San Jose del Cabo Travel Guide

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San Jose del Cabo Travel Guide

San Jose del Cabo Local History

Before a permanent settlement was established at San Jose del Cabo, the area was used as a base camp by pirates who raided Spanish boats offshore, but the creation of a military post at Cabo San Lucas put an end to this buccaneering enterprise and made the area safe for new endeavours. The town was inaugurated as a mission by Jesuits in 1730 and eventually developed into a fishing village. The 19th century saw Mexico gain its independence from Spain (1821), only to endure the ravages of the Mexican-American War (1846-48), when US troops occupied the area around San Jose del Cabo. At the war's resolution, Baja (Lower) California remained under Mexican control but Alta (Upper) California had become a new US state.

Five years after the Mexican-American War, an aspiring American dictator called William Walker also occupied the southern end of the peninsula in an attempt to establish the Republic of Lower California, ostensibly a new US state under his control. But any form of American colonization was successfully resisted until after WWII, when US pilots regaled anyone back home who would listen with stories of the perfect weather and hauls of big fish just waiting to be discovered on the Baja Peninsula - the modern-day tourism industry was thereby minted. The region's first resort was built at La Paz in 1948 by a group of wealthy American actors who included Bing Crosby and John Wayne, followed eight years later by the opening of the still-operational Hotel Palmilla on a site 3.5km (2mi) south of San Jose del Cabo, and then by the town's international airport in 1986.

San Jose del Cabo is today the gateway to the most developed and heavily patronized stretch of coast on the peninsula. The town itself, however, has managed to hold on to many of the features that drew the tourists here in the first place, narrow streets, Spanish-style buildings and shady plazas.

San Jose del Cabo Attractions

Top Attractions

Estero de San Jose - Located at the end of the tourist area of San Jose del Cabo, this is where the freshwater Rio San Jose flows into the sea. The estuary is a natural preserve closed to boats. More than 200 species of birds can be seen here. A building on the edge of the estuary serves as a nature center with exhibits explaining the culture of Baja's indigenous people. Los Cabos is not an area of museums and zoos. Even so, it is an area for spectacular family vacations. Families will enjoy the beaches and water sports as well as the whale watching and snorkeling.

Plaza Mijares - San Jose del Cabo has managed to keep its historic Spanish-colonial atmosphere, laidback friendliness and natural tranquility. Nowhere are these qualities more on show than in and around the distinctly uncluttered Plaza Mijares, a breezy square where inactivity rules supreme.

Todos Santos - Right around on the western coast of the cape, but still only a two-hour bus trip from San Jose del Cabo, is the crafty town of Todos Santos. This small, charming grid of streets hosted a Jesuit visita (outstation) in the 18th century and later became a prosperous cane-milling centre; the crumbled remains of old trapiches (mills) are today piled up around town. But more recently Todos Santas has been invaded by creative refugees from the smothering entrepreneurial atmospheres of New Mexican arts strongholds like Taos and Santa Fe, and it consequently features numerous high-quality galleries - two streets where such places congregate are Legaspi and Juarez. In late January every year, Todos Santos stages a Festival de Artes, during which local artists open up their studios to the public.

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San Jose del Cabo Shopping

ADD (Arte, Diseno y Decoracion) - This shop sells creative home accessories, fine arts and crafts, pewter, and authentic Talavera ceramics. Shipping is available. Open weekdays from 9am to 8pm, Saturday from 10am to 8pm. Located at Zaragoza at Hidalgo. Tel: 624/142-2777.

Copal - Traditional and contemporary Mexican artesania and silver jewelry are the specialties in this former residence, tastefully converted into a contemporary shop. Open weekdays from 9am to 10:30pm, weekends from 10am to 2pm and 4 to 10:30pm. Located at Plaza Mijares 10.Tel: 624/142-3070.

Escape - This shop sells designer and casual sportswear and accessories, including designer jeans, leather bags, belts, and a trendy selection of sunglasses. An interior decor shop by the same name is next door. A small cafe and espresso bar, Cafe Florentina (open daily 11am-11pm), is in the connecting courtyard. Open daily from 9am to 9pm. Located at Zaragoza 20. Plaza Florentine, across from the cathedral. Tel: 624/142-2799.

