I awoke one morning in late February at my home in Vancouver, to find Winter was still outside. It was cold and raining, with a possible snowfall warning in the forecast. Was I dreaming (again)?
Was it ever going to leave? The Westcoast was hit hard by a very long winter this year, and it’s something we are not used to.
Craving sunshine, warmth, culture and to escape this Canadian winter, I began researching hot destinations like Florida, Bahamas, Hawaii and Mexico. And the easiest and quickest flight (at the best price) I could find was Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. So I booked a last minute trip to search for my freckles and try and save my sanity!
Flights were easy to organize, mostly because I always use a Travel Agent after doing a little research myself. I once called this my main career, so I don’t even blink an eye at calling up my “travel assistant” to handle bookings. And if you are a Nexxus card holder, you’ll wiz by any line ups and feel like a V.I.P.! The perfect way to start any vacation.
American Airlines was extremely pleasant to fly and we even arrived early due to “extraordinary airmanship”. Once in US airspace their Wi-fi kicks in, although as hard as I tried – it wouldn’t work for this Canadian girl and her iphone. But, I really didn’t need it, as there was free entertainment aboard my flight. Half the plane from Phoenix to Cabo was University students on Spring Break! If you’ve got a stop in Phoenix, buy the locally made Arizona Sun natural body products or grab a bite at Taco and Tequila before boarding your next flight.
Upon arrival, the airport is filled with individuals trying to “help you” find a ride. It’s best to pretend you have transport already booked, and confidentaly walk straight outside without engaging with them. But I do recommend you pre-organize your transfers. I ended up researching transfers from the airport to my hotel until the wee hours of the night, and booked last minute direct with Grayline , who had the best rate ($37usd roundtrip). I don’t recommend doing it so late, as I was booked as “pending”, although I was confirmed when I found them and checked in outside the airport. The transfer was fast and the shared van service only took 25 minutes.
My cute little 3-storey hotel was right in the town of Cabo San Lucas at the very southern part of the Baja Peninsula. Just 2 blocks from the Marina, the Estancia Hotel, was perfectly located. It offered simple, but very clean and spacious rooms, continental breakfast, 24-hour friendly front desk and a really lovely pool and courtyard with full sun from 11am – 4pm. Sure, I could have chosen a waterfront resort with all-inclusive dining, however I would not have gotten the experience I did.
My mission for my first evening – was go for a walk, eat, buy suntan lotion, bottled water (because you still cant drink or brush your teeth from the tap!), and get acquainted with my surroundings. A tortilla soup, 2 Damiana Margaritas, and a taco made me feel very welcome. It was a warm and very comfortable 18 C at night with a light ocean breeze. I had arrived to warmth, where English is spoken but Spanish is preferred and although I could get wi-fi at the restaurant, but why? I was on vacation in a beautiful seaside town.
The next day I went for an early morning walk and discovered a local patisserie just across the street called: Cal Forner. 1 block away was a local fresh juice shop (for just 30-50 pesos) making shakes or juices from fresh vegetables and fruits. After a nice leisurely day in the sun by the pool (plotting my adventures), I walked around the block to a local restaurant Mariscos Mazatlan. I ordered ceviche to-go and it was less expensive than the main street restaurants, and enough to feed 4 people for just 135 pesos! As I enjoyed ceviche and a beer in the hotel courtyard for happy hour, I struck up a conversation with another guest named Claudia who was from Germany. She had been visiting family in Monterey, Mexico and then travelling to eastern Mexico and to Guatemala with a friend, before heading back to Europe. We chatted about travels, life, politics, a little bit of everything actually. It was fantastic. This has got to be the most favourite part of my trips – unexpected, spontaneous conversations with fellow travelers. With everyone on their phones and computers these days, socializing in person has become a bit of a lost art, except when you go travelling.
For dinner I decided to visit a Wine Bar and Restaurant on my list called DOC Wine.
