International travelers (like us) venture to Cabo San Lucas—on the southern tip of the Mexico’s Baha Peninsula—for sun, suds, and sin. Cabo’s a hotspot for deep-sea fishing. It boasts championship-quality golf courses and luxury resorts. It’s also home to The Cabo Wabo Cantina and El Squid Roe, world-infamous nightclubs.
What’s not to like? Nothing, if you want to cross the border without leaving the United States. A week at a Cabo resort is like a week at Hilton Head or Miami Beach. Latino servers refill your drink by the pool while you dream of that elusive hole-in-one. It’s a nice albeit pedestrian way of convincing yourself you’ve left the Midwest.
Merchants accept US dollars and Spanish is like a second language, making it seem more like Southern California than Baja California. A brand new shopping mall features such recognizable chains as Harley Davidson, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, and Hagen Dazs. Its food court boasts so much American fast food, it made us sick—and we didn’t even eat there. Our favorite store in town, Die Trying, sells T-shirts with clever sayings . . . in English. Our favorite bar has an English name: Slim’s Elbow Room. Authentic Mexican restaurants still exist, but you have to hunt them down like a French-to-Czech phrasebook in Rome.
Cabo has become a popular timeshare destination, attracting thousands to its beaches and bars every week. New resorts are popping up like adobe toaster pastries all along the bay. A new development has squeezed Medano Beach, Cabo’s best public swimming location, to a narrow strip nearly impassible at high tide. They’re even building on the Pacific side of the peninsula, where the tide is so strong, ocean swimming isn’t just discouraged, it’s literally life-threatening.
You can find many diversions in the normally tranquil bay. Besides scuba diving, you can snorkel, jet-ski, and para-sail. You can ride a banana boat to Lover’s Beach, a glass-bottomed boat for the colorful fish, or a refitted pirate ship for a history lesson and the kick-ass “Pirate Punch.” Pushy salesmen, however, still outnumber activities ten to one.
We go to Cabo to escape the real world. No telephones. No Internet (although it’s there if you desperately need a fix of your favorite blog). Even the cable TV has limited options. We usually spend our time sitting by the pool, doing nothing but baking the bejeezus out of our skin cells.
So when we couldn’t sleep because of the sunburn, we got dressed and trekked over to Cabo Wabo. The party there doesn’t start swinging until 11:00 PM. Founded by singer Sammy Hagar, the club lives up to its crazy reputation. Dancing at Cabo Wabo is a contact sport. Shot glasses clink like Vegas slot machines, but these players lose clothes and money—on the downside, it’s downright expensive; on the upside, some of those “College Girls Gone Wild” videos were probably filmed here.
That’s Cabo. There’s something for every tourist and for every season (the September hurricane season notwithstanding), but it’s not really Mexico. It’s more like Mexico Lite. Like the beer that promises everything but the calories, Cabo won’t quench your thirst if you want a true Mexican holiday.
As Americanization steamrolls the Third World, native cultures are disappearing in its wake. Some are lost for good. Others are shoved into museums. Others still become parodies of themselves. If you find yourself at the tip of the Baja Peninsula, don’t expect to find real Mexico. It’s not in the trinkets or the food—although it might be in the water. Cabo San Lucas can be a fun place to visit, but there’s not enough tequila in all of Mexico to convince you you’ve actually left the States.
Lessons Learned: A more authentic Mexican holiday does exist in southern Baja. To find it, travel up the coast to San Jose del Cabo. Since no cruise ships stop there, downtown San Jose del Cabo still maintains a quaint dignity. It’s a less expensive place to shop, the merchants are genuinely friendly, and everything is much, much calmer. (Plus, we found an excellent local microbrewery: Baja Brewing Company.)
How We Saw It
Communication Breakdown: 2
Customer Dis-service: 1
Discomfort Level: 2
Grunge Factor: 3
Inactivity Guide: 1
Spontaneous Consumption: 5
Fun Fraction: 5/5
If You Won’t Listen to Us
Nearest Airport: Los Cabos International Airport
Native Population: 57,000
Normal Attractions: Golfing, deep-sea fishing, shopping, fine dining, sunbathing, and drinking heavily. Just watch out for the tequila girls at El Squid Roe!
Final Point of Interest: The 20-mile stretch of pristine beach between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo is called “The Golden Corridor.”