Updated: Mar 5, 2020
Los Cabos trades tequila shots for aged mezcal, and the high-end-resort race is on.
Decades ago, when I heard "Cabo," all-night discos, buckets of Corona, and a tequila incident sprung to mind. As a twentysomething, Cabo felt like one continuous sombrero-wearing rave. But I’m older and presumably wiser now. Cabo has grown up too. The sun-drenched region at the Baja Peninsula’s tip has two towns, collectively known as Los Cabos: the don’t-stop, can’t-stop party hub of Cabo San Lucas at Land’s End and the more tranquilo art-gallery-speckled enclave of San José del Cabo. A 20-mile coastal road that’s home to some of Mexico’s glitziest resorts links the two settings, bringing a sophisticated sizzle to this spring-break capital. While Los Cabos is no stranger to posh addresses (Esperanza, One&Only, and Las Ventanas staked their claims early on), it took off after Hurricane Odile ravaged the area in 2014, which gave hoteliers a chance to reinvent the destination. In 2018, Montagepicked Cabo for its first international resort. Last year alone saw ten properties debut, including Zadún, the latest Ritz-Carlton Reserve, which opened in November. And in the next two years, Aman, St. Regis, and Park Hyatt will join the fiesta.
To discover what Cabo’s buzz is all about, I recently packed my swimsuit and sunscreen for Zadún. Designed to balance desert minimalism with carefree beach comfort, the resort is so calm and quiet that I could relax to the tune of sea breezes rushing through the cardón cacti. With no bar-hopping on the agenda and nary a sombrero in sight, I ordered a glass of mezcal and slid into my room’s private plunge pool just in time to watch the sky turn pink. It’s the happy hour I now picture playing out daily across much of Los Cabos. Die-hard partiers can still hang upside down for well shots at the Giggling Marlin. But trust me, the goings-on at these eight resorts are the real draw now.
Zadún, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve
Just 15 minutes from San José del Cabo, the 115 spacious rooms at Zadún spread across 20 acres of cactus-clad hills on the Sea of Cortés. Ring the on-call butler to arrange pool- or beachside lunches, off-property adventures such as scuba diving and desert Jeep tours, or dinner at Humo, which specializes in grilled meats and seafood, and has one of the coast’s top wine cellars. A favorite hideout: Spa Alkemia’s lushly landscaped adults-only pool and couples’ cabana (as well as a private casita with its own steam room, Jacuzzi, lounge area, and massage cabin). Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily, a $150 resort credit, and round-trip airport transfers. Don’t Miss: Check out the spa’s Savasana sound-treatment room (one of only two in the world), a darkened room with quartz floors for sound-bathing.
Built in the 1950s as a hacienda and accessible only by yacht or plane at the time, this 174-room resort sits on a promontory jutting into the Pacific that has retained its remote feel as the area boomed around it. The geography seals off dangerous currents for family-friendly dips and paddleboarding at Pelican Beach, while adjacent Playa Palmilla offers a fun and consistent surf break. Tip for two: Reserve the resort’s private yacht for a sunset outing with a bottle of Champagne before sampling seafood specialties such as grilled spiny lobster at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Seared. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $150 resort credit.
Don’t Miss: Palmilla is home to Mexico’s only outpost of Tropicsurf, the preeminent surf school and guide service for everyone from beginners to pros.
Montage Los Cabos
This contemporary 122-room hotel – winner of Virtuoso’s 2019 Best of the Best Newcomer award – hugs serene Santa Maria Bay, one of Los Cabos’ rare safely swimmable beaches. Take in views from the two pools and swim-up bar at all-day restaurant Marea, or retreat to Cabo’s largest spa for lunch and a massage. Mezcal has made a name for itself with modern Mexican dishes such as octopus-tempura tacos and local sea bass with hazelnut green mole; also check out its tequila and mezcal tastings and cooking classes. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 resort credit.
Don’t Miss: Stargaze each night on the beach with the resort’s shaman. Up late? The complimentary sunrise kayak tour starts around 6 am.
