I thought the ingredients for a great time at the beach were sun, sand, water and maybe a little mariachi music. That was before I saw the pirate ship in all its glory. It was full-size, fully beached, and had a water slide running through the middle of it.
The pirate ship slide is fairly emblematic of my entire stay in Cabo, not really authentically Mexican, but so fun I didn’t care.
A typical day starts around 8, when the heat of the Baja sun wakes you up and requires an immediate plunge in the ocean. The water down here is warmer than most swimming pools, and because it’s on the Sea of Cortez, it gently laps against the endless stretch of sand. Lay down on the beach and let the sun dry you off, maybe flex some of your Spanish muscle and chat up a beach vendor. Hopefully your Spanish is better than mine, or you could end up with a dozen ponchos and an offer to bring back more the next day.
Then head back to the hotel for some huevos rancheros. Stellar deals abound on last second deals for condos in the summer, almost all of them are independently owned and listed on VRBO and Airbnb. With summer being the low season in Cabo, owners are eager to cover costs and rent out the condos at rock-bottom prices if you’re comfortable booking at the last minute (if you’re reading this blog, then I’m guessing this is right up your alley).
For breakfast and lunch, most condos have a kitchen and there is an enormous Costco and Walmart. Load up on food here and you’ll save quite a bit, as many restaurants in Cabo charge American prices due to the high number of tourists. If you surf and are going to be in town for more than a few days it’s a good idea to buy a board at Costco for $99. It sounds like a lot of money, but rentals are about $20/day, so it’s actually cheaper and you can probably sell it to someone doing the same thing as you and recoup about half your investment.
The afternoon is national siesta time, and I always recommend doing as the locals do. The siesta is as much a retreat from the beating heat of the afternoon as it is a recovery from the late nights of Cabo.
When the evening rolls around, the four or five blocks that make up downtown Cabo come alive. The restaurants can be pricier than expected, but I highly recommend a diamond in the rough called “Tacos Fiesta”. It’s not for the meek, but if you want phenomenal Mexican seafood and don’t mind no frills dining this is the place for you. Dinner for two, plus as many drinks as you can handle for about $20.
At night, if walks on the beach aren’t your thing, Cabo has no shortage of activities. Avoid Cabo Wabo (owned by Sammy Haggar), Senor Frogs, the Giggling Marlin, etc. and aim for something more local. Just head into whatever smallish bar looks to be crowded and you’ll be making friends with longtime expats and locals in no time. There are literally a dozen options to choose from in a two block radius.
About 70% of the population of the Cabo area is expats. Not surprising considering Cabo started as a speck of a fishing village and growth was entirely fueled by international tourism. There’s an endless source of great stories and life manifestos to hear surrounding why and how many of these expats changed their latitudes and headed for Baja. If you have thirty minutes and want some inspiration to quit your job, buy a bucket of cervezas and hop on the barstool next to anyone looking particularly tan and relaxed.
I personally love the excitement and attitude of Cabo. Everyone is here to have a great time and between the weather and the siestas it’s impossible not to enjoy yourself. However, Cabo is definitely not authentically Mexican and this irks some. A nice remedy to this is to drive an hour north up the coast to Todos Santos, a bohemian Mexican hamlet full of surfers and painters. It’s similar to what Cabo was two decades ago and allows travelers to get a taste of both sides of Baja.
A particular challenge I faced was trying to find a rented shack on the beach in Todos Santos after dark. There are absolutely no street lights and no one walking around this sleepy little town at ten p.m. My directions were not the best I’ve ever worked with and frustration was mounting. By 11 p.m. I was ready to give up, then my girlfriend pointed to the right and said, “There it is!” And so there it was, a little shack on the beach, all by itself. I gleefully swung the wheel and drove our tiny rental car towards our destination…and straight into a sand dune.
Believe it or not, the Toyota Camry doesn’t have four-wheel drive (crazy, right?) and we were officially stuck in the dark in the middle of nowhere, and I can only assume being closed in on by the local vicious Mexican sea turtles. Once I established the sea turtles were not an immediate threat we started considering our options, there seemed to be none. So I did the only rational thing I could think of, I turned on the car alarm and waited for a sleeping local to get tired of the noise and come find us.
Ten minutes later, the Mexican police showed up and the standard bribe of $20 had us towed out and on our way. They even saluted us as we waved and drove away because they had only requested $15.
That was probably the biggest lesson I learned. Don’t drive off into the dark with bad directions and only twenty dollars. If those gracious federales had wanted $25, we would still be stuck in a sand dune.
Up next…Epernay, the heart of the champagne region in France!