If you are new to Cabo San Lucas—or simply Cabo, as it is often known—it will not take you long to get your bearings. Just remember, Cabo is at the very southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, so the water from town is always south. The distinctive sea arches at Land's End are to the southwest. If you see land ahead of you it has to be east or north; check where the water is and you will know for sure. The airport is north of San Jose Del Cabo (which, together with Cabo San Lucas, makes up the area called Los Cabos) and by taking Mexican Hwy 1, you can travel from San Jose to the west and 20 miles to Cabo San Lucas. As the highway enters town it becomes Lazaro Cardenas. This primary street meets Boulevard Marina at the Marina area and ends there, branching into many other streets. The resident population here is only 40,000, so the city is not very large. It is however, confusing. Don't be surprised when addresses have no numbers. Unlike other cities, locations here have only street names. If you stop for directions, ask for place names that are near what you seek, it increases your chances of spotting the place and the locals rarely pay attention to street names. Now that you know how to find your way around, you will want to know what you can do and where you can find the most popular attractions.
Although Cabo is a relatively new vacation scene, having become popular during the last 20-30 years, its reputation as a fun vacation spot is well deserved. There are significant communities that have developed throughout the city, and each is special for different reasons. The Pacific Ocean to the west borders the Playa Solmar , where there are three large resorts of impressive quality. Each of them ( Hotel Finisterra , Solmar Suites , Terra Sol Beach Resort ) is a community in its own right, but the fine dining options provided are open to the public. Use dinner reservations as an excuse to check out the facilities, even if you are not staying there. To the east of this (and towards downtown) is the Pedregal Hills area. Commonly referred to as "the exclusive community district", this gated community houses many U.S. citizens and offers beautiful views. Pedegral Villas , for example, has 24 exclusive suites in a gorgeous seaside setting.
Heading to the east, you will arrive in the downtown area. Split into two sections, one of these, the block adjacent to the marina, is considered the marina district, while the rest is considered downtown. These separate areas within the town center have different characters and attractions despite their proximity. The marina leaves no doubt that this is, and always has been, a fishing village. It is charming, offers more interaction with locals, and provides a more authentic experience of a Mexican city. The downtown area represents an unrivaled tourist center.
Downtown is chock-full of wild bar scenes and restaurants with pizazz and a great partying atmosphere (try the Stop Light Bar & Grill ). This district is almost exclusively filled with tourists in places such as Latitude 22+ and Sammy Hagar's Cabo Wabo Cantina . The shops downtown are upscale, with galleries and silver studios like Magic of the Moon and Taxco Silver .
In contrast, the marina district holds the local handicrafts market filled with local crafts and traditional Mexican items. This district also has some of the older seafood restaurants like El Shrimp Bucket , which has appealed to locals for many years and provides simple, reasonably priced shrimp meals. A surprise is in store for any tourist if they move several blocks north after walking through the downtown's sparkling streets and exclusive boutiques. The first-world polish is nowhere to be seen and the life here is one of dusty rutted roads and simple shacks held together with baling wire. Pop into one of the tiny mercados (markets) here and experience the friendliness of the people, particularly if you make an earnest attempt at their language.
East of downtown is the ultra-popular, safe swimming Medano Beach . One of the primary party zones, it offers beachside drinks and dining, constant activity (water sports, horse rides and more), fun in the sun, and some extremely posh resorts. From the informal beachside restaurant The Office to Bella California , this district is a wide mix of people, activities and dining opportunities. Shopping ranges from the constant stream of beach vendors to the high priced gift shops located in the up-market hotels.
The last of the districts, going east on Highway 1, is the Corridor. This is the thoroughfare to San Jose and it spans the 20 miles between the two cities. Growth really began in Cabo when this road was finished in the 1970s. Then, in 1990, the area was opened up to development and the boom of resorts began. A wealth of resorts and golf courses attract those searching to get away from the city commotion and onto the greens that are only steps from your door. With rooms starting at MXN 22.000 a night (plus the restaurant and shopping privileges that accompany them), this area caters mostly to the elite traveler who has little concern for costs. For more penny wise vacationers, the Corridor offers several beautiful beaches with snorkel and diving locations such as the Santa Maria Beach .