Galeria Wentworth Porter - This gallery features a selection of original fine art, along with prints and art cards by local artists. It prominently features the work of the locally popular Dennis Wentworth Porter. It is open weekdays from 10am to 1pm and 4 to 7pm, Saturday from 10am to 2pm. Located at Av. Obregon 20. Tel: 624/142-3141.

San Jose del Cabo Activities

Horseback Riding - Horses can be rented near the Presidente Inter-Continental, Fiesta Inn, and Palmilla hotels for $15 to $20 per hour. Most people choose to ride on the beach. You can also arrange horseback riding through Xplora Adventours (tel. 624/142-9135). It deals with a good ranch that has a stable of healthy, well-groomed horses (the horses on the beaches are often on the thin side). Xplora offers tours on the beach and down a mountain trail. One-hour rides are $30.

Tennis -- The two courts at the Club Campo de Golf Los Cabos (tel. 624/142-0905), Paseo Finisterra 1, across from the Howard Johnson Hotel, rent for $12 an hour during the day, $22 an hour at night. Call the club to reserve. Club guests can also use the swimming pool.

Surfing -- Playa Costa Azul, at Km 29 on Highway 1 just south of San Jose, is the most popular surfing beach in the area. A few bungalows are available for rent, or surfers can camp on the beach. The Costa Azul Surf Shop, Km 28, Playa Costa Azul (tel. 624/142-2771) rents surfboards by the day. It charges $5 an hour for a short or long board, leash, and rack for your rental car. Spectators can watch from the highway lookout point at the top of the hill south of Costa Azul.

Whale-Watching - From January through March, migrating gray whales congregate offshore. Fishermen at Pueblo la Playa take small groups out to see them; a 4-hour trip runs about $45 per person. Organized half-day tours on sport fishing boats, glass-bottom boats, and cruise catamarans depart from Plaza las Glorias in Cabo San Lucas and cost $35 to $50, depending on the type of boat. The price includes snacks and beverages. The ultimate whale excursion is a trip to Magdalena Bay. Tours from San Jose take you by plane, to Magdalena, where you board a panga and spend 3 hours watching gray whales and humpbacks loll around the coastal lagoons.

This tour is $385, including air transportation, and can be arranged through Xplora Adventours (tel. 624/142-9135). It is truly an amazing experience. You can also spot the whales from shore, good spots include the beach by the Solmar Suites hotel on the Pacific and the beaches and cliffs along the Corridor.

San Jose del Cabo Parks & Gardens

Reserva de La Biosfera Sierra de la Laguna - In the cape region's mountainous interior, 15km northwest of San Jose del Cabo as the buzzard flies, are the lush, diverse forests of the 1128-sq-km Sierra de la Laguna. It is one of Baja California's four biosphere reserves, a concept initiated in the 1970s by the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO) whereby swathes of naturally significant land in developing countries are fully protected within zonas nucleo (core areas) but locals are allowed to work certain surrounding areas using sustainable methods, hence balancing environmental and economic needs.

Sierra de la Laguna - Is a rugged, high-altitude wilderness of deciduous, coniferous and palm forests, the hills of which are alive with the sounds of experienced hikers and inexperienced foot-sloggers who have wisely signed up with local guides or organized excursions.

There are four main (and unmarked) east-west crossings of the biosphere reserve to choose from: the central Canon San Bernardo, a five-day haul considered the easiest route for walkers, the northern five to six-day Canon San Dionisio, which guides you through an ecological wonderland of aspens, pines, palms and cacti; the southern Canon San Pablo, also a five-day trudge; and the Naranjas Road in Sierra de la Laguna's far south, a treacherously narrow, potholed and arabesque dirt cutting that's frequently targeted by sturdy cars (usually 4WDs) and day-tripping mountain bikers.

On-foot crossings of the Reserva de La Biosfera Sierra de la Laguna are begun from one of a number of foothill villages, all of which you will need a car to get to unless you are on a tour.

San Jose del Cabo Beaches

Playa del Nuevo Sol - For a leisurely taste of white sand, saltwater and good swimming conditions, head down Boulevard Mijares to the tan-friendly Playa del Nuevo Sol. A short slouch along the sand and it is welcome to the Playa de California, the eastern extension of del Nuevo Sol and such a lovely place.

