Cabo San Lucas, Baja California, Mexico

View of Cabo San Lucas town and beaches from the sea. Mexico

Cabo San Lucas is way down at the south end of the Baja California peninsula in the Sea of Cortez (not the Pacific Ocean), offering miles of stunning beaches and a terrific climate. Photo by Shaund.

Vacations in Cabo San Lucas

Two beach resorts at the south end of the Baja California peninsula make up Los Cabos (aka Cabo), though Cabo San Lucas is the wild child that everyone talks about while San José del Cabo is the shy and underdeveloped sibling.

The two Cabos and the road joining them (17 miles beside the coast/27 kms/half an hour’s drive) represent perhaps America’s favourite Mexican beach resort, tho’ it’s a close contest with Cancun on the Caribbean coast.

Cabo’s warm Pacific waters and massive stretches of soft yellow sand backed by sophisticated hotels and cantinas (bars, bars with snacks or restaurant/bars) and other attractions run from raucous Cabo San Lucas (another spring break vacation hotspot, along with Cancun) down to quieter, colonial San José del Cabo.

Apart from wild nights and wet, sandy daze, the main activities along this Cabos corridor are golf, sport fishing, some snorkeling and surfing.

Cabo San Lucas town

Los Cabos International Airport serves the region, or drive Highway 1 (Transpeninsular Highway) that runs 1063 miles (1711 km) from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.

The best part of Cabo San Lucas – apart from the fact that Californians can drive there easily – is its small town feel, even though it has ballooned in the last 25 years.
The town is still compact and easy to get around on foot – unlike Cancun where hopping buses is essential. Cabo San Lucas also manages to maintain a moderately Mexican atmosphere in spite of the American tourist dominance.

Escaping from the town is easy if you bring or rent a vehicle (ATVs are popular), enabling trips to isolated beaches, desert walks, rock climbs and mountain adventures.

Cantinas

Medano’s cantinas are mainly responsible for Cabo’s rowdy reputation, and it’s not just at night, they work equally hard organising wild, sexually near-the-bone games and pouring tequila and iced beer down expectant throats during the daytime. Mango Deck is the best known cantina on the beach, though downtown Cabo Wabo houses the mightiest mega-action, a huge complex of bars, bands and celebrities run by ex-Van Halen rock god Sammy Hagar himself.

Best Cabos beaches

Medano beach

Medano beach, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Cristo Vlahos

Medano beach, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Cristo Vlahos

Playa El Medano is the core of tourist activity in Cabo San Lucas. The beach is lined with high-rise resorts and masses of cantinas and alfresco dining options. Medano, on Bahia San Lucas, stretches for about 2 miles (3 kms) from the harbour/marina to the small village of Villa del Palmar. It’s coated with soft sand and washed by clear, calm seas but in season is crowded, hyperactive and packed with persistent vendors so if you’re looking for peace and quiet better head elsewhere by water or wheels. If you want action however, be it partying or marine activities, then Medano is the best place to start.

Cabo San Lucas town beach, Mexico

Near Medano beach.

• Lover’s Beach (facing the Sea of Cortez) is a famous strip of soft sand dominated by massive rock formations. It’s accessible only by boat (no rental wave runners permitted here! ) and there are no facilities here so bring everything you need and get the boatman pick you up later. The snorkeling off the beach is pretty good so bring the kit. In high season Lover’s Beach can get crowded so consider arriving early.
The Pacific side – known as Divorce Beach – is less crowded and more romantic, so it’s worth crossing over for a visit. This stretch has dramatic sand dunes and rock formations but also dangerous currents so swimming should be avoided.

• Many people think Chileno Bay is best for snorkeling without a boat. Chileno has rather coarse sand but is usually peaceful, with clear waters and a reef that supports a lot of marine life forms – you might even hear whale song while snorkeling.
Get there early as tours and cruise ship refugees fill the sand quickly. Chileno is next to Santa Maria beach which is also offers good, calm snorkeling and close to Sheraton Hacienda Del Mar, but has no food stalls or vendors. Head for Santa Maria bay at km 12 via highway 1 from Cabo.

• Playa Cemeterio 4 km east, Playa Santa Maria 12 km from Cabo San Lucas for swimming with easy access.

• Playa Costa Azul and Playa Canta Mar are great for surfing.

• Playa Solmar, 1 km west of Cabo San Lucas for whale- watching January – April.

Nudity is not permitted on Los Cabos beaches. If you want to strip off then head down south to Zipolite beach, a very long way by land from here, tho’ pretty quick by plane.

Los Cabos beaches don’t do a lot of rental parasols, chairs, or nice little kiosks selling snacks. They lean towards quite formal eating so if you’re on a budget bring your own cooler box, umbrella and folding chairs.

The Activity Pool of the RIU Palace resort in Cabo San Lucas, Baja Sur, Mexico

The Activity Pool of the RIU Palace resort in Cabo San Lucas. Photo by Clemens Vasters.

