One can argue there are few, if any, sun and fun destinations in North America that match Los Cabos for the diversity of activities, from swimming with the whale sharks and whale watching to championship golf, historic towns, luxury shopping, fine dining, and nightlife.
Our friends at villa specialist Elegant Mexico open up their VIP Black Book to you with their best recommendations. If you do go down to Los Cabos or Punta Mita, I recommend you reach out to them. Their residences are truly spectacular with amazing amenities.
1. Los Cabos: Come On Down!
Perched at the bottom of the Baja Peninsula – that jagged arm that juts south into the Pacific from the crowded borders of California – are the rockin’ town of Cabo San Lucas and its art town neighbor San Jose del Cabo. Together they comprise what is widely known as Los Cabos. In some ways, the locations could not be more diverse but they are held together by a steady stream of visitor traffic flowing back and forth from a 20-mile corridor of hotels, resorts, and cool places to explore, fondly known as Millionaire’s Row.
For the glitterati of Hollywood, this means roiling breakers and golden sun are but a two-hour private jet flight from Los Angeles – and maybe four hours from mid-western sites. For the rest of the world what Los Cabos has to offer – from art galleries and haute cuisine to simple crab chasing along with the tide pools – is an easy trip on commercial airlines from a variety of U.S. destinations and one that is likely to be as basic or as amenity-loaded as one wishes.
Above all, know this: Los Cabos is open! In fact, Los Cabos was one of the first destinations to welcome back travelers in the wake of last year’s worldwide shutdown and has received recognition from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and other organizations for implementing enhanced health and safety measures designed to protect visitors and locals alike. Check out the latest protocols at the bottom of this guide. Meanwhile, come on down and enjoy the ride!
2. Lay of the Land
Los Cabos simply translated means “The Capes” and it refers to the entire tip of Southern Baja that is mostly comprised of Cabo San Lucas, San Jose Del Cabo, The Corridor, The East Cape, and, a bit further afield, Todos Santos.
Cabos San Lucas
The mention of “Cabo” often refers to Cabo San Lucas. At one time a sleepy fishing village and cannery location, it later became Cabo, the tourist destination – a rise that got going in the 1990s with the influx of all-inclusive and then total luxury resorts and condo/villa vacation home options. It then took off like a rocket in the wake of Hurricane Odile in 2014. As Hollywood jet-setters discovered the destination to be an easy and quick escape for all the right reasons (one of which was offering the world’s best marlin fishing), the destination grew into a favorite catch-all for itchy U.S. travelers who wanted a simple, seamless getaway.
Today, the quiet peninsula is lined with top-shelf hotel brands and brag-worthy golf – whether on the side of the Pacific Ocean or the calm and protected waters of the Sea of Cortez, some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. As for Cabo San Lucas, find it at the land’s end. It is still, a quiet town but now with a hopping harbor and downtown plaza buzzing with colorful bars, upscale restaurants, spas, galleries, and world-class shopping.
San Jose del Cabo
At the northern end of the Los Cabos corridor is San Jose del Cabo, still a sleepy town preserved in its color and culture and now a beacon for artists and lovers of art who flock to its wide and alive public square for art walks, impromptu craft markets, musical performances, gallery openings, cool notion shops, ambient cafes, and chic restaurants. It is still that old-style colonial village with brightly hued dwellings lining narrow cobbled byways, but its proximity to new resorts and vacation developments has allowed the town to keep up with the times to offer visitors a sense of discovery as they comfortably amble along these historic lanes.
A roughly 20-mile stretch of stunning desert coastline connects Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo with many hotels, resorts and high-end developments in between. That means that getting around Los Cabos is easy and safe, and no visitor is very far from the popular beaches or attractions Los Cabos has to offer
3. The East Cape
There is still much to Los Cabos that is largely untouched, unspoiled, and very much in-demand. The East Cape is that answer for visitors who truly want to get away from it all but still prefer to be within reach of civilization. They will find just that on that stretch of coast running up the East side of Southern Baja from San Jose to the south of La Paz. Visitors will find sparse beaches, tiny villages, remote places to surf, and an underwater national park that is practically yours for the taking.
Developments include a new 1,000-acre resort community called Costa Palmas, on target to include two well-known hotel brands, each with a residential component: Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts and Aman Resorts. Four Seasons opened its footprint there in late 2019, but the total project is expected to take another five to seven years.
