This is a tale of two Cabos — and I don’t mean San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, the two cities at the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula known collectively as Los Cabos. Instead, let’s count the cities as one, both the colonial-architecture-rich municipality seat and the lively touristy town you’re probably thinking of. The “other” Cabo is the 20-mile-long Tourist Corridor between the two cities. Let’s start there.
Once a remote rural fishing area, Los Cabos, a short plane ride away, has been a tourism hotspot for years, thanks in part to much-publicized visits from celebrities, from Elizabeth Taylor to Jennifer Aniston. And yet, tourism there, particularly along the oceanfront corridor, is booming beyond even its popular reputation. The boom is in luxury — both the quantity and quality of the burgeoning hotel scene. This, despite the U.S. State Department’s August 2017 travel warning of a spike in violence due to turf battles among criminal organizations.
That warning may be less than one year old, but the tourism industry people I met there last month seemed utterly unruffled by it, noting that bad guys don’t target tourists. And they have good reason — Los Cabos recently hired 200 more police officers, and Mexico’s Marines took command of local police in November, with plans to build two military bases in Cabos’ home state of Baja California Sur. And yet, in a visit last month, I didn’t feel a military presence, the way I did in the embattled southern Philippines years ago.
What I did see were several high-end hotels under construction, including one next door to my hotel (although, fortunately, I didn’t hear the work). It was easy to see why. Grand Velas Los Cabos’ curved façade overlooks crashing waves, a soothing soundtrack for dining, sleeping and all-around destressing. Ranked the No. 1 hotel in San José del Cabo by Tripadvisor, Grand Velas has been at the forefront of the luxury boom here since it opened a year and a half ago, thanks to a staff ratio of 3 to 1, personalized service (e.g., your name is on the hotel’s home screen on TV), an open bar with premium-brand liquor, Michelin-worthy cuisine, organized activities for kids and teenagers, three pools including one just for adults, a health club–size fitness center, even a free minibar stocked daily. It’s all part of the AAA Five-Diamond hotel all-inclusive plan.
“Most luxury hotels are on the European plan,” Grand Velas’ Michelle González told me. “We wanted to go beyond that. This is a worry-free location. You can enjoy every restaurant without having to take care of the bill.” And there are five of them. More on that later.
The $150 million beachfront property is the fifth hotel built by Mexico’s Vela brothers, developers who were prodded into the tourism industry by serendipity. When the world economy took a dive in 2008, they switched gears on a new condo building in Puerto Vallarta, finding that hotels were a better bet. That may help explain the ample lodgings — the 304 suites are all built facing the water and the smallest one, the Ambassador Suite, is the size of a modest house, at 1,180 square feet. All have roomy terraces and some even have private plunge pools. You can also opt for a Wellness Suite duplex, with a Lifecycle, rice chips and teas, an aromatherapy kit and space for your private yoga session. Or a Family Suite, which includes adjoining rooms, crib, chef-made baby food and turn-down for kids with cookies and milk. (The Vela brothers are big family men, rotating large holiday celebrations among their various resorts.)
My first impression was the striking, award-winning architecture by architect Ricardo Elias of Guadalajara and Miami, who also designed two other Grand Velas resorts and the Centro Cultural Nuestra América, a library, theater and education complex in Mérida, Mexico. You arrive at a monumental lobby with an unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean and two huge, sinuous wooden settees that double as sculpture, where a staff member greets you with a cool towel and tropical fruit juice. Other works by Mexican artists appear throughout the hotel (an art gallery is in the planning stage), which is encased in earth and sea tones meant to mesh visually with the beach, boulders and Pacific and soften the dazzle of the strong midday sun. Four additional architects joined Elias in designing the hotel’s interiors and five restaurants.
Okay, let’s stop there. The hotel is justly proud of its cuisine. In fact, if you go, go for the waves and the food. (Also the spa. More on that later.) Do not miss the adults-only Cocina de Autor, named one of the world’s best new restaurants for 2017 by CNN a mere two weeks after it opened. The seasonal menu is designed by Dutch Chef Sidney Schutte, who boasts two Michelin stars. It’s a set tasting menu with eight courses (e.g., tuna and beetroot with chives and horseradish milk), although you can swap out anything you like. Schutte favors fusion cuisine that does new and surprising things with Mexican flavors, something I also found at the Mexican restaurant, Frida.
If the restaurants surprised me, so did the spa, where I had a blue agave facial (it’s in the mask). Before that I experienced the hotel’s hourlong hydrotherapy circuit in what Forbes Travel Guide calls a “35,000-square-foot aquatic paradise,” which comes with all treatments. Staff members gently guide you through a seven-step journey of water stations, where you’re pummeled, caressed and invigorated. Follow that with stops in dry and wet saunas, an ice room (I skipped that) and rain showers with chromatherapy. I doubt you’ll find anything like it in Southern California; at least you shouldn’t be able to find it in SoCal.
We did leave the property for a sunset sail with Cabo Adventures, which also offers tours involving dolphins, whale sharks, even camels. Ours was a lovely, margarita-fueled excursion to see El Arco (The Arch), an iconic rock formation rising out of the sea at the very tip of the Baja Peninsula. That meant going to that other Cabo, the noisy one crammed with tourists who seemed desperate to have fun. Cabo Adventures’ home base was fairly chaotic, so go expecting the worst and you’ll be fine.
For information and reservations, call (888) 505-8406 or visit https://loscabos.grandvelas.com. For Cabo Adventures, call (888) 526-2238
or visit www.cabo-adventures.com