By: Mike Manna
The sun starts to set behind the western stretch of the Sierra de la Laguna Mountain range, its golden rays shimmer off the surface of the Pacific Ocean. On the eastern edge of the desolate tract lies the Sea of Cortes, whose serene waters outline the white sandy shore. The two bodies of water become one at the natural stone arch of El Arco, the peninsula’s southernmost point and the region’s most celebrated landmark. The captivating desert terrain located on the southern tip of Baja California Mexico is Los Cabos, a beautiful parched landscape surrounded by endless blue water. It’s where the desert meets the sea and where vacationers have come to discover a relaxing and comforting oasis. Boasting an average of 360 sun-filled days and a rainfall rate of less than 10 inches per year, the arid region has become an exclusive vacation destination, catering to golfers, sport fishers and sunbathers alike.
WHY LOS CABOS?
Those who visit Los Cabos come for a variety of reasons but the two primary attractions are without doubt the world class golf courses and the areas surrounding deep blue seas, providing water lovers with an aquatic paradise and giving golfers access to some of the best golf courses in Mexico. Los Cabos has earned a reputation for being one of the best golf destinations in the world and the list of maritime activities ranging from snorkeling to whale watching allow for fun-filled recreation in the surrounding waters. Still others merely come to lounge by the pool and laze around in the sun, enjoying a somewhat hedonistic lifestyle while having the benefit of first class hospitality from the luxurious resorts that line the picturesque coast.
Unacquainted with this part of Mexico and longing for those sun-filled days, I was interested to pay a quick visit to this touristy region, which has become the second fastest growing resort community in Mexico. Join me as I travel to Mexico’s Baja to enjoy a quick jaunt in Los Cabos while experiencing the casual elegance of The Fiesta Americana Grand Los Cabos.
The seemingly endless days of frigid weather had continued well into the month of January as the cold, dim days of winter had dampened the spirits of many who live in New England. With images of bright sunshine and warm temperatures swirling in my mind, I was more than just a little motivated to head to New York’s JFK International Airport and board the early 6am Delta flight bound for Atlanta, then continuing on to the warmer and inviting weather in Mexico.
It was early morning at JFK’s Delta terminal where I found myself among a handful of anxious passengers standing in a cold vestibule waiting, uncomplaining, for the clock to strike 4:30am. Ten minutes later and precisely at the scheduled time, the Delta agent opened the doors, welcoming us freezing passengers into the warm but outdated terminal. With my carry-on in hand, I headed for the check-in counter where, to my delight, I found a polite and cheerful agent ready to serve the willing early morning traveler. Within minutes, I received my boarding passes and headed for the departure gate patiently waiting to board the Delta 737 bound for Atlanta, Georgia.
Travel tip: Continental is the only airline to offer daily direct flights to Los Cabos, Mexico from the New York City area, but the flight tends to be more expensive if compared to non-direct flights. For travel reservations, visit delta.com.
After the two-hour flight to Atlanta, I made the most of a brief layover by meandering through the assortment of stores at Hartsfield International Airport and having quick bite to eat. Within a short period of time, the gate agent had commenced boarding the flight to Los Cabos, Mexico. The Delta 757 was clear for takeoff and shortly thereafter we had reached a cruising altitude of 33,000 feet. Like clockwork, the friendly flight attendants soon began to offer the customary complimentary snack accompanied by a non-alcoholic beverage for the passengers. Gone are the days of airlines offering free in-flight meals for their customers and here to stay are the cost-cutting measures implemented by many airlines to improve their company’s financial bottom line. During the four and a half hour flight, there was a free in-flight movie but absent was a complimentary meal, although they did offer an $8 sandwich and a variety of snack options ranging in price. There was no charge to use the restroom.
WELCOME TO LOS CABOS!
The smooth flight was well into four hours when the captain acknowledged over the intercom that we had started to make our initial descent into Los Cabos International Airport. The landing was smooth and soon after, passengers began to disembark the plane onto the searing tarmac only to find a long line forming into the terminal’s customs area. After patiently waiting in line for 30 minutes, I provided my passport with nothing to declare and exited the customs area only to find myself navigating my way through the hordes of taxi drivers offering their services. Outside the terminal doors I found Max, my welcoming ride to The Fiesta Americana Grand Los Cabos resort.