Before you are ready to enjoy yourself in this beautiful vacation paradise, however, there are a few warnings. Remember that not all beaches are swim-friendly. Because Land's End marks the division between the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean, there is a great force of water spewing around this point and into the Cabo area. Double check before you jump in anywhere. Undertow warnings should be posted wherever there is danger. Don't ignore them.
Another warning regards food and water. Remember that not all the water is purified here. “Montezuma's Revenge,” the lighthearted name for stomach illness, is just as prevalent here as it is in the rest of Mexico, so take precautions. Being extra careful never made anyone lose two days in bed while on vacation. Part of the problem comes when food is not prepared with purified water. Remember this when you are tempted to try quick vendor fare along the streets of downtown. In addition, ice in your drinks can be dangerous (unless the water was boiled before it was frozen); and salads, fruit without peels and other items may have been rinsed in unpurified water. A good rule is: if you're not sure, don't ingest it. Bottled water is available in stores around town and most large resorts. It is not insulting to ask at a restaurant or hotel if the water is purified: many will have signs openly stating their policy on water.
With those simple caveats out of the way, it is time to enjoy Cabo San Lucas.
Long a home to sunshine fun, Cabo is gaining respect for a sophisticated new dining scene that has exploded in the area. The Mexican government opened the area to development in 1990, bringing some exceptional restaurants along with the new resorts. Increasing tourism has also led to the opening of many new restaurants downtown, and a greater variety in the Cabo dining experience.
Whatever your dining decisions, the restaurant experience in Cabo promises to be memorable and offers plenty of variation. The combination of flourishing seafood markets, vacation wonderland environment, activities that will leave you famished and an ambiance that is both romantic and stimulating guarantees that you will enjoy Cabo's gastronomical delights.
Nearly every place in town offers fresh seafood, purchased from the fish market each day, and fresh in Cabo means it was still swimming that morning! One popular seafood location in the downtown area is Mariscos Mocambo . Housed in a large palapa, dining is available either indoors or outside. Much loved by those who like seafood but not its typically high price, most meals cost less than MXN85.
It is not surprising that the most successful of older eateries are good, down-home Mexican restaurants. In the downtown area and across from the town square is Mi Casa Restaurant & Cantina , which is a favorite with locals and tourists alike. Originally a church, this is a colorful location with brightly painted walls and a courtyard dining area. Recognized for its traditional dishes, the quality and quantity of its portions are superb. As you wait for your entree, nibble on a poblano pepper filled with seafood or try some tiny tamales. Watch as the house tortillas are pressed and cooked in the courtyard. Candles are lit at each table as daylight wanes. Relax and listen to the four-person mariachi band (Friday to Sunday during the winter season).
Marina -side, Seafood Mama's is a romantic choice for seafood lovers, and offers a delightful view of the Sea of Cortez. Brasil Steakhouse , a newcomer to the dining scene, yet a welcoming and festive downtown location that offers an all-you-can-eat, sit-down dinner. It begins with appetizers of hot chicken wings, soup of the day, three types of salads and other treats. Then, waiters bring grilled meats such as New York steak, BBQ ribs, chicken, fillet mignon and eight other meat choices. The traditional Brazilian drink Caipirinha, is recommended; this is the only spot in Cabo you will find it. The garden-like dining room is decorated with plants and fountains.
Another seafood location downtown is Peacock's Bar and Restaurant . Since 1989 this back patio dining room has been head-and-shoulders above many of its competitors. Part of its success is due to more than 30 varieties of appetizers. Try the seafood stuffed eggplant (MXN50) or Mexican-style escargots (MXN75). Keep your appetite in check though, because the seared yellow fin tuna (MXN140) or Blackened Cabrilla (MXN150) is on its way. Peacock's also offers duck, leg of lamb, New York steaks and much more.
