A Brief History of the Los Cabos Area

BY: RICK CASTAGNER

The Baja Peninsula itself was a legendary land thought to be an island until Herman Cortes, the Spanish conqueror of the Aztecs, explored there in the 1500s.

By the 17th century, Baja was well known to seafaring men. During the brisk trade between Manila in the Philippines and Europe, the famed Manila galleons carried silks, pearls and spices to mainland Mexico. After months at sea, their first sight of land and a freshwater estuary at the mouth of a river in San Jose del Cabo were powerful lures to sailing ships after months at sea, and they stopped there for provisions from the local ranchers before sailing on—despite the English pirate ships lying in wait for them in coves and caves along the coast.

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Their cargoes were then carried overland to Mexico's east coast port of Veracruz and loaded on ships bound for Europe. 
Alarmed by the growing number of sea battles and pillaging along the coast, the Spanish conquistadors who governed Mexico at the time, established a fort in San Jose, and sent the Spanish padre, Nicholas Tamaral, to establish a mission there. But the mission was burned and the Padre killed by the local Pericu Indians, who resisted the Padre's attempts to force them to cover their naked bodies and to change their polygamous ways. The fate of Padre Tamaral is graphically depicted in a mural in the present church in San Jose, which was built on the same spot as the old mission in 1940. The Plaza Mijares in the heart of town is named for the victorious Mexican naval officer Jose Antonio Mijares, who during the Mexican-American War, defeated U.S. marines who occupied the town.
San Jose went on to become a respectable commercial center in the l800s, trading with passing ships. Some of the one and two-story homes from the last two centuries are still owned by the original families. Several are beguiling settings for San Jose's many small courtyard restaurants.

Los Cabos is located at the end of the Baja peninsula and is now the fastest-growing resort destination in all of Mexico. Cabo or Los Cabos refers to cities, Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo plus an 18-mile stretch of resorts in between on the corridor.

Here’s the difference between the two. Cabo San Lucas draws most of the tourists, cruise ships and spring breakers, while San Jose del Cabo gives you a more tranquil and authentic experience although, in reality, that is starting to change.

For years, San Jose del Cabo has played the part of a low-key counterpart to Cabo San Lucas. The smaller and more laid-back town has a decidedly authentic Mexican feel. While San Jose has the beaches, resorts, spas, and golfing, it’s less developed and more relaxed when compared to its more touristy neighbor. Local life centers on the town plaza and the surrounding streets full of colonial buildings that make up the historic art district. Here, travelers will find plenty of renowned restaurants, artisanal shops, and art galleries to enjoy. While there are a few small bars, you won’t find any large dance clubs here. Families and couples often prefer this area, where the tranquil town provides a nice dose of culture and the beaches are emptier and more relaxed.

Cabo San Lucas had an impudent start, which could account for its casual makeup. Medano Beach was just a wild stretch of sand until the early 1900s when a few fishermen put up their palapas beside a freshwater lagoon near the current location of the Club Cascadas Resort. In 1919, Cabo's marine-rich waters attracted a fish cannery to San Lucas Bay. The now long abandoned cannery at the entrance to the inner harbor was at one time the third-largest packer of tuna in the world.

Now enter the big game fishermen from the States. After World War II, a handful of sportsmen pilots discovered the 500-pound marlin in the Sea of Cortez and lit the fuse under one of the biggest tourist explosions in history. They flew down with their pals to hunt dove in the scrub-covered hills or to wrestle fighting trophy fish out of the sea. The simple fishing and hunting lodges they built for their buddies along the Baja coast are the forefathers of the grand resorts today. The pioneer was the Palmilla resort in the 1950s, and then, in the 60s came the Cabo San Lucas and the Hacienda. The Twin Dolphin, Solmar and Finisterra date from the 70s.
These early hostelries were small, but some had their own airstrips. Word soon got out that Los Cabos was more than 1,000 miles from Hollywood - was the ultimate celebrity hideout, and before long the gleaming yachts of the rich and famous were mingling with the fishing boats in the bay. The area became a second home to many celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Sophia Loren and Carlos Ponti, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Mick Jagger, Elton John, Bing Crosby and John Wayne.
The Transpeninsular Highway from the Mexican border south of San Diego to Los Cabos opened in early 1973, bringing a handful of Southern California surfers with their boards strapped to their trucks. They were followed by a parade of snowbird campers and RVs. But it was only after the Mexican government agency, Fonatur, which invests in tourist development, put its weight behind a much-needed resort infrastructure that the present San Jose del Cabo international airport opened in 1984 and the developers rolled in.

Cabo San Lucas is the most-recognized and most-visited location in all of Baja. This is a Baja completely different from the rest of the peninsula. Luxury, relaxation, and fun are the focus. Yachts fill the marinas, and all-inclusive resorts line the beaches. Dance clubs and bars are busy until the wee hours of the morning. Spring breakers flock here for the beach scene and nightlife. Luxury, relaxation, and fun are the focus here, and Cabo San Lucas does all three things exceptionally well. On the extravagant and lavish side of Los Cabos, jet-setters and celebrities come to escape and play.

Stunning developments in the past 20 years have included the opening of 20 new championship golf courses designed by such masters as Jack Nicklaus, Robert Trent Jones, Tiger Woods and many more. These courses have made Los Cabos the golf capital of Latin America. Additionally, Los Cabos boasts a myriad of hotels, including many on the corridor. Los Cabos is also home to some of the most phenomenal master-planned (view-protected), amenity-rich communities in the world.

The current population of the Baja peninsula is around four million, with most inhabitants living in the northern state of Baja California, and more specifically in the cities of Tijuana and Mexicali. Most of the rest of the peninsula remains sparsely populated. There are very few true indigenous people left on the peninsula today, and most Baja residents are a mix of Spanish and Indian cultures as well as descendants from Europe and Asia. In more recent decades, the peninsula is home to a growing number of U.S. and Canadian retiree expats, especially the Los Cabos area. Los Cabos is becoming the most multi-cultural area in Mexico.

The Baja peninsula is the longest in the world and this includes Italy. The iconic rock archway El Arco in Cabo San Lucas at the tip of the peninsula marks Land’s End. South of Land’s End, there is nothing but open ocean until you hit Antarctica. The final few hundred yards are a dramatic series of towering monoliths, and two fabulous beaches. The beaches have been coined as Lover’s Beach and the opposite side as Divorce Beach.  At this point, waters from the Sea of Cortez converge with the Pacific Ocean. Their union creates turbulence like the meeting of two trains from opposite directions.

The Los Cabos area has had a very interesting past and is looking forward to a very bright future.