Those who enjoy surf fishing can make their way 2.5km east of downtown to La Playita, the sandy crescent that fronts the small fishing village of Pueblo La Playa, while surfers will want to venture 2km south down the highway to the sick reef and point breaks at Playa Costa Azul, colloquially known as Zipper's Beach.

To plant your plastic bucket and spade in the many other spacious sandpits along the Bahia San Jose del Cabo, and wet yourself in a socially acceptable way in the process, journey west down The Corridor to the heavily footprinted foreshores of Playa Acapulquito, adjacent to Zipper's and also conducive to surfing; Playa Palmilla, a lengthy beach 1km west of Acapulquito that is popular with swimmers; the breakwater-protected Playa Cabo Real, a further 7km west; and Playa Santa Maria, a placid cove located a full 17km from San Jose del Cabo, with fish-teeming waters that yield the best snorkeling along this stretch of peninsular coast. Swimming Safety - Although this area is ideal for water sports, occasional strong currents and undertows can make swimming dangerous at Playa Hotelera, the town beach, check conditions before entering the surf. Swimming is generally safe at Pueblo la Playa though it, too, occasionally experiences a strong undertow. The safest area beach for swimming is Medano Beach in Cabo San Lucas.

San Jose del Cabo Restaurants and Bars

Contemporary Mexican cuisine with a light and flavourful touch is the star attraction here, and enjoyable options include perfectly seared tuna with cilantro and ginger, ribs topped with tamarind sauce, and baked lobster with tequila sauce. Vegetarians can enjoy bell peppers stuffed with ricotta in tomato sauce, or one of several pasta dishes.

The accompanying whole-grain bread arrives fresh and hot, and attentive service complements the fine meal. Cuban cigars and an excellent selection of tequilas are available, as is an extensive wine list emphasizing California vintages.

San Jose del Cabo Restaurants

Mi Cocina - This is the best dining choice in the entire Los Cabos area. From the setting to the service, a dinner at Mi Cocina ranks among the most memorable of experiences. The plant-filled courtyard, with its towering palms and exposed brick walls, accommodates alfresco dining. The food is superb, creative, and consistently flavourful. Notable starters include chile relleno de camarones (an ancho chile stuffed with baby shrimp and cooked with cream cheese, Brie, and cilantro). Main courses include pasta, seafood, poultry, and beef, with such favorites as Natalia-style filet, served on creamy chile sauce with mushrooms and broccoli, and jumbo shrimp sauteed with rosemary, olive oil, and sun-dried tomatoes. Save room for dessert, choices range from chocolate fondant to fresh-fruit-filled meringue discs topped with Chantilly cream. A full-service palapa bar offers an excellent selection of wines, premium tequilas, and single-malt scotches, as well as special margarita and martini menus. Main courses are $18-$32. Mi Cocina is located in the Casa Natalia hotel, Blvd. Mijares. Tel: 624/142-5100.

Damiana - This casually elegant restaurant in an 18th-century hacienda is decorated in the colours of a Mexican sunset: deep-orange walls, and tables and chairs clad in bright rose, lavender, and orange cloth. The favoured tables are in the tropical courtyard, where candles flicker under trees and bougainvillea. For an appetizer, try zesty mushrooms diablo. Ranchero shrimp in cactus sauce and grilled lobster tail are flavourful main-course choices. You can also enjoy brunch almost until the dinner hour. There is an interior dining room, but the courtyard is the most romantic dining spot in San Jose. Expect to pay $9-$15 for lunch, and $10-$50 for main courses. Reservations are recommended during Christmas and Easter. Damiana is located on the east side of the town plaza. Tel: 624/142-0499, or 624/142-2899.

Pitahayas - In a beachfront setting in the Hacienda del Mar resort, Pitahayas offers gourmet dining under a grand palapa or on open-air terraces under a starlit sky. Master chef Volker Romeike has assembled a creative menu that blends Pacific Rim cuisine with Mexican herbs and seasonings. Notable sauces include mango, black bean, and curry. Rotisserie barbecued duck is a house specialty, as are mesquite grill and wok cooking. A dessert pizza with fresh fruit, chocolate, and marzipan makes a fitting finish to a stunning meal. Formal resort attire is requested. Reservations are required during high season, and main courses are available from $12-$30. Located at Hacienda del Mar, Km 10 on Hwy. 1, Cabo del Sol. Tel: 624/145-8010.