Travel tip: Passengers traveling by air outside of the United States are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States. You will need to keep your passport and tourist visa with you at all times while in Mexico. Remember to completely fill out your customs card when arriving in Mexico. For further information, visit travel.state.gov.
As Max and I drove through the desert terrain, I was fascinated by the area’s desolate surroundings and began to survey the natural environment in astonishment. Glancing upwards, I noticed a graceful hawk, soaring effortlessly in the cloudless cobalt sky. In the background, were rocky peaks dominating the region’s skyline, undulating down to a barren field of russet earth speckled with desert cactus and shrubbery. The vibrant contrast between the earthy brown and brilliant blues left me astonished by the unique beauty only found within the confines of the desert. In the not too far distance, the brilliant blues of the Sea of Cortes were fast approaching and coming into view.
Climate: During the peak tourist season (between the months of November to February) the temperature in Los Cabos ranges from 80F during the day and dips down to a cool 60F at night. The warmer summer months bring daytime temperatures that can surpass the century mark.
Along the picturesque coast are the towns of Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo, lying between them, a 20-mile stretch of pristine beaches known as the Tourist Corridor, an area of exclusive hotels and posh gated residential communities. It is here where golf aficionados come to discover an oasis of lush green in a field of brown, spanning over the eight celebrated golf courses and in the nearby surrounding waters, sport fishing enthusiasts have come to partake in the largest marlin tournament in the world. It is here where I came to discover the five-star resort of The Fiesta Americana Grand Los Cabos.
Town facts and events: Cabo San Lucas (Cape of St. Luke) celebrates its patron saint on October 18th with the festival of St. Luke’s Day. Live music and dancing in the streets provides a good time for all in attendance.
THE FIESTA AMERICANA GRAND LOS CABOS
Resting on the scenic coastline of the Sea of Cortes in the confines of the celebrated community of Cabo del Sol is the Fiesta Americana Hotel & Spa. Only 17 miles from the San Jose del Cabo International Airport, The Fiesta Americana Grand Los Cabos resort offers guests a luxurious 250-room hotel in Mexican architecture design. The five-star Grand Turismo Resort, sits within the contours of the desert mountain offering panoramic ocean views. The Grand Turismo level (five-star-plus) is the highest hotel and resort classification issued by the Mexican government. Each year approximately 30 properties receive the coveted classification. Touring the property, you can’t help but notice the fine manicured gardens containing a unique blend of cacti, tropical plants and flowers, creating a manmade desert oasis. The property has a network of paths with decorative grounds making any point within the resort accessible in minutes. The five inviting pools, four of which are infinity, afford guests the opportunity to unwind and the white sandy beaches that line the resort’s coast allow guest to bask in Cabo’s sun-drenched days.
Upon entering, I was delighted to discover a spacious and recently renovated room offering panoramic views of the sea with a glimpse of the celebrated golf course not too far off. Tile floors line the spacious contemporary room with a wrought-iron lamp, brightly colored paintings, and a comfortable cushioned reading chair complementing the decor. Extra padding on the mattresses made for an extremely relaxing night’s sleep. The spacious bathroom contained a stylish wood-and-marble vanity that was adjacent to a bathtub with a waterfall downspout. For convenience, the bathroom had a marble lined shower stall with glass door. The room also had complimentary wireless Internet access and satellite TV for a price.
Hotel facts: Prices for room per night range from the Deluxe Ocean View: $285 – $495 per night, Grand Club: $470 – $681 per night and the Master Suite: $907 – $1117. For reservations visit fiestamericana.com.
SOMMA WINE SPA
There is an old Roman proverb that states: “In wine there is truth” but did the Romans also think that in wine there is an exfoliant? The Somma Wine Spa specializes in vinotherapy, a fairly new and revolutionary spa treatment. No, vinotherapy is not a therapeutic session where one drinks an enormous quantity of wine to treat ailments. So what is it, you ask? The spa treatment incorporates the use of grape juice and polyphenol extracts from the grape seeds containing high levels of antioxidants and applies the natural substances derived from the fermentation process to the body in order to prevent and fight the aging of skin. The Fiesta American Grand Somma Wine Spa is the first wine spa in Mexico and one of only six wine spas in the world. Vinotherapy has been popular in European spas for years and the Fiesta Americana Spa offers their guests this unique treatment. The spa also has some more traditional services such as dry saunas, steam rooms and spa tubs. The spa includes a fitness center with cardio equipment, free weights and a futuristic weight machine with its own cyber personal trainer.