Beware Rips, Undercurrents

Powerful rip currents at some of the beaches, especially when there substantial waves, can be very dangerous so pay attention to red warning flags however wrecked you might be.
If you do get caught in a rip and dragged offshore DON’T resist it or try to swim back to the shore through it. Float until the power subsides a bit, then swim sideways (parallel to the beach) until you are out of the current (probably just a few metres). Then head back to the beach.

Water Sports

The Arch, Cabo San Lucas jetski, Mexico. Thelmadatter

The Arch by jetski, Mexico. Photo Thelmadatter

This is Los Cabos’ number one sight but only accessible by boat so rent a water taxi, kayak or even paddle-board to get out there, or join a tour – whale watching, snorkeling, scuba, they’ll generally pass by this iconic rock.
The Arch is a rare location where the one beach is washed on two different bodies of water, the dark blue of the Pacific Ocean on one side and and the emerald green of The Sea of Cortez on the other.

Snorkeling at the end of Los Cabos peninsula, Lands End, Baja Sur, Mexico

Snorkeling at the end of Cabo peninsula, appropriately called Lands End, where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean. Scuba diving and snorkelling are fair in Cabos and Lands End is a snorking favourite. The best dive sites are further offshore and accessible only by boat. Photo by Thelmadatter.

Most fishing and sailing charter companies are based in the Marina at one end of Medano but other water sports can be found along the beach: kayaks, wave runners, stand up paddle boards, surf boards, parasailing, boat trips, whale watching, snorkel and scuba tours and even motorized hang-gliding over local landmarks.

Deep Sea Fishing

Cabo San Lucas Marina, Baja Sur, Mexico

Cabo San Lucas Marina. Photo by Lucas Marrovi.

The Sea of Cortez is home to a wide array of game fish including blue marlin, striped marlin, yellowfin tuna, dorado, and yellowtail. Many come here for marlin which can be a lot of fun but requires a serious, expensive boat. The marlin season is June to December.
Smaller fishing boats in this part of Mexico are called called Panga which are low cost, enjoyable and suitable for smaller species of fish such as dorado or tuna.

Los Cabos Weather

Best budget months: April – June.
The high (expensive) season is mid – December to the end of Easter week (March or April).

Cabo San Lucas weather doesn’t vary a lot with generally little rain and moderate heat though summer can get too hot and late summer tropical storms (occasional hurricanes) August thru October dampen the atmosphere, cause cloud, seaweed-strewn beaches and poor water visibility for snorkelers and divers.
However, often the storms occur out to sea or in the mountains in the Los Cabos region and will have little effect on beach resorts.

Temperatures range from January lows/highs of 58F-77F (14C-25C) to August lows/highs of 81F-95F (27C-35C).
Note that Los Cabos are a popular ‘Spring Break’ location so muchos locos descend upon the area during March every year and tranquility will be in short supply at that time. Christmas, New Year and Easter school holidays are also busy but not so crazy.

San José del Cabo

Much less developed than its wild neighbour Cabo San Lucas 17 miles away, San José offers visitors modest 18th century Spanish colonial architecture and a quiet life, with plentiful accommodation and diving, snorkeling and kayaking in Cabo Pulmo Marine Park which is home to the only hard coral reef in the Sea of Cortez. 200 bird species are based in the tranquil San Jose’s Estuary and Bird Sanctuary while the brilliant beaches of Los Cabos are only a short drive away.

Costs

Los Cabos are relatively expensive for Mexico, so budget for costs not dissimilar from California. ATMs usually work well but do not accept PINs over over 4 character. Mexican currency is the peso but in this area prices are often quoted in dollars. Even if they are not then dollars will be accepted, albeit at a bad rate of exchange.

Beware on Land!

• Infamous time-share salesmen can be irritating and persistent, don’t believe a word they say!

• Keep an eye on your credit card when shopping. Don’t allow a shop assistant to disappear for a time with your card, they may be making duplicates or charging extras.

• The crime rate in Los Cabos is low; the greatest danger is pickpockets.

Tourist Cards on entering Mexico

A passport is needed for all visitors to Mexico, including U. S. citizens who are driving across the border. On entering Mexico visitors must get a tourist card, generally from border controls on land or airports. Don’t lose it or it’ll cost you time and money when you leave.
You’re exempt from the fee if you enter by sea and stay less than 72 hours.
Tourist cards and visas are valid from 15 to 180 days at the discretion of the immigration officer at your point of entry. If you’re planning a long stay, ask for the maximum allowance at the time of entry. It will save you time and money later.
Mexico has strict policies about children entering the country and minors traveling with one parent need notarized permission from the absent parent.

Highway 1 (Transpeninsular Highway) that runs 794 miles (1277 kms) from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.

Distances

Los Cabos to Mexico City 735 miles (1183 kms)

Los Cabos to Tijuana 794 miles (1277 kms)

Los Cabos to San Diego 808 miles (1301 kms)

Los Cabos to Los Angeles 920 miles (1481 kms)