- Professional Spa & Wellness Awards (UK): recognised as ‘Best Hotel Spa Of The Year – North & South America’
- InMexico Magaine (Mexico): recognised as #1 Resort in Mexico
- Golf Digest (US): recognized as Best Resort in The Americas, Editor’s Choice Awards
- Condé Nast Traveler (US) Gold List: recognized amongst the ‘Most Tranquil Spas in the World’
- TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice Awards: in the top 1% on TripAdvisor
- InMexico Awards (Mexico): ranked #1 in Top Of Mex Awards (covering Top 10 resorts in Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, Playa Del Carmen and Los Cabos)
- ULTRA Awards (US): Best Hotel in Mexico
- ULTRA Awards (US): Best Spa
- Social Hotel Awards, Hotels Magazine (US): Best Use of Digital Video
- Jetsetter Best Of The Best Awards: awarded Best for Romance award
- Condé Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Choice Awards: ranked#6 in Best Resorts in Mexico (Pacific Coast)
- Andrew Harper’s 2015 Reader’s Choice Awards: listed 14th under the Top 20 Top Beach Resorts category
- Travel+Leisure (US): ranked #1 World’s Best in Mexico
- Travel+Leisure (US): ranked #17 in Top 100 Hotels
- Jetsetter.com (US): named Best for Romance
- TripAdvisor: granted the Certificate of Excellence Hall of Fame after receiving the Certificate of Excellence for 5 years in a row
- Condé Nast Traveler (US): named in the Gold List 2015
- Travel+Leisure: ranked #3 in the ‘World’s Most Romantic Hotels’ category
- U.S. News & World Report Best Hotels of 2015: ranked #2 in the Best Hotels in Baja category
- U.S. News & World Report Best Hotels of 2015: ranked #8 in the Best Mexico Hotels category
- U.S. News & World Report Best Hotels of 2015: earned the Gold Badge Winner as Best Hotels in Mexico award
- Orbitz Worldwide 2015: won the Best In Stay Elite Award