the Gauntlet: Strategies for Cabo San Lucas
© 1999 Shawn Vidmar
Arriving in Cabo San Lucas--a small coastal town
located at land's end of the Mexican Baja--was akin to molting. The doors
opened, people began disembarking into the Mexican sun and a dry hot breeze
wafted through the cabin.
I vaguely wondered what the temperature was in Spokane,
I had left in a snowstorm and had gradually peeled layer upon layer off while
in the air. I finally took off the last long sleeve garment that I would see
for eight glorious days. I found my sunglasses and stepped upon the landing of
the moveable stairs.
Following the surge of people, I found myself at
passport control. Everything was stamped and in order. Something was said and
I was herded along through the glass door into the next stage. I was not
prepared for the din.
For those of you who have never experienced this part
of travel, it can be unsettling. All these people yelling at you, whistling,
nodding, gesturing and so forth want to sell you something. Keep walking,
don't make eye contact, don't look up, focus on the baggage claim straight
ahead of you. Even if you hear about great transportation deals, don't
hesitate or you're lost.
If they do get a hold of you--don't worry, happens to
the best of us after a long plane ride--keep in mind, these truths: A van ride
into town is $10 US., Cabo San Lucas (you just landed in San Juan) is about 70
km's from that spot; therefore, everything will take 45 minutes to get
to your hotel. They will try to sell you on the "private cab"
experience which is $45 (rip-off).
Furthermore, if you are staying at one of the bigger resorts, they often have
transport to their lobby; and, you can also rent a car.
Car rental is about $60 a day and makes sense if you
have a group coming in at different times. This way someone can meet the
person at the airport (a welcome gesture after traveling) and bring them to
the abode. Even if you are only traveling with two other people, at $10 a van
ride you'd still be ahead to rent a car. You can even drop it in town instead
of the airport. (Going back to the airport, you can usually find people to
share the $40 flat rate van, thus the more you get the cheaper the transport).
Also if you are one of the later deportees, it's real nice to avoid lines,
check in early and get rid of those pesky extra pesos in one of the bars.
Once in your home for a week, open a frosty beverage
and admire your view (hopefully you have one). Almost every "room"
since they have been sold as time share units, has a refrigerator and some
amenities for cooking like a microwave, coffee maker and toaster. Some have a
full kitchenette, some barely have silverware. Prior to the trip, you would
have stocked a cooler full of hard-to-get American items.
I always like to bring a case of Pepsi, breakfast items
and snacks. Keep in mind you can't bring any fruit into the country and their
milk is pasteurized. Tape up the cooler and send it as luggage. If you already
fulfilled your luggage quota (2 items) then it may cost anywhere from $45-$60
to ship it as well, so try to plan it carefully, i.e. have one of your friends
bring the SCUBA equipment bag or consolidate two of your own.
If you are up for seeing the town, or are just hungry
for a meal, put on your Teva's and start moving. Depending on where you are
staying, you may want to take a cab (usually no more than $5). Granted you may
still have the rental car, but since non-alcoholic drinks are equal if not more
in price to a cerveza, it is difficult to establish a designated driver. I
prefer walking, it is part of the adventure and everyone can imbibe.
Cabo is so overrun with tourists, it is relatively
safe. You can't walk all the way into town on the beach (even though it looks
like it) but you can take a water taxi (about $10) to take you to the heart of
the town. If you stay on the roads paralleling the closest to the shore, you'll
be considerably safe. I never felt uncomfortable off the beaten path, but it
could unnerve some people.
Once in town, especially if you've arrived on the
weekend, there will probably be some sensory overload (unless you live in Las
Vegas or something). The town has been Americanized and although you are tired
and long for the familiar, try to get past Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood,
Pizza Hut, Subway, Dairy Queen and KFC (they are by far the most expensive
places in town!) A real good local "chain" is by the Seńior Frog
people and they have Carlős & Charlies, El Squid Roe and El Shrimp Bucket.
These all offer a great meal, complete with two rounds
of appetizers. Their black bean soup is some of the best I've ever tasted. Be
forewarned, however, that by day they are somewhat gentile establishments, but
by night they are raging clubs. El Squid Roe is known especially for its
inadvertent table dancing. It's constructed of tin siding and some chain link
fencing. There is no way to ever close it up completely (reinforcing the notion
that Cabo only receives 2 inches of rain annually) and I've seen it being hosed
out the day after.
If it is later (after 8 p.m. or so) then either El
Shrimp Bucket or Concéption would be a better bet. They are along the jetty and
attract an older crowd. The later is known for its many kinds of Tequila (a
Mexican tradition). The Nowhere Bar offers Tuesday night ladies night and other
specials. In fact, if you keep your eyes out, you can figure out who has the
best happy hour and when those are. For example from 3 PM on, The Office (right
on the beach) offers two for one drinks. Music starts around 5 PM and food
service 7ish Ż remember this is Mexican time.
You can also scout for happy hours food specials, like
free chips and salsa. Or find an activity which offers food as well. Most of the
longer ocean activities will provide a meal. It is important not to be prone to
sea sickness though, especially since they usually serve a lot of booze with the
These trips can be a day long SCUBA trip (where you
will get lunch and usually not alcohol), a sunset diner cruise, or even a whale
watching trip (if you are there in the right season). If you are not interested
in a sloppy booze cruise, stay away from the simple "sunset cruises"
they consist of loud music, bottomless beer bottles and many forced Tequila
popper shots. This is a very popular activity for the college spring break
Now, when buying the tickets there are some tricks.
