A Nomad's Guide to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Known as Cabo San "Loco" or just plain "Cabo", this town has a reputation as the wild party center of the Baja Peninsula. Despite the party scene, there's an opportunity to get away from the crowds to experience something unique.

Photo © Getty Images/Rodrigo Friscione

Skip the kitsch, luxury beach resorts with all the trimmings and put down the local English language newspaper – appropriately named the Gringo Gazette – this is where a nomad goes in Cabo San Lucas.

Food & Nightlife

Put down the cheeseburger and fries, instead eat for a few bucks at an authentic taqueriaTry a world-famous baja fish taco while in Cabo. If you see a local man carrying two orange buckets filled with corn husks, wave him down. These US $1 tamales are delicious. 

Street vendors are the cheapest for tasty Mexican cuisine. Walk the streets beyond the tourist traps to discover a number of vendors offering home-made tacos, tamales, burritos and ceviché. Nothing will cost you more than US $2.

Medano Beach has a lively atmosphere, and is lined with palapa style restaurants, where you can grab some food and a bucket of beers. Here, most people are wandering around in beach wear during the day.

Downtown is where you'll find everything, from casual Mexican restaurants to fine dining Italian. Sophisticated bars and restaurants are located on Miguel Hidalgo Street.

Cabo Marina is where you'll find Hooters, Johnny Rockets, and Ruth's Chris Steak House – but you can also find places to eat that are exclusive to Cabo. With a variety of food on offer, search for desserts, a coffee or sushi, and take a seat at one of the outdoor dining tables – perfect for people watching.

Go to Panchos for a tequila tasting class, where you'll learn everything there is to know about tequila. Squeeze inside Slim's Elbow Room, a tiny, easy-to-miss watering hole, wallpapered with dollar bills and visitors' signatures – claiming to be the world's smallest bar, with four seats inside and two standing spaces, it's a contender for sure.

For low-key restaurants favored by the locals, take a trip to neighboring San Jose del Cabo. Conveniently located just 20 minutes by car, San Jose del Cabo has a more tranquil scene, geared to sipping drinks instead of pounding shots. If you want to try some local wine, visit the Los Cabos Winery for a tasting.

Take an overnight trip to La Paz, the capital city of the lower Baja. This town is filled with authentic watering holes, where the only gringos in the bar are within your group. No matter what you're after, there's a watering hole on the lower Baja for you.

Cabo San Lucas. Photo credit: Getty Images/CarolinaSmith

Tequila in Los Cabos

Cabo Wabo is locally famous, but there are many other authentic Mexican Tequilas that should be considered, Herradura and Don Julio are two leading candidates.

Remember blanco (white or sometimes called silver) tequila is not aged, and will generally be sharp in taste. The reposado tequilas are aged a year or less in oak barrels, giving them a smooth taste, with more refined qualities. The anejo tequilas are aged from one to three years in oak barrels, and take on some serious character – they're strongly recommended to be enjoyed neat, so save the salt and lime for your guacamole.

Cabo's Beaches

Looking for a quiet place to sip a drink and read a novel, or a beach with crashing waves? Here are five of the best beaches near Cabo San Lucas.

Solmar Beach (Playa Solmar) is located on the Pacific Coast, and has powerful waves that are impressive to look at, but are dangerous for swimming.

Visit the gentle cove of Santa Maria to see reefs with exceptional biodiversity. This is the ideal beach for swimming and snorkeling. Note: boatloads of people show up in the middle of the day, so during high season, expect crowds.

Medano Beach (Playa El Medano) is known for wild parties, with a strip of sand sand separating the water from hotels, restaurants, and beach bars. If renting an umbrella and listening to locals selling their trinkets while you sip on a pina colada sounds like your type of good time, enjoy it. You'll find us elsewhere.

Lover's Beach (Playa Del Amor) is only reachable by boat. Swimming and snorkeling can be attempted on the side that meets the Sea of Cortez, but swim with caution among the dangerous currents due to two bodies of water meeting. Do not attempt to swim on the Pacific Ocean side.

Chileno Beach (Playa Chileno) is often referred to as the best beach by locals. It's popular, but the beach has everything – sugary sand, opportunities to go snorkeling and swimming, clean facilities, tide pools for the kids, and vendors offering local treats. This beach will be busy on weekends, but is considerably calmer during the week.

Clear water off the coast of Cabo. Photo credit: Getty Images/Carlos Sanchez / EyeEm

Game Fishing

Imagine this: you're arching back with a fishing rod in hand, watching a Marlin breach on the other end of your line. The waters off the coast of Los Cabos in the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean are some of the best for game fishing in the world. Tuna and dorado are delicious local favorites, but the area is legendary for its bill fish population, which are some of the best sport fish in the world. In fact, Bisbee's Black & Blue Marlin Jackpot is the largest cash payout of any Marlin tournament on Earth, and one of the highest paying tournaments of any kind in the world, giving out millions of dollars in prizes, including over one million for a single fish. Brisbee's isn't the only game in town and if you'd feel more comfortable with a smaller event you can find that too. 

