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Baja Rising

Laid back Los Cabos lays on the luxury

January 30, 2020

Los Cabos may not be the first destination that comes to mind when discussing meetings and business destinations, but it is quickly earning its place in the sun as an emerging star for events, business and bleisure.

The once-quiet fishing coast at the bottom of the Baja Peninsula is amassing a fair amount of fair-priced international airlift from key cities in North America, and now Europe. In addition a burgeoning empire of the top names in luxury hospitality is building up on a pristine coastline that, until recently, offered only redolent fishing villages on a calm sea.  

To clear up any confusion over nomenclature and geography, Los Cabos encompasses the region of southern Baja some 1,000 miles south of San Diego. The region takes in Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo and all resort beachfront area and infrastructure in between, along a good 20-mile stretch of coastlines that abut the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez.

Cabos San Lucas is the town at the bottom of the arm that offers the nightlife, cafes, bars, shopping and tour opportunities that were once a prime magnet for tourism and more or less what put Los Cabos area on the map over the past three decades.  Although Cabos San Lucas counts less than 100,000 residents, the region of Los Cabos tallies more than three times that number.

Resorts line the golden corridors fanning out from Cabos San Lucas on their own little islands of sand and surf along the Pacific Coast and the Sea of Cortez, all connected now by fast highways on what, not long ago, were soft dirt roads.

In fact, the building up of Los Cabos has been fierce over the past few years. Taking advantage of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Odile in 2015, the Los Cabos Tourism Board wasted no time adding allure to those golden corridors with a wave of new builds in the luxury hospitality space. Soon trend-setting food forums, golf courses, and protected natural attractions began getting the world’s attention.

“We have a destination that has been getting much more refined each year as each hotel or resort wants to top the last,” says Rodrigo Esponda, managing director of the Los Cabos Tourism Board. “In the same way, the hotel experience is moving forward, gathering trends. The destination is close to the US, and top North American cities are in an easy range of 3 hours by air. And there is great connectivity here with at least 360 flights a week from North American gateways. All these have combined work their magic.”

Celebrity Haunts 

Long a backyard getaway for Hollywood’s glitterati, the scene has only intensified in recent months, as the Montage, Ritz-Carlton, Waldorf Astoria, Four Seasons and Hard Rock Hotel have added monikers to the established list of elite stays that included the One&Only Palmilla, Viceroy, Solmar, Esperanza and Las Ventanas al Paraíso.

Naturally, the area is a haven for some of the top names in all-inclusive tourism: Breathless, Dreams, Villa Estancia, Hacienda Encantada, Solmar, Hyatt Ziva, and Le Blanc Spa Resort, a Palace Resorts property. Most properties have European plans available to keep guests on site. Getting from place to place or from one of the resorts to the towns of Cabo San Lucas to the south or San Jose del Cabo to the north is pricey by cab (around $50 one way) and a bit of a distance.

But the elite keep coming. Gwyneth Paltrow recently hosted her bachelorette party at the newly opened Four Seasons Costa Palmas on the up and coming East Cape of Los Cabos. This writer attended the grand opening of the Nobu Hotel in November that brought Robert De Niro and Leo Di Caprio, while other stars, such as Allison Janney, arrived at the hotel for some needed off time. New properties on the table for 2020 include Park Hyatt, Solaz, even a Caesars Palace resort. An Aman hotel, The Amanvari, is set to open on the East Cape next year. Among other openings for 2021, St. Regis, Grand Solmar and SO are a go.

“It’s the fastest growing region in Mexico economically – up 17 percent over the previous year – and that growth is directly connected to tourism,” says Esponda. “We have unique properties catering to different segments of leisure. New luxury options are now opening up on the East Cape and attracting a new type of traveler with more sophistication, but wanting more contact with nature — and that is a new market for Los Cabos.”

The Los Cabos Tourism Board was left to fend for itself these past months after the Mexico Tourism Board dissolved last year. Buoyed by the area’s HotelPac as well as voluntary donations, often coming from visitors who are asked, but not required, to add $19 to the fund upon their arrival at the Los Cabos International Airport (SJD), the tourism board has not missed a beat and is able to compete with other top destination for both tourism dollars and meetings commitments.

Made for Meetings 

The Los Cabos International Convention Center (ICC) hosted a number of meetings last year including four meetings of more than 1,000 attendees. The center is located near San Jose del Cabos and within 15 to 60 minutes’ drive from the phalanx of resorts lining both beachfront corridors.

