Often considered Cabo San Lucas’ little coastal sister, many are often left thinking ‘where is San Jose del Cabo?’ when they hear the name for the first time. But in many ways, this little town has had quite the history in comparison to that which surrounds it today.
Spanish galleons first visited the region to obtain fresh water near the end of their lengthy voyages from the Philippines to Acapulco in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. As pirate raids along the coast between Cabo San Lucas and La Paz became a problem, the need for a permanent Spanish settlement at the tip of the cape became increasingly urgent. The growing unrest among the Guaycura and Pericu Indians south of Loreto also threatened to engulf mission communities to the north. As a result, in 1730, Jesuit Padre Nicholas Tamaral traveled south from Mission La Purisima and founded San Jose del Cabo on a mesa overlooking the Rio San Jose, some 4 miles north of the current town site.
By 1767, virtually all the Indians in the area had died either of European diseases or in skirmishes with the Spanish. Surviving mission Indians were moved to settlements farther north, but San Jose del Cabo remained an important Spanish military outpost until the mid-19th century when the presidio was turned over to Mexican nationals.
During the Mexican American War (1846-48), marines from the U.S. frigate Portsmouth briefly occupied the city. A bloody siege ensued and the Mexicans prevailed under the leadership of Mexican Naval officer Jose Antonio Mijares. Plaza Mijares, San Jose’s town Plaza is named to commemorate his victory.
As mining in the Cape Region gave out during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, San Jose del Cabo lost population along with the rest of the region. However, a few farmers began trickling into the area in the ‘30s and in 1940 the church was rebuilt.
San Jose del Cabo remained largely a backwater until the Cape began attracting sportfishers and later the sun-and-sand-set in the ’60s and ’70s. Since the late 1970s, FONATUR (Foundation Nacional de Fomento del Turismo or National Foundation for Tourism Development) has sponsored several tourist development projects along San Jose’s shoreline. Fortunately, the developments have done little to change the town’s Spanish colonial character. Local residents take pride in restoring the towns 18th century architecture and preserving its quiet, laid back ambiance.
Today, San Jose del Cabo provides a welcome respite from the busy, fiesta atmosphere found twenty miles south in Cabo San Lucas. And if you’re ever wondering what to do in San Jose del Cabo, be rest assured the town remains a stomping ground for those wanting to experience some of the best beaches in Mexico, enjoy Baja whale watching, or simply indulge in the area’s authentic Mexican food.