Mostly because they had quite a few local Mexican wines by the glass, and I was very intrigued to try them. After getting lost and getting directions from the locals, I found this quaint little restaurant, with a front patio overlooking a park on the edge of town. It was quiet in the area, compared to the rest of the town, it was just what I needed. I chatted with a lovely couple from Northern California – Randy and Suzanne who suggested a Whale Watching trip to see the Gray Whales. They have the longest known migration of any mammal. They travel north every year from their winter mating and calving area in the warm waters off Baja, Mexico to their summer feeding grounds in the cold Arctic waters.
So consider March a great time to see them off the Baja! (Sometimes, other travellers have some great ideas, so keep your itinerary somewhat flexible.)
The owner of DOC Wine is also the sommelier and has the largest cellar of Italian wines in Mexico! And don’t miss the house-made limoncello with vodka, rosemary and peppercorns. Of course, my travels always include wine, so here’s what I learned about Mexican wines, and what I tasted.
Baja California Wine Regions:
There are a few valleys in the Northern Baja peninsula, which make it possible to grow grapes and have a wine region. Guadalupe, Calafia, Santo Tomas, San Vicente and San Antonio de las Minas valleys offer a unique terroir. They have cool breezes and salty air from the Pacific ocean, a sunny and dry Mediterranean climate, and the Sands of the Sonoran desert to the east (which by the way go all the way north to Osoyoos, BC in their wine region). Their wine region is smaller than Napa Valley but quaint, and has been up and coming for years, attracting winemakers from around the world. They have a unique terroir.
Malagón Sauvignon Blanc – Lovely acidity, minerals, citrus and an apple- herbaceous note, dry. I’m shocked this is really good! Paired with taleggio cheese.
Malagón Grenache Rosé – is delightfully acidic the salty mineral and round body from plump red fruits, but nicely balanced, again shocked, this is good!
Tinto Malagón Blend – ok wow. Floral and dense on the nose is that Petit Sirah cause Grenache can’t do this alone! Smooth floral, complex, bright , mocha, spice acidity… wholly heck lots going on!!!!
Chardonnay – Off dry, aged in oak, creamy but fruit forward with salty minerals, its throwing me off but it’s tasty. Although I am not a fan of off-dry Chard, not at all.
Sangiovese/Cabernet Blend – Super lean, showing off more the red fruit sang side, slight spice is subdued by the cab, I’m on the fence on this one , it’s like voluptuous yet a hint of cab holds it back… it is good just different… it’s growing on me!!! An Italian winemaker is in charge at this winery.
When I’m in a sunny, hot destination, I do rest, however I like to get an early start so I can explore. I was up early for a good walk along the Marina, stopped for a fresh juice, then a stop at the bakery for a croissant, and then got myself ready to check out. I was headed for hotel #2 on the other side of town.
I checked in early, so I stored my bags and headed out for an adventure. I enjoyed a fresh fish taco with a local cerveza at Captain Tony’s down at the marina (grilled and fresh). Then walked to the local Medano beach, where there are many day clubs, restaurants and places to rent umbrellas and lounge chairs. I had a refreshing Mango Margarita at The Office Restaurant, before bargaining for a 45-minute boat tour to the Arch (don’t pay more than $10usd). A good boat tour to get some photos of the “el Arco” at Lands End, near where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean.
Unfortunately my flip flops broke getting off the boat, so a nice Costa Rican couple (Robert and Martha) from Texas (who I sat beside), lent me a pair of their flip flops and gave me a ride back to my hotel. Texan hospitality? Whatever it was, it was genuine and lovely. After I got my own shoes back on, I walked over to the restaurant next door, called Neptuno’s. Here I finally got to try a local specialty – “chocolate clams”. No, they weren’t made of chocolate, the outer shell is dark brown, and they are a local clam to the area, locally called Almeja de chocolate “Al-may-ha”. I ordered the Almeja “stuffed and baked” (it was the size of my hand!) along with Ceviche “Cabo style” with jicama, mango, onion and shrimps with a gigantic Margarita. Delicious!
