I travel a lot, but it had been too long since I took a beach vacation. But when opportunity knocked, I opened the door! With cheap nonstop flights from Frontier Airlines out of Denver to Cabo, it was my chance. My first vacation in two years was a wonderful traditional beach vacation. I took advantage of all the great things Cabo has to offer, and, as usual, I wanted to share tips with the world. So, here's my destination guide to Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico!
The Beaches and Waters of Cabo
"Los Cabos" reside on the southern tip of a peninsula with the mighty Pacific to the west and the Gulf of California to the east. This results in a unique set of beaches stretching out to "Land's end," at the very tip of Baja California. The water is clear and cool, and the coarse tan-colored sand reflects turquoise in the shallow depths. Cabo San Lucas also has great snorkeling and scuba diving, and it was nicknamed "the world's aquarium" by Jacques Cousteau.
Cabo's beaches have a unique feel, with strong currents, cooler-than-tropical water temperatures, and high salinity. The "standable" shallow beach depths usually only go out about 20 meters until the slope creates a "borderline too tall to stand area" for a 6-foot person just past point break. This setup results in concentrated and powerful rhythmic waves instead of a drone of smaller waves coming and going at the same time. Cabo San Lucas has several beaches that are all different and isolated from each other. San Jose del Cabo has just one long beach with powerful waves that are too dangerous for casual swimming, but ok for daredevils, surfers, or those looking for a mindful awareness exercise with risk.
My Toalla Cape
I came to Cabo without a beach towel, figuring I could find one at a souvenir shop. Strangely, it was almost impossible to find one on my first day, but I ended up with an even better solution. I went to a fabric store and had them cut me off two meters of towel material so I ended up with a perfect towel that was also big enough to be my beach blanket and sunblock as I walked the streets as a bum in high sun. It also made for a nice towel cape for me to look like a homeless superhero.
Cabo San Lucas has countless restaurants. There are so many that it would be easy to eat at a different one for every meal and not even scratch the surface. As such, my experience was limited, but overall, I found the prices to be on par with bigger American cities. You could find some deals at local Mexican joints, but the tourist spots far outnumbered them. The average was around $15-$20 for lunch and $30 for a big dinner -- not great. I even once paid $3 for a side of rice at an Indian place! I'd had some amazing 'high end' meals traveling through interior Mexico, but the places in Cabo were just a shadow of the quality at much higher prices. By the end of my trip, I started to get used to the style of the food, which appeared at first glance to be high-end fine dining, but actually seemed to be mass-produced, yet a step above Sysco quality. But there were a few gems. Most notable is the seafood -- Cabo is surrounded on 3 sides by water, so you can find some great sushi, shellfish, and "catch of the day." I also stumbled into Taqueria Las Guacamayas one day in San Lucas, and I liked it's tourist-friendly blend of traditional Mexican fare.
An awesome Hike in San Lucas
I would highly recommend taking a hike to the top of Mount Solmar (aka "Pirate's Overlook) at the edge of town. It's a little weird at first to get there because it's on private property and there's a fence and gate with dogs behind it you have to enter, but the owner is really nice and welcomes tourists to hike to the top. It's definitely a mountain hike, and, while I did it with Crocs and a friend did it with sandals, hiking shoes would be helpful, especially if you decide to take your life into your hands (as I did) and hike down the back-side of the mountain to Lover's Beach. That had some tense moments of technical climbing in the ravine along the sharp rocks, and I wouldn't recommend it, but I did it anyway. Either way though, going to the top of the hill and back down on the "town side" is very safe and absolutely worth your time and energy!
The airport is about 30 minutes from San Jose and 45 minutes from San Lucas. I spent 5 nights in San Lucas and my last 2 nights in San Jose (so I'd be closer to the airport at the end). Many people recommend renting a car for the trip. I didn't have one, but I met a dude who did, so it came in handy to get between San Lucas and San Jose; otherwise, I think the bus is easy, and walking is do-able both within San Lucas as well as San Jose. To get to and from the airport, you can also take the bus, but I booked a shuttle with TransCabo, and this was super easy.
Unlike flights, the hotels in the area are not cheap. Beachfront will set you back several hundred dollars a night, and even the cheapest hotels in town are about $60. Traveling solo, I ended up staying in hostels in both towns which I found on Hostelworld. Neither was particularly great or terrible, so I'll leave them out here, but when you look, consider if you would rather stay in a "quiet" place or a "party" place because Cabo San Lucas can be a party city, especially during Spring Break, which is when I was there.
The party vibe is apparent in Cabo San Lucas (less so in San Jose). Tourists proudly walk the streets with open containers; kids are partying on Medano Beach with loud music during spring break; and the restaurants have deals on dollar beers and cheap margaritas. Mexican dudes constantly approach tourists walking the harbor or sitting on the beaches, letting us know that they can find us "anything we want," including sun hats, blankets, counterfeit cuban cigars, Mexican marijuana, and even harder drugs. I wasn't looking for any of it, but I was offered a lot. Of course, if you decide to take them up on it, be mindful. I saw Federales shaking down some kids on the beach for weed, going so far as to smell their fingers before kicking them off the beach.