Rodrigo Esponda: Los Cabos is Open
Mexico, including Los Cabos, is wide open for business. Tianguis 2021 has come and gone as the gathering spot for leaders of Mexico’s robust tourism industries, but remains a window into what to watch and where to go as the popular tourism zone emerges from Covid with some very strong trends. As tourism ministers and directors mixed with the latest in destination attractions across Mexico’s 31 states and 15 popular tourism regions, we found some exciting reasons to be hopeful about the year ahead, although the tourism conference’s time-frame in mid-November meant that the Omicron variant had not yet been identified.
Still, given the tough two years that has hit most tourism industries and destinations in the gut, we sat down with Rodrigo Esponda, Managing Director for the Los Cabos Tourism Board, to see why the resort location at the bottom of the Baja has had so much to offer during this age of COVID, and what the destination has done right.
In numbers, Los Cabos is open — touting a remarkable 100 percent recovery in tourism with spikes as much as 20 percent in recent months above other popular tourism spots in Mexico. In September 2021 alone, Los Cabos showed nearly 118,000 international arrivals – marking its most successful September month ever with a 40 percent increase in international arrivals compared to 2019.
While Cabos is open and its travel industry’s successes have been impressive, the region’s marketers are not sitting on their laurels. Safety protocols remain in place, especially as new virus variants show up in hot spots around the world. Still, Los Cabos has some radical approaches to this unprecedented era we navigate, bolstered by tight cooperation from tourism industry suppliers and hospitality purveyors.
How has this past year been for Los Cabos. How were you able to not just survive, but thrive?
Well, we know that we have to work together to collaborate to overcome adversities. That’s been the case in several occasions in natural disasters and other situations. So the floor was set before COVID, with team challenges that meant working in unison to implement the highest standard protocols.
When we reopened Los Cabos in June 2020, we really aimed at that time to position Los Cabos as the best option for travel in the context of COVID-19. We knew we would have to have the best environment and the safest environment for our travelers as they often rely on the destination and travel frequently to Los Cabos (20 percent of our visitors come four times or more during the year).
When word of mouth about destination started to spread last year we launched a marketing campaign called Los Cabos Rules, aimed at the United States. It entertained a double meaning throughout: like Stay at Home but make that home in Los Cabos; Wear a Mask, but that mask is a snorkel mask in the water. And for Keep Your Distance, we showed a lone paddle boarder floating peacefully in the Sea of Cortez.
And then we have been evolving the messaging, so now we launched a campaign that says: Set Yourself Apart. We did this especially for the US market, as we knew that the concern about traveling was not over, and visitors really want to separate themselves but be in a place that is unique, not crowded.
So where are things now?
Locally, we are in the last part of the Los Cabos reopening plan and 85 percent of the community 18 and older as vaccinated. We continue implementing the protocols and the number of cases has been super low. What we see going forward is that we cannot relax and that the quality needs to be maintained. We are now having bigger numbers than what we had in 2019. In October, for example, we had 30 percent growth vis-à-vis October of 2019. But we cannot take for granted that we will be having the same type of growth moving forward. So we keep innovating and at the same time being very assertive in our communications.
Are you offering new products to bring people back?
Yes, we need to keep innovating. One of the new products that we have just launched is called District 23 400. That is the zipcode of the downtown area of San Jose del Cabo.
It’s a fantastic area, all the renovated, and we created a chic district focused on the gastronomic experience. Some 30 restaurants belong to the program, all within walking distance of each other in the downtown part of the town. This is at the northern end of the tourism corridor. We have a specific section in the Visit Los Cabos ecosystem for this where we feature, the chefs, their recipes, and the special menus they offer on Tuesdays – we call it “Tasty Tuesdays.” We promote the freshness of the area organic farms and farm-to-table experiences, the fresh seafood you can have with the very talented cooks and chefs that have been moved to Los Cabos from all around Mexico in the world. And it appeals to the very select audience of travelers that come to Los Cabos.
There has been a big renaissance for downtown San Jose del Cabos. Visitors will see this district on Tuesdays. They already know about Thursdays arts markets and these are usually totally full. That’s why we did we created the Tasty Tuesday option, to have a different day of the week for people to come and walk around and experience the fun. And then we’re going to have another part of this program that will focus on street food in this area.
