Escape to Dreamy Los Cabos

written by PEGGY SIJSWERDA | photography courtesy of MARQUIS LOS CABOS; LAS VENTANAS AL PARAISO, A ROSEWOOD RESORT

MarquisLosCabosSunrise PoolIt’s one thing to climb a ladder that’s firmly planted on solid ground. It’s something else to climb one while pitching around in choppy seas. I was aboard a deep-sea fishing vessel off the coast of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and decided to join the captain, Ivan, up on the fly bridge to get the best views. After my precarious climb, I discovered the rolling seas were even more intense way up high. Once there, however, I held on and stayed put. I sure didn’t want to climb back down again.

And the views were indeed stunning. Ivan pointed out Lover’s Beach and El Arco or the Arch, Cabo San Lucas’ famous rock formation. He also showed me where the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez meet, a turbulent area of frothy waves. We watched a seal sunning on a rock and airborne stingrays flying in and out of the water. Ivan told me that Los Cabos is one of the best places in the world for sport fishing—he once caught a 700-pound marlin—as well as other adrenalin-boosting sports: kayaking, paddle boarding, paragliding, snorkeling, and surfing.

However, I didn’t have time to try my luck fishing in Los Cabos. I traveled to the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula last summer to visit a half dozen luxury resorts and learn more about the remarkable recovery this region has undergone since being battered by Hurricane Odile in September 2014. Packing winds of 125 mph, the hurricane ravaged the landscape, and forced 30,000 residents and vacationers to evacuate. Five people were killed.

But if you look around Los Cabos today, you’d think it was all a horrible nightmare. New resorts are opening up and down the coast, and many that experienced significant damage used the downtime to add improvements before reopening. I’d never visited Los Cabos so I was looking forward to exploring this tropical destination and all it has to offer.

SEA AND SKY 

One thing I wouldn’t be enjoying was a dip in the Sea of Cortez. A storm system to the west was churning up huge waves along the coast, and when I checked into our host resort, Marquis Los Cabos, the staff said swimming in the sea was not allowed. Good thing the resort has three sparkling pools, visible from the open-air lobby, where a huge arch framed a serene view of the sea and sky. As one staff member tended to my bags, another brought me a cold drink and a cool towel.

I loved my roomy suite, especially the lovely balcony, ideal for unwinding with coffee in the morning or a glass of wine at day’s end. I’d gotten an early flight to Los Cabos, and the day stretched lazily ahead – lunch and relaxing by the pool were all I had on my itinerary. Marquis Los Cabos is an all-inclusive resort, so an ice-cold margarita was also a distinct possibility!

The adults-only resort has a tranquil spa as well as a roster of activities to keep guests entertained. You can enjoy movies under the stars, tequila tastings, archery, cooking classes, volleyball, dance parties, live entertainment and more. But you don’t have to do a thing if you don’t want to: just soak up the rays in your comfy lounge chair as the palm tree fronds rustle in the breeze or melt into the silky waters of the infinity pool. Waiter, can I please have another margarita?

If you’re thinking about heading to Los Cabos, you can choose among many fine resorts—some all-inclusive, some not. Besides Marquis Los Cabos (marquisloscabos.com), here are a few I recommend:

• One&Only Palmilla

Named No. 1 Mexican resort in Travel+Leisure’s 2015 World’s Best Awards, One&Only Palmilla epitomizes old Mexico with whitewashed buildings topped by red-tiled roofs overlooking the sea. In fact, the resort surrounds a stunning historic villa that once was owned by the son of a Mexican president. Known for attracting the Hollywood jet set, One&Only Palmilla offers luxurious accommodations, a state-of-the-art spa, top-quality cuisine, golf, tennis and water sports—as well as a high level of service.

After touring a few gorgeous suites, we joined the managing director, a Brit named Peter, for lunch in their lovely restaurant with views of the sea. While we sipped cold beverages, staff wheeled out a Guacamole Bar and prepared fresh guac tableside. It was heavenly. Next the Ceviche Cart appeared, and an attendant created amazing ceviche with delicious shrimp, scallops, fish, octopus and lots of lime. Plates laden with salmon, tacos and shrimp were passed around the table—and we ate until we could eat no more.

Kids and teens are welcome at One&Only Palmilla, but it’s also a romantic destination resort for couples. palmilla.oneandonlyresorts.com

Esperanza, an Auberge Resort

Tucked amid 17 lush acres, Esperanza is a private vacation retreat with all the comforts of home plus world-class amenities. For example, guests can enjoy a variety of complimentary fitness classes each week. World-renowned golf is also available as well as Baja desert racing and swimming with whale sharks—don’t worry, they don’t bite. We toured a suite where President Obama stayed, visited Esperanza’s rejuvenating spa, and wandered among the resort’s manicured grounds. 

