Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 18, 2017

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Peaceful deserts by a lively sea

Los Cabos dazzles visitors with so much more than endless sunshine

Truth be told, I like barren places, the kinds of landscapes that are striking solely because they are stark, even bleak. They have a beauty as peaceful as it is severe, a tranquillity that hints at the untameable as the empty surroundings make the world more intense, playing tricks with scale, colour and light. Perhaps it's the Canadian in me, our own tundra and badlands exude this harsh elegance. I recently went on a trip to Mexico and discovered another such dramatic setting, one filled with grandeur and serenity — the rugged splendour of Baja California’s coastline where the desert meets the sea.

Dry, sunny beauty

Actually home to four different deserts, with ocean shorelines twice the length of British Columbia’s, the long, narrow Baja California Peninsula is justly celebrated for its pounding surf, spectacular scenery and prickly expanses of cacti (the towering 19-metre-high cardón cactus is the world’s tallest). One of the sunniest, driest places anywhere, with a scant 10 days of rain a year, Baja California is located not where the name suggests, but in westernmost Mexico just south of the US border. On maps, the peninsula stands out like a brandished sword as it slices 1200 kilometres south through the Pacific, its southern tip graced by the picturesque seaside resort area of Los Cabos, known simply as “Cabo” to regular visitors.

Los Cabos is Mexico’s most popular beach resort after Cancun on the other side of the country. It's actually three communities joined together: hustling Cabo San Lucas next to the area’s main marina; smaller San José del Cabo, a charming old town now full of galleries and restaurants; and the Corridor, a 30-kilometre strip between the two towns filled with hotels and holiday homes.

“Cabo” is that rare destination able to satisfy both the most laidback visitors and those restless guests looking for action. Known variously for its secluded beaches, fervent nightlife, fine dining and xeric thorn scrub, Los Cabos also boasts stunning sea cliffs, 15 top golf courses, lavish resorts, eateries and clubs, and a multitude of scenic desert hikes, drives and views. There are meditation retreats, “ranch spas,” and backcountry and ocean-tour outfitters to channel escape, as well as excellent in-town shopping, a vibrant local music scene, some of the world’s best deep-sea fishing where marlin is king and, obviously, water pursuits galore. Step onto the beach and within minutes you can be kayaking, jet skiing, parasailing, diving, snorkelling, kite surfing, swimming with dolphins, or, from January to March, watching whales cavort. If swimming is on your agenda, ask about how safe it is. The two-metre breakers are an obvious hazard, and there are less visible risks, including an undertow, riptides and sharks.

Water, water everywhere

Luckily for me, an ardent dog-paddler, the Cabo resort where I stayed featured a lagoon-sized beachside pool, or rather a series of interlocking pools, which mirrored the blue of the nearby Sea of Cortez, the wide gulf between Baja California and the Mexican mainland. When I arrived, a father and son were playing chess by the pool with oversized pieces nearly as tall as the young boy. As I walked by, I suddenly heard him say, “The sea’s always awake, that’s true; but what about the desert? Is it woken up or sound asleep?” Well, my vote was certainly for slumber after taking the highway to Cabo’s Corridor, the road dreamily folding through a crumpled blanket of hills before tumbling to the seashore and my relaxing all-inclusive resort, the newly opened 350-room Paradisus Los Cabos (melia.com/en/hotels/mexico/los-cabos/paradisus-los-cabos) situated on a large, swimmable crescent-shaped beach. All rates including all meals and activities start around $320 per couple depending on the season.

Operated by Meliá, the international Spanish hotel chain, and just a half-hour drive from San José del Cabo’s International Airport with flights to Canada, the resort spreads over 14 seafront acres encircled by a private golf course. There's a convention centre and a big ballroom; the resort is also popular for weddings. There's even a Romance Coordinator. Honeymooners and anyone else would certainly enjoy one of the Royal Service Suites, which pamper guests with butler service and exclusive restaurants, some of which are swim ups. Families are catered to in 30 Concierge Suites, which are especially kid friendly.

From the resort’s spectacular open-sided triangular atrium, you can see four swimming pools, seven bars, seven restaurants and a sumptuous spa and fitness centre laid out on the manicured, palm-filled grounds. As I sat there of an evening my eyes turned to the arid curve of the coast. The long strand of sand and golden cliffs turned a violent fuchsia pink, with stains of crimson red and nocturnal black slowly sinking into the dimming, still alert sea. I had a delicious sense that all was right with the world. To cap of a perfect stay, I dined that night at the Gastro Bar, one of the resort's main attractions, offering food prepared by eight time Michelin-star-winning Basque chef Martin Berasategui whose food is worthy of competing with the scenery. The dishes are simply magical. Exotic confections like sangria-infused watermelon, smoked pork carpaccio with bacon foam, hazelnut, vanilla and coffee powder. A main course of roasted totoaba fish and rice foam with a light bisque. If you’ve never tried the foams, tastes and textures of “molecular gastronomy,” the culinary craze from Spain that can, for example, make what seems like spooned-up cappuccino froth taste exactly like any victual or vegetable imaginable, Gastro Bar is definitely the place to catch up with the trend.

On my final morning in Baja California, I took a launch from the Cabo San Lucas marina to Lands End, the offshore collection of stony islets and thrusting sea crags where the surging Pacific swirls around the Baja Peninsula into the Sea of Cortez. Large rock formations carved into fantastic shapes by wind and ocean mark the passage; the most notable is the Arch of Poseidon, best seen from the adjacent Lovers and Divorce Beaches, two small strips of sand separated by the Arch that rise and fall with the tide.

I watched the diving pelicans and basking sea lions glory in the perpetual sunshine, and absorbed the battered beauty of the coastline one more time. Still as stark, stirring, and elemental as the day the arriving Spanish Conquistadors mistook it for “the empty frontier of the underworld,” it remains a place where the hyperactive ocean collides with the entombing sand and the desert stoically sleeps, though always with one hypnotic eye open.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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