It was only a few minutes past noon on what seemed like the hottest day in Cabo San Lucas history—well actually rumor has it that record was set at 108 degrees, but in all fairness it was set in September, the same month we were visiting—and Guadalupe, our hired driver, was lifting our bags into his shuttle to start the bumpy 45-minute journey from the airport to the hotel. Seeing as Guadalupe has lived in the area for over 20 years, I assumed he would be accustomed to the heat, but in some way it was reassuring to see him wiping the sweat from his brow; at least I wasn’t the only one with my face melting.
“La vista es magnifica,” Guadalupe boasted, while pointing to the turquoise wind-swept ocean. The view certainly was magnificent, and only interrupted by the construction crews and tractors that littered the downtown area. Los Cabos — which includes the coastal towns of Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo and the 20-mile oceanfront corridor separating the two, was once a sleepy fishing town before it went through a transformation back in the 1970s when the Transpeninsular Highway, which runs the length of the Baja California Peninsula from Cabo San Lucas to Tijuana, was completed. Then in 1990, development was finally widely granted in the area, causing a resort, golf course and nightclub boom—also the same year that Marin’s Sammy Hagar opened up his now famous Cabo Wabo Cantina. Due to the high demand from tourists, the area has recently seen hotel and home developments spreading themselves out not only along the coastline but even high up into the bluffs.
As Guadalupe turned onto a curvy road, an endless vista of white sand and a behemoth of modern architecture were there to greet us. The adults-only Pueblo Bonito Pacifica Holistic Retreat and Spa is sprawled along a pristine beach on the Pacific Ocean side of the Baja Peninsula, where its soon-to-be-new neighbor the Ritz-Carlton has recently started construction (although during my visit there was no renovation noise). The desert atmosphere offers some of the most private surroundings in all of Cabo with chaise lounges and restaurant tables separated by feet not inches and spa treatment rooms available in private beachfront cabanas. My travel companion and I agreed that if we were celebrities or anyone important for that matter, the Pacifica would be our first choice for discreet accommodations. Simply put, everyone’s relaxing too much to care whom his or her remote neighbor is. The hotel’s barren landscape is peacefully broken with fountains and small rivers of water crisscrossing paths and even the lobby. Small but well-appointed rooms are sleek with flat-screen televisions, dark-onyx-accented bathrooms and serene white sheets. Most visitors come to Pacifica to take advantage of the total wellness philosophy (smoking is prohibited on the grounds) and the Armonia Spa, which is hidden deep within an underground passage, offers treatments like watsu, a soothing massage that takes place in a warm, deep body of water where the massage therapist literally cradles and twirls your body, interspersing a series of stretches and twists for a womblike sensation.
Because a nice glass of wine has been known to aid in the relaxation process, we took part in one of the resort’s daily gratis activities before dinner at the hotel’s Siempre restaurant: the wine-and-cheese tasting introduced us to a Mexican wine, Monte Xanic, a Chenin-Colombard with a rich, buttery taste. It was so good that we proceeded to order it at every hotel we visited, as in: I have no use for your expensive American imports, we’ll take Baja’s finest and at a fraction of the cost. Now fortified, we had the rest of Cabo to explore.
Cabo San Lucas’s boisterous party atmosphere and San Jose’s easygoing colonial tone are bridged by a golf course-and resort-studded Tourist Corridor that stretches between the two towns in miles of beaches and coves. The area includes not only Mexico’s most luxurious and expensive resorts but some of North and South America’s as well.
The three big players in the area—Esperanza, Las Ventanas al Paraíso and the One and Only Palmilla—are constantly exchanging number one, two and three spots on “best of” lists in international travel magazines.
