Cabo San Lucas & La Paz, Mexico
December 14-18, 2018.
Flight cost from YVR: $411 CAD
Cost for hotels, car rental, gas, food, etc = $600 CAD each
4 day itinerary included:
Cerritos beach – La Paz – Balandra and Tecolote beaches – (we missed Isla Espirito but add this in!) – Playa el Tesoro – Santa Rita Hot Springs (Santiago) – Cabo San Lucas.
For a quick sun getaway, a friend and I opted to head to Cabo. We scored a great deal on flights, making this 4 day trip pretty affordable. I ended up flying a day earlier making it a 5 day trip with the most epic stopover in Denver. What an incredible city!
When we arrived at Cabo airport, we picked up our rental car from Mexrentacar. If you take nothing else away from this blog, let it be to book direct with the rental agency and verify the TOTAL amount before booking. Mexico has some mandatory insurance they don’t let you waive even if you have car rental insurance on your credit card. Travel fail. Somehow our $10 rental ended up costing us $150 US for 4 days. And Mexrentacar is supposed to be one of the less sketchy car rental places. Yikes.
Our final bill from Mexrentacar! Yikes!
We intended to take highway 1 up to La Paz but one small wrong turn had us on Hwy. 19. Rather than turning around, we trusted that everything happens for a reason. We would find out later that Hwy. 19 is much faster.
Hwy 19 is a toll road so make sure you have some pesos on hand. It appeared as though they also accepted US dollars but no credit or debit cards.
We stopped halfway up Hwy 19 at Cerritos beach to watch the sunset. This chill little beach is a great spot to take a surf lesson although apparently is becoming a bit overtouristy. We weren’t bothered.
Cerritos beach at sunset
Rolling into La Paz around 7 pm had us hit some seriously intense traffic. We stopped for some vegan hot dogs at Veggie Jates. Vegan or not, this is a place to visit, especially when you read the story of the owners – 2 single moms who have fought hard to introduce this all vegan option. A local business worth supporting.
We checked into our hotel at Hotel Catedral. I can’t say enough about this hotel. It was perfect in every way. Rooftop pool overlooking La Paz, free underground parking, central location walking distance to everything, amazing staff and omg the breakfast… I have never seen such a spread. I pigged out on the most amazing vegan tacos, nachos (yes, nachos for breakfast, don’t judge) and fresh fruit with granola. They had a huge selection of other hot dishes for the more carnivorous types. All for $90/night (CAD)
La Paz itself doesn’t have the most beautiful beach right in the city centre but there were many other fun things we got up to in town including:
– walking the malecon (sea wall)
– the farmers market
– wandering around the marina area where you can watch fish playing in the lights shining into the water
– many performers in the squares
– a huge vendor market in the main square (possibly seasonal for xmas)
– Christmasland – a fun, free light festival. This was incredibly well done and totally worth checking out if you’re in La Paz around Christmas time. I love that they don’t put baby Jesus in the manger until Christmas in their nativity scenes in Mexico. One small but interesting cultural difference.
– Churros! There are so many churro stands in town, you’d be crazy not to try some.
Christmas in La Paz
My only disappointment with La Paz was the lack of authentic Mexican restaurants in the main tourist area (but if you want sushi or burgers…) and the lack of vegan options at places advertised on Happy Cow (the vegan food finding app). My friend became quite ill the first night after some fish tacos so you may want to consider checking out those vegan places anyway. In particular, Locos X Pasta (no, it isn’t Mexican, I already told you the town centre lacks an abundance of authentic Mexican spots) had a ton of vegan options, including vegan empanadas!
The real highlight of La Paz wasn’t the town of La Paz itself but the proximity to Balandra and Tecolote beaches.
Balandra was more beautiful and calm. Make the 2-3 minute climb up the hill on the right (if facing the water) for epic views. You can also head to the same side for even more secluded beaches. The shallow waters have you walking forever before even getting waist deep. There are kayak rentals and one little food stand but that is about it for amenities.
5 minutes from Balandra is Tecolote beach. Tecolote beach was more developed with a couple of restaurants and boat/jet ski rentals. This beach was less swimmable (large waves the day we went) but the black sand was beautiful. From Tecolote it is possible to catch a boat to the epic Isla Espirito. Sadly, the weather was shit the day we went so the boats weren’t running. The man with the boat said the price to Isla Espirito is 1100 pesos ($54 US) each but that was his first price without any bargaining and I’m confident he actually sells seats on his boat for much less. There are also several other tour options you can find online, however I didn’t see any tour vendors in La Paz so you may want to book in advance or try your luck with the beach walk up method. Isla Espirito is supposed to be the most incredible thing to do in this area, leaving me needing a return visit.
