Although Cabo San Lucas can’t match the colonial heritage of San Jose del Cabo, the town does boast a rich history that encompasses more than 10,000 years of human habitation.
Turns out there is more to Cabo than margaritas on Medano Beach. No need to worry, though. The history of Mexico, and Cabo in particular, can never be boring when pirates are involved, and visiting some of the town’s historical landmarks can be both a fun and rewarding way to spend the day.
The original inhabitants of Los Cabos were the Pericu Indians. Culturally extinct for about 250 years now, the Pericues, like many North American tribes, faired poorly in their contacts with European colonizers. Although the Mexican Baja had been explored by the Spanish in the 1530s, permanent settlements weren’t founded until the Jesuits arrived on the peninsula in 1697. Nicolas Tamaral was the most important early figure among the Jesuits in Los Cabos – a priest dedicated to converting the Pericues and developing local missions.
There are several spots in Cabo San Lucas that recall the distant days of priests and Pericues. The Iglesia Catolica de San Lucas is the oldest building in town, and is among the few structures of architectural and historical importance remaining today.
Across the town square from the old church there is a museum of natural history, Museo Cabo San Lucas. The museum charges no admission fees, and is a wonderful source for information about the area, from paleontology and marine biology to cultural anthropology. Visitors may even find out about Nicolas Tamaral’s untimely end, and why it was ultimately an unsatisfying victory for the Pericues.
Much of Los Cabos’ importance during the Spanish colonial period was as a waypoint in the lucrative Manila Galleon Trade. This trade route was an economic mainstay of Spanish imperialism, and stretched from Manila to Acapulco, important ports in two of Spain’s most valuable colonies. Ships bound for Acapulco used the Lands End rock formation in Cabo San Lucas as a navigational aid, taking on fresh water at neighboring cities before proceeding down the Mexican coast. These galleons carried immense wealth, from precious gold and silver to exotic silks and spices. To attack and plunder these ships was seen as both profitable and patriotic by English privateers like Sir Francis Drake and Thomas Cavendish.
There is no better place to learn about the piratical history of Cabo San Lucas than aboard the topsail schooner Sunderland. Built in 1885, Sunderland is the oldest ship in Mexico, and one of the last of the legendary tall ships.
Today, however, Cabo San Lucas is a lifetime away from its humble beginnings, as this coastal gem has blossomed into a resort paradise. And apart from discovering the city’s past, if you are ever out of ideas over what to do in Cabo, just look seawards. Whale watching and dolphin swimming make for extraordinary experiences, while Santa Maria and Chileno Bay proudly boast the finest snorkeling in Cabo.