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Cabo San Lucas Overview
Cabo San Lucas is an anchor port for all cruises sailing on Mexico's Riviera and Sea of Cortez itineraries, and as such it's experiencing quite a tourist boom. This party town, population 70,000 and growing (mostly with Americans), serves up The Rocks and rock 'n' roll. The Rocks of Los Arcos protrude out of the Sea of Cortez and are just darned impressive -- little sharp mountains emerging from the sea. The rock 'n' roll side of town is about Van Halen's Sammy Hagar and his Cabo Wabo, a cantina where you can sample Cabo Wabo-brand Tequila, check out the Van Halen photos on the walls, rock in the concert hall, buy cool Cabo Wabo items in the gift shop and, if you visit in October when Sammy is in residence, even meet the rocker in person.
Cabo San Lucas has also been dubbed the Cozumel of Mexico's West Coast, and is duly replete with duty-free shops and tacky trinket stores -- though it is raising the level of its shopping options.
Located at the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, Cabo San Lucas -- together with its more elegant and much quieter sister town of San Jose del Cabo and the stretch of coast that connects the two (combined the area is known as Los Cabos, while the coastal stretch is known as "The Corridor") -- is an ideal spot for adventure-oriented pursuits. If conditions are right, the clear waters make for great snorkeling, and the white sand beaches are perfect for swimming (but if there are warning signs up, use caution). The waters here are among the biologically richest in the world, with marine species including whales that winter offshore.
This top vacation destination has some of the best sportfishing in the world, and it is the quest for marlin that put Cabo San Lucas on the map. After World War II and the advent of private planes, Bing Crosby and John Wayne arrived to fish. In the 1970s, a highway was built to connect California to Baja, and the travel industry began in earnest.
Earlier visitors included 16th- and early 17th-century pirates like Sir Francis Drake and Thomas Cavendish, who hid from Spanish galleons in the many coves and bays along the southern coast of the Baja Peninsula. Spanish missionaries came to try to convert the natives to Christianity, but they and Spanish soldiers also brought diseases that wiped out the native population.
One of the downsides for most travelers whose ships sail here: All must anchor and tender passengers in to the port itself. That means -- especially for those folks sailing on 2,000-plus behemoths -- you'll need to factor in extra time getting to and from your ship. Even odder in this quite multi-faceted place is the fact that some ships only stop for half-day visits, which means that actual on-land time can be extremely limited.
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Other Mexican Riviera Cruise Ports:
Acapulco • Cabo San Lucas • Catalina Island (California) • Ensenada • Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo • La Paz • Manzanillo • Mazatlan • Monterey • Puerto Vallarta
In the land of tequila, the Margarita is queen. Try the Waborita at Cabo Wabo Cantina.
Anything with the Cabo Wabo logo. At the shop at the cantina you can buy T-shirts, wool caps, even underwear. And don't forget a bottle or two of Cabo Wabo Tequila, 100 percent blue agave. (It's good stuff!) Another option, Cabo Chips, sold around town, are flavored tortilla chips, with profits going to local charities.
Locals speak Spanish but English is also widely spoken, particularly in shops and tourist venues. And because this is a popular spot, there are also a lot of ex-pat Americans in town.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
ATM's are widely accessible if you want to get Mexican pesos, but U.S. dollars are accepted everywhere. If you are making an expensive purchase in a shop, you are best off paying with a credit card. Having dollar bills to pay for cab fares and trinkets is helpful.
Where You're Docked
Ships anchor offshore and tender passengers to the marina, which is a pleasant 10-minute waterfront walk to the heart of Cabo San Lucas. Not shy about pursuing cruise ship business, the town is usually wide open at 8 a.m. (even at that time you can have breakfast at Cabo Wabo or go parasailing). Even the pelicans are out early.
Ships tender in Cabo San Lucas Bay, near El Arco, or Land's End. The 10-minute tender ride drops you at the marina, about a 15-minute walk from downtown.
Although the center of town is reachable by foot, the heat might make a taxi ride easier. Taxis, mostly of the sedan type (as opposed to safari cabs), do line up at the marina. For explorations beyond the city limits, your best bet is to rent a car; among the agencies that have offices in town are National (877-567-3572/624-142-2424), Budget (U.S. 800-801-0365/ Mexico 800-002-8343; several offices), Alamo (U.S. 866-365-3530/Mexico 800-821-6522/local 624-143-6060) and Cactus (866-225-9220/624-246-1839) and Fiesta Rent a Car (Blvd. Mijares and Benito Juarez, road to La Playita; 624-142-5947/cell 624-121-4235).
You might consider a bicycle taxi to see the town or water taxi to take you to Medano Beach.
Start by admiring El Arco, Cabo's premier site. It's one of the last two rocks that mark "land's end." Basically, El Arco is a big rock with a wide arch cut through it by generations of tides and sea. You can see it from the marina, from any of the cascading patios at Sunset Da Mona Lisa Seafood & Italian Restaurant, formerly Da Giorgio II (a restaurant just outside of town) or by taking a boat trip in which the vessel sails through it.
Cabo San Lucas has loads of party restaurants to choose from, including El Squid Roe and Hard Rock Cafe . The ultimate? Cabo Wabo Cantina, Concert Hall & Restaurant, which is owned by rocker Sammy Hagar. Patio Bar opens 9 a.m., restaurant opens 11 a.m. (Vincente Guerrero; 011-52-624-143-1188)
Numerous party-boat-style expeditions (mostly half-day) are available. Charter operators have booths at the marina where you can sign up on the spot.
Shop for tourist trinkets downtown (pretty much the same stuff you find at every other Mexican Pacific port); finds include glassware, silver jewelry, rugs and Indian blankets.
