JOURNEYS

The Best of Los Cabos

Two boats sail through a rock formation on the beach.

At the southernmost tip of the Baja California peninsula, Los Cabos is a dramatic desert destination that offers a double dose of Mexico’s biggest draws. Los Cabos is actually two very different towns with a stretch of beautiful coastline connecting them. San José del Cabo, at the area’s eastern end, retains its colonial charm and sleepy atmosphere while 20 miles to the southwest is the lively port of Cabo San Lucas, its harbor filled with yachts and fishing boats and lined with bustling bars and restaurants.

The sharp contrast between them makes this an ideal destination with something to appeal to every traveler, or even the same traveler on different days. John Clifford of International Travel Management, a member of the AFAR Travel Advisory Council, has designed an itinerary that will introduce travelers to the best of the many aspects of Los Cabos. His trip includes not just the area’s two principal towns, but also the artists’ colony of Todos Santos, the desert island of Espiritu Santo, and Cabo Pulmo National Park. You’ll have opportunities to swim with whale sharks, or spot some of the many whale species that gather here: California gray, humpback, and blue whales—the world’s largest, measuring almost 100 feet. On dry land, the desert landscape includes some of the world’s tallest cacti and, on the other end of the spectrum, Xantus’s hummingbirds, measuring just 3 inches. At the end of a day, you can taste the flavors of Baja at restaurants serving dishes created with produce grown on organic farms just feet from your table, or learn from a local chef how to create typical Mexican dishes. From natural wonders to local culture, John Clifford leads travelers to all the highlights.

A whale

TRIP HIGHLIGHT

Swim with the Whale Sharks

If your visit falls between October and March, John Clifford can arrange for an unforgettable snorkeling excursion. Each year the world’s largest fish, whale sharks, winter in the waters near La Paz. Don a mask and snorkel, and swim alongside these so-called gentle giants. Don’t worry, these sharks subsist on plankton and there’s no need to fear them.
John Clifford!

TRIP DESIGNER

John Clifford

For the more than 30 years that John has been a travel advisor and self-proclaimed Global Nomad, he has followed his passion for seeking out stylish stays, secret spaces, and connecting travelers with local insiders who can really open doors. John is also an expert in design and boutique hotels, exotic international travel, and he is a certified Lifestyle Specialist in Gay/LGBT and Luxury Travel. Having visited over 95 countries, his expertise spans most of Europe, Argentina, Costa Rica, Mexico, Southeast Asia, and Australia & New Zealand, among other destinations.
A whale breaches

DAY 1Arrive in Los Cabos

After you land at the Los Cabos airport, served by direct flights from a number of US cities, pick up a rental car and head to your hotel. Clifford suggests two different resorts for your stay.

The Resort at Pedregal is a luxury option that manages to be at once at the center of the action and yet also removed from the crowds. A kilometer-long (0.6-mile) tunnel connects the resort at its cliff-top and oceanfront location to the heart of Cabo San Lucas. Rooms are a mix of rich finishes and minimalist design with the smallest starting at an impressive 900 square feet; all have private terraces and plunge pools.

Those seeking a modern, vibrant, “Millennial-Minded” getaway, should consider the brand new, The Cape, A Thompson Hotel, an edgy resort that has become a favorite of younger travelers. A mix of New York chic and Malibu swagger, this design darling attracts a youthful clientele with its high-end, urban edge. All 161 rooms have expansive water views and with options as large as three-room villas, it is a great place for a group celebration, albeit if you are traveling with a young crew. At just 15 minutes from downtown Cabo San Lucas and 25 minutes from San José, its location makes it a convenient base to explore the area.

After you have checked in at your hotel, start your visit with a walk along the beach or a massage—both hotels have impressive spa facilities. Or you can spend the afternoon snorkeling, windsurfing or enjoying time on one of the region’s many beaches, like Playa Medano near downtown Cabo San Lucas.

In the evening you’ll try your hand at creating some of Mexico’s signature dishes—ceviches, tamales, or moles—at a cooking class with the chefs at the Resort at Pedregal. After dinner at the resort, head into town for a post-dinner cocktail at one of the local watering holes like Common Table or Barometro.
The sun sets over cacti in the desert

DAY 2Todos Santos

Today you’ll drive an hour north from Cabo San Lucas to the artists’ colony of Todos Santos. The town has a long history, dating back to the establishment of a mission here in 1724, though it was abandoned in the 1840s. The city’s second act as a center of sugar cultivation came to an end once the local aquifers were depleted. Today, however, Todos Santos is enjoying yet another renaissance with its artists’ studios and as a surfing mecca.

