The things that make one place a “must-go” destination and another a “might-go” destination are complicated, and sometimes not obvious even after scrutiny. Take an area like the Baja Peninsula’s Los Cabos. For a variety of reasons, some subtle, some not, Los Cabos has become a target for luxury travel, and its allure only seems to be going up.
A place’s history is one factor that can bring a lot of tourists to the table, and Los Cabos’ history is savory (and unsavory) indeed. But even before history, there is geography, and Los Cabos has that in spades. Its Pacific Ocean position at Baja’s tip has afforded it miles of white-sand beaches
, piercingly blue waters, and a broad cactus desert flanked by craggy mountains. Position the other side of the land’s dry desert air and bountiful sun with the Sea of Cortez, one of the biologically richest bodies of water on earth, and you have a place worth a visit. And visit many people did.
One of them was the famed Spanish explorer and Mexican conqueror, Hernan Cortes, who dropped by in the 1530s, after his glory days were behind him. However, he did make enough of a mark to have a sea named after him. Many laden Spanish galleons followed the flowing paths of those new shipping routes. But scratch a fat Spanish galleon and a pirate
might bleed; those pugnacious parties played cat and mouse for years to come. (And some Los Cabos residents might say a new breed of pirate is again firmly established in the region.)
Not Just Another Fish Story
Aside from piratical skirmishes, there was a small influx of settlers when pearls were discovered in the Sea of Cortez, but the Los Cabos area remained essentially under wraps until the 18th century, when the Spanish thought that the Word rather than the Rifle might bring the Indian natives closer in line with royal thinking. A Jesuit mission named for Jose del Cabo was founded north of Cabo San Lucas and the subsequent settlements came to be known as Los Cabos. But the settlements weren’t exactly boom towns.
Perhaps fishermen do like to talk about fish as much as catch them: Beginning in the 1930s and pushing faster in the 40s, word went out on high-test lines about the spectacular fishing off the Cabo coast. Even rough rides in small planes or 1000 miles of pot-holed dirt roads didn’t deter excited fishermen from venturing to the distant Los Cabos lands. One consequence of that was that the quiet cannery town of Cabo San Lucas, with a kick in the pants from the Mexican government, was starting to be scrubbed up to be a sport-fishing destination.
Cabo really began to get into gear when Hollywood heavies like Desi Arnaz, John Wayne, and Bing Crosby began to tout Cabo as a place to see and be seen. Some of those stars joined to build the private Las Cruces Hotel, which was quickly followed by other hot spots to lay low or live high. Cabo was now a “name,” one on many lips that flapped from the steady 1950s into the heady 1960s. But even with its handful of millionaire’s vacation homes, Cabo itself still only had a few hundred full-time residents, and San Jose del Cabo, the quieter artist’s community 20 miles northeast, had even fewer.
The Sound of the Boom Still Echoes
But putting in a peninsular highway in 1974 and following that up with an international airport in 1986 fed the steadily growing stream of touts and tourists. Sportsmen from all over the world came to its fishing tournaments, and developers found ever-more-lavish ways to house them and their counterparts, the golfers that flocked to the plethora of world-class courses. One good resort deserves another—and another. Splendid private villas began to dot the coastline and hillsides, with pricey views of deep ocean blues. The people also had to eat and drink, and they did, in high-end restaurants and rocking clubs. Cabo had arrived.
Now, quiet, historic San Jose del Cabo and lively, energetic Cabo San Lucas are the two anchors of Los Cabos, separated by the Corridor region, a sublime stretch of stunning beaches and new resort development. Golfers and fishermen are joined by families, eco-tourists, divers, shoppers and eclectic travelers in equal number. Cabo’s ever-changing face is taking on new features, but the song of sea and sky remains the same.