On the drive up to the beaches we passed a ferry terminal. You can take a ferry straight to Mazatlan – a very cool option for those looking to backpack around Mexico.
On our way back to La Paz from the beaches we stopped at Playa el Tesoro, a very small beach with one little bar/restaurant and some kayak and SUP rentals.
Another night fun night in the centre and a great sleep in Hotel Cathedral had us ready to leave laid back La Paz for the over touristy party town of Cabo San Lucas.
Short disclaimer here: I typically hate all inclusive resorts. I tend to feel like an overfed, drunk, caged animal. I guess that is the point. For this trip, we thought 2 days of this wouldn’t be so bad after exploring the area on our own.
For those whose travel experience consists solely of these package vacations to all inclusives, please, please take some chances to leave the resort and experience local culture!
To get back down to Cabo, we took a different route as we wanted to stop in Los Barrilos and Santiago. Although route 1 looks shorter on the map, the winding roads with cows, dogs, and even a donkey, make it a lot longer than Hwy 19. We missed the turn off for Los Barrilos and didn’t bother turning back, opting to head straight to the Santa Rita hot springs.
Cow wandering onto the highway – no big deal.
We passed some signs for a hiking and camping area at San antonio de la Sierra – a hiking area with camping before Los Barrilos. If we had more time I’d have liked to have checked this area out.
Our own private hot springs at Santa Rita
I have posted a separate blog on the Santa Rita hot springs experience here but this is one place completely worth visiting! We had the chance to hang out solely with locals, not another tourist in sight and practice our Spanish. We learned a few key phrases that would come in handy at the resort.
“Vamos a emborracharnos”
“Vamos a ponernos hasta el culo”
What is a trip to another country without learning some local phrases!?
Just south of Santiago on hwy 1 are some signs for the Tropic of Cancer which is a tourist photo spot you can pull over for if you so choose.
Another toll road (37 pesos) got us to our resort at the Riu Palace in Cabo San Lucas. I’d love to say we left the resort to hike Mt. Solmar and some other fun attractions in Cabo but rather we got sucked right into the All Inclusive life. From yoga and water aerobics to the foam party and water slides at the sister resort Riu Santa Fe next door, we did it all and made the most of our 2 night stay with the Riu. The Riu has a roped off section of the beach for guests only which was nice to keep the people selling stuff and the drug dealers away. We did manage to deter one man who followed us down the beach offering drugs by telling him we are cops back home in Canada (we aren’t, but it got rid of him!)
Riu Palace, Cabo
Pro tip: for those who think the only way to book an all inclusive is through a package deal, think again. Hotwire, Expedia, Booking.com all offer hotel only bookings for all inclusives. After some shopping around, we opted to book directly with the Riu Palace for $436 US incl. tax for 2 nights, 2 people, all inclusive.
Rainbow shots by the Riu’s best bartender
After 2 nights of partying, and 4 nights total in Mexico, it was time to head home. We weren’t sure how early to arrive at the airport so we got to the Mexrentacar shop 2 hours before flight time. The return process, 30 second shuttle to the airport (it is literally across the street) and security process took us no more than half an hour, leaving us plenty of time to wait for our flights home. US airports – you could learn from the smooth and fast process at Cabo airport!
General Cabo tips:
– Confirm your total car rental price beforehand (including all insurance and fees) and book directly with the car rental agency.
– Have some pesos on hand for tolls, churros, and other items requiring cash. Although some places accept US dollars or cards, you will get a better rate using pesos.
– Don’t spend all your time at a resort, get out and explore! And not those sketchy exploitative captive dolphin parks. Despite our car rental drama with being overcharged, I still recommend renting a car and touring around a bit.
– Travel smart. Although we had a drama free trip, Cabo, like most other parts of Mexico is not without corruption. Keep your stuff locked up, don’t give cops any reason to pull you over, don’t buy drugs off random people on the beach (they often work with cops to entrap you) and if you are drinking, be careful. This trip did give me a chance to give my new Loctote bag a try – a cool option to lock your valuables up when travelling which I recommend to avoid people stealing shit out of your bag including in your hotel room (it happens…)