If you just want to get out and catch some fish, there are a number of charters that go out daily. Do your research and book a charter in advance, as there are many different operators that offer a variety of packages. Do you want to go in the ocean or gulf side? Do you want a full or half day? Party boat or private charter? A day out fishing isn't cheap – at a minimum, you're looking at US $100 per person.

If you don't catch a monster swordfish, but still want to enjoy the fruits of your day on the sea, there are several restaurants that will be happy to cook your catch. Generally, for a set price (as low as US $5 per person) the restaurant will take your fish, cook it, and provide the angler with some sides. 

A side note on the morality of game fishing: large game fish species like billfish (marlin, swordfish etc.) and tuna will swallow their prey whole. So, if a lure is being used or bait such as a whole fish or large piece, these fish risk internal hooking damage as they swallow the whole bait. They experience respiratory and metabolic distress while fighting on the line, and then, if they're released, they can perish from exhaustion. Makes you wonder... is a photo with an enormous fish really worth it if you aren't even going to eat it?

Dolphins

A flourishing ecosystem lies just offshore from Cabo San Lucas. See whales crash through the waves or observe dolphins in an ethical and eco-friendly way – avoid any operators that offer swimming with dolphins. 

Whale Sharks

These majestic giants frequent the waters near La Paz between October and April. Local tour operators take groups out to go snorkeling with them, watching as they feed on tiny plankton. The industry is regulated to give travelers a safe experience, while protecting these creatures from the impact of tourism.

Snorkeling & Scuba Diving

Scuba divers are drawn to the coast of Mexico, especially around the Sea of Cortez. Los Islotes, near La Paz, is a small group of islands where curious and playful seals call the area home. The clear, warm waters make for perfect conditions to see hammerhead sharks, shipwrecks, manta rays and turtles.

Cooking Classes

Bring the unique Mexican flavors found in Cabo San Lucas back to your own dinner table by taking a local cooking class. A number of cooking classes can be found around town, some offering private classes for six people (or less) who just want to learn with friends and family, or larger classes for those who want to mingle while they cook. Casa De Colores is hosted in the home of US expat Donna Jones, who uses her knowledge accumulated over 30 years of cooking in Mexico to create a private experience.

Trip Notes

When to go: Cabo San Lucas is a top destination for Spring Breakers, so if you don't want to get caught up in boozing, book your trip outside the weeks of Spring Break – usually during March.

Where to stay: This city hasn't reached the heights (or depths) of the Spring Break mecca Cancun, but there's a bustling nightlife to be enjoyed. Stay in San Jose del Cabo for a more authentic, local vibe. Just take a day trip to Cabo San Lucas for the activities – unless resorts and crowds of tourists are your thing.

Public transport: The Suber Cabos bus system serves both San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas. This bus service caters to travelers by stopping wherever is requested along the route. It's cheap, too, at just US $2.50 per ride for a customized service (which can be tedious if there are many stops along the way). The bus runs every day from 5:30am–10pm.

If you're traveling to other nearby cities, such as La Paz, there are a number of bus lines that serve the entire Baja Peninsula. The largest company is Aguila, but do your research on other bus companies, such as Península Ejecutivo or Autobuses de la Baja California to see which route and price is best for you.

Taxis: If you'd prefer the privacy of a taxi, they aren't cheap. The average fare costs approximately US $7 per mile, so a taxi from Cabo San Lucas to San Jose del Cabo (20mi/33km apart) will set you back a bit. Before you hop in, try negotiating the taxi fare to your destination with the driver.

Try searching for a taxi that looks like a large van, as these fares aren't as expensive.

Airport: Unfortunately, when you catch a taxi from the airport, the fare is non-negotiable. The airport is a 45-minute ride away, so it's a good idea to see if your accommodation offers a free shuttle service. If that's not an option, consider taking a shuttle bus if you're not in a hurry. A shuttle will generally cost half as much as a taxi ride.

Water Taxis & Cruise Ships: To see the famous Arch of Cabo San Lucas, hop into a water taxi or glass bottom boat to take you out to Lover's Beach. A water taxi will cost around US $10 per person, but you might have luck negotiating a cheaper price if you're traveling in a group.

Keep in mind, almost every ship that travels to the Sea of Cortez or the Mexican Riviera will make a stop in Cabo San Lucas. That means cruise ship crowds, big ones. 

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