What are some of the audiences you seek to reach?
We have seen an evolution in the travel, especially on the high end with the evolving high-end traveler. Those are people who travel a lot and can go anywhere in the world. We have seen that there is a big evolution in the things that they are looking for in a vacation. We are also working on the factor of inclusion. We have three tracks there, one on LGBTQ, another is on accessibility, and then we have a focus on black travel, which is another big trend we are seeing in Los Cabos. And one final focus is on community engagement. Everyone wants to know what is happening with the community and how they can engage with the community. They want to visit the ranches where the people actually live and know the story behind the story. So those are the new channels in travel we’re working on.
What are some of the new experiential trends afoot?
A big trend we see is in sustainable vacations. We have, very close to Los Cabos, hiking trails with natural waterfalls and natural reserves that people can explore on their own and they won’t need a four by four vehicle to get to these places.
And we are also looking at the adventurous toys people like to play with in the waters. For instance, there’s a company that has been coming up, and they want to be environmentally friendly. And they have a lot of toys, but they are all electric. They are called Caboelectric and they use something called an eFoil that is a surfboard with an electric propeller that powers the board to move through any water. And they have paddle boards and a variety of other boards and equipment and it’s all geared for sustainability. So this is one of those only in Cabo ways to have fun in a unique way and still stay friendly to the environment.
What are some trends in hospitality gaining traction in Los Cabos?
The whole villa concept is taking off in Cabo. So that’s actually fairly unique, and helping to create a Mediterranean experience there. And we have variety, such as villas inside such luxury resorts as Rosewood, and other villa-focused developments that are owned and leased out through various companies. To stay in a villa is different from a stay in one of the resorts in Los Cabos. Maybe the guests are coming in by private plane and coming with many members of the family. For other guests, sometimes they want to simply stay in a resort so they can play golf or just relax in a wellness program.
What about airline travel to Los Cabos?
Currently, we have 45 percent more lift than we did during the same time in 2019, and from more gateways. We used to have 21 gateways from the United States with nonstop flights. Now we have 26 gateway cities in the United States and more frequencies. We went from 350 flights on a weekly basis to 500 weekly frequencies and we have been diversifying, especially the Northeastern U.S. I think the demand is there now, because the airlines follow the demand. But we cannot take this for granted. Now that visitors have experienced the destination, we need to make sure that they come back.
How are meetings managing in Los Cabos? Are they coming back?
We have seen a big, big comeback in meetings, especially involving incentive programs and small corporate meetings. And again, there are a couple of interesting dynamics that we have here that are different from other destinations. If you make a check of average daily rates on meetings in various locations, usually the bigger bulk of rooms, the lower the average daily rate. In the case of Los Cabos, the average daily rate of meaningful incentives is higher, say $465 a night, and the average daily rate for meetings is $250. But that is because the incentive programs and the corporate meetings prefer to work with premier product when they come to Los Cabos as it’s an aspirational destination and a great way to reward an employee.
But we have seen some changes, the incentive groups are now smaller, and they break up. So instead of bringing 150 people, they break up into sections of 50. Or if they are coming for a corporate retreat, they want to have a much more meaningful type of connection or reflection or experience when they come to Los Cabos.
Many conferences have been taking place with very specific protocol — everyone that comes goes through an arrival team test before getting access to the meeting. And then when these attendees go back to the United States, they need to go through another COVID test. We make it very easy because all the hotels offer this service on site through a certified facility.
What happens if a visitor tests positive for COVID-19 and must quarantined. Who pays for that?
In the beginning, it was popular for visitors to have insurance and many hotels also offered this option. More recently the incidents of a positive result have been super minimal. But we have a specific protocol for hotels and hospitality members and they need to advise the state medical authority immediately when somebody tests positive – once false positive results have been ruled out. Once confirmed positive through a PCR test, the guest must quarantine at the hotel. Medical authorities have to get in touch with the patient on the phone to assess the condition and needs, including food. The patient cannot leave the room, they need to stay there for the stated duration. But many hotels and resorts and villa companies are cooperating by offering at least a 50 percent discount if the guest does not have insurance.
