The Baja Peninsula itself was a legendary land thought to be an island, until sailors sent by Hernan Cortes, the conqueror of the Aztecs, landed there in the 1500s.
By the 17th century, Baja was well known to seafaring men. During the brisk trade between Manila and Europe, the famed Manila galleons carried silks, pearls and spices to be exchanged for Mexican silver, from Luzon in the Philippines to Acapulco. Their cargoes were carried overland to Mexico’s east coast port of Veracruz and loaded on ships bound for Europe. After months at sea, their first sight of land and a freshwater estuary at the mouth of a river in San Jose were powerful lures to sailing ships bound for Acapulco after months at sea, and they stopped there for provisions from the local ranchers before sailing on—despite the English pirate ships lying in wait for them in coves and caves along the coast.
San Jose went on to become a respectable commercial center in the 1800s, doing a brisk trade with passing ships.
The history of Cabo San Lucas, on the other hand, had an impudent upstart, which could account for the city’s casual makeup. Medano Beach was just a wild stretch of sand until the early 1900s when a few fishermen put up their palapas beside a freshwater lagoon near the Club Cascadas Resort. In 1919, Cabo’s marine-rich waters attracted a fish cannery to San Lucas Bay. The now long abandoned cannery at the entrance to the inner harbor was at one time the third largest packer of tuna in the world.
Now enter the big game fishermen from the States. After World War II, a handful of sportsmen pilots discovered the 500-pound marlin in the Sea of Cortes and lit the fuse under the biggest sailing excursions explosion in history. They flew down with their pals to hunt dove in the scrub-covered hills to wrestle fighting fish out of the sea. The simple fishing and hunting lodges they built for their buddies along the Baja coast are the forefathers of the grand resorts today.
These early hostelries were small, but some had their own airstrips. Word soon got out that Los Cabos – more than 1,000 miles from Hollywood – was the ultimate celebrity hideout, and before long, instead of asking ‘where is Cabo San Lucas?’, the gleaming yachts of the rich and famous were mingling with the fishing boats in the bay.
The Transpeninsular Highway from the Mexican border south of San Diego opened in the early 70s, bringing a handful of Southern California surfers with their boards strapped to their trucks. They were followed by a parade of snowbird campers and RVs. But it was only after the Mexican government agency, Fonatur, which invests in tourist development, put its weight behind a much needed resort infrastructure, that the present airport opened in 1984 and the developers moved in.
Today, there’s so much more to Cabo San Lucas than simply lying on the beach with a margarita in hand. The excellent climate, endless reef snorkeling potential, and even scuba diving lessons for those less versed with the waters, are just the beginning for this paradise. In Cabo, the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortes meet at the spot known as Land’s End, where the rocky outcroppings form the backdrop to one of Mexico’s most splendid natural wonders: El Arco. This rock arch leaping out to sea provides a dramatic welcome for those who visit Cabo San Lucas.