Sunset boat cruise at Cabo

Beautiful Artistic Joyous Arid BAJA

Baja California is a land of contrasts. With beautiful ocean beaches, arid desert landscapes, manicured golf courses, craggy mountains, magnificent resorts and wild frontiers, it is definitely a place to put on your bucket list of destinations to visit.

Baja California is a land of contrasts.

With beautiful ocean beaches, arid desert landscapes, manicured golf courses, craggy mountains, magnificent resorts and wild frontiers, it is definitely a place to put on your bucket list of destinations to visit.

Last spring, Duane and Joan McCartney of Lacombe explored the tip of the Baja peninsula and highly recommend it as a place to visit.

Located in northwestern Mexico, the Baja Peninsula is a rocky land mass that stretches more than 1,200 km and separates the Pacific Ocean from the Gulf of California. Although it is not part of mainland Mexico, you can definitely feel the Mexican charm in the communities that occupy the peninsula between Tijuana, Mexico, at the northern end and Cabo San Lucas on the southernmost tip.

One of the appealing features of this part of Mexico is its unique landscape. The desert landscape rises from both the east and west coast to a forest of cacti, elephant trees and spindly ocotillo bushes.

On the high mountain tops where rainfall is plentiful, evergreen trees can be found.

The Baja is barren in places and resembles the true “Wild West,” but it also has exclusive country clubs, great restaurants, plenty of water sports and great sunshine.

There was a time when Cabo San Lucas, or “Cabo” as it is known to locals, was a sleepy fishing village and an exclusive haven for wealthy deep sea sport fishermen and Hollywood movie stars like Bing Crosby, John Wayne and Ava Gardner.

But Cabo is quickly becoming one of the world’s hottest vacation destinations with multimillion-dollar villas and five-star resorts lining its beautiful beaches. From January through March, the migrating grey and humpback whales visit Los Cabos to breed and calve creating one of Baja’s most impressive spectacles.

Medano beach is the bustling heart of Cabo and is lined with fancy hotels, beach bars and excellent restaurants. At the marina, you can find fishing charter boats that will take you deep sea fishing or whale watching. The area is noted as the Marlin Capital of the World.

There is much to explore in this region of Mexico and the McCartneys enjoyed several tours during their time in the area. A half-day dinner cruise that included whale watching, a scuba diving excursion to Arch Rock, and a full day mini-bus tour of the surrounding region were all excellent excursions for the couple.

They particularly enjoyed visiting the two main towns near the southern tip — San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas. Located 33 km apart, the two communities couldn’t be more different. Cabo San Lucas is the larger of the two and resembles a U.S. beach resort town, while San Jose del Cabo remains a traditional Mexican small town with colourful cottages fronting narrow tree-lined streets.

“San Jose has a major art scene with many high end art galleries, interesting shops and excellent cafes,” explained Joan. “One evening we joined an evening art walk in San Jose and were unexpectedly invited to tour one of the artist’s homes. Exploring Frank Arnold’s gallery and private home proved to be a real highlight of our trip.”

Getting around can sometimes be a real challenge in this part of Mexico and the McCartneys did face some challenges.

“We wanted to be able to venture out and see the country and we really debated about renting a car, but we had concerns about insurance and were nervous about the hassles that could come up if we were in an accident or got lost,” said Duane. “In the end, we decided to forgo the hassles and explore on a small organized tour.”

Rancho Tours took the pair on a one-day trip around the southern coast where they visited La Paz and another resort town up the coast as well as Todos Santos home of Hotel California made famous by the Eagles singing group. Todos Santos is an artistic community on the Pacific side that is an hour north of Los Cabos. La Paz, the capital of Baja Sur, is an easy going marine port skirted by beautiful white sandy beaches.

“It was an excellent trip and definitely the way to go” said Joan. “We were with one other couple in a minivan and our tour guide was a walking encyclopedia of the history and culture of the area.”

After travelling with the tour guide, the McCartneys then took the local bus back to San Jose del Cabo to visit more of the art galleries. “It got really hairy trying to figure out which bus to take to get back to our hotel in Cabo,” said Joan. “But afterwards we realized that all the buses that stopped at the bus stop ended up in Cabo.”

The McCartneys found the Baja peninsula to be an excellent vacation destination that has a multitude of adventures to enjoy. Their short stay didn’t allow them to see quite everything the destination has to offer, but enough to know that it is a destination worth returning to.

If you go:

• There are direct flights into San Jose del Cabo airport from either Calgary or Edmonton several times per week with Westjet, Air Canada, Sunwing airlines, and Sunquest Vacations. For a short stay of one to two weeks, it is often cheaper to book an all-inclusive air and hotel package through a tour operator.

• Visitors should be aware that some beaches in Los Cabos can be steep with strong currents and riptides and many resorts front beaches that are not swimmable. This is particularly true of resorts on the Pacific side of the peninsula. Beaches on the gulf side tend to be safer for swimming, but it is often only a short walk or taxi ride to reach a swimmable beach if you are staying at an accommodation that fronts a beach where swimming is not recommended.

• The McCartneys stayed at Villa del Palmar (www.villagroupresorts.com/resorts/villa-del-palmar-cabo), but they also recommend the Cabo Villas (www.cabovillas.com) for those looking for a high end accommodation.

• The scuba diving excursion was booked through Cabo Adventures (www.cabo-adventures.com) and the whale watching and sunset cruise was with Cabo Escape (www.wildcabotours.com). Rancho Tours (www.ranchotours.com) was used for the day tour by bus. A full-day bus tour cost about $80 per person, including dinner.

• A favourite dining spot for the McCartneys was Mi Casa restaurant, which is located across from the main down town plaza in Cabo San Lucas. The restaurant serves many traditional Mexican specialities.

Did you know?

• For more than 30 years, Los Cabos has been home to the Bisbee Black and Blue Marlin Tournament, the richest sport fishing tournament in the world. In 2006, the cash payout for the tournament was $4,165,960, the largest payout in sports fishing history. The entry fee for the tournament is around $10,000 per boat.

Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story who we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.

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