However, the number of cases has been so low that many properties are promoting the amenity that guests contracting COVID can quarantine for free. They can do this because the number of positive cases are so so few that is makes a strong promotional statement.
For some visitors who may be staying with friends and relatives in a $5,000/night villa, though, the prospect of spending only $2,500 a night to quarantine may still be a little high. So, we have some business class hotels with special rates so those who need to quarantine can do so without too much financial pain. We have not had a positive case ion a very long time, but it’s something we need to protect.
Do you have any kind of a closing thoughts about Los Cabos and 2022?
We believe that 2022 is going to be a year with a lot of challenges. Los Cabos is open for business and we need to keep making sure that Los Cabos will still be considered the best and safest option for anyone looking to come. That’s the word and we need to keep working on it to make sure that it remains.
Visiting San Jose del Cabos, True Colors of Cabo
Any trip to Cabo San Lucas should include a visit to San Jose del Cabo. The two towns that make up this piece of the Baja Peninsula could not be more different in what they offer travelers who want to explore all that Los Cabos has to offer. San Jose del Cabo has the artsy spirit coupled with a sense of history, making it a destination on par with Mexico’s quaint Magic Towns for those who want to explore beyond the beach, the bars and the party buzz of the Baja.
For those staying in a villa with Elegant Mexico, as luck would have it, San Jose del Cabo is a short 13 minute drive away making it a convenient place to dine, sip, shop, browse and wander in the lazy afternoon hours.
Things to Do in San Jose del Cabo
Whether you’re looking for some fun in the sun, a place to relax, or everything in between, you’ll never be short on things to do in San Jose del Cabo.
You can’t visit San Jose del Cabo without spending time on the beach, and 350 days of sunshine every year means anytime is an excellent time to visit. The all-inclusive resorts lining Playa Hotelera offer beach loungers perfect for sunbathing or continue south along the coast to Costa Azul Beach for the best waves in town.
Experience the rich wildlife of Los Cabos by visiting the Dolphin Discovery Center to swim with dolphins or encounter numerous endemic birds and plants at the Estero San José.
Treat yourself to an afternoon of play and relaxation. Hopefully, the scenic views overlooking the Sea of Cortez at the world-class Vidanta Golf Course don’t distract you while going for par on the greens.
San Jose del Cabo offers plenty of history as well. Plaza Mijares is a favorite place to meet up, hang out, or simply enjoy people-watching. This historical plaza is home to the iconic Misión San José del Cabo. The church dates back to 1730 and remains a symbol of the town and culture. Visitors are permitted inside to admire the ornate décor and religious-inspired art.
Join a walking tour of the town, starting in Plaza Mijares. Tours wind through cobblestoned streets and colonial buildings with a stop at the San Jose del Cabo town hall — one of San Jose’s historical landmarks. The building took nearly 40 years to construct and was inaugurated finally in 1927 (the clock tower was completed in 1930).
Stop by the colorful “Los Cabos” letter sign, considered a rite of passage for people visiting Los Cabos and an Instagram “must”.
Art and Culture in San Jose del Cabo
As if Mexico isn’t already known for its vibrant and colorful culture, you’re sure to see plenty of it while visiting San Jose del Cabo. It’s a place where art and culture are a regular part of life, and you can experience it from the street vendors to art galleries.
Visiting the Gallery District is one of the top things to do in San Jose del Cabo for browsing the best local talent on the peninsula. Contemporary works in Ivan Guaderrama Art Gallery, peculiar sculptures in the Frank Arnold Gallery, or the fine art adorning the walls of Galeria de Ida Victoria make good places to start.
Plan to spend your Thursday evening at the weekly Art Walk hosted in the Gallery District, where a few blocks are closed off to cars so that locals and visitors alike can enjoy art displayed in the streets along with live music and eats.
Dining in San Jose del Cabo
If you’re ever stuck on what to eat in San Jose del Cabo or where to shop, simply head to Plaza Mijares, and you’ll quickly find tons of options lining the streets of the downtown district.
