Upscale new resorts are broadening the appeal of a classic Mexican beach destination.
At a glance, you might have thought I was on spring break. Twelve empty shot glasses and picked-over bowls of chapulines sat strewn before me on the bar, along with enough bottles to send a kegger’s worth of coeds under the table. But this was no Cuervo-soaked bacchanalia — it was the Agave Experience at Montage Los Cabos, a tasting more akin to a Bordeaux cellar visit than an MTV special. I am no spring breaker, and this is not the Cabo you once knew.
Los Cabos — a catch-all name for the neighboring towns of Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo — has earned a reputation as a place full of wealthy Angelenos and college kids, less a Mexican destination than an Americanized resort getaway. And that’s true, to an extent. You can pay cabbies in dollars, speak English in most places, and even make a Costco run, if you insist. In parts of Cabo San Lucas, the party rages on, and no strip of sand is without a bikini-clad would-be influencer posing for pictures. But new hotels are setting themselves apart with upscale amenities, a deeper appreciation of local culture, and locations far from party central.
Los Cabos’s reinvention began in 2015, as the area rebuilt from the destruction of Hurricane Odile. But last year the development picked up speed. The all-inclusive Le Blanc Spa Resort paved the way, debuting in April on the Corridor, the 20-mile, hotel-lined road connecting Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo. Its 374 rooms have soft, earthy color palettes and come with top-shelf amenities — Bulgari bath products, Chi hair straighteners — and round-the-clock butler service. In May, Viceroy relaunched a design darling: Mar Adentro, built in 2015, was famous for its striking white buildings and central bar, a nestlike ovoid structure. Viceroy overhauled the dining and interiors, but kept those beloved elements intact. Solaz, a Luxury Collection Resort, opened in September, all clean lines and high drama, with Danish-meets-Mexican furnishings and a landscape of native plants that’s surprisingly lush, considering the desert environment. In the spa’s thalassotherapy complex, I flitted from saltwater pool to hot-stone lounger to Himalayan salt igloo, brining and baking like a very glamorous, supremely relaxed pork loin.
Chief among the 2018 additions is the Montage. The 122-room resort curves around secluded Santa Maria Bay, one of the few swimmable beaches in the area. (Several hotels claim to have the “only swimmable beach” in Los Cabos — in fact, there are 11, and since all of Mexico’s beaches are public by law, you can visit any of them with a little determination and a boat.) The heart of the resort is its spa: at 40,000 square feet, it’s the largest game in town. One afternoon, I was scrubbed and massaged for two hours during the Jewel of the Baja treatment, which uses infusions of the local damiana flower to help guests achieve levels of relaxation I hadn’t thought possible without the help of modern pharmaceuticals. The resort’s fine-dining restaurant, Mezcal, is the site of the aforementioned Agave Experience: ostensibly a five-part sampler of liquors both famous (tequila) and more obscure (bacanora), but in practice a journey through the small-batch Mexican spirits bar manager Carlos Rojas thinks will delight you. Luckily, Mezcal is a classy joint, and even as the glasses pile up, the pours are judicious enough that you’ll leave with a firm grasp on both your wits and your palate.
That’s key, because in this corner of Baja, the food deserves your full attention. A farm-to-table movement has blossomed here, led by acclaimed farm-restaurant hybrids like Flora Farms, Los Tamarindos, and Acre. At Mezcal, Acre alum Alexis Palacios serves dishes like a cactus salad — nopal shot through with prickly-pear juice — topped with crunchy curls of dried mango. A single octopus tentacle comes with stewed white beans and a dusting of chorizo powder, which, if you ask me, should join salt and pepper as a staple of tabletops everywhere.
Still more properties are coming later this year: the 120-room Zadún, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve opens east of San José del Cabo in March 2019, followed in Cabo San Lucas by the 200-room Nobu Hotel Los Cabos and the 115-room 1 Hotel. The next frontier is the East Cape, a section of coast along the Sea of Cortés, where construction of the Costa Palmas resort community is under way. A long-awaited Four Seasons will debut there in mid 2019, with 145 rooms, four pools, five restaurants, and an on-site slip so you can dock your yacht and check right in; Amanvari will open within the same complex in 2020. All these new hotels highlight what regular visitors here have long known: If you look in the right places, Los Cabos has exactly what you’re after.