The southern tip of the Baja peninsula pegs itself "where the desert meets the sea." And it's true. All kinds of cactus and prickly plants dot sandy, and otherwise barren, hills that rise above the Sea of Cortez.
The 20-mile stretch of highway from the airport in San Jose to Cabo San Lucas cuts through this seaside desert. Anticipating a tropical vacation, I was startled by the stark scenery. Desert art is beautiful in its own way, but I anticipated a tropical vacation with palm trees swaying in the breeze. Had I come to the wrong place?
Melia Cabo Real Golf and Beach Resort.
PHOTO CREDIT: MELIA CABO RESORT
Suddenly, as the airport shuttle van approached the Melia Cabo Real Golf and Beach Resort, cactusy hills in the west turned into lush green fairways. Swaying palm trees dotted sandy beaches next to rolling waves -- a tropical oasis. Even Disney people with their high tech animation and special effects couldn't have created a more surreal setting. Here in the desert is a resort, painted with purple bougainvillia, pink hibiscus, green fairways, white caps, blue sky, and turquoise waters. I had come to the right place.
Within an hour after entering the glass and onyx domed lobby, I was poolside. The sun's rays settled into my bone marrow, dissolving a lingering chill left over from the Rocky Mountain winter.
The Melia Cabo Real resort reputedly has the largest pool in the Los Cabos area. As I sunbathed in a dream-like state, fluctuating between reality and fantasy, the pool seemed like a gigantic stage with performances just for me. In the children's area, squealing kids splashed each other, checking frequently to make sure Mom and Dad remained close by. In one of the pool's many semi-circular rooms, young people played volleyball, with seemingly no rules or umpires.
Every hour or so I took an intermission and sidestroked to the swim-up bar for a cool one. Here, travelers from around the world shared adventurous tales -- each story as tall as their tropical drink glasses.
PHOTO CREDIT: GERI ANDERSON
The Cabo Real pool is so large, it has its own island where birds chatter to each other as they flit among palm branches. Pool people, alternating between loafing and swimming, chatter to each other about the best places to dine and dance.
While "my" theater by the pool was relaxing, I had chosen Baja for its beaches. The next morning, my skin matching the pink hibiscus, I strolled along the wide expanse of beach that stretches south of the resort. Duffers were teeing off on the adjacent beachfront golf course, and surfers were deciding whether the surf was too high. It was. The surf's almost always up in Los Cabos, and this day it was "dangerously" up. (Whales get top billing here during the early months of the year, when they frolic in the warm waters of the Sea of Cortez.)
High surf makes for strong undertow along unprotected beaches, so swimmers seek out sheltered coves. The Melia Cabo Real's swimming beach has a natural rocky outcropping on one side and a manmade breakwater on the other. Guests romp in the calm cove -- pedaling water buggies, paddling dinghies, and zooming along on jet skis. Having found another multi-performance stage, I joined the audience of loafers content to remain horizontal on lounge chairs, with occasional trips to the palapa bar.
Los Arcos at the end of the Baja Peninsula.
PHOTO CREDIT: GERI ANDERSONN
There's actually no need to leave the resort. The hotel has three restaurants -- ranging from a beachfront palapa to haute cuisine for dress-up diners. Mexico and music go hand in hand, and you can count on lively entertainment nightly at Cabo Real, beginning with happy hour in the fan-cooled, open-air lobby bar. If you think lounging in the sun is too self-indulgent, you can work out in the exercise room, play tennis, or golf.
For guests who want to explore Cabo San Lucas, 10 miles south, the hotel provides a shuttle from 10:30 a.m. until the wee hours of the morning. Cabo is where the tourist action is, where you can shop, sightsee, and live it up in nightclubs and discos.
Formerly an out-of-the way deserty coast for die-hard fishermen and surfers, Los Cabos is now easily accessible by jet, making it a popular vacation choice. It's where you can catch a few rays and kick back for some poolside pampering and seashore sedation. (P. S. It's still the place to catch big fish and big breakers).
If you go:
The Melia Cabo Real Beach and Golf Resort is a 300-room, five-star hotel located midway between the airport in San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas. All of its beautifully decorated rooms have large marble bathrooms. You can choose from double/double, king size, and master suites. Each is equipped with 110 volt electrical service, international direct-dial telephones, air conditioning, satellite TV, safety deposit box, 24-hour room service and fully-stocked mini-bar. Most balconies overlook the pool and ocean.
The hotel has its own tennis courts. The par 72, 6,921-yard 18-hole, Trent Jones II golf course offers ocean views from every hole, with some tees right next to the beach.
There are three restaurants, two bars and lounges, a hair salon and health center with massage parlor, sauna, pool and fitness equipment. A boutique arcade offers fine art and gifts, as well as practical items.
The hotel's tour desk can arrange for car rentals and local excursions, from deep sea fishing and sunset cruises to fossil digging and whale watching.
Things not to miss in Cabo San Lucas:
Boat ride to Los Arcos, the famous monolithic natural arch at Land's End. Try the sunset cruise with live music and all-you-can-drink margaritas. During the day, ask to be dropped off at Lover's Beach, near the arch and seal colony.
Deep sea fishing. The main pier is peppered with fishing boats ready to help you reel in a big one.
The Giggling Marlin, a bar/restaurant reminiscent of Hemingway's Key West hangouts, attracts the senior set, as well as young folk.
El Squid Row is a lively disco where, when a certain signal is given, customers dance on top of tables and chairs. Elbow-to-elbow and toe-to-toe atmosphere encourages get-acquainted opportunities. Late night place.
For a quieter, seafaring ambiance, try Latitudes 22+, on north edge of the main drag. Sign advertises "Lousy food at ridiculously low prices." Actually, the prices ARE moderate, but food is very good. Especially recommended for breakfast and lunch.
There's fine dining at all the beachfront hotels. Try Ediths (pronounced eed-es), a picturesque restaurant on the main beach in Cabo San Lucas. Save space for to-die-for banana/chocolate cake.
In the airport and on sidewalks, hawkers peddle timeshare deals. In exchange for attending a two-hour presentation, you get a free breakfast, $50 dinner certificate, bottle of tequila, and sunset cruise. If you're mildly interested in checking out Los Cabos timeshares, this is the way to do it. Most hotels are converting partly or entirely to timeshare. Construction is booming, but "tourism powers" claim units will be capped at 5,000. They're halfway there.