A cab driver once told me there are more Americans living in Cabo than there are in LA. I can’t vouch for the truth of that and didn’t press the cabbie for facts, possibly because I was distracted by the rocket-launch velocity at which he was shooting along the high-speed highway linking San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, the two towns bookending Baja’s busiest vacation destination. Depending on the type of traveler you are, his allegation may be comforting (safety, wide-spoken English) or unnerving (eroded native culture, chain restaurants), but regardless, Cabo’s natural beauty can’t be denied. Situated at the tip of the Baja Peninsula, where the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez clash like boxing foes, this coastline laces through sun-bleached desert beaches and primordial mountains. Five-star hotels occupy their peaks like luxurious fortresses, migrating whales splash in the distance, and the weather is like heaven’s..;with less rain. An easy getaway from New York/Newark (and easier from Houston, Phoenix, and the West Coast), Cabo is where you want to be this winter. Just be sure to pack plenty of sunblock, and our insider tips.
Mexico’s Bloody Mary
The tanned bunnies on Medano Beach, Cabo’s busiest crescent of sand, don’t wait for happy hour, and neither should you. The Michelada is Mexico’s answer to the Bloody Mary, a refreshing daytime tonic consisting of beer (typically Tecate), tomato or Clamato juice, lime and spices, and the sumptuous oceanfront restaurant, Hacienda Cocina y Cantina, at the Hacienda Beach Club, mixes the best in town. Chile-blushed Oaxacan salt encrusts the rim of the Cielo Rojo ("Red Sky," also the name of a popular telanovela), a smoky, tangy version of the effervescent Michelada, as good by night—chunky, spicy seafood pozole thaws the wind-frosted tables on Cocina’s buzzy outdoor patio—as it is by day.
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Cabo’s concentration of timeshares and apartment-style hotels like the rose-pink, mountainside Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach means kitchen-equipped accommodations are not hard to come by. A personal cooking space not only shrinks your restaurant budget, but also provides an excuse to visit the tony Pedregal enclave, where an expat-run organic farmersâ€™ market sets up on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Pacific lobsters, whole chickens, buttercup squash, a rainbow of chilies, even heat-at-hotel lasagna loaded with local veggies line the pop-up tables outside the Mar Adentro Spa.
It’s a straight shot one hour up the newly opened four-lane Highway 19 from Cabo’s candy center to Todos Santos, a virtuous-sounding artists’ enclave with a name meaning ‘all saints.’ One of Mexico’s designated Pueblos Magicos, charming Todos makes an easy side trip, the two-lane highway shooting past surf colonies, chile farms and RVs hawking hammered copper wares right into the town’s main drag, Benito Juarez Avenue, where native Mexicans and ex-pat artisans run a vibrant mix of businesses out restored colonial-era stone buildings dripping with violet and fuchsia bougainvillea. Here, you’ll find fresh-fruit popsicles at Paleteria La Paloma and killer carne asada tacos at thatched-roof taco shack Taco Chilakos, shoulder to shoulder with organic soaps handcrafted by a Winnipeg artisan with native damiana leaves and jewelry glittering with peridot and malachite from a Dutch-Canadian silversmith. There’s ancient artifacts and modern art for pondering at the Nestor Agundez Martinez cultural center, and tart, day’s-end margaritas for sipping at La Copa bar at the Todos Santos Inn, a gorgeous converted hacienda furnished with wrought-iron Juliet balconies, carved wooden doors and shady brick courtyards exploding with flowers. Need to crash? Book one of the Inn’s terrace rooms, furnished with canopied beds, carved wood armoires and wifi for a mere $125.
Mind your step at El Farallon, a restaurant carved into cliffs at the chichi Capella Pedregal. Twenty feet below the lantern-lit stone dining terrace, waves hammer the coast’s jagged jetties, sending up the occasional sea-spray to mist the impeccable grilled Baja seafood served here. The day’s catch (i.e. blue-black lobsters, dorado, tuna, chocolate clams) chills on a bed of crushed ice by the entrance; choose the specimen, and it becomes the centerpiece of a set menu that includes soup, a trio of appetizers and dessert. Can’t decide? The $115 "Bounty of Ensenada" gets you some of each (including Baja lobster) in a feast big enough for a couple to share.
Chile-dusted tamarind chews, cajeta caramels, jamaica lollipops and hundreds of other exotic, colorful confections fill the shelves at the candy store at the Cabo airport. Tucked in a corner of the Terminal 1 departures lounge, the tiny shop is a sugar fiend’s oasis, perfect for loading up on snacks for the long flight home.
Photo Credits: Mexicoâ€™s Bloody Mary: Courtesy of Hacienda Cocina y Cantina; Farm-to-Condo: Courtesy of Cabo Organic Farmers Market; Road Trip: Courtesy of Todos Santos Inn; Cliff Notes: Courtesy of Capella Hotels and Resorts