Savor the salt air along with your margarita at one of the many beachside restaurants such as The Office . Whether the sun is coming up or going down, you can almost always find a bite to eat here. While the food is good, the location right on Medano Beach is outstanding. If you are looking for something more up-market, go to Edith's , just a half-block away. This lovely outdoor patio restaurant has linen-draped tables, a fine wine selection and a view of Land's End . Fresh salsas and tortillas complement the many seafood specials and grilled entrees. While you dine, a live jazz band plays softly in the background. If you are tired of seafood, try the steak seared at the outside mesquite grill (MXN275), or a chicken or pasta entree. If you aren't, (and why should you be?), there are excellent lobster, shrimp and fish dishes also.
Just several blocks away from the beach is a romantic dining experience. Casa Rafael's offers three dining rooms to choose from for your dinner party: the Ocean Room with tropical fish in a huge aquarium; the Garden Room set in a lush jungle-like garden; and a poolside dining area around an open-air pool deck. One of Cabo's widest selections in wine and fine liquors is available here; you are sure to find the proper accompaniment for your meal. Each selection from its menu is made-to-order, so substitutions and special requests are welcomed. After dinner, head to the Piano Bar or Cigar Room for a drink. Reservations are a must and the sooner made, the better.
Heading out of the city and down the Cabo Corridor toward San Jose gives you the option of some of the more recent additions to the restaurant scene. The only businesses along this route are the hotels and their respective restaurants. At the Villa Del Palmar , just outside Cabo, the Bella California provides an unforgettable romantic dining experience. Be sure to make reservations early and ask for a beachside table. It offers impeccable service and a clever combination of flavors from its eclectic menu; many fresh seafood entrees are available. Down the Corridor about six miles (ten kilometers) farther is a well-known favorite, Pitahayas , part of the Hacienda Del Mar hotel that also offers beachside dining. It boasts an underground wine cellar and a mix of native spices used in its Pacific Rim-style cuisine. Reservations and formal dress are strongly encouraged at this fine dining venue. A less formal experience with an equally impressive view can be had at the cliff-top Villa Serena .
Since World War II, when pilots spotted huge fish from their planes off Baja's southern tip, Cabo has been a fishing hotspot of steadily growing importance. Fishing is now one of the largest revenue generators for the city, thanks in part to great fishing grounds and to major tournaments like the Bisbee's Black & Blue Marlin Jackpot Tournament , with prizes of more than USD 2 million.
If you have come for the fishing, you will have many options to choose from. One of the most recommended operators is the Pisces 20 sport fishing company; its boat took first prize in 1996 and 1997 at the Cabo San Lucas Gold Cup Fishing Tournament. Since the early 1980s it has offered guide and boat services to avid fishermen and women around the world. You may opt for a 28-foot or a 31-foot boat and then choose between all-inclusive trips or semi-inclusive trips. Another local tour company, the Solmar Fleet , offers a wide variety of boats, long and short range trips and other options available. Trip prices start at MXN2750 for up to three people, or MXN7100 for up to eight people. Be sure to ask for your hotel desk for recommended guides and boats.
A completely different style of fishing involves no planning and little cost. Head to the marina district or the Medano Beach and signal one of the locals or pangaros sitting by a boat filled with fishing gear. While the biggest marlin and tuna are at fishing grounds 10 miles further south than these small boats will go, the guides will take you to out into the bay with its abundant grouper, yellowtail, snapper and other fish. If you have your own gear, or can rent some, so much the better, as these small operations don't always have the best equipment. Or, do as the locals do and just fish from the beaches or the Cannery piers for free. Amazing catches can be pulled from these shallow waters.
Water Adventures & Activities
Although some Cabo veterans might disagree, there is more to life than fishing. Fortunately, there are plenty of other tours and activities available for the active, semi-active or inactive person. If you are a water person, consider the snorkel or scuba tours offered by Sun Rider , Tio Sports , or Baja Sports. Each company takes guests to the Santa Maria Beach for clear water and fish viewing off the reef there. Some snorkel trips and scuba diving trips go to Lover's Beach where there are many hot spots. Scuba is also very popular at the Cabo Pulmo Beach at 22 miles (36 kilometers) east of Cabo. Most of the operators can offer classes that will certify you in scuba within several days.
