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Cabo San Lucas Travel Guide

I Was Told Cabo San Lucas Was Ruined by “Too Many Americans.” So, I Went to See for Myself

All Photos Courtesy Of Terry Ward

Once you’ve traveled a bit, people may stop telling you about all the places you’ve got to see and start imparting their wisdom, instead, about the ones you should avoid.

It’s ironic, then, that the badge of a well-traveled person eventually becomes one of travel’s most tired clichés—that you’re a “traveler and not a tourist”—seemingly making it shameful that you would travel anywhere the masses (particularly those from your own country) go. 

But travelers and tourists are both just people getting out there in the world—whether that’s exploring your back yard on a road trip, sleeping in a yurt with an eagle huntress in Mongolia, or dipping your feet into international travel for the first time with your kids at a Club Med.

And as much as I love traveling to the intrepid destinations on the planet, I also appreciate making up my own mind about places that other people deem “ruined,” for one reason or another.

Not too long ago—after I’d already seen much of Mexico while strategically bypassing Cancún for years (it had been sold to me by some “travelers” as one giant open-air Señor Frogs)—I found myself loving a place I was told I’d detest on a trip with my family.

Walking the markets downtown and eating tacos al pastor with Cuban friends who’d moved to Cancún from Havana for a better life between dipping in the gorgeous Gulf of Mexico and hidden cenotes to the south had me loving the stretch of Mexico I’d been warned was “ruined by spring breakers.”

So recently, when a Canadian influencer criticized me for a travel choice, telling me that Cabo San Lucas is “void of authentic culture” and “only for Americans,” I had to see for myself.

My stay was short—three quick nights at the Pueblo Bonito Pacifica Golf & Spa Resort—and I hardly claim to be an expert on Cabo San Lucas now.

But, what I wanted to know was this: could all those pesky American tourists (myself among them), mass hotels, and the inevitable Señor Frog’s really “ruin” this place of such sublime natural beauty, where the desert crumbles into the Pacific Ocean?

NOTETravel to Mexico is currently allowed for U.S. travelers, with no COVID-19 test required, although the CDC has issued an advisory against it due to rising case numbers. At Los Cabos International Airport, travelers are required to fill in a health screening form and have their temperatures taken before exiting.

Cabo San Lucas Is Not Void of Authentic Sea Lions

Scuba diving in the Baja California Sur is legendary, especially in the waters of the Sea of Cortez near Cabo Pulmo National Park and the town of La Paz (two hours north of Cabo San Lucas), where the winter months are peak season for snorkeling with the whale sharks that migrate through.

 

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I didn’t originally have scuba diving on my radar in Cabo San Lucas, wrongly assuming it was too busy with pleasure boats and jet skis full of rowdy American “tourists” to be any good. But when I texted an underwater photographer friend living in La Paz if I should head out to dive near the famous Arch of Cabo San Lucas formation (a 10-minute boat ride from the marina) on a trip with Cabo Adventures, he was quick to say “Siiiiii.” And I’m glad I listened. Because along with a friendly American diver from Tennessee on the boat who ended up being my buddy and a crew of scuba-loving Mexicans, I found myself diving with about 15 sea lions in waters as clear as a swimming pool just 30 feet below the busy boat-crossed surface.

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At one point, after finning through schooling clouds of silvery snapper and nosing around a shipwreck where giant lobsters and a moray eel peeked from rusting metal, I wondered how anyone could claim that the place Jacques Cousteau once called the “world’s aquarium” could be ruined by travelers, tourists or vacationers of any type, for that matter.

You Can Golf While Whale Watching and Sipping Mezcal at Course Comfort Stations

I may be a diver but I am definitely not a golfer. Still, I jumped at the chance to drive a cart around with a friend who was playing what’s arguably the most scenic Pacific-facing course on the continent. At Quivira Los Cabos—a Jack Nicklaus signature oceanfront course—you can pause at “Comfort Stations” carved into the cliffs proffering complimentary treats like tacos and mezcal shots between holes—a perk that tourists, golfers and, dare I say travelers, would clearly love. But that’s not the highlight.

 

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The 13th hole overlooks the roaring Pacific Ocean, which provides quite the distraction when humpbacks and gray whales migrating within mere yards of the shore break the surface with their blowholes and breaching.

After I made myself swing a club for probably only my fifth time ever (a very poor swing,  just to see what it’s like to connect with the ball at one of golf’s most beautiful holes), I realized I had spent the better part of the day breathing the same air as cetaceans.

Beach Bliss, Even if Swimming Isn’t Advised

With the exception of just a few beaches in Cabo San Lucas designated for swimming (including Medano Beach, right downtown—no longer quite as busy with tourists as usual thanks to the absence of cruise ships due to COVID-19), the coast at the tip of Baja is wild and inherently dangerous.

Rogue waves can rise from the depths without warning.  Sports fishing charters needn’t even venture far offshore here to hook pelagic species like mahi mahi and tuna because the waters close to the beach are deep enough already.

