Since the early 1970s, surfers have been heading to Mexico’s Baja California Sur for its beach breaks and big waves, but more recently, Los Cabos, the state’s southern tip, has been attracting a different kind of traveler: those looking for pure relaxation rather than kids clubs and waterslides.
Red flag beaches aside, Los Cabos’s newer hotels offer multiple outdoor pools, terrific spas and great restaurants. There’s also plenty to keep you busy off-resort, from back-country jeep tours, to surfing lessons and art walks — and a few swimable beaches nearby. But what really makes the journey worthwhile is the food.
Never mind the desert landscape – dotted by shrubs and cactus — visible on the descent into San José del Cabo International Airport. It turns out, abundant sunshine – more than 300 days a year – and superb irrigation systems fed by constant rain in the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains is the perfect recipe for bountiful harvests throughout a lengthy winter growing season. What better place than here for the organic food movement to take hold? Los Cabos has a handful of farm-to-table restaurants, and a host of other kitchens committed to using mostly local ingredients.
A cooking class at Flora Farms (www.flora-farms.com), located in the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains in San Jose del Cabo, is an especially appealing option for visitors. In 1996, Gloria and Patrick Greene purchased a pig farm and set about turning it into what is now a thriving hand-tended organic farm. The produce, picked daily, is distributed to Flora’s Field Kitchen Restaurant, Flora’s Grocery and a growing number of Culinary Cottage owners, a joint venture with builder Eduardo Frias. The class includes a guided tour of the farm — 14 hectares of land bursting with more than a hundred varieties of vegetables, herbs and edible flowers — a cocktail and an al fresco lunch, enjoyed amid a stunning panorama of mountains, a cloudless blue sky and verdant gardens.
Throughout three-plus hours at the farm, guide Azalia Nelson, shares her knowledge and passion about everything from the variety of fruit trees bearing pineapples, papayas, pomegranates, oranges, limes, guavas and mangos; to the properties of the pungent epazote herb, or Mexican tea, used to flavour pot beans and stews, and treat indigestion. As visitors make their way past rows of Swiss chard, arugula, leaf lettuce and mixed greens awaiting harvesting, Azalia, lists off the plants that are used to ward off pests — onions are planted next to cabbage to ward off cabbage worms, marigolds next to tomatoes and so on.
At the bar, those on the tour are handed “Farmrita” – a spin on the margarita – made from the juice of heirloom carrots and tequila, and seasoned with chile. A Lavender Martini (muddled lavender and sage leafs, lime juice, half an ounce of handmade lavender syrup and a dash of lavender bitters and vodka – shaken, not stirred) might catch your attention, but it will have wait till lunch. The roasting pits are next. It’s at a nearby 60-hectare ranch where Flora Farms raises hormone and antibiotic free pigs, cows and chickens, which are roasted in the pits along with foil-wrapped beets hidden among the coals.
After donning aprons and washing our hands, following a quick visit to a bakery on the premises, it’s time to make appetizers — a roasted tomato salsa with garlic, onion, hot pepper of your choice and cilantro, pico de gallo salsa (raw tomato, onion, cilantro and hot pepper) and charred habanero guacamole. The biggest takeaway from trying to grill corn tortillas is that it’s an art that surely takes time to perfect. The final result is a feast of tortilla chips, self-made salsas, tacos, a salad stuffed with veggies from the garden, rice and black beans – and the piece de resistance: key lime pie that incorporates cinnamon and roasted pecans in the crust.
The class costs $130 per person and it’s recommended you book well ahead of time.
Local and organic fare
At the Cachet Beach Hotel’s BR Beach Restaurant (cachetbeachcabo.com/dining/), personal relationships with ranchers, farmers and fisherman helps award-winning chef Edgar Roman put together a menu of local produce prepared with an eye to traditional Mexican cooking. Everything from the tender baby romaine hearts filled with a root-vegetable ceviche to a warm chocolate shortcake served with pistachio and peppermint pesto, sautéed berries and homemade vanilla ice cream are as fresh as it gets.
Expect to pay $65 for three courses and a cocktail or glass of wine.