San Jose del Cabo is a foodie destination where the rich flavors of Mexican cuisine mix with international dishes to appeal to tourists. And you can’t forget about tasting some of the best seafood you’ve ever had, likely caught the same day it’s served.
La Lupita is a favorite taco spot (aside from street tacos) sample taste unique, artisanal-style tacos. Alternatively, delight in the charming setting of Los Tres Gallos for home-cooked-style Mexican favorites.
Jardín Secreto opened recently and gives a cool, minimalist vibe amid firepits and tropical vegetation. Garden-to-table cuisine is on the menu but save room for the Wood-fired pizzas matched with an aromatic Baja wine.
Los Tamarindos is another spot that ranks high on foodie lists. It’s an organic farm and restaurant near the San Jose del Cabo estuary and operates out of a farm house dating back to the 19th Century. Similarly, don’t miss Flora Farms, a 25-acre organic working farm and home to Flora’s Field Kitchen serving locally grown and healthy ingredients in creative and inspired presentations. It’s a family affair with hay rides, tours of 100 percent sustainable living spaces, and shops.
Shopping in San Jose del Cabo
There are many small boutique shops around town where you’ll find unique gifts for yourself (or friends back home). Shop locally-made handicrafts at vendors set up in Plaza Mijares or visit the small boutique shops where the local shop owners love to meet travelers and share interesting facts about items in their stores.
Among the favorites is Shima Shima that specializes in Mexican-made finds. Find neon-colored pom pom necklaces and elaborate weaves from the Tenango Valley of Hidalgo, wide-brimmed beach hats and colorful cotton dresses.
Check out some crazy home goods at Caravane Cabo, a design lover’s paradise that is full of artisanal finds like scoop chairs that look like avocados (another Instagram must). Find an array of handcrafted straw bags adorned with sequined Day of the Dead skulls and brightly colored, wooden folk art sculptures from Oaxaca at Choya Rose.
Nightlife in San Jose del Cabo
When most people think about nightlife in Los Cabos, Cabo San Lucas is always at the top of mind. But while Cabo San Lucas is full of international-style clubs and wild parties for dancing until the early morning hours, San Jose del Cabo delivers its own nightlife experiences that might be more of your speed.
San Jose del Cabo has plenty of places to enjoy an evening or night out with friends. In El Centro, near the Gallery district, you can find fun bars like Mixology and 12 Onzas that ser tasty cocktails. Also, if you hang around restaurants like Don Sanchez and Shooters long enough, the tables full of hungry patrons transition into ordering rounds of drinks at the bar.
If you’re looking for the best handcraft drinks in San Jose del Cabo, grab a seat at Dalton Gin Bar or Cuervo’s House and watch the bartender put on a crafty display of drink-making. And right next door to Cuervo’s House is La 29, where it only costs 29 pesos to have a fun night out!
Tequila tasting is also on the roster if you know where to look. The great grandson of Jose Cuervo hosts private tequila tastings and classes at his restaurant in downtown. Jorge is studied in everything tequila, and makes an entertaining, educating and spirited few hours for those who want new stories to share at their next dinner party.
San Jose del Cabo is a captivating destination if only for its beauty, history, color and very friendly locals. Visit San Jose del Cabo if you want to escape the trendy tourist areas of Los Cabos for some quirky local culture.
Things to Do in Los Cabos: Hidden Gems
Live like a local by checking out all these things to do in Los Cabos — special hidden gems on your next trip to Los Cabos. You’ll find everything from historic towns, natural phenomena, and delicious food!
Located 60 miles north of Los Cabos, Cabo Pulmo stretches five miles from the northernmost tip, Pulmo Point to the southernmost tip, Los Frailes. This National Marine Park is home to the only hard coral reef in the Gulf of California. The reef of Cabo Pulmo is considered the treasure of Los Cabos and has over 800 species of marine life, hence its nickname, ‘’The Aquarium of the World’’. In fact, Cabo Pulmo National Park has the largest increase in biomass observed by scientists in any protected area. As one of the things to do in Los Cabos, put this on your vacation list.