One morning, I woke up early to walk from the Pueblo Bonito Pacifica along the beach to a rugged headland, crossing only three other people along the way as I plodded through sands the color of cumin that coax your feet in deep (it’s a workout just to stroll).

Brown pelicans skimmed the swells just offshore and I couldn’t walk more than a few minutes without seeing a whale’s spout or a dolphin’s dorsal. Indeed, there were far more of them than any humans to be seen.

There was something primordial about the thunder of the pounding surf, the danger of the shore break that broke small but lapped far up the dunes as I scurried from it like a sandpiper and the idea that I—a tourist, a traveler, whatever I was—was strolling in tandem with migrating whales.

The Conversations I’ve Missed Most

Here’s the thing about travel now for those of us who haven’t done much of it lately, and for seasoned travelers, too—it all feels new again, with the pandemic having upended the world.

Everything from conversations with your taxi driver on the way to your local airport to chatting up a server in a restaurant or a local on the beach wherever you travel are things most of us haven’t done for a while. And they all feel familiar yet entirely novel.

 

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“We missed the Americans, we’re so happy they’re coming back now,” was something I heard versions of on refrain in Cabo, albeit mostly from people who make their living showing us a good time in a town that was not “only for Americans,” it turned out, but for Mexicans and other people, too.

But is that such a bad thing, to miss the source of your livelihood in a place that depends on it?

I thought of the Canadian influencer and how she warned me against going to Cabo San Lucas.

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” she’d said, “But it’s too American.”

But saying things like that only hurts the people working in the places frequented by travelers and tourists alike.

53 Comments
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stephaniechase8340 January 16, 2021

Yeah, there were a lot of super commercial "touristy" things in Cabo San Lucas, but the natural beauty and large hotels have not ruined it by any means. In fact the opposite as most of the hotels are designed to blend in with the landscape. It's a nice place, and it's a fun place to visit.  Feel comforted that your local Walmart Supercenter will be there for you as well. 

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Jdog_fixit January 14, 2021

I feel like the writer here took a very cliche thing said: Tourism (aka popularity) ruined such and such and just made an obvious counterpoint. It's reminiscent for me, in high school a girl claiming the band I liked used to be cool before they got popular (or really, too big for her pocket). 
To be fair the cliche isn't wrong, and neither is this article. Popularity does change a location's culture and energy, I've experience this myself in travelling to once unpopular towns in Brazil and revisiting.

A place is changed by big hotels and companies rolling in for profit off tourism. But that doesn't mean it isn't still beautiful and still fun. Which ultimately is the point isn't it?

I'd wager most of the locals of a given place, especially third world, are better off financially with the influx of tourism, so certainly not ruined in that sense either.

I don't really think this article was needed to tell us what we all know. Locations aren't "ruined" just because they are popular, just different.

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swagv January 14, 2021

Tourism, and "traveling", both destroy global communities. Their economies become skewed to service foreigners, depleting the locals of places to live and the kind of businesses that support other locals.

The "slow travel" ethos says to live like a local, but that's nonsense. No tourist actually wants to live like a local ... having to huff it out of town to get groceries, commuting from far out to service the tourist economy, working three jobs to support a family, unable to get loaded on Mezcal and lie on the beach all day.

Mop unless you get a non-tourist visa, it's all a ruse. Most of these places should be treated as tourist preserves and kept isolated from real communities. Otherwise they too will be overrun with entitled, neocolonialist visitors who treat them like disposable consumables and personal trophies for their bucket list wall. 

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AuntieNunya January 14, 2021

This woman is arrogant from the get go. I was raised by world travelers and live to travel however I dont elevate myself as "more" or "special" compared to "lowly tourists".
Travel is a status symbol which is why I find articles like this to be pretentious and entitled because there are publications like this where "seasoned travelers"  can have their displays printed and posted for everyone to "admire". It's no different than that obnoxious neighbor who is loud at the party, bragging about his sports car and boat....to some status is about expensive belongings and the other is about trips to exotic locales. All of it is vanity and this woman is no different. 

Mexico has such a corrupt government. Any money that goes to the resorts supports the cartels and it's not good to support Mexico through tourism. Mexicans come up to the U.S. to work and send back money to family so if they are hungry for U.S. dollars they can get them from the U.S. 

Even seasoned travelers like little miss narcissist who wasted much of this article running her mouth about herself, are annoying to tourism dependent areas. But that is the government's fault. So if the locals don't like it they like to take it out on the tourists.
I don't care about any of it. I travel to locations I like and I don't treat it like a status symbol. This woman sounds like a stuck up self absorbed American. Unwanted

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greaseyote2458 January 14, 2021

Cabo San Lucas is kind of inauthentic like your friend said. But that's due to history. There really wasn't anything there 50 years ago. There was literally a tuna canning plant and that was it. Cabo sprang up, Vegas style out of the desert in a short amount of time so it has a similar vibe. La Paz is more authentic city because it has a long history and has reasons for it's existence besides tourism. But Cabo has a lot more tourist infrastructure.