Our first stop in the Corridor was at Esperanza. The Auberge property, sister to Auberge du Soleil in Napa, is stunning. In fact, the first words I uttered when arriving were, “When I die, I hope heaven looks like Esperanza.” My choices were simple—the only question was where would I start? I could take a dip in the room’s private balcony spa, lie out by the public infinity pool while waiting my turn for one of the staff to travel to my chaise to give a shoulder massage, or perhaps stop by the outdoor lounge to listen to a live duet perform “Cielito Lindo,” while I sip a handmade margarita and enjoy the warm breeze from the sea. All before falling asleep to the sound of crashing waves. Esperanza recently completed a five-month renovation, unveiling larger rooms, new interiors and an expanded spa. The 57-room resort includes 24-hour butler service, casitas with pocket doors that transform interiors into indoor-outdoor living spaces, deep soaking tubs and two-, three-, and four-bedroom villas with gourmet kitchens. The property’s three-bedroom luxury casita also includes a private entrance for one of the rooms (in case you’re traveling with security or an assistant, natch). During the winter months, the Punta Ballena, or Whale Point, location even lives up to its name as it offers views of migrating humpbacks.
Km 7 Carretera Transpeninsular;
Las Ventanas al Paraíso
If you haven’t been to Las Ventanas al Paraiso, a Rosewood Resort, it’s easy to miss. The 71-suite “window to paradise” property has no sign and is even more protected by a large wall that sits in front of the entrance. Originally developed by Belvedere-resident Javier Burillo, the all-suite property’s rooms have pebble-inlaid headboards, wood-burning fireplaces, generous porches and balconies and even rooftop decks for the top-level rooms. Don’t leave without dinner at the grande dame property’s Sea Grill restaurant—one of the best “barbecues” in Mexico. Choices include huachinango, parrot fish, tuna, flank steak and more—all grilled. Although the restaurant is the more casual of the two on property, it rivals that of any Michelin-starred eatery I’ve visited. Ventanas also sets itself apart from the other luxury players with inventive romantic touches such as a videotaped mini-movie proposal or a ring delivery by a man on horseback in full Mexican cowboy regalia, all put together by the director of romance Maria Jose Garcia and her staff. On my stay, I even witnessed Garcia in action getting details ready for a secret proposal under the guise of a photo shoot for a magazine—the recipient said “yes!”
Km 19.5 Carretera Transpeninsular;
One & Only Palmilla
After a thorough $80 million renovation about five years ago, the Palmilla has once again been crowned the “it” destination for celebrities and Hollywood A-listers. In fact, depending on how you look at it, my accidental choice of a poolside lounge chair next to the current cast of the Victoria’s Secret catalog was fortunate or unfortunate. The resort’s rooms are cloaked in a series of white buildings flanked by towering bougainvillea and include private decks, rain showers and telescopes for viewing the starry sky. After a full day of fishing off the Sea of Cortez, my catch of tuna was even freshly prepared into sushi, sashimi and tartare options at that night’s dinner in the resort’s 110-seat Charlie Trotter C restaurant.
Km 7.5 Carretera Transpeninsular;
One of the newest hotels in town is the massive (in comparison to the other properties mentioned) 332-room Cabo Azul. A favorite for families traveling together, guests can convene at one of the three oversize pools or at trendy Javier’s restaurant. The one-, two- and three-bedroom villas all come with tasteful modern accents, large kitchens (there’s even a market in the hotel) and separate sitting areas. A popular spot for weddings, the outdoor chapel is a must visit for incredible views. For a retreat from the frenetic pool head to the cave-like Paz spa, which appropriately translates to “peace”.
Paseo Malecon S/N, Lote 11 Fonatur;
Golfers Take Up Residence
In the bluffs on the Corridor, serious golfers now have a home development to call their own. Querencia has sprouted as competition for the area’s other luxury hotels that are offering their own home sites. With sites ranging from half acre to almost one acre, and prices starting at $1.9 million and $3.65 million for custom residences, Querencia’s prices aren’t for the casual Baja traveler—in fact, the community even has a few full-time residents and others who stay for entire seasons. General manager Andre Boersma says most owners choose the community over other luxe options in Cabo (including Palmilla, Esperanza, Quivira Los Cabos and Hacienda) because of the private golf access, which includes a cliff-top 320-acre Tom Fazio-designed 18-hole golf course, a 12-acre practice facility and a putting green. A second course is also in the works. However, home ownership doesn’t guarantee full access to the amenities. A private golf membership is $150,000 and entitles you and your family access to both golf courses and all club amenities.
Captions: (Middle) Cabo Azul’s massive pool and bar. (Bottom) Top-floor casita view at Esperanza.