After our tour, we joined Mark, the managing director, for a memorable dinner under the stars in a breathtaking setting next to the sea. As the sun fell into the ocean amid a splash of color, a trio played mellow jazz. Our elegant dinner began with an appetizing combination of red snapper, garlic, avocado and corn. I chose sea bass for my main course served with parsnip purée and trumpet mushrooms. Dessert was a simply prepared roasted peach accompanied by lavender sorbet. As we dined, salty sea spray from the crashing waves occasionally reached us, adding to the sensory experience.

Every Thursday Esperanza features an authentic Mexican fiesta for its guests. Children are also welcome at the resort. esperanza.aubergeresorts.com

• Secrets Puerto Los Cabos

Part of the Secrets brand, this adults-only, all-inclusive resort promises its guests Unlimited Luxury: plush accommodations, gourmet dining at seven restaurants and a café, complimentary mini-bar, unlimited premium drinks at six bars and lounges, activities and entertainment, two sparkling pools—even taxes and gratuities are included in the rate. Our group enjoyed a seaside breakfast at Secrets Puerto Los Cabos. The views and the cuisine were amazing. Nearby an instructor led a water aerobics class in the pool, and you could also see folks swinging their clubs on the adjoining golf course. After breakfast, it was time for treatments in the Secrets Spa by Pevonia—finally! I enjoyed a 30-minute aromatherapy massage, the perfect mid-morning treat. Accommodations feature both sea and garden views with a balcony or terrace. secretsresorts.com/puertos-los-cabos 

• The Cape, a Thompson Hotel

One of the newest resorts in Los Cabos, The Cape was designed by Mexico City Architect Javier Sanchez. His vision? A relaxed 1960s Southern California-meets-Baja aesthetic featuring urban chic décor and a modern vibe. Popular with the hipster-surfer crowd, this gorgeous contemporary resort has one of the most stunning settings in Los Cabos: overlooking El Arco (the arch) and the Monuments Beach point break. You can relish these amazing views from The Cape’s rooftop bar, furnished in an eclectic, colorful style but with lots of natural wood components.

At lunch we learned that, with numerous new resorts being built, Los Cabos’ inventory of hotel rooms will increase from 14,000 to 18,000 in the next two to three years. More flights are connecting to Los Cabos, and the future looks bright. “We’re growing in the right way,” said the CEO of Los Cabos Tourism. “More chic, more trendy.” The Cape is a perfect example of the tourism office’s vision.

In addition to spacious suites, The Cape also offers one to three bedroom villas ideal for families. thompsonhotels.com/hotels/The-Cape-Los-Cabos

LasVentanasSleeping with the Stars• Las Ventanas al Paraíso 

This property is part of the Rosewood brand, an international collection of extraordinary resorts that promise unmatched service and inspiring settings. The philosophy of Rosewood properties is to ensure that guests experience “a sense of place,” so each destination offers “once-in-a-lifetime experiences” which connect you to the local culture or the region’s unique natural offerings.

For example, Las Ventanas offers a whale safari, available in winter when whales migrate to nearby waters. Guests are transported by private jet and then helicopter to search for the “Big Three”: gray whales, blue whales and humpback whales. If this sounds a little out of your budget, you can view the whales right from the resort at certain times of the year.

LasVentanasTequilaCevicheSushiBarOur final evening in Los Cabos, we joined Frederic Vidal, the managing director of Las Ventanas, for a progressive dining experience that began on a romantic rooftop suite, where we nibbled on exquisite canapés and sparkling wine. Here couples can lounge and unwind, and at night crawl into bed under the stars, where the rhythm of the waves will lull them to sleep. I could have lounged on that rooftop suite forever, but it was time to continue our progressive dinner.

We headed to the resort’s thatch-roofed Tequila & Ceviche Bar. Vidal said George Clooney, who owns a home nearby, is a frequent guest. Really? I was sitting on a bar stool George Clooney may have sat upon? Now that was a thrill. We sipped a Mezcalita, a margarita made with smoky mexcal and sampled shrimp ceviche served with fresh avocado and tangy salsa.

The magical evening continued with a mezcal tasting on a bridge that arched over one of the resort’s water features. I love the smoky, salty flavors of this trendy cousin to tequila. Next we headed to The Restaurant for our main course, a taco tower featuring locally sourced ingredients (seafood, pork, beef) and crazy-good condiments (guacamole, salsas, pickled vegetables) for creating customized tacos. A sweet Mexican lady brought corn tortillas, which were soft and warm, to our table as we feasted on the most elegant tacos imaginable.

Our final stop was one of the resort’s luxurious villas, where Vidal arranged a cabaret singer to entertain us as we indulged on desserts and coffee with liqueurs. The open-air terrace where we sat overlooked the sea and featured a sparkling splash pool. Nearby rhythmic waves rolled upon the shore, providing a percussive beat to the sultry music.

From start to finish, Las Ventanas al Paraiso (rosewoodhotels.com/en/las-ventanas-los-cabos) orchestrated a sensuous evening, one I’ll never forget. It was the perfect finale to my adventure in Los Cabos, a dreamy destination that’s already calling me back for more.

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