A bit of both worlds
Sunset Monalisa’s (sunsetmonalisa.com) Michelin–trained Italian Chef Paollo Della Corte doesn’t focus on local or organic, instead he promises fresh Mediterranean dishes with a Mexican flare. While diners come to watch the sun set at the famous arch at Land’s End – best seen with a French Kiss cocktail of Champagne and Chambord (the French raspberry liquor) – they leave satiated by locally caught, fresh seafood and handmade pastas. As darkness falls, visitors can tuck into a Sea of Cortez tuna tartar with chipotle and basil vinaigrette, cauliflower cream and crispy polenta; a handmade fettuccine with porcini mushroom ragout and white truffle oil; followed by braised Alaska salmon with broccoli puree, fennel confit and lemon grass foam. A favourite dessert option includes a decadent flaming bitter chocolate sphere filled with mandarin sorbet. A three-course tasting menu costs $85, or $135 with wine pairings; six courses are $115, or $180 with wine.
After an art walk in San José del Cabo, an extensive taco menu at La Lupita Taco & Mezcal is especially tempting. The recipes offer a modern, exotic twist on a Mexican staple. Try the duck with black mole and hibiscus compote; catch of the day (shrimp) with miso, cucumber jicama and lemon zest; and the Pastor, a cheese shell stuffed with pineapple-marinated pork roasted on a spit in the courtyard, then topped with cilantro and onion — first sold on the streets of Mexico City to night clubbers looking for a late night snack. For the more adventurous, there’s the Taste of La Lupita appetizer of dried grasshoppers, guacamole, pumpkin seed and tomato dip served with blue chips and tortillas. The average bill is around $55 for an appetizer, three tacos, dessert, a glass of wine and a mezcal flight.
The writer was a guest of Los Cabos Tourism (visitloscabos.travel).
If you go
Where to stay
Opened earlier this year, the five-star Le Blanc Spa Resort is all about pampering. Every room – no matter the price – has access to a butler to draw you a bath, arrange for aroma therapy, iron your shirt or make a reservation and arrange for transportation. Most rooms also have ocean views. There’s also a super-sized spa, which in addition to massage and scrub treatments has dry and steam saunas, heated loungers, therapy pools, pedicure and manicure rooms, a hair salon and more. Outside there are four pools, the most popular of which is the infinity pool overlooking the Sea of Cortez. There are so many restaurants, you won’t need to leave the resort to eat — though it is recommended you do. Mezze, a nod to the owner’s Lebanese heritage, has a wonderful selection of sharing plates such as a basil-infused hummus with warm pita, as well as typical full meal kabob plates. Start the day with the typical Mexican breakfast at Ocean (poached eggs with tomato salsa and pumpkin seeds) or a light granola or quinoa bowl with greek yogurt and fruit. Ocean’s crispy Baja fish tacos make for a perfect lunch break away from the sun and pool.
For dates and rates go to: www.leblancsparesorts.com/los-cabos/en/home
On Thursday nights from November to June, when the historic downtown of San José del Cabo holds art walks, the galleries see plenty of browsers and a few buyers. Take a tour or make your own way around, but either way, be sure to get to these standouts: Patricia Mendoza Art Gallery, which showcases contemporary works of Mexican artists including paintings, sculptures and pottery (look for the edgy nudes tucked away by the washrooms); Casa Dahlia Gallery, located in one of Cabo’s most historic houses, and opened by U.S. Pacific Northwest painter Leah Porter in 2006 to showcase her abstract minimal landscapes and seascapes by her mother Lisa Joyce-Hill; Enrique Bascón, Galería de Arte, which showcases the Spanish-born artist’s edgy, politically charged monochromatic paintings depicting Mexico’s dichotomy; The Ivan Guaderrama Art Gallery, chock full of interactive pieces created by Guaderrama using touch and sound; and La Sacristia, where some of the best original, traditional Mexican art such as Huichol beaded masks, animal figurines, yarn paintings, ceramics, and bright oil and acrylic paintings is showcased.
For more information, go to www.artcabo.com.
A Baja jeep tour to Santiago Waterfalls will take visitors to Cerritos beach to watch beginners and experts take on the beach surf. Also on offer: off-roading through the back-country sand at the foot of the Sierra Laguna Mountain range; visiting the Tropic of Cancer marker; photographing the Santiago oasis and stopping in Santiago, one of the earliest Jesuit missions in North America founded in 1723 and closed in 1795. The descent into the Cañón de la Zorra, which begins at Rancho Sol de Mayo, is steep but easy, and the reward is a lovely view of the 10.6-metre high waterfall cascading into a secluded lagoon. Once you reach the bottom, you can cool off in the lagoon’s clear waters. High Tide Los Cabos offers everything from jeep tours, surfing lessons and snorkelling.
Go to: www.hightideloscabos.com
This story appeared in the National Post 07/23/2018