It’s about time Mexico gets the respect it deserves for its gastronomic appeal, with various regions boasting different flavours and dining experiences, but all representing the culture and history of this favoured destination. Among its top culinary contenders is Los Cabos, where the beach is just the beginning.
Photo by Victor Hughes on UnsplashI COULDN’T HELP BUT BE SKEPTICAL WHEN A friend told me I was “bound to see a whale” while I was in Los Cabos. On past journeys, albeit in different destinations, I had found myself in similar situations, where whale spottings and spoutings were reported…by others, but never me. In the past, I had come close to observing these impressive creatures in their natural state along migratory routes and during seasonally correct times, and yet, the elusive whale remained a well-kept mystery to me. I hoped my mammoth marine mammal-sighting luck would change for the better this time, but I wasn’t holding my breath.
Each year from November through March, hundreds of gray, blue and humpback whales head south from chilly Arctic waters to the warmth of the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortés, with Los Cabos-based outfitters offering whale watching tours as part of their winter itineraries. With more than 800 species, The Sea of Cortés is brimming with aquatic life. So much so, the famed undersea explorer, Jacques Cousteau, dubbed it “The Aquarium of the World.” Surely this bodes well for me and my whale sighting mission.
Located at the southern tip of Baja California Sur in northwestern Mexico, Los Cabos encompasses the lively town of Cabo San Lucas, the more laid-back San José del Cabo, and the “Corridor” – a long stretch of hotels and golf courses perched along the shoreline in-between. Throughout this corner of the country, breathtaking natural beauty and sensational vistas abound, from majestic mountains and desert landscapes to gorgeous beaches and the most dramatic year-round sunsets. There are accommodation options to suit every style, with many hotels and resorts offering peaceful, pamper-worthy spa services.
Also, as I soon discover, there is a veritable treasure trove of activities to partake in by land or by sea, from golfing and surfing to biking and fishing. Running the gamut from quaint to cosmopolitan, the arts and culture scene add to Los Cabos’ vibrancy. Art Walk, for instance, is a popular weekly event held each Thursday evening between November and June. Fellow Art Walk-ers can take a leisurely stroll, perhaps with a glass of wine or preferred beverage in-hand, along San José del Cabo’s cobblestone streets, into galleries and shops with artisanal crafts, and onward to the main square where local artists’ handiwork and creations are displayed.
It doesn't take long for Art Walk to become one of my favourite activities, and though I adore all that Los Cabos excels in, it’s the cornucopia of culinary discoveries and unique-to-the-region food offerings that excite me the most. Sure, the ubiquitous tacos and tequila duo can be had – and is done well at many local restaurants – yet on our first night in town, I am thrilled to find this classic combo elevated to new heights at Manta.
Located inside The Cape, a Thompson Hotel, Manta is celebrated Chef Enrique Olvera’s globally inspired restaurant (think, Mexican cuisine deftly mixed with Japanese and Peruvian influences – all three countries being located on, and sharing, the Pacific Ocean). On the menu, both black miso fish tacos and tempura lobster tacos are sublime and, thanks to Sommelier Gabriel Reynoso’s suggestion, expertly paired with a complex and smoky mezcal. It’s tacos and tequila 2.0. We also tuck into umami-rich bowls of mushroom ramen with epazote (an assertive herb akin to oregano) and pasilla Mixe chile (dried chile pepper from Oaxaca), and nosh on skewers of octopus Anticucho, a favourite dish of Olvera’s with local octopus cooked on a Japanese charcoal robata (hearth) and served Peruvian-style with chorizo mayo.
Ryan & Gina Photography
The next day, we set out to Acre Baja, a hilltop sanctuary located near San José del Cabo. The brainchild of Canadian entrepreneurs, Stuart McPherson and Cameron Watt (owner of Vancouver’s The Keefer Bar), it has an air of rustic charm blended with a luxurious, sexy vibe and is, in fact, a popular destination wedding venue. When I arrive, I narrowly dodge a ceremony that's about to get underway in the mango orchard. We learn that there are a dozen treehouses on offer, putting a whole new spin on elevated luxury. Each chic and stylish treetop room or suite includes breakfast and a morning yoga class. Perfect as a romantic getaway, I think.
