It’s safe to say that 20 years ago, your odds of seeing a band of mariachis playing klezmer-style Chanukah music in a Mexican resort were slim to none.
But that’s exactly what the holiday crowds saw in the fabled party town of Cabo San Lucas this past December, when the tony resort town at the southern tip of the Mexican state of Baja California played host to a Chanukah menorah-lighting spectacle.
Los Cabos, the municipality composed of San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, has come of age in a major way over the last two decades, it now boasts a booming eco-tourism scene, a crop of new hotels and the kind of celebrity presence that once defined Pacific paradises like Acapulco. In a country with well-publicized security problems, Los Cabos is an oasis of calm, peace and the good life — for those who can afford it.
Mexico may be full of bargain destinations, but Los Cabos isn’t one of them. In exchange for international prices, however, visitors here can expect easy and frequent air connections; the largest concentration of luxury spas in all of Mexico; a world-class resort infrastructure, from golf courses to water taxis; and an English-speaking environment.
You’ll even find plenty of kosher food, which is sold at numerous local supermarkets and delivered directly to tourist lodgings via a synagogue catering service. Kosher meat and cheese are flown in from the U.S. and Mexico City, while kosher milk comes from a rabbinically supervised local dairy farm; there’s even a kosher bakery service that provides challah and cake.
The Chabad-run Cabo Jewish Center is the hub of Jewish activity in Los Cabos, bringing together a disparate community of Argentines, Israelis, Southern Europeans and North Americans. Varying languages and worship traditions — not to mention the transience of many visitors — meant that there was little in the way of organized Jewish life here until roughly a decade ago.
But nowadays in wintertime, it’s not uncommon for 50 people to show up for Shabbat services. According to Sonia Hershcovich, a spokesperson for the Jewish Center, the year-round Jewish population numbers about 70; that population swells by several hundred retirees during the winter months.
And diversity is now seen as “our greatest quality,” Hershcovich said. Holiday programs draw dozens of families; a small Hebrew school is gaining traction. From time to time, the Jewish Center sponsors tourist dinners that give visitors a chance to mingle with locals and each other in a heimishe, kosher ambiance.
Jewish weddings are an increasingly common sight along the beaches of Los Cabos, adding to a tourism boom that shows no signs of stopping. A half-dozen new hotels and resorts are slated to open or have recently opened, vying with each other to offer hipper activities or artisanal luxuries such as organic, farm-to-table restaurants and indigenous spa ingredients.
Typical of the new crop is the boutique hotel El Ganzo, just outside of artsy, historic San José on the Sea of Cortez; a rooftop pool, underground recording studio (for many of the live acts featured at its lounge) and a weekly film club are just part of a culture-heavy program that the hotel hopes will set it apart.
A Tiger Woods-designed golf course is under construction and expected to open this fall at the new Diamante Cabo San Lucas, an oceanfront complex of timeshares, condos and villas. And sometime next year, a Ritz Carlton resort is slated to open on a secluded part of the Cabos coast.
In addition to ever-posher lodgings, ecotourism is another trend sweeping through Los Cabos. If you rent a car here, as most people do, the appeal is obvious: this is no cookie-cutter tropical getaway, but rather a dramatic, arid panorama of mountains, cactus and undulating red sands. A growing number of operators offer day excursions, hikes, and bike tours that explore this distinctive natural landscape.
But with average winter temperatures in the balmy 70s and 80s, beachgoing remains the most popular activity — and in Los Cabos, there’s a beach for every mood. In fact, there are no fewer than 20 beaches between San José and Cabo San Lucas.
Many of these feature the soaring rock formations and jagged cliffs for which the region is famous; as picturesque as they are, these rocky stretches of coast can have treacherous waves and rip currents.
The best-known beach — and a must-see for first-time visitors — is the Playa del Amor, or Lovers’ Beach, near the iconic rock arches that are most people’s enduring image of Los Cabos. To get here, most take a water taxi across the surf to a secluded spit of sand. It’s a romantic spot, though better suited to strolling and photography than to actual swimming.
Fortunately, there are also plenty of gentle bay beaches with turquoise waters and nary a swell. The best of these are widely considered to be Santa María Beach — where snorkeling is popular amid the tide-pools and coral — and Playa Chileno, a well-kept public beach.