4. Todos Santos
As Highway 1 becomes Highway 5, head a bit further into the rise and follow the signs to Todos Santos. This is as close as you will get in the Baja to one of Mexico’s original “Magic Towns.” There are 111 of these “Pueblo Mágicos” in Mexico, each offering its own vision of enchanting beauty, architecture, and centuries-old culture.
Todos Santos makes a great day trip or multi-day trip if rustic boho cottage stays is on your bucket list. The location is less than an hour from Cabo San Lucas, and the environs will not disappoint. It is inhabited by a thriving artist community – from Mexico as well as the US – who find inspiration in the old-style colonial village lifestyle and history, while enjoying modern conveniences and amenities. Nearby is Cerritos beach, a favorite surfing spot along one of the few swimmable beaches on the Pacific side of Baja.
5. Dining in Los Cabos
When it comes to dining, the resorts themselves – as well as a wealth of options around the marina – provide fine fare for crowds seeking the usual staples in a vacation in Mexico: tacos, tortillas, grilled meats, fresh fish, great guac and ceviche, and flourishes of nopal.
Not to be missed as a “must-eat” destination at the bottom of the Baja is El Farallon, the seafood restaurant of the Resort at Pedregal, on a rocky promontory with undisturbed pans over the Pacific pointing toward Puerta Vallarta. Here, executive chef Yvan Mucharraz, who worked with Thomas Keller and Juan Mari Arzak, offers a coveted fresh catch and seafood market menu featuring raw choices of fish, lobster, clams, and whatever the ocean brings. Diners linger on a candlelit terrace listening to the dramatic crash of surf on boulders below.
Another Cabos San Lucas star chef is Enrique Olvera, known from Mexico City’s Pujol, which currently ranks 12 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list. His Cabos project has been Manta at The Cape, a Thompson Hotel. Location is along the base of the coast, northeast of the point, and looking out over Cabo’s iconic arch. The ambiance is laid-back ‘60s surfer-style, but there is nothing casual about this Cucina. Find fusion approaches to the flavors of Japan, Peru, and Mexico with creative uses of local and hard-to-source ingredients.
Along with the downtown harbor development that is the epicenter of tourism for Cabos San Lucas, a Golden Zone of restaurants tempts with all manner of local and cultural dishes and libations. Recommended: Los Deseos Mexican Restaurant & Bar. Find tasty seafood dishes simmered in savory sauces or authentic favorites with an exotic flourish. The outdoor dining terrace is perfect for people-watching and the cool indoor space is done up in classic local festival décor. Nearby, try the Baja Lobster Co. for fresh seafood and shellfish along with excellent views of the marina, al fresco dining, and an over-water deck for enjoying cocktails.
Up the coast, San Jose del Cabo is making a name for itself as a gastronomic haven these days. Amid the cobbled streets of Old Town, find Don Sanchez Restaurant. Half fine wine restaurant and half gourmet cantina, the signature among the multiples of mojito options is the watermelon and basil mojito. Chef Todd Chapman puts Iron Chef-creativity into his entrees with such choices as cumin-seared yellowtail with strawberry, tomatillo, habanero, and cilantro. His Quinoa Crab Duo uses special local seasonings with the hearty Peruvian grain and soft-shelled crab. His favorite local fruit is the pitaya, with which he makes flavorful desserts and gelatos.
Another top choice is Los Tamarindos, which is set inside an 1888 stone and brick farmhouse leading to an organic farm full of herbs, vegetables, and a multitude of mango trees, all just a mile from the Sea of Cortez. The farm-to-table menu runs from local to international dishes but all with local ingredients and some indigenous magic. Check out the cooking class schedule for some added spice.
Flora Farm should also be on the list. It’s a hilly ten-acre spread on an elevation not far from the tourist corridor and a fave with celebrities seeking real food in a very cool place. Flora Farm is a holistic concept in living and not just a great place to eat fabulous handmade, fresh, organic farm food. The farm features several wholly-owned (and several fractionally-owned) homes that are all models of what can be done by hand using only locally grown and recycled materials – from kitchen appliances and bathrooms to furniture and textiles. The ample gardens are tended by those who live there and for visitors, there are park-like grounds, some local dogs, and a farm-themed restaurant with picnic tables, in addition to a bar that serves cocktails in mason jars, family-style dishes with and without meat, and usually a long wait – even with reservations. The one must-have if you are just stopping by is the Farmtini, a wild hibiscus-infused cocktail with ice-cold grey goose shaken and served up. Non-drinkers: make it fresh basil and mint lemonade.
