DIABLO MAGAZINE: March, 2022
Spring break in Cabo. If your first thought is tequila shots and bikinis, you may be surprised to find peaceful hideaways near this popular destination on the Baja California Peninsula. Yes, spring break in Cabo San Lucas is a good time for adults and families to get away, too, and explore authentic Mexican villages just a short drive from the resort strip.
Key to a relaxing vacation is picking the right accommodations. Sirena del Mar is about 45 minutes south of Los Cabos International Airport and was until recently owned by the family of Lawrence Welk. Now transitioning to a Hyatt Residence Club, Sirena del Mar remains Welk Resort Group CEO Jon Fredricks’s favorite property.
“It sits right on the bluff overlooking the Sea of Cortez, with its own sandy cove for swimming and snorkeling,” says Fredricks, the grandson of the famed bandleader. The 108-villa resort has two infinity swimming pools that give the illusion of tumbling into the sea.
Personal safety is paramount at family resorts like Sirena del Mar. Sunset cruises on the Sea of Cortez are escorted by at least one hotel staffer, and the resort partners with reputable tour companies for airport transportation and day trips.
The short day trips to off-the-beaten-path pueblos are what make Cabo more than just a resort destination. To see Mexican artisans and villages that seem frozen in time, there are two main routes north from Cabo San Lucas: Highway 1 on the east side of the peninsula along the Sea of Cortez and Highway 19 on the west side of the peninsula, adjacent to the Pacific Ocean.
The landscape along Highway 1 changes quickly as you pass San José del Cabo and the miles of resorts that have sprung up since the peninsula’s main north/south artery was built in 1972.
Urban sprawl yields to cattle and cactus, with ranches dotting the semi-arid desert. To the west is an impressive spine of the Sierra de la Laguna and several small towns you can’t see from the road. “That’s why they’re called hidden villages,” says Rancho Tours driver Juan Hernandez, a seasoned guide who takes visitors on authentic Mexican experiences that include meeting local artisans.
The first “hidden” stop on the Hideaway Villages tour is Miraflores—Spanish for look at the flowers. Just a few sleepy streets make up this town, where flowering trees and cacti contrast with the dusty roads and chicken-scratched yards. At first glance, Miraflores seems more populated with hens and goats than people, but the town of 2,000 residents has several multigenerational artisans and a beautiful Catholic church built in 1839.
The Valdez family in Miraflores is known for their handmade furniture. Their yard is scattered with wood, harvested from dead trees that are cut down and hauled from the mountains to make chairs, with palm leaves woven into the frames for the seats and backs. Palochina (pinewood) is used for tables and cabinets. There is so much dead wood in the area that even the branches of trumpetbushes are used for fences. The family sells their crafts to locals and resorts on the peninsula, but will deliver furniture all the way to Tijuana for United States customers who want to cross the border to pick it up.
On the edge of Miraflores is another artisan, Jesús Beltran, who makes leather products from hides that he cures, scrapes, tans, stretches, and dries on his property. Drink holders are popular items, keeping beer and soda cold in the blistering summer heat, but Beltran’s weathered yet nimble fingers craft everything from saddles and leather chair seats to purses and coral snake belts.
Just north of town is the village of Santiago, built on two hills with a verdant valley in between. Santiago is surprisingly lush, with acres of fruit trees and a botanical garden. There’s also a well-preserved Catholic mission, founded in 1724, and visitors in summer and fall can hike to waterfalls fed by rainwater from the mountains.
Continue north on Highway 1, and the Sea of Cortez comes back into view. The villages of Buena Vista and neighboring Los Barriles are surprising for what they don’t have: a wall of coastal resorts. “This is what Cabo looked like 40 years ago,” says Hernandez. Sand roads lead to a beach devoid of development, except for a few scattered houses and fishing boats. The one prominent resort in town, the Buena Vista Resort, uses geothermal water from an open well on the property.
Restaurants in the area recall old Mexico, too. A popular place in Los Barriles is Piscis, a modest, thatched-roof café where locals sip on cerveza and agua fresca made from fresh guava and hibiscus. The Hideaway Villages tour ends with a stop at the spot where the Tropic of Cancer intersects Highway 1. The stop is more than a photo op, as you can buy homemade ice cream—some of the best you’ll ever taste.
A Mágico Town
To find dozens of Mexican artists in one charming town, book a day trip along the west side of the peninsula on Highway 19 to Todos Santos. Esperanza’s Tours has a popular six-hour trip to this cobblestone-street village, a former sugar mill town that the government designated a Pueblo Mágico in 2006 for its historical relevance, cultural riches, and natural beauty.
Just outside of Todos Santos, three generations of weavers operate on a small parcel of coastal property. The Vasquez family uses a 50-year-old handloom to make blankets from wool shorn from sheep raised in Tlaxcala.
Once in Todos Santos, take note of the town’s relaxed vibe—perhaps inspired by its location overlooking a lush landscape of palm trees and ocean. Small shops sell leather goods, paintings, and trinkets, and at least one jewelry store offers pearls from locally raised oysters. For lunch, there’s the famed Hotel California (which the Eagles deny was the inspiration for their song of the same name), just around the corner from the colorful colonial Misión Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Todos Santos, built in 1733.
Day trips on either side of the Baja Peninsula are comfortable, safe, and usually under $100. Drivers pick you up and return you to your hotel, provide water, lunch, and several stops that give you a sense of the real Mexico. It’s the Baja Peninsula that visitors would have seen a half century ago—with all its laid-back charm and awe-inspiring natural resources.