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Cabo San Lucas or San José del Cabo: Which is Which?

This week our ship, Explora I, arrived at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico - a place I'd longed to see thanks to their active tourism board who are especially good at promoting its fresh cuisine and natural beauty. I took a breathtaking sailing excursion offered by Explora Journeys to see the famous arch on the Baja Peninsula and secluded beaches along the coast. If you're coming to "Cabo" for longer than a port of call, you'll want to see as much as possible on land too - especially San José del Cabo to the east. What's the difference between the two? Read on! 

Excerpt below from 3/25/2024 article by Adam Erace can found here. 


Los. Spanish for the definite article “the.” Three little letters. They can mean a lot. In the case of Los Cabos, the megapopular resort destination on the windswept tip of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, they mean everything – and yet, the los in Los Cabos is often jettisoned as thoughtlessly as a half-full water bottle at airport security. Find someone who’s traveling to this swath of desert between the Pacific and the Sea of Cortés and ask them where they’re going. Chances are they’ll simply say, “Cabo.” Which begs the question: Which one?


For those uninitiated to Cabo – sorry, Los – I like to describe the area as a barbell. On each side is a Cabo: San José del Cabo on its east and Cabo San Lucas to the west. As the collective destination’s two main towns, both brim with taquerias, cafés, boutiques, bars, jewelers, churches, cosmetic dentists, and real estate brokerages. But they’re very different. As Los Cabos has evolved, so have its offerings, with each resort area staking out different niches and travelers’ interests driving where they stay. After all, cabo means “cape,” and this destination wears many.


San José del Cabo


On Thursday nights, November through June, the only place to be in Los Cabos is San José’s Gallery District for the Art Walk. Mariachis perform and a massive Mexican flag beats in the wind above Plaza Mijares, as carts selling churros and Tostilocos (a limey, salsa-topped snack mix) set up outside the ivory cathedral (founded by Jesuits in 1730), and Mexican and expat artists showcase their works in the square and at numerous surrounding galleries. This vitality is the main draw of staying in or near San José. The handsome colonial downtown functions as the region’s cultural heart and (for better or worse) becomes more Instagram-conscious every year. Third-wave cafés brew locally roasted Mexican beans, while marquee restaurants such as Acre and Flora Farms bloom on the outskirts. Hotels inside the old town trend less luxe, and high-end resorts such as Viceroy spread out along the nearby coast.


Stay here for: Evocative ambience, the arts, and a walkable, photogenic core. Keep in mind: What you get in charm and atmosphere, you sacrifice in proximity to the beach, which is a ten-minute drive from the main plaza.


Cabo San Lucas


Rising from the sapphire vortex where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortés, the rock formation El Arco provides Los Cabos’ geographical calling card. The migrating whales like it. The resident sea lions like it. The travelers who stay on this end of Los Cabos, half an hour from San José and up to an hour from the airport, like having the dramatic wind- and wave-sculpted archway as the view they wake up to.

A sleepy fishing village turned sportfishing epicenter, San Lucas over the decades has become a splash-dash amalgam of revelry and kitsch, glitz and grit. This is where cruise passengers disembark and spring breakers descend for cacophonous nightclubs. In general, the town isn’t where Los Cabos’ best resorts are – the one diamond-crusted asterisk being Waldorf Astoria, which dazzles in the exclusive Pedregal enclave. But venture beyond the touristy magnet of the marina zone and popular Medano Beach, and an entire city populated by more locals than expats stretches back in an easy-to-explore grid. While restaurants here have less cachet, almost universally, their soulful cooking beats the trendier spots hands down.


Stay here for: Exploring outside the hotel on foot, boat activities, and substance-over-style Cabo San Lucas restaurants such as Maria Jimenez and Punta Médano (also known for its great cocktails). Keep in mind: With its marina full of flashy yachts and mall of luxury labels, San Lucas lacks the small-town charm of its sister to the east.


The Corridor


Some 30 miles of modern highway cut along the coastline that connects San José and San Lucas. Colloquially, this seafront resort zone is called the Corridor, home to many of the most famous Los Cabos luxury resorts: Rosewood’s Las Ventanas al Paraíso, Auberge’s Esperanza and Chileno BayOne&Only Palmilla, and more. Reached by lushly landscaped drives that wind off the highway like thirsty vines, these hotels anchor real estate developments with gated entrances, golf courses, and private homes. Some, such as Montage Los Cabos, have swimmable beaches – a rarity on this coastline known for swift currents.


Stay here for: Being wrapped in the waffle-knit embrace of ask-your-butler-and-you-shall-receive resorts, not having to think or move on vacation, mesmerizing water views. Keep in mind: Travelers looking to explore beyond the pool cabanas will need a car.


Farther Afield


Travelers’ appetite for the region is so voracious that elite resorts keep extending the destination’s boundaries, turning tracts of empty desert and shore into hospitality oases. Swooping 70 miles up the coast from San José, the once-remote Cabo del Este (East Cape) region has arrived over the last decade, bookended by Zadún, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve and the Four Seasons in Costa Palmas.

On the opposite side of the peninsula, the city life of San Lucas’ upper limits dissolves to sand and scrub, from which the Diamante district emerges. Continuing north, Highway 19’s widening and resurfacing has brought more tourism than ever to the surf camps of El Pescadero and Los Cerritos, with tiny Todos Santos becoming an international jet-set destination. When I first visited Todos in 2010, I could barely find an ATM. On my most recent trip, I drank fresh strawberry-beet juice at brunch and slept at a hotel with Le Labo bath products. In Los Cabos, the only constant is change.



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