Stretches of dry desert, tantalizingly golden yet intimidatingly rugged, carpet the mostly untrammeled land between the Los Cabos International Airport and Los Cabos itself, the two-city destination that has long been considered by the not-so well-traveled lot the height of exoticism. I can understand why they would think so. In fact, like so many before me, I've fallen somewhat in love with it and its ragbag of attractions (possibly even the kitschy ones.)
Cabo's best one may just be the Sea of Cortez, Baja Peninsula's centerpiece and the World's Aquarium, imbued with so much life. It had been on my list for a while and was a welcome sight, sitting there deep blue and in stark contrast with the desert, as my ride sets its sights towards the jutting cliffs to the east of Cabo San Lucas.
Atop the cliff, the beautiful, family-owned and operated Hacienda Encantada tends over this part of the Vermilion Sea lapping against the abundant rock outcroppings, melding the traditional with the new. It is, by many standards, a resort dressed to impress--from its thunderous panorama and its meandering roads to its all-suite towers designed in the Mexican hacienda style and trimmed with furniture brought in especially from Guadalajara. There are three-bedroom, modern villas in its extensive grounds too, each with its own plunge pool and a private chef, as well as a light tower with an absorbing view of the setting sun.
It was to be my base for the next few days, in a splendid one-bedroom suite furnished with more Guadalajara-imported things and topped with soothing scenes of sailboats passing quietly off in the distance. It is as much a smart choice as it is an appealing one; it comes with an optional all-inclusive plan that includes dine-out privileges, a feature you won't find in most all-inclusive resorts. It was a handy plan to have, giving me access to some post-snorkeling and paddle boarding seafood treats at the Baja Lobster Company along the Marina Golden Zone.
Many boats set off from this marina, taking flocks on excursions to the celebrated Cabo Arch, Lover's Beach and Santa Maria, among others, so often that the should-be gems are almost pedestrian. The morning I took one such excursion, the Coast Guard decided the waters too rough, and our group had to settle for snorkeling at nearby Pelican Rock. The spot wasn't as exciting as I had hoped, but the trip wasn't a complete waste either. The thing about the Sea of Cortez is you're likely to come face to face with some kind of wildlife at every turn: friendly sea lions, manta rays leaping out of the water, small sharks, sea turtles and, during certain times of the year, migrating whales. There's no such thing as a wasted trip here.
Further east towards San Jose, the main attractions are the surfing spots, amongst them Cabo's Holy Trinity of point breaks--Acapulquito, El Roca and heavyweight Zippers. There's a glaring polarity between here and the more hectic Cabo San Lucas. Here, there's a surfers' paradise kind of vibe, hushed and slow-paced; and visitors are more than happy to slip into its mellow rhythm. There's also a stronger sense of solidarity, born out of the ever growing surfing community, so much so that even the big surf schools prefer to work together rather than compete. It's why many surfers from all over tend to congregate and even settle here.
Back at the resort, a different kind of crowd had gathered. The area's dignitaries had come to see the launch its newest tower, El Encantado de la Hacienda, which with its standard guest rooms is supposed to accommodate guests with a modest budget. Still, it doesn't fail to impress. The sizable pool area--blue with yellow and red flourishes--brags deluxe loungers, cabanas, a swim-up bar and hammocks, while the private balconies come with a view of Baja's southernmost point and the occasional fireworks from neighboring properties.
I was one of the fortunate few to test run the new tower's facilities, and it was heavenly; but sitting by the pool for too long is not my style, no matter how beguiling and deliciously empty it is. So later in the afternoon, I ventured out on (guided) horseback into the desert. It's what had greeted me upon my arrival; it's only right for it to give me a proper send off.
The sea may be the area's main draw, but it isn't the only one. Cabo's arid landscape is surprisingly rich in vegetation--mostly brown shrubbery but vegetation nonetheless. There's wildlife, too: iguanas, jackrabbits, deer, sheep, coyotes and even mountain lions; and overhead, birds including the majestic frigate bird that looks like a pterodactyl from below. And it's immensely wild. The sea is exciting and temperamental and full of adventures; but the desert is savage in its own way too, its burning sun potent and its foliage prickly and untamed. There's something cleansing about being surrounded by that.
Michelle Rae Uy is a travel writer, editor and amateur photographer based in Los Angeles. Check out her other adventures on Another Spur on the Road.