Cruises provide a relaxing view of the bay and of the city from a different angle. From a fully-restored 19th-century Pirate Ship to glass-bottomed boats to catamarans, each offers something unique. A 45-minute ride in a glass-bottomed boat (MXN75) is one of the best values. Seas permitting, it will take you out to Lover's Beach, around the corner from Land's End , and offers an interesting view of what lies beneath the surface while you travel. The Pez Gato catamaran offers a sunset cruise that includes all you can drink in the price. For two hours you get unlimited margaritas and a lovely view of the city and bay at sunset (MXN330). The Pez Gato also offers a "romantic-style" cruise available with less partying but more class. If you are in Cabo between January and March, be sure to look out for migrating whales. Many cruise tour companies offer whale-watching excursions. With binoculars, you may also be able to see the whales from shore.
If you seek a more adrenaline-filled day, try a jet ski rental or some water skiing from either Juancho's or Tio Sports. Also for the adventurer (but possibly the couch potato, too), the parasailing offered is a beautiful way to see the expanded Cabo horizon from high above the water. You don't even have to get wet. Typical charges are MXN330 to 440 for an eight to ten minute ride. Juancho's and Baja Sports both offer reasonable pricing and services from Medano Beach .
If you are not a water person, you may want to take a walking tour of town. Park at the marina (it provides a large parking lot for visitors at no charge) then walk two blocks north to the town square on Avenue Cabo San Lucas, to begin your tour. This area is filled with park benches and shade trees around a flat stone patio. You could stop here for a quick picnic before you start out. Take some time to look around; the plaza is bordered by the new Museo de las Californias , colorful Mexican store fronts, restaurants such as Mi Casa and Pancho's Restaurant . Here you will find the closest thing to a traditional Mexican atmosphere in this resort town.
As you return to the marina, keep your eyes open for the historic Iglesia de San Lucas , which was built in the 1740s. This mission church is between Calle Madero and Zapata streets, on Avenida Cabo San Lucas and is the oldest building in the city. Walking back to the marina, you can see the Cannery piers off to your right, which are the only still functioning remains from the tuna fishing era of the 1930s. Go straight ahead with the marina on your right and the shops and restaurants to your left. There is a lovely boardwalk that passes by the Handicrafts Market (open daily) then circles the downtown district from the waterside. You will be amazed at how many countries are represented in the harbor below you (the home ports are listed below the ship's names).
From there, you can choose to do a wide, complete circle and explore the downtown, winding back to the marina and your car, or you may continue on to the Medano Beach , which is also called "hotel row" due to its abundance of hotel and resorts lined next to each other. One experience that you should not miss is a few moments at the umbrella-covered, patio-style tables on Medano Beach. Waiters from The Office restaurant will bring you whatever you would like to drink or eat, while you sit back and soak up the view of this beautiful bay and the arches at Land's End .
Horseback & ATV rides
Looking for something with a faster pace? Check out the horseback riding on the beach or the many tours offered throughout the area, such as the Red Rose Riding Stables. Or try an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) tour. This typically costs around MXN500 for one person or MXN715 for two people per machine. Sergio's Rentals has one of the best safety records in this higher risk activity. For safety purposes, they take only small groups on tours when navigating downtown traffic. One of the most interesting horse and ATV tours (and the longest) will take you to the old town of La Candelaria, a shipwreck site and the ruins of El Faro de Cabo Falso , an 1890 lighthouse.
Nearly all of the active sports will include waivers of responsibility. While the typical tour operator will have your safety as their top priority, it never hurts to ask for references from people within your hotel. This is a fun-loving town with lots to do. There will be no shortage of tours presented to you that you will enjoy thoroughly, no matter how crazy, or cautious, you are.