It’s been thirteen years since I last made a trip to the bottom of the Baja Peninsula of Mexico, and boy, has a lot changed in those intervening years. In, and immediately around, Cabo San Lucas, is not for everyone, and frankly I would include myself in that group. However, as fate would have it, the chilled-out spa hotel near Todos Santos my girlfriend and I had picked out for some much-needed R&R was closed due to a tragic incident which involved carbon monoxide poisoning and two guests. Not to dwell on that inauspicious precursor to our trip, our travels first took us north of Los Barilles to a little enclave near El Pescadero.
The area is pretty remote and involves treacherous night-time driving (don’t do it!), and just as treacherous day-time driving if the number of mangled crash barriers, mini landslides and roadside shrines are anything to go by. We spent a couple of nights on the coast up there with a generous friend who took great care of us, while we basically turned into vegetables for a couple of days.
The Joy of Flora Farms
First things, first, however. Immediately after deplaning, we jumped in a car and went straight to Flora Farms, which is renown for its beauty, its organic farm, including a farmstand, delicious restaurant, thirst-quenching cocktails, and tastefully curated stores. It’s home from home for the LA hipster crowd, but don’t let that put you off. The dry riverbed, aka as the main road in, may however, put you off. Driving, or for that matter, being driven, in Mexico is not for the faint of heart.
My advice? Hire a driver. The drinks at Flora Farms are phenomenal: Carrot juice and tequila, anyone? The food is incredibly well prepared and highly tasty. I loved the porchetta which was finely sliced under a bed of arugula drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice; and my dining companions were very happy with their wood-fired oven pizzas. Save some time to wander around the gardens and the property, it’s a soothing place to be.
From there, we hopped into a 4×4 for the dramatic drive up north in the fading light, which quickly turned to pitch darkness. Many of the roads are sandy, rocky, bumpy, pothole-ridden and poorly represented on Google maps. The drive was fast and hair-raising. Thankfully the previously consumed cocktails knocked the edge off our fear like a mild sedative at the dentist.
Suffice to say, we made it in one piece. Hot and humid, doesn’t do justice to the weather in July, August and September (hurricane season), so unless you’re too lazy to do the research as I was, don’t go in those months. Thankfully, the Sea of Cortez was on our doorstep, and dips in the ocean, paddle-boarding, and rinsing off in the infinity pool, helped to keep heatstroke at bay. We experienced a spectacular sunset behind the mountains while guzzling fresh margaritas and consuming a ton of fresh fruit and fish.
The Cape, Cabo San Lucas
All too soon, we headed back down to Cabo San Lucas, where the hotel group had (begrudgingly) relocated us to The Cape, a stunning homage to modern architecture juxtapositioned against the rugged beauty of the Pacific Ocean.
Among the things that have changed since I was last down this way in 2010, are the prices. Back then, a couple of hundred dollars would get you through a few days. Today, expect drinks and food to cost you more than you pay back in the U.S. Gas is about the same price as I pay at home. Decent hotels are pricey. So if you’re expecting, as I was, a cheap and cheerful Mexican vacation, (again, apparently I was too something – tired, lazy, naive – to do my research) this area isn’t the place for it.
That said, the hotel is really thoughtfully put together. Our ocean view room, had a stunning vista of the entire bay, including the famous ‘Arch’, and its various restaurants and bars did a very nice job. We enjoyed the free bottle of tequila in the room, and even more so, the tequila tasting we had at the Sunken Bar, which started out with four types of tequila, and by the end we had somehow tried at least eight varieties. My favorite, as it turned out, was the first one – a Reserva Platino in case you ever want to know what to bring me back from Mexico. Be sure to check out the sunset one night from the roof top bar – it’s spectacular.
Colorful Cabo San Jose
With more relaxation in order, we headed towards Cabo San Jose to get massages at the Cabo Surf Hotel, which is a sweet boutique property right on the coast. The spa is well worth a visit, and a little more affordable than some of the larger brand-name hotels in the area.
From there we drove just a few minutes more to the old town of San Jose. It has a picturesque square, presided over by a colorful church, and all around the streets are decked out with bright bunting that just makes your heart sing. Combined with the gorgeous cotton wares, and joyful pom poms, it’s uplifting to just wander around and take it all in.
Dinner at El Huerto, Farm-to-Table
We wrapped up our all all-too-short vacation with a final dinner in the pretty outdoor restaurant that is El Huerto. A farm-to-table dining experience under the stars, looking out over the skyline of Cabo San Lucas, it twinkles in the moonlight with winking string lights emulating the constellations up above the palm trees.
The plates are generously sized, and I recommend you go with a group of hungry friends so you can try as much of the menu as possible. The Farmers Salad was a work of art, and enough for four people at least. The Swiss chard and ricotta fritters were crunchy and incredibly filling, complete with sumac mayonnaise, so we left it at that, with the exception of some ice cream to wrap up a perfect last evening. A word to wise, don’t trust Google maps if you’re driving there. We ended up on some never-finished road going around in circles, before we eventually found it!
All in all, I really enjoyed my time back on the Baja Peninsula, although Cabo San Lucas itself, feels a bit too much “Vegas-style” for this rural girl. Look out for my next post where I’ll share details of my favorite day when we explored the route to and from Todos Santos.