First, the ticket booth person will try to sell you something (usually under the
guise of reimbursing you for the activity tickets). Unless you want to spend an
entire morning being wooed by a bunch of slick salespeople (even better than
used car sales) then go right ahead and commit. Even though they promise 90
minutes, count on 4-5 hours. Don't bring along your friends or family because
they will just get bored. If you are interested in what they are selling, by all
means subject yourself to the stroking procedures, they are good.
Usually what you thought you saved ($100-150) by going
to the "free breakfast" is counter-balanced by the $16,000 and up time
share "room" you just purchased. True they give you a few things for
'free': a 500 ml bottle of average Tequila, a Mexican blanket, a bottle of cheap
champagne, some two-for-one coupons for the activities (as promised) and a 30%
discount on any others. If you, unfortunately, are at this point, choose the
most expensive two-for-ones and then buy the others at the discount.
The vendors are a lot more agreeable when you've just
dumped some money into their employers pocket, but you can just purchase the
tickets at the inflated price and go on about your way. Keeping that in mind, if
a deal sounds too good to be true, it is. Some friends "scouted" the
town for the best All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) rental to go play in the sand dunes
on the Pacific side of the Baja. They are usually $45 per person, for 1/2 day, a
guide and free cold soft drinks. These boys were elated to find some for $15
p/p, bought tickets for their whole group, and were actually surprised when they
appeared on that spot the next day as told and no one was there.
If you think you might want to do some sea kayaking
(they are cheap to rent, fun and offer some exercise) bring a dry bag. All they
have on the beach is a trash bag which isn't all that effective. The typical
destination is Lover's Beach--a flat sand bar at the very tip of land's end
where can dip your toes in the Gulf of Mexico and walk 50 feet to the Pacific
side. This is also a great place to have your snorkeling gear because the fish
in that area are colorful and tropical. Neptune's finger--a very popular dive
site--is also real close and within swimming distance.
In the dry bag, you should put your cameras as sea
water never does them any good. If you are a free rock climber, throw in your
shoes and prepare to have some fun! Some
snacks and definitely some fluids are also a good idea. You can buy a few things
there from individuals, but it'll cost you. Going in the morning is the best
because the current is lower, the traffic across the channel (going in and out
of Cabo harbor) is less, it isn't as crowded nor hot.
You can go to Lover's Beach via water taxi, but be sure
you agree on a time to return, or you may be stuck out there longer than you
If you are looking for some good deals on silver, my
advice would be to casually keep your eye out and save the bartering for the end
of the trip. By then you hopefully have had time to see most of the stores, find
the item you like the best and then (and only then) do you ask any questions
about it. You do need to know if it is real silver. This is indicated by the
.925 stamp on the piece. If you had time at home, it would be good to
know the price of silver per ounce because the vendors determine price by weight
and your sucker factor.
I personally felt better in some of the hotel silver
shops, they just felt more legitimate to me. Bartering is alive and well in
Mexico and if you have any old watches or Oakley Sunglasses (especially the
Zeros) that you're not all that attached to, you might be able to make some good
Also, if you feel sorry for the children (and I mean
some were barely walking) selling Chicklets, don't buy the whole box or give
them extra, for it all goes to the same Dickensonian ogre behind the children.
Also with the walking vendors, learn "No, Gracias" and just say it
over and over again; however, if you know a foreign language, that works too
(even if you're not making any sense).
Occasionally you can meet that guy who can "Get
you anyting you need, muchacho" and if you trust him, by all means go for
it. Those friends I talked about earlier all had a drive for good Cuban Cigars,
so their Mexican friend produced some for them. It helps, in these instances, to
speak fluent Spanish.
If you can't think of what to do, try planning one
activity a day. This allows for some movement from basking in the sun, and
breaks up the monotony. The parasailing trip is fantastic and well worth the $30
per person. The ride lasts a good 15 minutes and the views are spectacular.
The ATV's are better in the morning before it gets
really dusty and hot. Plus then you can shower before thinking of going out.
SCUBA diving is excellent in the area, but get your plans solidified early in
the week so if something unforeseen happens, you have a few days to reschedule.
The daily pool/beach life is quite pleasant as well.
Most veterans know to send a scout down early (around 8 am) to find "the
spot" and then spread stuff around on the desired chairs. You can get
towels that early, so reserving the chair by throwing a towel on it is an
acknowledged form of saving. Don't forget this helpful friend and try to relieve
his/her watch within an hour.
It is good to bring a stopwatch or alarm, because it is
so easy to misjudge how long you've been out
in the sun. Hydrating is necessary for your body's well being and the
skin you are altering. Sun screen is essential, especially when traveling during
North American winter. Have a friend put it on in the hotel before you put on
your suit (this illuminates weird lines when your suit moves with you). Don't
just slap some on, you'll feel and see the results in the funky tie-dye sunburn
design on your back; and everyone will point and laugh at you behind you.
By now you will have (hopefully) figured out
where the cheapest bottled beer is and bought some for your fridge--if that is a
refreshing beverage for you. It's good to take breaks from the sun to go to your
room and cool down, change books, fix a snack or shower.
Overall, most of the amenities found in America are
here as well. You can change your money into Peso's at the front desk (keep and
eye out for the best exchange rate around town). The phone call to America
starts at $5, so don't count on talking to anyone. You can buy stamps in the
gift shop, as well as a few other things, but they may try to charge you a
additional 10% if you try to use a credit card. There are ATM's if you run out
Beware of the ATM amounts, it is in Pesos! Considering
an out of state ATM usually costs the average Joe $3, just think of
international; therefore take out the most you think you may need. My friend
mistakenly requested $50, unaware it was in pesos, and ended up withdrawing the
equivalent to $6 US.
Finally, if you have survived all of these monetary, minimal and mental obstacles and still managed to have a good time, then you are a true adventurer. Here's seeing you on the next one.
|email me: ShawnV@vidmarmotor.com|