Highly recommended: A-Maze-In Cabo Race
Been There, Done That
Rent a car and drive to San Jose del Cabo. A 20-minute drive from Cabo San Lucas along a winding highway that rings the Sea of Cortez, San Jose is charming, historic and peaceful. Its adobe storefronts are centered around Plaza Mijares, with its green grass and shading trees. There's a historic mission, but the real diversion here is boutique shopping for handmade jewelry, sporty cotton fashions, artwork and high-end house-gifty items. You won't see too many tourist trinkets here.
Shops worth checking out include LaPaloma Boutique (Plaza Catedral, Calle Zaragoza) for easy-fitting yet sophisticated cotton casual wear made in Mexico; Add (Zaragoza, Centro) for gorgeous handmade picture frames, candlesticks and other home accessories; Mina (Hidalgo #33) for gorgeous one-of-a-kind gold and silver jewelry; and Algo Diferente En Los Cabos (Hidalgo #11) for artwork. San Jose is also a great lunching spot; charming options include Cafe Florentina (Zaragoza #20; 624-14227-99)) for Mediterranean fare (gorgeous patio). Another great patio lunch spot is the aptly named El Comal Restaurant (Boulevard Mijares 1357; 142-5508). Tropicana Inn Bar & Grill (Blvd. Mijares #30; 114-21580) has a great people-watching sidewalk cafe and is a locals' favorite eatery as well. While in San Jose, stop by Cacti Mundo, a botanical garden featuring hundreds of different types of live, growing cacti. (624-146-9191)
At Vitrofusion Y Arte (otherwise known as the Fabrica de Vidrio) on Cabo's outskirts, you can watch artisans create and design glass the old-fashioned way; there's also an on-site gift shop where they sell their reasonably priced merchandise (such as pitchers, decorative items, glassware). Glassware made here is also available from a number of stores in town. (Lazaro Cardenas S/N Edificio Posada Local 6-A; 624-143-0120)
Scuba divers should head to Land's End, the southern tip of the Baja peninsula, where you might see manta rays, amberjack, grouper and dolphins.
Golf is huge here with at least a half-dozen courses welcoming day visitors. The most famous is The Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol, designed by Jack Nicklaus, boasting ocean and desert views, and rated as one of the world's top 100 by Golf Magazine.
Cabo San Lucas considers itself the "marlin capital of the world," and regardless of which fish are running, there are numerous sportfishing operators that take individuals and groups on half- and full-day excursions. Some restaurants in town will even cook your catch.
Playa el Medano , fronting the Bahia de Cabo and extending to Villa del Palmar, is a quick taxi ride from the marina. Plenty of activities, including swimming, Jet Ski rentals, kayaking, waterskiing, banana boating, parasailing and volleyball, is available here. Not exactly a retreat, this party-central beach is a destination for fun-loving tourists, but also for hawkers of hair braiding, silver jewelry, blankets and more.
If you rent a car, head to the "corridor" between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, which rings the Sea of Cortez, and pick a beach, any beach.
Closer in, Playa del Amor (Lover's Beach) is snuggled between rock formations near El Arco and fronts both the bay and the Sea of Cortez; you need to hire a water taxi to drop you off and pick you up (they are easily accessible at the marina). Be aware there are no facilities, so bring a picnic.
In Cabo San Lucas, Fish and Shrimp Cabo, formerly El Shrimp Bucket, is a relaxing place in Marina Fiesta Resort at Dock A in Cabo's Marina Golden Zone known for fresh seafood. Open 7 a.m. – 11 p.m. (Boulevard La Marina Locals 37 and 38; 145-6020 x8013)
At The Crazy Lobster happy hour runs 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Menu features lobster tacos, shrimp, ribs, burgers and more. There's a jukebox playing oldies, pool tables, karaoke machine and dancing waiters. Open daily 8 a.m. – 10 p.m. (Hidalgo Street at Zapata; 624-143-6535)
Pacho's Restaurant and Tequila Bar is owned by ex-pats from California. A large mesquite grill in the center of the restaurant provides dishes of the regional states of Mexico, such as chicken mole, carne asada and fresh seafood. Los Pancho's Trio plays Mexican music each evening. (Hidalgo & Emiliano Zapata S/N; 01152-624-143-2891)
Best Choice for Active Types: Book an ocean kayaking and snorkel tour, which will take you by paddle across San Lucas Bay, passing Pelican Rock and circling the dramatic rock arches of Los Arcos. Continue to Lover's Beach, part of a marine sanctuary, where you can snorkel, swim and sunbathe. As an optional choice, book a beach horseback riding excursion.
Best Choice for Thrill Seekers: Take a Baja ATV Adventure tour. You get to experience the desert on the self-drive excursions, and the tour also includes a nature hike. If that's not thrilling enough, book a sportfishing tour (but keep in mind a catch is not guaranteed).
Best Choice for Nature Lovers: From January to March, whales visit Cabo including humpbacks, grays and blues. You get close on a 15-person Zodiac, and the experience is amazing.
Staying in Touch
Café On Line is in downtown Cabo, a block from Plaza Las Glorias. Open Monday – Saturday 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. (143-7283)
The Oasis Bar & Grill offers free Wi-Fi, and sells burgers, steaks and lobster. Open Thursday – Tuesday 9 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. (courtyard and poolside of The Marina Sol, Camino al Hacienda S/N; 624-143-6285)
San Francisco Coffee Company, in the Hotel Marina Cabo Plaza, has wireless access at competitive rates.(Blvd. Marina #39; 624-144-4387)
For More Information
On the Web: www.visitloscabos.travel
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Mexican Riviera
The Independent Traveler: Mexico Exchange.
-- By Fran Wenograd Golden, former travel editor of The Boston Herald and co-author of Cruise Vacations for Dummies. Updated by Jodi Thompson, Cruise Critic contributor.