The water lay before me, a gradation of colour from sandy yellow to the palest of seafoam green to a blue that reminded me that navy doesn’t have to be dark, but simply deep. I proffered a toe, and the surf came up to greet me, lapping at my heels – cheeky then when it continued its surge forward, until it had tickled my calves, leaving them covered in a gentle spray. I laughed out loud, not caring in that moment if anyone had seen my flirtation with the sea.
In the afternoon, it grew into a dalliance, while I was sailing over its surface past Lovers beach, where my master, the Sea of Cortez, met the Pacific. I realized then that it was an affair that had started 10 years ago, a sojourn to a strip of Mexico I had yet to experience. It was south of the border, the Baja Peninsula, below California. From the air, it looked an arid, cactus-dotted landscape, like a wizened branch of a tree reaching downward, pointing with a craggy length to the sea, split from its mother trunk, mainland Mexico to the east. It was time to reignite the spark.
It’s got the weather of Arizona – but with an ocean, and a better exchange rate
Separated from Mexico by the Gulf of California, it has taken its own shape. Mountainous, desert-like, emulating the just-north-of-the-border California, New Mexico and Arizona states in much of its makeup, and its climate – making it an ideal winter vacationing and snowbirding spot – rather than the more tropical and sometimes cloyingly humid leanings of the country of which it is part.
At its fingertip, is Los Cabos, an area that is home to the cities of San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas. Yes, that Cabo San Lucas, the Ibiza of Mexico, the “Cabo Wabo” that rocker Sammy Hagar sings of, the long-time party playground of Californians looking for a weekend getaway.
Rents for furnished accommodation can run from $400 to $1,000 depending on size and area. At press time, a Canadian dollar gets about 14 or 15 pesos. In Los Cabos, a dozen eggs might run you about 30 pesos.
It’s a safe place
But this part of the country has broken from the typical Mexico mold. According to the Los Cabos Tourism Board, the crime rates have dropped significantly in the last year, as much as 90 per cent. That’s a good thing, as tourism has doubled in the area, outpacing mainland Mexico. The region has added more than 200 police to its force, and it is also set to become home to the country’s Marines, who took over the policing of the area in 2017. But their presence is subtle, with many of the high-end private businesses, resort and hotels investing in an infrastructure where security and hospitality go hand in hand, without being in your face. And when the likes of Ritz Carlton chooses the spot for its Reserve collection and Four Seasons plans on opening a third location, Los Cabos is looking worthy of investment. But yet, with all this in the offing, the place still feels just a little unspoiled, not the cheek by jowl resorts of all-inclusive Mexico.
You can golf for less, 10 months of the year
Just enough may also be another way to describe the subtleties of how nature and manmade meet here. Modern highways allow for speedy travel between San Jose and Cabo, nearly two dozen golf courses and world-class deep-sea fishing keep the active set happy, hotels and resorts that are some of the best in the four- and five-star world, without overpowering the landscape or the culture and locals who have a friendly sophistication that comes with knowing they live in a very unique place.
The diving is among the best in the world
The Sea of Cortez has been dubbed the “aquarium of the world,” by the sea explorer Jacques Cousteau. The label stuck. Yet, don’t be misled. This is not a place for fly and flop, or for casual swimming, unless you’re on Santa Maria beach near San Jose del Cabo – but sailing and surfing and snorkelling and diving, with sea lions and whale sharks and definitely not for the faint of heart. An adventurous spirit and a strong swim stroke come with this territory.
Find an Oasis by the Sea
Santa Maria beach is a rare blue flag swimmable spot on a horseshoe-shaped cove, just off the Sea of Cortez. Hugging the cove is also the brand new Montage, a resort whose architecture is so seamless, it’s of the desert, not interrupting the desert. It’s the key to a sense of harmony with land and sea that vibrates and one that I sense almost immediately. Sandstone paths and minimalist succulent desert gardens, green lawns and rooms that all face the bay and blue infinity pools overlooking the lively beach – a beach that’s also a local spot for families taking the waters. One afternoon, what looked like a flock of birds started skimming and jumping at the water’s surface, about 30 metres off shore. But it wasn’t birds. It was a group of smallish manta rays, leaping out of the sea and into the air as if trying to capture the sunshine with their fins. The rays reflected the sun, bouncing and sparkling just above the surf. Everyone on the beach was mesmerized.
The Montage spa features its own full-sized, salt-water pool, but the leaping is kept at a minimum. This, for the tranquility seeker in me, is a luxury in itself – away from the energetic sounds of the beach and most of the guests, yet the body still benefits from the restorative ocean breeze and the low-impact exercise of swimming, while the mind has only its thoughts and the desert ambience as its soundtrack. One could stay here all day. And, coming soon, for as long as one might want. I learn, residences for long stay guests that will also have the option to go into the hotel rental pool when they’re vacant are in the works; the buildings are already up, it’s just the details left to go. www.montagehotels.com/loscabos/
There’s an authenticity, without the cookie cutter or prefab feels
San Jose, on the other hand, is a community of artists, boutique hotels and a culinary hub, a town of colourful local architecture, navigable streets and a bright main square and gathering place over which the Catholic Mission San Jose del Cabo Añuití presides. The mission, built in the 1700s, is dedicated to St. Joseph, but a nod to the Pericúes, the indigenous culture of the region, inspired its naming, Añuití, as the spot on which the church is built, was so called. Missionaries decided to stay and set up shop; they were key players in this part of the world, their influence stretching all the way up the California coastline.