For dinner (I was too full to eat, oops), I met the lovely Texan couple at a Brazilian Steakhouse (that’s a lot of meat!) and we enjoyed lots of great conversation about life, food over some wine. Again, an unexpected encounter with fellow travellers resulted in a fantastic evening!
I feel lucky to have found The Bungalows Hotel which was recommended by the Lonely Planet. It’s run by a brother and sister (Erik and Ale) who manage it but their mom (Estela) started it over 20 years ago, they were one of the first bed and breakfasts to be non-smoking. They love their business and it shows. They greet you with a smile and hug every time they see you.
The atmosphere is beautiful, with an outdoor breakfast room – where Erik serves up delicious home made breakfast (think frittata or coconut macadamia nut pancakes) along with a different fresh fruit smoothie every morning. The rooms are Spanish in style with painted tiles and terra cotta colors and the bed was comfortable with some flowers and chocolates to welcome your arrival. The pool in the courtyard is quiet with lots of sun time.. And it’s just a walk away from DOC Wine and 2 other wine bars.
I made sure to eat light this morning, as I booked myself on a Culinary tour by Juan More Taco Tours ($60 usd). I am a firm believer in taking a food tour when travelling. It’s the best way to experience the local culture from a locals perspective vs. a tourists. We learned about local culture, Mexican and Baja Mexico history and were guided around town to 7 hidden gems to try local specialties. It was a 4-hour tour, but well worth it!
Stop 1– we ate a ”Torta” (Mexican sandwich) with a Sangria Pop
No mayonnaise is ever used, they use beans instead with flank steak and cheese
Stop 2– Tacos May – is where all the locals go to eat throughout the day. I had a cactus taco cooked with garlic, tomato, salt and onion
Stop 3 – Tres Tonos – a tequila museum and factory with a tasting of their small production (5000 bottles per year) tequilas. Only sold here and in Cozumel
Stop 4– Barria Jalisco – we tried a special dinner that would be enjoyed on Sunday’s with the family, made with beef shank that is marinated and served in a fresh corn tortilla with a side of beef bone broth
Stop 5– Tortillas de Harina 5 eatrellas- the oldest tortilla factory in Cabo that is family run. They make 600 lbs of tortillas a day! They sell them and distribute them to local businesses
Stop 6– Claros Taco, in operation since 1960, they are considered the best in the town, I tried a local specialty – smoked and grilled Marlin (it was super different and good)
Stop 7-Paleteria- a place where they use filtered water to make fruit bars made from all fruits, creams and candies. I enjoyed a watermelon popsicle. (when in Mexico, make sure to check one out, they are a hidden gem for sure)
Stop 8 – a local snack vendor (pushing a wheel barrel as the shop), where we sampled roasted nuts, tamarind candies, roasted fava beans and licorices (don’t shy away from these locals, they are great snacks!)
What an amazing trip to escape winter and be awakened by the sun and warmth of Mexico. My visit was like a dose of much needed vitamins. And a great way to take a break from computers and reconnect with people, it helped me recharge and refocus my mind (and eyes) and put my dusty socializing skills to work.
Hasta Luego (see you soon) Mexico!
Here are some additional Wine, Dining and Tour recommendations:
Cabo Jazz & Wine Sunset Cruise Aboard the Tropicat
Mako Vegetarian/Vegan Restaurant (yes there is one!)
*no website, but you’ll find it on your google map
Paseo de La Marina s/n, Centro, 23450 Cabo San Lucas, BCS, Mexico
Contina y Cocina at Hacienda Beach Club & Residences
(private resort, you must enter through the main gate) – have a Michelada and Ceviche during the day as it has a gorgeous view and interior.
Solmar Resort (at Lands End) on Monday, Wednesday and Friday they have “Ceviche and Champagne”, Call ahead.
San Jose Art Walk (30-45 min north)
Day trip to Todos Santos (by car or tour)
Sunset drinks at Sunset Monalisa north of Cabo (10-15 min drive)