The newly constructed ICC, rebuilt in 2018, adds to the region’s many hotel and resort meeting set-ups with more than 72,000 square feet of functional meeting space, accommodating 5,000 to 8,000 people. The new LEED certified facility is powered by more than 1,000 solar panels, and brings a roof design that allows plenty of natural light to enter through domes. It is also home to the world’s largest green wall – at 29,000 square feet – that functions as an insulator and cooling element during the warm summer months.

Meetings are on the rise in this region. One in three corporate events that take place in Mexico happen in Los Cabos. Easily a fifth of the destination’s total room nights are generated through meetings and conferences, says Esponda. Cabo San Lucas and San Jose Del Cabos ranked sixth and seventh on Cvent’s 2019 top meeting planners list for all of Latin America.

A number of attractive hospitality choices are but minutes away from the ICC. Le Blanc Spa Resort is almost walkable at 1.3 miles, The Viceroy is 1.9 miles distance, Hyatt Ziva is 2.7 miles away, with Hyatt Place just next door along with Barceló Gran. On the far side find One&Only Palmilla at 5.4 miles, Secrets at 5.6 miles and JW Marriott at 5.8 miles or 18 minutes away.

Meanwhile, the Tourism Corridor counts some 45 hotels at present with more than 11,000 rooms, distributed along three main areas. The ICC sits at the north end of this corridor, close to the airport, which now ranks as the sixth-busiest airport in Mexico. The location is just eight miles north from San Jose del Cabo and 23 miles from Cabo San Lucas.

The board actively courts meeting planners and set up a formidable presence at IMEX last year. Their program regularly assembles key players from around the events world for familiarization and strategizing. To that end, the Los Cabos Tourism Board opened an office in Los Angeles last September, firming up its commitment to the regional feeder market and becoming the only destination within Mexico now to have an external office.

The Board has been busy bringing in airlift and, during high season, counts more than 500 flights per week arriving at the commercial international airport (there is a second small outpost airport for private flights). Major airlines such as American Airlines, United, Spirit Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Delta, Frontier Airlines, Southwest, Virgin, Sunwing, Air Canada, West Jet, Interjet and Aeromexico fly daily to Los Cabos. Recently, TUI began flights from the UK. The close-in flights run less than three hours from Los Angeles and Phoenix.

The Bleisure Factor 

Currently, Los Cabos is less a business objective (industries here are more about hospitality and farm-to-table practices than manufacturing or technology) than it is a “bleisure” destination for its ease of accessibility and availability of top-notch hospitality brands.

The towns of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo are worth the exploration but, with their choices of cafes, galleries and souvenir shops, serve more as afternoon outings than places to lodge.

The region prides itself more on its natural gifts: The endless shorelines, unusual rock formations (not forgetting El Arco) and banks on the Sea of Cortez, often considered a natural aquarium for its variety of accessible sea and avian life. There, visitors can commune with sea lions, whale sharks, blue-footed boobies and dolphins in clear and calm warm waters yet untainted by plastic water bottles and urban run-off. Some 42 percent of the Baja territory is under protection status.

Focus on Food 

New hotel development along the East Cape looks over the Sea of Cortez, where fish farming is a growing industry, creating organic sustainable seafood for the fast-growing foodie culture developing in Los Cabos. Innovative chefs are finding their way to stardom – names like Tadd Chapman (Don Sanchez), Enrique Olvera (Manta), and Maria Jiminez (Edith’s), especially as top properties move in and bring culinary sparkle.

At Nobu Hotel Los Cabos, Chef Helene Henderson, founder of Malibu Farms, brought a complex menu of organic offerings to the area and joined such healthy eating compounds as Flora Farms, Huerta Los Tamarindos, Jazamango, and Acre in offering extraordinary organic dining experiences, mostly in stunning natural settings.

Then there are the known knowns: Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and two-Michelin-star Chef Sidney Schutte of Grand Velas Los Cabos’ Cocina de Autor, who have cemented the region in recent years as a competitive culinary force in tourism.

Golfing the Baja 

Finally, golf needs a word, if only to offer ways to work off the gains that come from the abundant dining opportunities in Los Cabos. Golfers will find some 16 courses available to them, along some private courses.

The Dunes at Diamante is available to guests at Nobu Los Cabos. Designed by Davis Love III, it is cataloged as the top golf course in Mexico and number 36 in the world — but will set players back $320 for 18 holes. But there are plenty of other challenging courses, most celebrity-designed, easily accessible and reasonably priced, often with tranquil panoramas that will take your breath away.

For more information or planning support, contact VisitLosCabos.Travel