The Three Faces of Los Cabos

Tell somebody you’re headed to Cabo, and chances are the immediate image is of sun, sand and surf followed by wild spring-break nights highlighted by cable TV. Well, it’s true … but only if your destination is Cabo San Lucas, the community rising out of the desert at the southern tip of Baja, where the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean meet.

This is the renowned Cabo of postcards, with its famed arch, cruise ship dockings and no-holds-barred drinking binges that last long into the night amid loud and raucous music. It’s spring-break nirvana for college kids. Ah, but there’s much more to Los Cabos (the capes).

Some 20 kilometers to the north, the quaint community of San Jose del Cabo, which sits midway between San Lucas and the international airport, hugs a quiet estuary. This 200-year-old community, with its narrow cobbled streets, bright flowers and friendly natives, is quintessential Mexico – highlighted by the ancient church steeples rising from the plaza.

Walking the safe streets of San Jose at night is a step back in time, save for the concrete, art galleries and wide variety of restaurants ranging from Thai and Italian to authentic Mexican. The common thread: Peace and quiet, except for the occasional jake brake on a passing dump truck.

The beach is accessible, especially on the south end of the wildlife-dotted estuary, where several all-inclusive hotels – meaning one price buys lodging, meals, drinks and recreational activities – bump up against the daily workaday of San Jose. The main street in town has low-pressure vendors whose prices are reasonable. But don’t be afraid to get off the beaten track. Surprises await around every corner, including the modestly elegrant and spotless El Encanto Inn, where sunbathers read books and embrace the quiet with classical music playing in the background. Prices range from $80 to $160 per night, and all are charming.

The Corridor is a surfer’s paradise and sun worshipper’s heaven, but be ready to spend. Groups can get into some all-inclusive hotels, such as the Royal Solaris, for as little as $115 per person per night, but you can spend much more.
One exclusive hotel after another overlooks the Sea of Cortez, with breathtaking sunrises and gentle sunsets. Golf courses snake between buildings and roads, some costing triple digits to play, others as low as $18. Bring lots of sun screen, and go between November and April. Otherwise, it’s hot and surprisingly humid, and in August you might find yourself in a hurricane.

Be sure to take a side trip to the artsy community of Todos Santos on the cooler Pacific side, and check into the Hotel California … where you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. (Actually, rooms are no longer available there, but there is a bar, and you can almost hear the words to the Eagles’ tune, though native locals are adamant that the song isn’t about this hotel).

Other suggestions:

* Swim in the Sea of Cortez with care, and don’t bother with the Pacific. Both have dangerous tides and undertows; the Sea of Cortez is warmer.

* Don’t waste a day going to La Paz. The government city takes forever to navigate, and the pier is only moderately interesting, even if it is Steinback country.

Best tip: Pick the location that suits you best, and dabble in the other areas to get the entire Los Cabos experience.

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