Grand Velas Los Cabos
The keys to a great family vacation: action, action, action – plus a parental escape hatch or two. And let’s not nickel-and-dime each other while we’re at it. The all-inclusive, 307-suite Grand Velas Los Cabos dares guests to keep up with its daily planned activities –morning yoga, beach soccer, cooking and dance classes, e-bike tours, Ping-Pong and cornhole tournaments (!) – while keeping the decision makers happy with an adults-only pool, babysitting services, and a baby concierge who supplies cribs, high chairs, and strollers. Among its seven restaurants: two-Michelin-starred chef Sidney Schutte’s Cocina de Autor, where an eight- to ten-course tasting menu wraps up without the bite of a check. Virtuoso travelers receive all meals, a $100 dining credit, a $50 spa credit, and one-way airport transfers. Don’t Miss: The Teens’ Club preps the region’s next generation of spring-breakers with a house DJ and dance floor, karaoke, and a bar serving nonalcoholic drinks. Younger kids have their own club too, and toddlers get a playground and splash pool.
Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal
A torchlit tunnel through Pedregal Mountain heightens the drama of arriving at this 119-room property. Cabo bars are a short walk away, and staff will ferry guests across the property to the resort’s main gate via golf cart. But with ocean-facing plunge pools on each room’s terrace (complimentary beer, chips, and guacamole show up at just the right time each afternoon), the spa’s treatments based on moon phases, a Champagne bar on the beach with swings for barstools, and cliffside El Farallon’s ocean-to-table meals, the quieter side of the tunnel has its rewards. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $150 resort credit. Don’t Miss: Board the resort’s 60-foot Dos Mares yacht for private parties or a Friday-evening cocktail cruise to watch the sun set behind Los Cabo’s famous landmark arch, El Arco.
The Cape, a Thompson Hotel
When a getaway with BFFs calls, The Cape puts the good times in heavy rotation. All 161 of its retro-inspired rooms and villas offer unobstructed views of El Arco as they curve around the heart of the resort: an infinity pool where the swim-up bar plays dance music. Hit the open-air lobby bar for cocktails spiked with bitters and juices made from overripe fruit (part of the hotel’s sustainability effort to mitigate food waste), then head six stories up to The Rooftop bar for Cabo’s best sunset view. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 resort credit.
Don’t Miss: Chef Enrique Olvera has some of the coast’s hottest tables at Manta, where his five-course tasting menu features the likes of Veracruz-style ceviche, black-miso fish tacos, and suckling-pig steamed buns.
Las Ventanas al Paraíso, a Rosewood Resort
In the late 1990s, Las Ventanas showed Baja how to do the over-the-top escape without pretense. From its lazy river pool with an adjacent taco bar to its 84 brass-telescope-equipped suites with rooftop terraces and Arbol restaurant’s seafood platters and lantern-lit trees, the property remains the epitome of beach life in Mexico for many. But it’s not afraid to wink at Baja’s party rep: La Botica, a new speakeasy piano bar whose exit resembles a vintage Coca-Cola fridge, features live jazz, Latin, and Afro-Cuban music until 2 am every night. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily, a margarita and a taco sampler, and a $100 spa credit.
Don’t Miss: Play kingpin in the 28,000-square-foot, $35,000-per-night Ty Warner Mansion, a two-bedroom home with multiple terraces, an infinity pool, a staff of seven, and a library of rare tequilas.
Auberge Resorts’ Esperanza
Seventeen acres of palms and 53 thatched-roof casitas and suites with handmade Mexican furniture, wood-beamed ceilings, and outdoor hammocks facing the sea give Esperanza an only-in-Baja vibe. Guests can reserve new beach palapas for morning yoga and breakfast or all-day lounging. Every Wednesday, a pop-up market brings local crafts, jewelry, toys, and pottery, while the on-site gallery showcases work by Baja’s best artists throughout the week. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 spa credit. Don’t Miss: Chef Guillermo Gomez leads tide-pool foraging outings for sea urchins, stone crabs, and other ingredients to prepare chil-pachole, a traditional Mexican seafood stew.
This article originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of Virtuoso Life.