Vacationing in Mexico: BAJA PENINSULA

In January 2014, we went to Baja California Sur (BCS) on the Baja Peninsula for three weeks—two weeks at Villa del Palmar, our timeshare in Cabo SanLucas, followed by a week with friends who own a home in Los Cabos. During that time, we also visited Todos Santos, San Jose del Cabo, and LaPaz.

Villa del Palmar from the Sea of Cortez

Villa del Palmar from the Sea of Cortez

Cabo San Lucas is at the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula. Literally at land’s end, it is bordered by both the Pacific Ocean and the Sea Cortez. It is one of Mexico’s top tourist destinations, and the retail and eating establishments reflect that. In fact, there is a major mall with high end stores and restaurants along the marina, and big box stores like Costco, and Walmart are nearby. Authentic Mexican cuisine and gift shops can be found on the side streets, but not so much along the main corridors.

View from resort of Sea of Cortez

View of Sea of Cortez from resort

Cabo San Lucas has a tropical desert climate—the air is generally dry and clear (as opposed to the humid weather in the Puerto Vallarta area). Marine life is abundant, and the whale watching is the best we’ve ever seen. The whales migrating back to the Pacific Northwest after having bred in the warm waters of the Gulf of California (aka Sea of Cortez) spend a long time in the waters around Los Cabos. (Los Cabos is the name given to the area that encompasses Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo).

We were out on a small sailboat in the month of January and were literally surrounded by mama and baby whales, along with their sidekicks—the dolphins that stay nearby hoping to get a free meal. Really. We learned that dolphins follow lactating female whales so that they can literally feast of the leftovers from the babies–baby whales don’t nurse but, rather, the mama shoots milk out, and the dolphins go after what the babies miss. While visiting with friends in Los Cabos, we saw whales frolicking every morning after sunrise—it was amazing!

Arch, viewed from Sea of Cortez toward Pacific Ocean

Arch, viewed from Sea of Cortez toward Pacific Ocean

The distinctive El Arco de Cabo San Lucas is a local landmark. It is part of a rock formation that acts as an imaginary line between the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean; and the arch provides an amazing view between them. The beachfronts are beautiful, with miles of walkable sand and surf.

Arch from Pacific Ocean looking toward Baja Peninsula on Sea of Cortez

Arch from Pacific Ocean looking toward the Baja Peninsula on Sea of Cortez

Not surprisingly, many bars and cafes line the beach along the Sea of Cortez. Perhaps the most fun place to stop is a bar and restaurant called The Office—true story: business people often hang out there, some actually working, and they can honestly tell coworkers they are “at The Office.” The beaches on the Pacific side are somewhat treacherous and swimming beaches are limited.

The best part about visiting Cabo is that, despite concerns over the general safety for tourists travelling in Mexico, Los Cabos remains one of the safest tourist destinations in the world. Additionally, major highway improvements were made prior to the 2012 G20 Summit in Los Cabos, so driving through the area is much better than other parts of Mexico (that we have visited), though the drivers are just as reckless.

Beaches along Sea of Cortez looking toward Cabo San Lucas

Beaches along Sea of Cortez looking toward Cabo San Lucas from resort

Like almost all of the Baja California peninsula, San Jose del Cabo has an arid climate, with temperatures ranging from the high 60s to the mid 80s (Farenheit); the water temperatures range from the low 70s to the mid 80s. Twenty miles north of land’s end, it is low-key compared to Cabo San Lucas. According to Lonely Planet, it is like “the ‘mild’ sister of ‘wild’ Cabo San Lucas.” Like more traditional Mexican towns, it has a spacious plaza that features a beautiful church.

Iglesia San Jose

Iglesia San Jose

The downtown is lovely and traditional in appearance, with many adobe houses that have been turned into pleasant restaurants, art galleries, and gift shops. The beachfront along the Sea of Cortez, on the other hand, has been turned into a tourist zone with hotels, resorts, and high end restaurants and retail establishments. Even with that, San Jose is peaceful compared to Cabo San Lucas. We did not spend much time there in 2014, but plan to in a future visit.

Interior of church--Statue is of San Jose (St. Joseph) holding Baby Jesus)

Interior of church–Statue is of San Jose (St. Joseph) holding Baby Jesus

Todos Santos (All Saints in Spanish) is the most appealing town we visited in Baja. An hour away from Cabo San Lucas on the Pacific coast, it seems a world away, with its narrow, cobblestone streets dotted with art galleries, local craft and gift shops, and traditional as well as modern restaurants. Perhaps its foremost claim to fame is the Hotel California, which served as the inspiration for the famous beach boys song “Hotel California.” Across the street is the Tequila Sunrise Bar and Grill, also made famous in popular beach songs of the 1960s.

Hotel California, taken from entryway of Tequila Sunrise Bar and Grill

Hotel California, taken from entryway of Tequila Sunrise Bar and Grill

In 2006, it was selected by the Mexican Government to become a member of “Pueblos Magicos,” designating it as a town that possesses historical, cultural, and architectural significance. What made it most charming to us is that many of the galleries have their artists in residence so that one can meet them and observe their work. We bought a print from a young local artist whose charming wife and small children were in the gallery as well—with the woman being very friendly and informative while the kids were clearly bored and anxious to be somewhere else!

Spotte in front of a gift shop--typical Mexican way of honoring the dead

Spotted in front of a gift shop–typical Mexican way of honoring the dead

La Paz (Peace in Spanish) is the capital city of Baja California Sur. Like its neighbors to the south, it has a desert climate with average temperatures slightly cooler than Los Cabos. It. has an approximately three-mile long winding boardwalk, similar to Puerto Vallarta’s but much longer, less crowded and not quite so picturesque. We wandered around a bit and marvelled at how quiet it was compared to Puerto Vallarta.

View of Lands End formation from friends house at sunset

View of Lands End formation from friends house at sunset

View from golf course in Los Cabos

View from golf course in Los Cabos

"No Bad Days, " especially at sunset in Cabo San Lucas

“No Bad Days ” in Los Cabo, especially at sunset

This is my final “Vacationing in Mexico” post. Our next adventure is scheduled for January 2016 when we will spend 3+ weeks in Belize…stay tuned!

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