Sun-dipped Los Cabos

Los Cabos is a place I’d often heard mentioned ­– the name always accompanied by soft sighs of yearning or sun-dipped memories. So, I was thrilled to get a chance to visit this much admired Mexican vacation hotspot recently. Known as Land’s End, it is located at the tip of the Baja California Sur, a 1,600 km-long peninsula that extends south of the state of California, but belongs to Mexico. Popular with west coast Americans, it has also gained traction with Canadians looking for heat, blue waters, lux hotels and mouth-watering food.

Flying into San José del Cabo International Airport from Toronto, I headed straight to Casa Dorada. Located in the heart of Médano Beach near the town of Cabo San Lucas, the hotel offered spectacular views and a shimmering pool, but I had my heart set on a swim in the sea. Quickly changing into my bathing suit I headed down to the beach and dove into the surf. The water was glorious. The Sea of Cortez separates the Baja California peninsula from the Mexico mainland and was once described by French explorer, scientist and conservationist Jacques Cousteau as the “Aquarium of the World.” The nutrient-rich waters draw a plethora of marine life including humpback whales and 900 fish species. I wasn’t there in time for the migrating whales (January-March), but from a marina dock I did spy colourful fish darting in the water and witnessed many sport fishing yachts heading out each day to catch marlin, wahoo, yellowfin tuna and dorado.

The iconic rock arch (El Arco) that juts out into the ocean on a finger of land in Cabo San Lucas Bay, not far from the beach, is where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean. This spot is also a favourite lounging platform for sea lions and you can get the best view of it from the water. I opted to catch a peek while on a sunset catamaran cruise, complete with beverages and snacks. After thrilling to the sight of a manta ray leaping out of the water, I nibbled on tortilla chips, quaffed wine and watched striking curtains of red, orange and gold light fill the sky as the sun slowly sank into the waves.

Wanting to spend a little time away from the beach, I signed up for a camel safari with Cabo Adventures. A group of us were picked up in Cabo San Lucas and driven about 45 minutes outside of town to a desert property peppered with cacti.  Our camel handler and guide, Dario Breceia, explained that the 24 animals (mostly dromedaries, but also a few two-humped camels) had been rescued from circuses and zoos. “Dromedaries come from Northern Africa and the Middle East, while camels come from Central Asia. Both species have been domesticated since ancient times. We feed them alfalfa and hay, and treats are apples, carrots and jicama,” he told us. He also noted that eight animals go out at a time and they have a rotating schedule that allows for day-on, day-off breaks between tourist rides. Before saddling up, we took a nature walk and learned about the area’s many species of cacti.  The Cardón cactus is the largest in the world, can live up to 300 years, and can grow up to forty arms. Dario also warned us about the cholla, or jumping cactus. “They don’t actually jump, but a slight touch and the barbed spines will attach themselves to you,” he explained, adding “People from Los Cabos are known as Chollarios.”

Before suiting up in a helmet covered in a Lawrence of Arabia-style head cloth, or keffiyeh, we took turns getting our photos taken with Jeffery, a sweet camel with a penchant for carrots. “Put the carrot in your mouth and he’ll take it and give you a kiss,” urged Dario. Popping the vegetable into my mouth like a cigar, I found myself nose to nose with the gentle beast, who plucked it from me and, with a satisfying crunch, swallowed it.

Our swaying, 30-minute beach ride was peaceful and calm. Los Cabos is a desert, so even though camels are not native, the whole experience did not seem out of place. Afterwards, a tequila and mescal tasting had me grimacing at the smoky-flavoured mescal, but smiling at the smooth yet fiery reposado tequila. A rib-sticking buffet meal of beans, rice, chicken, salsa, guacamole and tortillas filled out tummies before we left.

Los Cabos has a variety of eateries, from street stalls to high-end fine dining. I sampled gourmet tacos at the elegant 12 Tribes Restaurant at the Casa Dorada, dug into a tasting menu dinner with paired wines from the north Baja at Mezcal Restaurant at the five-star La Montage (Nicole Kidman has been seen there), and dug into sumptuous fresh seafood at the One & Only Palmilla. A breakfast highlight was the traditional Mexican menu at Casa del Mar, sister property to Casa Dorada, and it featured enfrijo les corn tortilla with beans, eggs, cilantro, green pepper and onions.

My favourite food was whipped up at the Flora Farms cooking class. The farm is an organic venture launched by two Californians and now includes a restaurant, gift shops and market. Our instructor had us create a creamy guacamole with rosemary, and roasted tomato salsa which we scooped up into fresh made corn tortillas. The lunch that accompanied the class included fish tacos and key lime pie and we received a small cookbook to take home.

Culture abounds in the region, if you know where to look for it. About an hour’s drive outside Los Cabos was the magical town of Todos Santos. The colonial city, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, is a magnet for artists and gallery owners. It was a joy to wander the colourful streets, talk to gallery owners and poke around the Hotel California which has nothing to do with the Eagle’s famous tune. Instead, it is dedicated to local artists and its walls hang with bright, evocative works.

The other town I enjoyed exploring was San José del Cabo. The central plaza was ringed with exquisite shops filled with unique silver creations. For a quick caffeine pick-me-up, I stopped into Coffee Lab. Tucked into a back laneway, it offered finely roasted concoctions from different regions in Mexico, plus a rich, aromatic cold brew that was just right for the warm climate.

Now that I’ve returned to Canada, whenever someone asks me about Los Cabos, I answer with a yearning sigh. My sun-dipped memories glow hot on a cold winter’s day.

Photos and text: Maureen Littlejohn

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