Luxury resorts and world-class restaurants are changing the landscape of Los Cabos, Mexico.
By Steve Zepezauer
Make no mistake; there are still plenty of places to party in Cabo San Lucas. For many years that was its calling card, with epitomical places such as Cabo Wabo Cantina, The Giggling Marlin and El Squid Roe, to name a few. But Cabo has matured from its adolescent days of upside-down tequila shots and two-for-one Jell-O shooters, though you can still get those if you want. This magical place at the southern tip of Baja, California, has not only rebounded from a devastating hurricane in 2014 and years of negative publicity about Mexico being unsafe for travelers—previous travel warnings about Mexico have hampered tourism destinations despite the fact that these areas remained largely safe—it is thriving and growing at an unprecedented pace.
The once exclusive refuge for those wanting to get off the grid in this quiet fishing village came to tourism prominence shortly after Fonatur, Mexico’s national trust for the promotion of tourism, helped put the area on the global map. With an airport built in 1984 and the formidable Mexican tourism-marketing machine developing the area and selling the destination, it wasn’t long before the Cabo that most of us came to know as a year-round spring break destination was born. In recent years, however, the area has been going through a rapid metamorphosis, and now Cabo San Lucas (and the whole Los Cabos area) is showing every sign of becoming one of the world’s new luxury travel spots.
Your Room Is Ready
There are many ways to define luxury, but there’s no denying that the quality and sheer number of swanky developments either already in existence or coming soon to the Los Cabos region is world-class. It’s easy to understand what attracts them to the area. From the quaint cobblestone streets of the authentic Mexican town of San Jose del Cabo to the much more high-spirited Cabo San Lucas, travelers can choose their pace. Then there’s the natural beauty and geography of the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula. With the desert and mountains melting into the waters where the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez converge at Land’s End, it’s truly a unique and magical setting. Add in an updated and efficient international airport no more than 40 minutes away from any of the resorts lining the 20-mile shoreline from San Jose del Cabo to Cabo San Lucas, known as the Corridor, and the stage is set for a new chapter of unprecedented growth. Some of the resorts leading the way include The Cape, a Thompson Hotel. This luxury beachfront boutique property combines a relaxed 1960s California vibe with modern Baja. Every one if its 140 rooms provides stunning views of the iconic El Arco. Nearby, Mar Adentro by Encanto is a unique, hightech, highly thoughtful resort designed by renowned Mexican architect Miguel Angel Aragonés. The resort features all-white structures that transform with the changing light and custom-made, hyper-customizable computer tablets in every room.
On the other end of the spectrum, Breathless Cabo San Lucas is vivacious, hip and steps away from all the Cabo San Lucas nightlife. This resort also offers a more upscale version of the all-inclusive experience with unlimited top-shelf spirits and gourmet dining. Set upon an 820-foot white sand beach on the Sea of Cortez, the JW Marriott Los Cabos Beach Resort & Spa offers an ultra-luxurious 45-room boutique hotel within the resort featuring exclusive amenities such as a movie theater, private beach and pool. Grand Velas Los Cabos brings the award-winning all-inclusive luxury resort and spa service promise of Velas Resorts to the southern tip of Baja. Continuing its commitment to fine dining culinary experiences, Master Sommelier Don Pedro Poncelis Brambila joined Grand Velas Los Cabos with a promise to offer guests the most exclusive wine list in all of Mexico.
Many of the well-known Los Cabos-area luxury resorts also implemented extensive face-lifts following the 2014 hurricane, including the One&Only Palmilla, Esperanza, The Resort at Pedregal and Las Ventanas al Paraíso, a Rosewood Resort. New developments coming to the Corridor include Chileno Bay Resort & Residences, an Auberge Resort; Solaz, part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection; Le Blanc Spa Resort, an adults-only, luxury all-inclusive resort; Four Seasons Resort Los Cabos at Costa Palmas, which will include a Robert Trent Jones II-designed 18-hole golf course and private yacht marina; Nobu Hotel Los Cabos; Ritz-Carlton Reserve Residences; and the highly anticipated Montage Los Cabos.
The Culinary Landscape
Cabo has numerous old-school favorites that veteran travelers to the area know and love, such as The Office, where you dine with your feet on the sand; Edith’s, featuring a regional fusion of steaks and seafood with local ingredients; Mi Casa, a restaurant offering traditional Mexican fare for more than 20 years; and Nick-San, a fusion of Mexican ingredients and traditional Japanese cuisine in downtown Cabo (and a new location within the Palmilla). Cigar aficionados will also know J&J Habanos, which features Cuban cigars, premium tequila and Cuban rum, which they use to make Big Papa Mojitos, Ernest Hemingway’s signature drink.
However, with many new places opening and more culinary talent entering the scene, diners looking for a memorable meal have scores of options. Many of these can be found in some of the newer luxury resorts such as Manta, the signature restaurant at The Cape, a Thompson Hotel. Manta features contemporary Mexican cuisine with stunning views of the famous Monuments surf beach and El Arco. El Farallon, at The Resort at Pedregal, is considered one of the top dining spots in Cabo and features a great selection of local catch. And Seared at the One&Only Palmilla, conceived in partnership with culinary master Jean-Georges Vongerichten, has been wowing guests with 15 different cuts of the highest quality beef rivaling the world’s renowned steakhouses.