North of the corridor in Todos Santos, find Jazzmango: an organic farm-to-table restaurant by chef Javier Plascencia. Diners can enjoy the alfresco views of the orchard, from where much of their meal will come. The location is a good place to sip fine wines, mostly from Mexico, and explore creative takes on local fresh seafood and other meats. Check out the Wood-Grilled Chocolate Clams with green chile, jerky-style beef from Leon, fermented bean paste, and other add-ins.
For a fun, eclectic, boho atmosphere, have a meal at the Hotel California. The crowded, folk art-filled patio is a perfect place for tippling margaritas. Specialties include eggs benedict with smoked marlin and cilantro hollandaise, pear and gorgonzola pizza, lamb burger with caramelized onions, and black pepper pappardelle with arrachera beef and mushroom cream sauce. You may also be serenaded, but Don Henley won’t be part of the group.
6. Activities in Los Cabos
There is no shortage of things to do here, from deep-sea fishing and diving to shopping and desert explorations. Here are just a few of the activities to consider. Charter a private helicopter or a private yacht to see a Los Cabos perspective that few people get.
Go for the golf: in Los Cabos golfers can tee it up on world-class layouts built by design legends such as Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Greg Norman, and Robert Trent Jones, Jr. under year ‘round blue skies, with cooling sea breezes. Some 18 courses are currently open for play as the location dominates the golf scene in Latin America.
Action-packed choices with derring-do include zip-line outfits, mountain biking, horseback riding adventures, camel ride tours, bungee jumping, parasailing, rappelling, and off-road ATV jaunts.
More subdued thrills can be found in whale-watching escapades, snorkeling in the Sea of Cortez, swimming with whale sharks, dolphins, and sea lions, flyboarding, surfing, snuba, and catamaran sailings.
If you want to go where the fish are, try your hand at sport-fishing as if you were Hemingway on one of his curious adventures. If you are so inspired, there’s no doubt Los Cabos has a right-sized tournament scheduled.
Not the outdoorsy type? There are museums, galleries, and unusual shopping options to explore. San Jose Del Cabos remains a charming and walkable town that is anchored by a church. The Mission San José del Cabo was founded in 1730 and it was a notable supply stop for galleons traveling to and from the Philippines. On certain days, the town conducts fun and lively art walks, and on other days craft and food fests are in focus.
7. Los Cabos and COVID-19 Travel Protocols
The U.S. State Department has issued a Level 4 travel advisory for Mexico as of late March 2021. Los Cabos has implemented a COVID-19 testing program to comply with testing requirements for their return destination as needed. Antigen testing is available at all hotels and villas, as well as at the Los Cabos International Airport for emergency situations. The PCR test is administered at specific locations, including hospitals and laboratories.
Currently, Mexico does not impose travel restrictions on passengers entering the country and they do not need to present proof of negative COVID testing. Of course, if flying commercially, airlines will have their own protocols. The government is asking visitors to follow the recommended protocols for safety given by organizations such as the WHO and the CDC travel guidelines. Under the Baja California Sur’s State authority’s mandate, all individuals must wear masks or face coverings throughout the destination at all times when interacting with others who are not members of their household in public or private spaces, except for certain instances – as when eating, drinking, swimming, and other activities.
Per requirements to return to the U.S. and Canada, all air passengers will be required to get a viral test within 72 hours before their flight and provide written documentation of their laboratory test result (paper or electronic copy) to the airline, or provide documentation of having recovered from COVID-19. As yet, a protocol for vaccinated passengers has not been finalized.
For travelers departing to the United States, testing options include a PCR or Antigen test – valid with a medical certificate from the doctor. Los Cabos recommends the Antigen test for US travelers as it is available at several locations, including hotels and vacation rental developments across the destination, and results can be received in as soon as 40 minutes depending on the testing location.
8. VIP Contact
Elegant Mexico can arrange all activities, adventures, restaurant, and club reservations before you arrive or via their onsite concierge. Contact Sean Emmerton at email@example.com or visit ElegantMexico.com.