Good to know: There is an additional charge of $10 per day for use of the spa’s fitness center.
The resort has three exciting restaurants. Viña del Mar offers a daily champagne brunch buffet and during the night has an à la carte dinner with Mexican, American and international fare. The Rosato dishes up traditional northern Italian cuisine and finally, my favorite, The Peninsula. The Peninsula restaurant puts forward two different approaches to dining, all depending on the time of day. During the day, while perusing through the daytime menu, I couldn’t help but notice the magnificent views and the cool breezes carried in from the Sea of Cortes. The variety of choices from the informal menu offered an assortment of dishes from salads, wraps, pasta, seafood, and meats.
During the night, the restaurant transforms to offer a more sophisticated yet casual approach to fine dining. The friendly staff were dressed in full black attire and provided excellent service. The candles scattered throughout the open-air restaurant produced a subtle light, creating a relaxing environment. Chef Gerardo Rivera celebrates the unique culinary theme of the Pacific Rim blended with Mexican and Central American influences. The mouthwatering Chinese-Style Honey Duck with Tortilla, Plum Jelly and Wild Cherries had me praising the chef for the extraordinary dish. After a delectable dinner, the entertainment moved to the outdoor fire pit where we enjoyed live music in the cool desert night air. With the exposed night sky and with little light pollution to cloud the stars above, it was the perfect time to use the resort’s on-site GPS telescope for a clear view of the planets and constellations above.
DINING AL FRESCO
The Fiesta American has redefined the al fresco dining concept into a true art form through their unique Barefoot Dining Experience. The spa’s Barefoot Dining Experience is an attempt to pair fine dining with the resort’s wine spa treatments, followed by a wine tasting and delicious surveying of food. The setting sun had dipped beneath the horizon and the friendly staff had escorted those partaking in the experience onto the resort’s sandy beach. Comfortable lounges for the attendees stood in close proximity to a warm crackling fire with the vast Sea of Cortes as a backdrop.
I was relaxing by the fire and enjoying the pleasant surroundings when I discovered that to engage in the experience requires participation in the traditional method of wine making. Unbelievingly, I removed my sandals and, as instructed, began to step barefoot on a bundle of grapes, stomping and crushing each grape into liquid. Yes, I was making wine the old-fashioned way, just like my father had done when he was a youth back home in Italy. I have to admit, I was somewhat cynical at first but later found myself enjoying the process. After a few minutes of grape-crushing, I was relaxing in a comfortable lounge on the beach while a masseuse was furnishing me with a soothing foot massage reviving both body and mind accompanied by the healing power of wine. The warm radiant fire produced a light smoky scent that permeated the cool desert air. The sounds of the ocean crashing against the sandy shore created a relaxed setting as the vast dark ocean produced a mysterious background, illuminated slightly by a canopy of stars from above.
Next came the sampling of three regional Mexican wines from the Guadalupe Valley in Baja. My favorite was the 2004 Flor de Guadalupe Cabernet-Zinfandel, a full-bodied red with a fruity and oak aroma. Complementing the wines was an assortment of tasty dishes; shrimp tartar with mango cream, a smoked salmon with sun dried tomatoes and a beef Carpaccio with walnut cream and white truffle essence. I slowly drifted into a state of semi-consciousness, awakened by the sight of a candlelit table that was set for what would be a delectable and unique three-course wine dinner on the beach, the best part being a Firewood-Cooked Chateaubriand with Shaved Brie Cheese and Caramelized Garlic.
Dining facts: The Barefoot Dining Experience for two is $300. Average price for dinner entrée at the Peninsula by night is $23.
Drive for show, putt for dough, or so the saying goes. Los Cabos has earned a reputation of being one of the best golf destinations in the world. The Fiesta Americana Grand Los Cabos presents golfers with an ideal golf setting accompanied with two world class golf courses conveniently located within the confines of Cabo del Sol and only three minutes away from the resort. Walking the grounds, I marveled at the 37,700 square foot clubhouses designed in colonial and traditional Mexican architecture. The courses truly take advantage of the desert’s natural surroundings with the Sea of Cortes serving a stunning backdrop.
