Maybe they were just very religious. Or perhaps they knew spies from the dreaded Inquisition were looking over their shoulders. Whatever their reasons, Hernan Cortes and his conquistadores named many of the spots they settled in Mexico after saints. By the time they got to the country’s westernmost areas, the invaders were doling out holy tags like playing cards.
A good example is the “Triangle of the Saints.” You’ll find the better known part of the saintly area down at the tip of Mexico’s 1,000-mile-long Baja Peninsula where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortes. One of Mexico’s top vacationlands, the 30-mile-long resort strip is called Los Cabos (the capes), or Cabo for short.
It consists of two cities — Cabo San Lucas (Cape of St. Luke) at the southern end of the strip and San Jose del Cabo (Cape of St. Joseph) anchoring the upper end – linked by a 20-mile highway corridor flanked by hillside condos and some of Cabo’s swankiest hotel-resorts.
Collectively, the properties dotting the highway corridor along with others in and around the two cities — 58 hotels all told (with six more in the works) — offer a whopping 14,000 rooms to Cabo’s 2 million annual visitors.
About the towns
Looking out at a mile-long bay, Cabo San Lucas (population: about 80,000, seemingly outnumbered by tourists at times) is where the action is. The town’s bustling streets are packed with wall-to-wall shops, American fast-food franchises, traditional Mexican eateries and fine gourmet restaurants. Liberally sprinkled around the city are dozens of cantinas and ear-splitting discos – spots with names like Cabo Wabo, the Giggling Marlin, the Hard Rock Cafe and El Squid Roe.
In contrast to upbeat Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo at the other end of the corridor is a laid back, pleasant city of meandering streets and lush palm groves. San Jose, as it’s known, made the maps in 1730 when the Jesuits built a mission here; later on, the padres were replaced by pirates waiting to pounce on Spanish galleons sailing by to cross the Sea of Cortes. Despite its golf course and dozens of ritzy hotels and condo towers, San Jose still retains the charm of its colonial heritage. Two of its old-world landmarks are the Municipal Palace (the mayor’s offices) and the twin-steepled church of Parroquia de San Jose.
Todos Santos: Bring your alibis
Vacationers who can tear themselves away from sport fishing, golf, scuba diving, wind surfing, kayaking, whale watching, ATV riding and serious “liming” (the art of doing absolutely nothing) around Cabo’s pools and beaches can hop into tour vans for adventures just up the two coasts. On the Pacific side, for example, an hour’s drive takes you to the second part of the triangle: the village of Todos Santos (All Saints).
Visitors soon find this is much more than a sleepy little farming town. First, rubbing elbows with the 7,000 or so local folks are a couple of thousand expats, mostly Americans and Canadians, who’ve settled here to paint, make jewelry, spin pottery wheels and otherwise create gorgeous objects d’art. Second, the town’s cobbled lanes are dotted with modest (but not inexpensive) galleries selling all this.
Also unlike most run-of-the-mill villages, Todos Santos has some 18 boutique inns and hotels. One, the Hotel California, bills its accommodations as “11 sumptuously appointed, wildly imaginable rooms and suites.” Possibly the hotel in the Eagles’ 1976 hit song, “Hotel California” (hotel exec Adolfo Blanco says, “We don’t promote (the hotel) that way, but it certainly could be it.”), the property is close to the town’s main shopping area and to what passes for its nightlife. Another popular hotel is the 14-room Guaycura, named for the Indians who once called these parts home.
The pearls of La Paz
On the northern side of Cabo a trip up the coast along the Sea of Cortes first takes you to the Secrets Puerto Los Cabos Golf & Spa Resort and other new luxury properties at nearby Puerto Los Cabos. From there it’s an hour or so further past scattered developments to a national marine park and diving mecca at Cabo Pulmo. Keep going, and a few hours later you’ll be soaking up the colonial ambiance of the state capital at La Paz (originally tagged Puerto de Santa Cruz, or Port of the Holy Cross). Among the big draws of this third area of the triangle is the 20-mile-long offshore island of Espiritu Santo (Holy Spirit).
Pericu Indians once paddled here in canoes (before they were killed off by the conquistadores’ smallpox, syphilis and other diseases) to harvest abundant pearl beds around the island. The pearls are long gone, but the island is still rimmed by boats from the mainland. Only now they’re full of tourists who’ve come to swim with sea lions and cavort with whales and other sea life in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Back in La Paz, you’ll find cafes, shops, lanes and all kinds of other spots named after American Pulitzer-prize winning author John Steinbeck. Why Steinbeck? Because he put La Paz on the map in his best-selling 1947 novel, The Pearl, which took place here.
Visitors who opt to stay over for a day or two will find some 10 tourist-class hotels around town. At one, the 115-room CostaBaja Resort and Spa, you can have dinner in the property’s top-rated restaurant, named – you guessed it – Steinbeck’s.