Gina & Ryan PhotographyGina & Ryan Photography
We settle in for lunch al fresco in the tropical setting of Acre’s restaurant and bar. The menu features global cuisine and a bounty of fresh ingredients – many grown right on the farm. Aguachile ceviche finds fresh and briny shrimp tossed with citrus, avocado, olives and cilantro, and served with blue corn tostadas. A hearty plate of fried green tomatoes is a real standout and easily the best I’ve ever had. Thick sliced green tomatoes are breaded with cornmeal and crumbs then fried until golden. Juicy inside, crisp outside, the dish is finished with a tart-sweet sherry honey reduction, fried basil leaves and cherry tomatoes. Not to neglect the drinks, the extensive, thoughtful cocktail menu makes selecting a single beverage a challenge. I zero in on the Beso de Katrina, a vibrantly-coloured blend of mezcal, lime, pineapple, hibiscus syrup and oregano. Satiated and content, we head to the pool for a mid-afternoon swim.
Chilaquiles at The Ledge
On our last day at The Cape, it’s shaping up to be another spectacular one, with sunshine in the forecast and pleasant breezes coming in off the sea. We start our day at The Ledge, enjoying breakfast on the outdoor terrace of this beach house inspired restaurant. I opt for their enticing spin on the Mexican classic, chilaquiles (fried tortilla chips simmered in red or green salsa), tossed with green salsa and topped with a trio of shredded chicken, scrambled eggs and avocado (though, as discovered the previous morn, the huevos rancheros is equally delicious). We also share an order of The Cape Toast for the table – a house specialty that’s been highly, and repeatedly, recommended. This indulgent take on French toast doesn’t disappoint. Thick sliced egg-dipped bread is soaked in rich custard and gently baked into an ethereal, almost soufflé-like texture.
It arrives drizzled with syrup and topped with caramelized sliced bananas, plump raspberries and garnished with plenty of toasted almonds. It’s ridiculously good.
“Pardon me, amigas,” Luis, our server, casually interjects, “but I thought you might like to know there has been a whale sighting.” “Where?” I all but bellow, leaping up from the table and nearly spilling my perfectly prepared cappuccino in the process. “Out there,” Luis replies, pointing.
We hurry to the edge of the terrace and begin scouring the sea in the vague direction in which Luis guides us. It doesn’t take long to spot, for there, in the distance, I see it – the curve of what is quite definitively a whale. There is no attempt to take pictures as I want to capture this moment without a screen between me and the scene. That, plus, I know the opportunity could well be fleeting. And it is, for not a minute later, the enormous grey (according to Luis) whale breaches, rocketing straight up from the sea before crashing back down in the most glorious splash ever. Mission complete.
When You Go
Things to do:
Located about an hour's drive northwest of Cabo San Lucas, with the Pacific coast to one side and the Sierra de la Laguna mountain range on the other, charming Todos Santos is a favourite of bird watchers, hikers and artists alike. Go horseback riding or take a horse and buggy ride, then quench your thirst with a fresh (and hefty!) mango margarita at Tequila’s Sunrise Grill and Bar, or grab a bite across the street in the open courtyard of Hotel California (no relation to the Eagles’ 1976 classic song of the same name – though there is a mission bell… and that courtyard…and a desert highway). Spend the rest of your afternoon browsing shops, churches and art galleries in this former mission town.
Where to eat:
On the outskirts of Todos Santos, renowned Chef Javier Plascencia oversees culinary operations at Jazamango, where his authentic take on Baja California cuisine reaches exceptional new heights. The daily changing menu is entirely dependent on what’s grown and harvested on their on-site farm, garden and orchard, and what is procured locally from the sea and turf.
Rich and smoky char-grilled chocolate clams topped with local butter and soy sauce are a must-try, as are the wood-grilled tacos with braised short rib and black beans. Begin your meal with freshly caught tuna crudo drizzled with local olive oil and topped with chicharrón, crisp radish and creamy avocado.
Where to stay:
Elegant creature comforts meet relaxed, outdoorsy vibes at the luxurious Chileno Bay Resort & Residences. Tranquility awaits at the ultra-chic spa, in the three-tiered cascading swimming pool, and when digging your toes into the sand of one of Cabo’s only swimmable beaches. For another fresh twist on exceptional farm-to-fork Los Cabos fare, dinner by star Chef Yvan Mucharraz at the on-site Comal restaurant is essential. Select a sampling of starter bites and a signature cocktail crafted by award-winning mixologist, Osvaldo Vasquez. Alternately, perched on one of the best stretches of white sand beach a little closer to Cabo San Lucas, The Cape, a Thompson Hotel, features 161 sumptuous guestrooms and suites – all with stellar vistas of the Sea of Cortés and El Arco (Land’s End) rock formations – the iconic granite archway naturally formed by centuries of crashing waves and blowing winds.