Whether you’re craving seafood, fresh produce, or artisanal plates, San Jose and the East Cape have plenty of options to keep you satisfied. Dining around is one of the favored things to do in Los Cabos as the options range from fast tacos to top gourmet with a panoply of fresh, local and organic produce and seafood. Check out La Lupita if you’re into traditional tacos and an eccentric bar scene. Another great find is Mi Cocina, which features a French-Mexican-Asian menu, located inside of Casa Natalie, a gorgeous boutique hotel. Outside of this historic town is Flora Farms, a 25-acre organic working farm in the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains, their menu is seasonal and field to table. Cooking classes are also offered, and the grocery store has plenty produce you’ll want to bring back to your villa so you can show off all you’ve learned.
Authentic Eats in San Jose and the East Cape
Whether you’re craving seafood, fresh produce, or artisanal plates, San Jose del Cabo and the East Cape have plenty of options to keep you satisfied. Check out La Lupita if you’re into traditional tacos and an eccentric bar scene. Another great find is Mi Cocina, which features a French-Mexican-Asian menu, located inside of Casa Natalie, a gorgeous boutique hotel. Outside of this historic town is Flora Farms, a 25-acre organic working farm in the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains, their menu is seasonal and field to table. Cooking classes are also offered, and the grocery store has plenty produce you’ll want to bring back to your villa so you can show off all you’ve learned.
Sea Turtle Release
Only in Los Cabos will you get to witness the miracle of life up close with CaboTrek! Thousands of Olive Ridley and Black Turtles come to shore to lay their load of eggs deep in the sand before returning to the sea. Help raise the survival rate of these baby sea turtles by helping and protecting them on their journey to the sea. Tours run from September 1st till December 15th, being closer to wintertime also means a chance to see the Humpback Whales traveling south!
San Jose Estuary
This lagoon is the only freshwater coastal lagoon in Mexico. Walk or bike the paved path that runs along a portion of this lush, green oasis and enjoy the many exotic plants and animals. Other relaxing activities include kayaking and hiking, specialists are trained for this terrain and offer these activities daily. Bring your camera to take advantage of the incredible photo opportunities. Located at the southern tip of Baja California, it’s a quick trip from Los Cabos, perfect for a day trip!
Tamales Doña Nina and Churromania
One of the best-hidden food gems in all of Los Cabos! Tamales Doña Nina is run by women who know a thing or two about making a perfect tamale, offering an array of meat fillings, vegetarian options, and even sweet fillings. As of 2019, the stand can be found on the north side of Plaza Mijares. Finish off your feast with a freshly made churro or two from Churromania, located right next door!
If you’re looking for a beach that the locals love and is free from crowds, Chileno Beach is the perfect spot. This beach has the highly coveted Blue Flag award, which translates to clean water and sand, accessible areas on the beach for the mobility impaired, and spotless bathrooms and changing facilities. Swimming is great all year round as the current and surf are mild.
Underwater Sand Falls
This phenomenon is found in very few locations yet can be found in Los Cabos near El Arco, in the Sea of Cortez. Underwater sand falls are formed by the friction between the tectonic plates of North America and the Pacific, combined with the union of the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez. They were first discovered by the famous underwater explorer, Jacques Cousteau and cascade down a vertical wall under the sea. To see the sand cascade, you must dive to a depth of over 30 meters, so be sure to invest in a diver’s certificate before going! Once you’re down there, you’ll be surrounded by impressive marine biodiversity, including fish of all shapes and colors and black corals.
Thursday Art Walk Around San Jose Del Cabo
This historic center is a colorful place that is packed with character and culture galore. This is due to the many local artisans and art galleries that fill the streets, making them alive with color. Every Thursday night, between November and June, galleries and shops stay open late while local artisans show off their craft in Plaza Mijares. At the Cabo Art Walk, you can view everything from hand-painted pottery, Shona African sculptures, blown glass, contemporary oil paintings, and handmade jewelry. There is often live music and plenty to eat and drink, this is the perfect time to befriend the locals!
Can’t pick between one restaurant? El Merkado is the best place for an array of different cuisines. Featuring the best chefs in all of Los Cabos, located in Koral Center between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas. This food hall features over 20 vendors whose menus feature everything from traditional Oaxacan tlayudas to Neapolitan wood-fired pizza.
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