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Cabo San Lucas: A Perfect Combination of Desert and Beach
by Vicki Parker
Passport Required, Spanish Optional
Feliz navidad, ola, uno, dos, tre', senior, seniorita, and si was just about the extent of my spanish when my husband and I flew over the Gulf of California this past Christmas. If I had any concerns, they quickly dissapated. It turns out that eight words was all I needed to know. Once whisked from the airport to our resort, I needed nothing more than to relax and let Mexico enchant me. And believe me, Cabo delivered!
Deserts and Beaches, and Mountains, Oh My!
When you land at the airport, you are immediately told no photographs are allowed. The mountains that line the airport are gorgious, but if you like to take pictures, don't worry. There's plenty more where that came from. Cabo is lined by mountains. Nearly 70 resorts are nestled between the mountains inland and along the sea. Photo opportunities include the mountains, the sea, blowing whales, sailboats, beautiful sunsets and sunrises with stunning views of the city and the ocean, and desert life including over 500 varieties of cactus and over 1,000 species of birds (one of the largest metropolis of birds in the world.) Sadly, the cacti should be of notable interest. Nearly half of the country's species are endangered due to their ornamental value. They are beautiful, forgiving, and a target for poachers who can sell them. Don't be surprised if you are not allowed to take home your prized plant. You won't fret for long, however. The rugged cliffs, scenic enclaves, desert vistas, and mountains work together to create a virtual paradise that will live forever in your memory.
The Baja Penninsula separates the Pacific Ocean from the Gulf of California and extends over 700 miles from end to end. It ranges from 25 miles to 200 miles in land width and contains four deserts. The landmost end of the penninsula is adorned by the Sea of Cortez, which is where the whales migrate each year. The famous Arch of Cabo San Lucas, is the unique place where the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortes meet.
In the winter months, it is not uncommon to see migrating whales blowing en masse as you stroll along the penninsula or marlin jumping several feet into the air. Sea lions adorn the Arch and surrounding rocks.
Cabo is one of the few "Tropical Deserts" in the world, so you can also expect a virtual guarantee of sunshine. It gets only 7 inches of rain a year.
Things to Do in Cabo
Take a Boat Ride to see the Arch (where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean)
Scuba Dive or Snorkle
Surf or Kayak
Deep Sea Fish for marlin, sailfish, swordfish, mahi mahi and yellowtail
Shop for Silver or Blown Glass
Dance to Live Bands
Swim or Hotub at the Resort of Your Choice
Drive a Dune Buggy through the desert
Boulder or Climb Rocks along the Beach
Swim at Lover's Beach
Anything your Resort offers
Sail or Parasail
Our first encounter in Mexico was five feet from passport approval. An information booth turned out to be a sales pitch. We were promised a fifth of tequilia, a poncho, and a free tank of oxygen (value $95) in exchange for a 1.5 hour tour of a new resort. Probably a time share offer. We politely declined and quickly learned "no thank you" would get us where we were going a lot quicker.
The value of pesos comparied to U.S. dollars is .30 to the dollar lower. Since you must pay to make monetary exchanges, it's wise to travel with adequate pesos for tipping. The only other time we needed pesos, was when we decided to shop at a flea market with local flair. Otherwise, almost every restaurant, hotel, event planner, etc. took credit cards. Mexicans were also quite happy to take American dollars - they're worth more than a peso. Just be cognizant of that when you're tipping.
The gift shop at our hotel offered some stunning relics and reminders of our trip, yet they seemed pricey. When we shopped locally, we found most of the same items. In Mexico, it seems almost everything is negotiable. Two knapsacks were purchased in the streets for the same price as one in the gift shop - they were identical!
While we found the locals were quite eager to please, they could also be quite pesty. Every step down the marina and through the flea markets was riddled with solicitations, even beggers. Be prepared for this. Walk fast and determined if you know where you are going. Strollers are a favorite target. If not, learn to say no and sound like you mean it.
It's Best to Know Your Wish List
Our travel agent did a remarkable job of matching our wish list with reality. Once we arrived at the airport, the hotel picked us up and took us to our resort over an hour away. No hassles with rental cars, directions, and the like. The downside to that is that we were limited to what our resort had to offer, so we carefully chose a resort within walking distance of our interests - scuba diving, whale watching, shopping. The marina was very active with boat life and shopping and in and of itself, the a stroll along the docks provided entertainment for an entire day. Our resort offered us anything else our imaginations could muster - walks along the beach, pina coladas in the sun, naps on cabanas, volleyball, ping pong, and more.
Not every resort is so replete with activities so be sure your travel agent knows your complete wish list. Some resorts are more tailored to couples than families, for instance. Some resorts are not within walking distance of the marina and are in fact, miles and miles further down the peninsula from it. Only 9 of nearly 70 resorts offer golf. Some resorts are inland rather than beachside. Some charge you for every meal and some include meals and/or drinks in the overall price.
There are frequent warnings about cartel violence in Mexico, especially the northern border regions and the Mexican state of Michoacan. Tourists are usually not targets, but are wise to know where their boundaries are. We felt certain the safest thing to do was stay at our resort. The resorts are seldom on the warning list. Yet our first day in the resort, $60 was pick-pocketed from a zippered pouch on the outside of my purse. I think my husband felt certain I had merely lost the bills when on the very last night of our stay, it was obvious that someone with a passkey attempted to break into our hotel room around 9 pm on a Saturday night. We had secured the chain lock. The point is, don't get lured in by the beauty and wonder of it all such that you let your guard down. Most everyone we spoke to was beyond friendly. We saw no evidence of drugs or cartels or related violence. But there is a different culture in Mexico and while very accepting of ours, we are wise to be vigilant and guard what's precious to us.
When to Visit Cabo
Christmas turned out to be the perfect week to travel to Cabo. The flights weren't overly crowded despite my expectations about holiday travel (guess everyone was flying the other direction!) The water was a little too cool for swimming, but the weather was absolutely perfect for sunbathing. Hotubs were a perfect alternative to the cold water and our resort had at least one heated pool. The best part was the place wasn't totally overun with tourists. We could enjoy the ambiance Cabo had to offer without the nusance and intimidation of crowds. We were able to negotiate better deals on souvenirs since it was the "off-season" and every one was in the holiday spirit. The resort had special celebrations and activities to choose from. I'm pretty sure I'll prefer Feliz Navidad to Christmas for years to come!