Other favorites include Los Tres Gallos, an unpretentious downtown Cabo spot with tables set about in a romantic courtyard, and Sunset da Mona Lisa, an iconic restaurant serving gourmet Italian food carved into a cliff overlooking the Bay of Cabo San Lucas and Land’s End. For a more relaxed experience, try the rooftop of Sunset da Mona Lisa and enjoy wood-fired pizzas and tapas at Sunset Point wine and pizza lounge.
One-of-a-Kind Luxury on the Coast
There are many amazing places to stay in Los Cabos offering various interpretations of luxury hospitality. A favorite since opening its doors in 2002 is the Esperanza, an Auberge Resort. Located at the tip of Punta Ballena (“Whale Point”) overlooking the Sea of Cortez, Esperanza offers barefoot luxury at its best. With all the comforts of home, assuming you have a really, really nice home, Esperanza finds a way of combining elegance and refinement with a relaxed atmosphere in an oceanfront setting. Boasting a private beach, gracious, yet unobtrusive service and culinary options that tempt you to never leave for a meal, Esperanza is sophisticated Cabo.
Known as being one of the most private and intimate resorts around, Esperanza has hosted numerous world leaders and celebrities including former President Barack Obama and the U.S. Delegation during the G20 Mexico Summit in 2012.
The property recently underwent a comprehensive revitalization that completely transformed much of the 57-room beachfront resort. The fresh contemporary design complements the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape and dramatic coastline.
Each of the spacious rooms offers sweeping views of the Sea of Cortez and showers built for two. A large private terrace creates an indoor/outdoor living room experience and your very own private infinity hot tub completes the perfect place to relax at the end of a perfect day.
In the tradition of Auberge Resorts, Esperanza offers an elevated culinary program inspired by the local culture and the geographic setting. Executive Chef Guillermo Gomez is at the helm of the resort’s sea-to-table dining philosophy. Gomez, a native of Argentina, infuses his international culinary experience to create the seasonal menus for the six dining venues featuring local Baja produce and purveyors.
Esperanza’s signature restaurant, Cocina del Mar, is known for fresh, seasonal Baja seafood in a stunning, open-air seaside location. The property’s newest dining experience is Pesca Ceviche bar, which offers made-to-order citrus-cured seafood dishes inspired by Latin and Asian flavors including fresh octopus, clams and oysters. For guests renting poolside cabanas,
Esperanza provides a dedicated margarita butler who will demonstrate and serve you amazing margaritas created from six different flavors including ginger-grapefruit, mango-jalapeno and hibiscus-rosemary. Esperanza also offers a number of culinary events throughout the year including the Taste of Cabo, an annual gourmet food and wine festival. Earlier this year, notable guest chefs Kent and Kevin Rathbun, both veterans of Food Network’s “Iron Chef America,” joined chef Gomez for three nights of epicurean indulgences. Kent is behind restaurants including Abacus and Jasper’s with locations throughout Texas, and Kevin is well-known for his Atlanta-based restaurants KR SteakBar, Krog Bar and Kevin Rathbun Steak. From cooking demonstrations and barbeque beach parities to fine wines, tequila tastings and a five-course gala dinner, the decadent event is a must for foodies.
For more on Esperanza and upcoming events, go to esperanza.aubergeresorts.com.
Cooking Up Cabo
The Resort at Pedregal’s Art of Taste
If you want proof of Cabo’s revitalized culinary scene, you need only take a look at The Resort at Pedregal’s Art of Taste food festival. Held yearly in the fall, the event brought in chefs from all over the United States—including Richard Reddington from Napa, Dakota Weiss from Los Angeles and Sonya Cote from Austin, while also spotlighting Gustavo Pinet, the resort’s executive chef. Meanwhile, sommeliers and spirits experts were flown in from locales such as Bologna, Italy, to expertly pair the chefs’ dishes with world-class wines. The result was a series of some of the finest dining experiences that Cabo—or, indeed, Mexico as a whole— has to offer.
But it wasn’t all a never-ending chain of gourmet plates. Today’s traveler wants experiences, and the festival provided that as well in the form of seminars and cooking classes where attendees learned to make ceviche, salsa or specialty cocktails, all in hands-on demonstrations from award-winning chefs. And if a succession of gourmet meals and once-in-a-lifetime cooking classes isn’t enough to convince you of Cabo’s importance as a culinary scene, perhaps the tequila tasting lessons from Clase Azul Tequila founder Arturo Lomeli will. All in all, The Resort at Pedregal will give you a taste of Cabo that’ll have you craving more.
A Los Cabos “Must”
Flora Farm, a 10-acre organic farm in the foothills near San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, (about a 45-minute drive from downtown Cabo San Lucas) is at the forefront of the Los Cabos culinary scene. Home to what’s become one of the toughest places on the planet to get a table, Flora’s Field Kitchen, where it’s not uncommon to have a waiting list of more than a couple months for dinner. Flora’s Field Kitchen boasts an unforgettable farm-totable experience and is the centerpiece of the self-sustaining farm. The grounds also include the Farm Bar, Flora Grocery and the luxury culinary cottages, which are available to rent. Flora Farm has become a chic destination for world-class foodies, chefs and celebrities and has even hosted its share of celebrity special occasions, such as the wedding of Adam Levine and Behati Prinsloo. (flora-farms.com)
Featured photo: Mar Adentro’s space-age oceanfront paths.