Enjoy lunch at La Santena, a café and cantina at the Hotel Casa Tota with sidewalk seating so you can take in the Todos Santos scene while sipping a tequila. Afterwards explore the town’s dozen or so art galleries. Make sure to stop by the Centro Cultural Nestor Agundez Martinez, a small museum that covers the history of town and also has some noteworthy murals from the 1930s. (It’s also located just two blocks from the Hotel California, immortalized in the Eagles song.)

Before the arrival of the Spanish, the southern tip of Baja California was home to two indigenous people, the Guaycura and Pericú. Disease devastated both peoples and by the 19th century, they were culturally extinct. One of the last Guaycura communities was in Todos Santos and ancient petroglyphs can be found near the town. Most of these are on private ranches, but John Clifford can arrange for a guide who is an expert on the Guaycura people-and is also friendly with the owners of these ranches-to lead you to these millennia-old drawings of deer, fish, and rabbits.

Return to Cabos, where you will have dinner at Huerta Los Tamarindos, a restaurant and organic farm located across a small estuary from San José del Cabo. Whether you choose the fish of the day, chiles rellenos, or roasted goat, you’ll know that the produce you are served is grown literally steps from your table.
A long table set up on a stone terrace

DAY 3A Day on the Water

Today is all about the sea. John Clifford will arrange for an excursion out to El Arco, the iconic rock formation that sits at the land’s end of the Baja Peninsula. Over the course of the day, you’ll have chances to snorkel and try your hand at deep-sea fishing, returning to town before sunset.

From October through March, there are also opportunities to swim with whale sharks that gather in the waters off of La Paz and around the island of Espíritu Santo. These “gentle giants” are the world’s largest fish—measuring more than 40 feet in length—and while they are sharks, they are filter feeders subsisting on plankton and are harmless to humans. From December through March, you’ll also have opportunities to spot whales in the waters off of Los Cabos. Just as travelers from the United States head to Baja when temperatures drop at home, hundreds of whales winter in the waters around Los Cabos and in the Sea of Cortez. Eight of the world’s 11 whale species, including blue, fin, and humpback whales, can be spotted on excursions. Pelagic Life is a notable nonprofit offering these types of immersive aquatic excursions off La Paz and helping preserve the biodiversity of Mexico’s open ocean.

After your day on the water, you’ll return for a dinner with a spectacular setting and ocean views. El Farallon sits beneath the cliffs at the Resort at Pedregal with a large patio overlooking the sea. Chef Gustavo Pinet’s Ocean to Table menu features the best of the fish pulled from the sea each day, with a choice of ceviches, shrimp, octopus, and grilled fish.
A scuba diver takes a video of a massive swarm of fish from the ocean floor.

DAY 4Explore the Aquarium of the World

Jacques Cousteau once call the Sea of Cortez the “aquarium of the world” given its remarkable biodiversity. Your excursion today to the Cabo Pulmo National Park on the Eastern Cape will make it clear what he meant. Just 60 miles north of San José del Cabo, the park is rife with home marine animals—dolphins, sea lions, several species of sea turtles, as well as important, if less photogenic, algae and mollusks. More than 200 different species of fish have been recorded on the park’s reefs.

You’ll explore Cabo Pulmo on a small boat, with your guide taking you to the best snorkeling and dive sites.

After your day beneath the water, you’ll return to your hotel and have time to relax and get ready for a final farewell dinner to Los Cabos. Acre sits on 25 acres of farm just outside San José del Cabo. The contemporary restaurant makes sustainability stylish, with impressive earth walls and furnishings and tableware sourced locally. Salads here are literally farm fresh, while mains include charred octopus, fish tacos, and the catch of the day, as well as burgers and other options for carnivores.
Gourmet meat on a plate with a delicate drizzle.

DAY 5San José del Cabo

Spend the morning of your last day exploring the charming town of San José del Cabo. After a scenic drive along the stunning Eastern Cape Road take a stroll around Plaza Mijares. The town’s church presides over the main square, which is shaded by jacaranda trees and lined with boutiques and cafes. There are also a dozen galleries in town, representing artists from Mexico and around the world. Peruse the works by some of the country’s top contemporary artists at Patricia Mendoza Art Gallery and pottery inspired by the Paquime archaeological site in northern Mexico at the Mata Ortiz Pottery Gallery.

Enjoy your last meal in Mexico, at least until your next visit, at Mi Cocina. Chef Loic Tenoux prepares excellent ceviches, tacos and tostadas, though his European-Mexican menu also includes pastas and grilled steaks.

After lunch, head to the airport, a 20-minute drive north, for your flight back home.