Cabo: a magical oasis in the desert

  • Written by Deborah Stone

Famous “El Arco” (the arch) stands as a sentinel outside of Cabo San Lucas. Photo by Deborah Stone.
Los Cabos is sun-kissed, white sand beaches and turquoise waters.

It’s fru fru drinks with mini parasols at swim-up-to-bars. And sunsets that color the sky with Mother Nature’s vivid palette.

With year-round warm, sunny weather, friendly folk and a host of activities, this south-of-the-border hot spot is a destination that appeals to everyone, from romantics looking for an intimate getaway to families searching for a fun in the sun vacation.

For those of us in the Pacific Northwest, Cabo, as it is casually known, is an especially fine sight for sore eyes, as it makes the ideal winter escape from sodden streets and grey skies.

My only experience with Cabo prior to my recent visit had been a one-day port stop while on a Mexico cruise over 15 years ago. I remembered little other than “El Arco,” the famous natural rock arch that stands as a sentinel in the waters outside the town of Cabo San Lucas. This photogenic landmark is still a sight to behold, but there are so many other wonders here that make this destination a truly unique paradise.

Los Cabos, “the Capes,” takes its name from three important capes: Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo and Cab del Este. The area lies at the very tip of the Baja Peninsula, the world’s longest and one of the most majestic peninsulas.

To the west is the Pacific Ocean and to the east lies the Sea of Cortez, both of which embrace this picturesque locale. What is most distinctive about Cabo is its landscape. It is the only place where the desert meets the ocean and creates an ecotourist’s paradise.

A geological evolution formed Baja California and the Sea of Cortez some six million years ago. Movement of the Pacific and North American plates ripped a strip of land from the continental mainland. Then the Pacific plate slid 200 miles northward, smashing what would eventually become Baja California into the mainland and thus opening up the Sea of Cortez. These natural forces set the stage for the beginnings of Los Cabos.

Today this area consists of two main towns, San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas. The former is a traditional colonial style Mexican town with a central square and 16th century mission church; whereas the latter is a hub of activity and pulsating nightlife. Between the two cities lies what is known as the “Golden Corridor;” an eighteen mile span lined with pristine beaches and sheltered inlet coves. It is here where most tourists stay during their visit, as this is where the majority of the resorts are located.

Traveling from one end of the Corridor to another, it’s hard not to miss the dramatic scenery that sets Cabo apart from many other oceanside retreats. The area is surrounded by mountains and rock canyons, from which expansive plains lead the way down towards the sea. These plains are home to hundreds of different types of cacti, from the thick cardones to the tall, skinny choyas, all which seem to lift their heads, thirsty for a glimpse of the sparkling water and verdant oases that lies beyond them.

This roadside stand sells homemade candies from local fruit (mango, coconut, papaya). Photo by Deborah Stone.
Cabo is also a natural sanctuary where numerous birds gather and lend vivid color to this land of contrasts. If you tire of the scene on land, turn your attention to the sea where through a variety of activities, you can get a glimpse of the life teeming in this underwater world. On a snorkel trip one day to a secluded cove, I was able to see dozens of colorful angel fish and an assortment of beautifully shaped coral, as well as a number of other fish that served as beacons of light for me on my journey below the surface of the sea.

I am told that the Devil Ray and the Whale Shark also inhabit the waters of these coasts and that the impressive giant Gray Whale makes its appearance here, too, specifically during calf bearing season in winter.

Although I didn’t see any of these majestic creatures, I was content to just mosey around in the refreshing waters and take pleasure in the fact that back home I would most likely be hugging the hearth to stay warm.

There are a myriad of other activities to engage in during a stay in Cabo, including horseback riding on the beach, mountain biking in remote Punta Gorda, windsurfing, fishing, golfing, parasailing, hiking desert trails, touring giant sand dunes by ATV, or simply relaxing poolside at your hotel or on a nearby beach.

For many, the latter is the ultimate aim, along with maybe a trip to a spa, a sunset cruise or a look at the nightlife. As relaxation was my goal, I was happy to indulge in the above pursuits in between my daily siestas.

The Hilton Los Cabos Beach and Golf Resort, where I stayed, had a marvelous full-service spa and I enjoyed the attentions of therapists there who erased my sore muscles with a Swedish massage and gave me a soothing facial that did wonders for my skin. The hotel also has one of those infinity pools overlooking the ocean where I spent much time just taking in the view while sipping a tropical libation.

I felt decadent as I swam up to the bar, ordered a drink and proceeded to hang over the edge of the pool as I imbibed. I could pretend for a moment that I was living the life of the rich and famous…that is until my pina colada took a nose dive into the pool!

A sunset cruise is a definite must in Cabo. My fellow travel companions and I boarded the “Caborey” one evening and set off for a night of dining and entertainment. We cruised past majestic “El Arco” just as the sun was setting the sky ablaze with fiery hues.

The tide had come in and Lover’s Beach, sculpted by nature and accessible only by water, was rapidly disappearing. This beach is the only spit of land that touches both the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez waters and it is a popular spot for weddings.

Thousands of frigates crowded the surrounding rock formations and cast an eerie shadow, reminiscent of something out of a Hitchcock movie or a Victorian novel.

Following dinner, there was a Las Vegas style floor show on board the ship featuring Gaucho dancing, Mexican boleros and the sizzling tango. When we disembarked, the night was still young so we opted to check out the club scene in Cabo San Lucas.

Those in the know will tell you this town gets “un poquito loco” or just a little crazy once the sun sets. With clubs that have names like Cabo Wabo, The Giggling Marlin, El Squid Roe and Sancho Panzo, you can be assured of a wild time if you choose to enter any of these establishments.

Many of the clubs put on abbreviated floor shows where waiters put down their trays and strut their stuff Latin style. Inhibitions fly out the window with a bit of tequila and soon the whole crowd gets on their feet and joins in the scene.

I discovered I could actually Salsa dance (something I had never tried before) with the right partner! For a change of pace from the more “turista” activities, head out of Cabo about an hour along the west coastline to the town of Todos Santos.

This charming colonial oasis is a slice of more traditional Mexico, known for its regional handcrafts, homemade fruit candies and organic produce. The Tropic of Cancer actually runs through Todos Santos, allowing such produce as papayas and avocados to miraculously grow twice a year. The town has a 17th century mission, a quaint central plaza and numerous art galleries, as well as several shops, cafes and the famous Hotel California (of the Eagles’ song of the same name).

A visit to the studio of one of Baja’s most well-known artists, Gabo, proved to be the highlight of my visit to Todos Santos. I was taken with the spirituality of this artist’s work and fascinated with the inspiration he took from primitive pictographs on cave walls. Gabo took the time to talk about his paintings and his technique and told us of his twenty-five year history as an artist.

He definitely impressed me as a man with much heart and soul, which is definitely evidenced in his work. An article on Cabo wouldn’t be complete without some mention of food. There are so many choices of restaurants that you’ll never tire of places to dine. And there’s something for everyone, but for seafood lovers, it’s a definite paradise. Fresh fish and shellfish abound and can be prepared anyway you like it.

There’s also a host of wonderful cafes serving traditional Mexican dishes such as one of my favorites, Mole Poblano (chicken with chilies and spiced chocolate sauce). The fruits are eye candy and equally as sweet to the taste, from the papayas and melons to the mangos and pineapples, and they make delicious juices when squeezed.

Cabo is a magical oasis in the desert. It’s a diverse and exciting destination that makes a great escape for those seeking respite from the doldrums of Northwest winters.

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