Baja Baby!

By Curtis Ellis
Photos by Curtis Ellis

It was evening in the garden of the gourmet restaurant when palms and banana trees shaded the table of expatriates from around the world. We discussed the many charms of the place they now call home as I regretted I was visiting for too short a time. The scene: a perfect climate, striking landscape, sapphire sea, great food and a tranquility born of remoteness.  And that’s just at first pass.

The Baja Peninsula juts into the Pacific like a harpoon with Los Cabos perched on its tip, a thousand desert highway miles south of San Diego. The Pacific on one side and the Sea of Cortez on the other separates Baja from the mainland of Mexico. It is a land unto its own. Its desolate beauty has an otherworldly dimension; the best of the Southwest—with oceanfront property.

Most of Los Cabos’ tourist development is on the Sea of Cortez along the corridor between the colonial city of San Jose del Cabo to the north and the spring break capital of Cabo San Lucas to the south.  Resorts, golf courses and gated communities are increasingly upscale as they reach closer to San Jose.

Baja is blessed with an ideal climate – sunny year round, no humidity, no rainy season, no bad hair days and no wonder it’s a favorite of celebs including Cameron Diaz, Bar Raphael, Jennifer Anniston, George Clooney and the like.

But the real stars show up in winter. Blue and grey whales migrate here to calve in Baja’s saline lagoons making December through March prime whale-watching season. You can get up close to the giant mammals and even touch them in the “whale nurseries.” Or you can watch them from a distance while savoring a leisurely meal on the hotel patio, as I did. My first sighting occurred while lunching al fresco at the Fiesta Americana Grand Golf & Spa Resort, where the rooms and suites all have balconies and ocean views of this water ballet of grey ovals across the horizon in the glistening sun.

Guests of the resort have access to both Jack Nicklaus 18-hole golf courses: the Ocean Course and the Desert Course.  Other of the resort’s top-shelf amenities include the Somma Wine Spa, five swimming pools, a private beach, a state-of-the-art gym, club lounge where complimentary hors d’oeuvres and drinks are served morning, afternoon and evening, and multiple restaurants. The beachside Peninsula Restaurant’s specialty is Pacific Rim gourmet cuisine with influences from China, Japan and Chile evidenced in seafood dishes of urchin soup with coriander, for one.

If world-class golf courses, gourmet food and a seaside to loll by isn’t enough, there are plenty of diversions nearby.

Cabo’s waters lure yachters and deep-sea anglers from all over the world.  I didn’t feel like wrestling with tuna so I headed over to Cabo Adventures and hopped on a New Zealand yacht, a competing vessel in America’s Cup. A worldly crew of Kiwis, Aussies and other Cup veterans taught me (and my fellow novices) to tack, grind the winch and trim the sails as we raced another team.

In an earlier era, John Wayne would fly his seaplane to the secluded bay on the tip of Baja to fish and get away from it all.  Over the years Cabo San Lucas grew up around the bay to become a tourist mecca of shops and malls offering everything from local handicrafts to designer labels alongside bars, cafes and restaurants. But this isn’t solely a landing pad for tourists anymore; a community of locals resides here too. Pedragal, an upscale hilltop haven popular among expats that felt like a Mexican version of Topanga Canyon, is home to yoga studios, Pilates facilities, an organic farmers’ market and, of course, real estate agents.

Conversely, the San Jose del Cabo side, the old quarter behind the town square with its quaint colonial architecture, is newly an art district—home to galleries, boutiques, charming eateries and narrow streets.

For more colonial flavor, visit the village of Todos Santos on the Pacific side. Founded as a Mission town in 1724, it is now an artist’s colony with a thriving cultural scene. (See June issue of Watch Boom for more on Todos Santos).

Getting There:

Major Airlines fly to Los Cabos International Airport (SJD) in San Jose del Cabo. Most hotels including Fiesta Americana Grand Golf & Spa Resort provide airport transfers.

Staying there:

Fiesta Americana Grand Golf & Spa Resort http://www.fiestamericanagrand.com/mx-los-cabos/hotel-grand-los-cabos

Curtis Ellis has traveled on 6 continents, dined with senators and street vendors, presidents and paupers, slept in penthouses and shotgun shacks, all in pursuit of the good story.

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