The two courses provide challenges for golfers of all calibers. My favorite of the two was the Jack Nicklaus Ocean Course known as The Pebble Beach of Baja, with its seven challenging holes. Golf Magazine ranks the course among the “Top 100 courses in the World” and The Golfer ranks it within the Top 10 Desert Courses in the World. The Tom Weiskopf-designed Desert Course is equally impressive, presenting golfers with commanding ocean views from all 18 holes while contouring the desert terrain. Golf Digest has rated this challenging course number six in all of Mexico. Both par 72 courses are open to the public and feature Taylor Made clubs available for rent. A green fee for tee times prior to 10:50am is $350 with full payment required in advance. Each round includes 18 holes of golf, a shared cart, practice balls and bottled water. Cabo del Sol offers both phone and online reservations. During the months of August and September, the courses close for summer maintenance. Witnessing these magnificent courses, I was anxious to take out a driver and let the big dog eat, but with so much to do and with so little time, it would have to wait for another day. Golf tip: Guests staying at the Fiesta Americana Grand Los Cabos receive a 10% discount at the famed Cabo del Sol Ocean Golf and Desert Course. For further information, visit cabodelsol.com.
WHALE-WATCHING ABOARD THE TROPICAT
Each year from the month of January to March, gray whales migrate from the cold waters of Alaska to the warmer climate in Baja California. During the day, you can witness these large majestic creatures from the shore of the Fiesta Americana resort, but for the ultimate viewing experience, you definitely need to board and take a whale-watching cruise on the high seas. Situated in the Cabo San Lucas Marina is where the 65′ catamaran named Tropicat was preparing to set sail for the two-hour sunset cruise in search of the majestic grey whales.
At 4pm, the 90 passengers of the Tropicat started to embark onto the catamaran. Casting off at 4:30pm, the Tropicat left the Cabo San Lucas Marina motoring towards “El Arco,” or the Arch of Poseidon, the famous natural landmark in Los Cabos. The 200-foot tall natural arch is located at the very tip of the Baja Peninsula and it’s where the Sea of Cortes meets the Pacific Ocean. Adrift on the water, the passengers marveled at the natural landmark while in close proximity, sea lions basked in the sun as sea birds and pelicans circled above.
Travel tip: Pre-boarding is 30 minutes prior to departure. Wear comfortable shoes and casual attire. Bring a jacket or sweater during the winter months. Price per adult is $50. Price for children between the ages of 5 and 11 is $25 per child. Children 5 years and under cruise for free Gratuities are optional. The sunset cruise departs Monday through Saturday at 4:30pm. For further information, visit tropicatcabo.com.
With ideal sea conditions, the Tropicat sails harnessed the force of the wind thrusting it through the blue seas in pursuit of the grey whales. Cruising in the open seas was a relaxing experience with the sounds of the catamaran’s two hauls slicing though the waves, and the sent of ocean fresh salt saturating the air. During the two-hour cruise, contemporary jazz music played through the boat’s sound system and the friendly English- and Spanish-speaking crew came by frequently offering tasty hors d’oeuvres and assortment of international wines, mixed drinks and non-alcoholic beverages.
Soon after we had a sighting. There she blows! Dead ahead, off the bow of the catamaran, was a grey whale letting out a massive spray of water through its blowhole. As we headed in the direction of the sighting, a whale suddenly breached high into the air 200 yards off the port side, soon to follow with a rip-roaring tail slap. The entertainment continued for the next 45 minutes or so as the captain carefully tracked the gigantic mammals through the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean.
The setting sun on the ocean’s horizon was a sign for Tropicat’s captain to head back to port. The sunsets in Cabo are truly amazing and witnessing one while aboard a catamaran as it sails through the Pacific made it even more impressive. The dusk produced an array of colors from vibrant blues to shades of purple with a slight tinge of gold illuminating the sky. The end of day was approaching and my journey to Los Cabos was nearing its end. Sailing back to port, I reflected on those scenic images of the vast desert terrain speckled with cactus surrounded by rugged mountains and a deep blue sea. There is unique natural beauty to be found in secluded Los Cabos, a beauty I would not soon forget.
Note: This trip was sponsored in part by Fiesta Americana.