Tequila - Contemporary Mexican cuisine with a light and flavourful touch is the star attraction here, although the garden setting is lovely, with rustic equipal furniture and lanterns scattered among palms and giant mango trees. Try the specialty, shrimp in tequila sauce. Other enjoyable options include perfectly seared tuna with cilantro and ginger, ribs topped with tamarind sauce, and baked lobster with tequila sauce. Vegetarians can enjoy bell peppers stuffed with ricotta in tomato sauce, or one of several pasta dishes. The accompanying whole-grain bread arrives fresh and hot, and attentive service complements the fine meal. Cuban cigars and an excellent selection of tequilas are available, as is an extensive wine list emphasizing California vintages. Open daily 11:30am-3pm and 6-10:30pm. Daily 11:30am-3pm and 6-10:30pm. Expect to pay $9-$22 for lunch, and $15-$45 for main courses. Located at AE. M. Doblado s/n. Tel: 624/142-1155.

San Jose del Cabo Bars & Clubs

Tropicana Bar and Grill - The Tropicana remains a popular mainstay, especially for tourists. The bar has a steady clientele day and night and often features special sporting events on satellite TV. The dining area is in a garden (candlelit in the evening) with a tiled mural at one end. Cafe-style sidewalk dining is also available, but it is less romantic because of a twirling, brightly lit dessert display. All meats and cheeses are imported; dinners include thick steaks and shrimp fajitas. Breakfast is $4-$6, and main courses are $10-$25. Paella is the Sunday special. Located 1 block south of the Plaza Mijares. Tel: 624/142-1580.

Iguana Bar and Grill - This casual, lively open-air bar and restaurant is sheltered by a broad thatched roof and has a patio under the stars. Live music and dancing on Friday and Saturday get cranking around 9:30pm and can last until 3am. Occasionally, they will feature a transvestite show. If you are hungry, the house specialty is barbecued ribs. The place is open daily from noon to 3am. Drinks run $3 to $7. There is no cover, except on Sat, which is $3 and includes a domestic drink. Located on Blvd. Mijares 24. Tel: 624/142-0266.

San Jose del Cabo children's activities

Horseback Riding - Horses can be rented near the Presidente Inter-Continental, Fiesta Inn, and Palmilla hotels for $15 to $20 per hour. Most people choose to ride on the beach. You can also arrange horseback riding through Xplora Adventours (tel. 624/142-9135). It deals with a good ranch that has a stable of healthy, well-groomed horses (the horses on the beaches are often on the thin side). Xplora offers tours on the beach and down a mountain trail. One-hour rides are $30.

Tennis -- The two courts at the Club Campo de Golf Los Cabos (tel. 624/142-0905), Paseo Finisterra 1, across from the Howard Johnson Hotel, rent for $12 an hour during the day, $22 an hour at night. Call the club to reserve. Club guests can also use the swimming pool.

Surfing -- Playa Costa Azul, at Km 29 on Highway 1 just south of San Jose, is the most popular surfing beach in the area. A few bungalows are available for rent, or surfers can camp on the beach. The Costa Azul Surf Shop, Km 28, Playa Costa Azul (tel. 624/142-2771) rents surfboards by the day. It charges $5 an hour for a short or long board, leash, and rack for your rental car. Spectators can watch from the highway lookout point at the top of the hill south of Costa Azul.

Whale-Watching - From January through March, migrating gray whales congregate offshore. Fishermen at Pueblo la Playa take small groups out to see them; a 4-hour trip runs about $45 per person. Organized half-day tours on sport fishing boats, glass-bottom boats, and cruise catamarans depart from Plaza las Glorias in Cabo San Lucas and cost $35 to $50, depending on the type of boat. The price includes snacks and beverages. The ultimate whale excursion is a trip to Magdalena Bay. Tours from San Jose take you by plane, to Magdalena, where you board a panga and spend 3 hours watching gray whales and humpbacks loll around the coastal lagoons.

This tour is $385, including air transportation, and can be arranged through Xplora Adventours (tel. 624/142-9135). It is truly an amazing experience. You can also spot the whales from shore, good spots include the beach by the Solmar Suites hotel on the Pacific and the beaches and cliffs along the Corridor.

Featured Hotels in San Jose del Cabo

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