Magazine article Sunset

Cabo Grows Up

Magazine article Sunset

Cabo Grows Up

Article excerpt

No longer just a sportfishing paradise or haven for college-break revelers, Baja's Los Cabos has come of age as an international resort

Most of us have played that game where everyone picks a food, record, or movie they would want to have with them if they were stranded on a desert island. Today the more relevant question might be: Just where is this desert island anyway, and how do I go about getting stuck there?

Los Cabos, at the tip of Mexico's Baja peninsula, is not an island. But surrounded as it is by ocean on three sides and desert on the fourth, Los Cabos has the right combination of arid land and tropical seas to fool you into thinking it is.

Los Cabos is not an isolated paradise, either, what with its proliferation of condos marketed to Americans, its very own Planet Hollywood, and a veritable fleet of self-labeled booze cruises to the trademark arches at Land's End.

But as the area grows, Los Cabos is beginning to deliver on the promise of the desert-island fantasy. Or to paraphrase a song that a lot of people have said they would take to their island, you can't always get what you want, but if you try the concierge, you just might find, you'll get what you need.

That's increasingly true, as several major five-star resorts like the new Las Ventanas al Paraiso have opened (a Ritz-Carlton is on the way), and classic spots like the Hotel Palmilla have been updated to meet the expectations of upscale Los Cabos visitors.

When the Palmilla opened in 1956, there was no Los Cabos; that name is a product of marketing, born of the need to bring Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo under one palapa - but the nickname Cabo stuck.

In those days, San Lucas and San Jose were just a couple of small fishing villages separated by miles of desert and sea. They were as remote as two places at the tip of a skinny, 1,000-mile-long peninsula could be, as John Steinbeck noted when he visited the cape region in 1940 on a marine expedition that he describes in The Log From the Sea of Cortez:

"The night was extremely dark when we rounded the end; the great tall rocks called 'The Friars' were blackly visible.... The searchlight on our deckhouse seemed to be sucked up by the darkness.... In the morning the black mystery of the night was gone and the little harbor was shining and warm. The tuna cannery against the gathering rocks of the point and a few houses along the edge of the beach were the only habitations visible."

Probably the most salient part of Steinbeck's observation was his mention of the tuna cannery, because it was fishing that first put Cabo on the map.

That's how the Palmilla was born. It was geared to a high-end Hollywood crowd that came to Cabo for some of the best sailfish and marlin fishing in the world - not to mention dorado and yellowtail. In those days, movie stars and other notables reached the resort by private plane or yacht.

The Palmilla is still a place of desert-island living without hardship. And in spite of additions and renovations to the property, that shipwrecked-in-the-lap-of-luxury feeling has not changed. In the morning, you pull back the blinds to reveal a balcony overlooking a glassy azure sea. Gorgeous sandstone boulders run along the empty beach. You pinch yourself, realize you're not asleep, and conclude that dreaming is a big waste of time when you can be awake and have all of this.

For decades, such sensations awaited only the very wealthy or the adventurous. In 1973, Mexico Highway 1 helped open things up, but it wasn't until the mid-1980s that Cabo began to take off. By the end of the decade, thanks in part to major investments by the Mexican government, new hotels had opened, airline schedules had stabilized, and Cabo became a major tourist destination, right up there with Cancun. The opening of nightspots like Cabo Wabo helped earn Cabo San Lucas a reputation as a gringo party town, although Cabo veterans say that the characterization is not entirely fair. …

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