Although they share a coastline and are a mere 20 minutes apart, Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo are as different as night and day. In part two of his adventures in Mexico, David Latt reveals the quieter side of Los Cabos.
Cabo San Lucas is synonymous with parties and recreational activities, from family-friendly to death-defying.
But for those who want to skip the booze and high-energy adventure, simply head north to San Jose del Cabo, a mere 20 minutes from Cabo San Lucas. Experiencing the best of San Jose del Cabo can be accomplished within a day, as evidenced by the cruise-ship crowds that come in from the Cabo San Lucas port for a few hours at a time. Here, day-trippers can get a taste of authentic culture that they can’t find in modern, noisy Cabo.
Meanwhile, San Jose del Cabo can serve as the primary destination for those looking for a more laid-back vacation.
Though it may lack Cabo’s great variety of activities, San Jose del Cabo offers entirely different experiences. Narrow boulevards, virtually devoid of cars, leave pedestrians free to wander back and forth across the street, browsing through art galleries, clothing and jewelry stores. Small restaurants take advantage of the warm climate with well-landscaped courtyards. The hotels in town are boutique-sized, evoking the intimacy and comfort of private homes.
The town surrounds the Plaza Mijares, anchored by the Mission San Jose del Cabo, built on the foundation of the original, 1799 Mission San Jose del Cabo de Anuiti. The small church is charming, as are the narrow streets lined with stores selling a variety of goods.
Throughout the year, there are evening art performances in the plaza, free to the public, which feature a variety of music, from hip hop to traditional Mexican ballads.
Walk west on Calle Zaragoza on the southern side of the church, and sample the paletas, juices, and fresh fruit shakes at La Michoacana. Paletas are those wonderfully delicious ice creams on a stick flavored with a variety of fruits and vegetables. (An insider’s tip: they are sold in stores always called La Michoacana, no matter who owns them.)
On Boulevard Antonio Mijares, adjacent to the plaza, small stores sell beautifully crafted jewelry, clothing, and art.
Definitely worth a visit is Veryka: Art Gallery and Boutique (with a sister store in the Cabo marina). The work of talented Mexican artists are for sale. Of particular interest are paintings by Jorge Salazar and Guillermo Olguin Mitchell and the work of Jose Luis Serrano Carrillo, who appropriates traditional folk art objects like Day of the Dead figures and the Tree of Life, turning them into exquisitely detailed sculptures.
Across the square on Boulevard Mijares, Antigua Los Cabos sells art, handmade silver jewelry and a selection of artisanal tequilas. Around the corner, the small shop La Pinata carries toys, jewelry, handmade art, and curios from all over Mexico.
A few blocks from Plaza Mijares on Calle Alvaro Obregon, Indian Hands curates jewelry by local artists and exhibits large scale work by the talented painter, Adriana Quero Martinez.
In the central historical district, keep an eye out for liquor stores like Los Barriles de Don Malaquias that sell tequila exclusively. With almost a hundred brands to choose from, there are blends, some flavored with herbs and spices, as well as premium, aged, 100 percent agave brands. For the tequila aficionado, tastings are available at no cost.
Where to Stay
Cabo San Lucas or San Jose del Cabo? The two destinations are so vastly different that choosing a home base depends on the individual.
If you are a fun-loving single with an adrenaline-junkie streak, your best bet is to stay along resorts along Cabo San Lucas’s busy harbor where you can enjoy the great variety of bars, restaurants and recreational activities. Then, if you tire of the noisy beach front and crave a day of culture, art and shopping in an authentic Mexican town, you can day-trip to San Jose del Cabo.
On the other hand, visitors who prefer a vacation focused on quiet relaxation will be happier based in San Jose del Cabo in one of the cozy, boutique sized hotels. From there, it’s easy to head into Cabo for adventure sports or late-night, DJ-fueled discos.
Alternatively, there is a third option. There are a few large hotels located in quiet spots between the two cities so travelers can day-trip in either direction.
Bordering the Cabo San Lucas harbor is a variety of hotels with very different price points and qualities. The ME Cabo Resort and Hotel has a typical layout with a grouping of pools, restaurants and bars in a center courtyard lined with tall, wispy palm trees, fronting the beach with an expansive view of the harbor.
The resort could be recommended except for several unforgivable failings. First and foremost is a concern that all Cabo-bound travelers should consider: The disco music playing during the day at poolside and at night from the Passions nightclub is unrelentingly loud. Sealing bedroom doors and windows provides no relief from the noise, even well after midnight.
Another curious choice is what the hotel bills as their AWOL Club. During the day, registered guests are excluded from the main pool, bar, restaurant and beach front area. The area is available only for those willing to pay a high entrance fee.
Also in the same area and a complete contrast with ME Cabo, the Hacienda Beach Club offers a gated setting with magnificent views of the harbor. The spa and restaurant are first rate.
Sitting on the veranda of the Hacienda Restaurant and Bar, enjoying an afternoon mojito, plates of tacos with handmade tortillas, quesadillas, ceviches, and inventive starters like the salad of avocado, shrimp and hearts of palm escabeche in a vinaigrette is a refreshingly pleasant way to enjoy Mexican hospitality.
While Cabo San Lucas is proud of the many luxury hotels that line its beaches, San Jose del Cabo offers more intimate accommodations. The affordable and elegant El Encanto Suites on the western side of the historical district, is a two-story hotel with 28 rooms, each one adjacent to a garden, small courtyard or pool. You won’t find tennis courts, a golf course, or big noisy discos here. But you will find quiet relaxation in your room, on the compact grounds, and in the Ixchel spa.
The even smaller Hotel Casa Natalia with just 16 rooms and a very homey feel. At a fraction of the cost of the Cabo San Lucas resorts, Hotel Casa Natalia and El Encanto Suites give the visitor an up-close-and-personal experience with Mexican art and culture.
Related Links on PeterGreenberg.com:
- Driving Vacations & ATV Adventures: Cabo San Lucas to Buena Vista – Baja California
- Spring Breakers Warned To Avoid Mexico Amid Increasing Violence
- Ask the Locals Travel Guide: Punta Mita & Riviera Nayarit, Mexico
- Cabo San Lucas Resorts Brace for Hurricane Jimena
Text and photos by David Latt for PeterGreenberg.com. Visit David at MenWhoLiketoCook.com.