Over the past few years my wife and I have come to really appreciate traveling in the month of September. With summer vacations over, kids going back to school and tolerable weather around most of the country, people aren’t necessarily putting travel high on their list during this month. Residing in the Northwest and being far from pale blue and bathtub warm ocean waters, we are happy to take a beach vacation any time of year. If you do head to the southern United States, Mexico or the Caribbean this time of year, you are always rolling the dice as mid-August through the end of October is peak hurricane season. While that can certainly ruin a vacation, your chances of being stuck in a major storm are pretty miniscule and your chances of having prime beaches, easy reservations and calmer streets are all but a sure thing.
This past September we decided to book a six-night trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Located on the very southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, this once small fishing village would be unrecognizable to those who visited some 30 years ago. The towns of Los Cabos and Cabo San Lucas are connected via “The Tourist Corridor,” where a staggering number of all-inclusive mega resorts reside. As our friendly cab driver pointed out, there were currently six new massive resort complexes currently under construction.
As we traveled the near hour-long (and $70) ride from the International Airport to Downtown Cabo San Lucas, we were pleasantly surprised and how green and beautiful the surrounding landscape was. The area is very much a dessert but still quite colorful. The driver showed us where George Clooney’s oceanfront villa was (currently for sale) and some incredible golf courses where six-figure membership gets you through the front gate. Alas, these were not in our travel plans.
Many come to Cabo San Lucas for the all-inclusive hotels. Here you’ve already pre-paid for just about everything: room, food, drinks and entertainment. While I can very much understand a vacation in which you don’t have to plan anything, leave the pool or rarely take out your wallet (except to tip of course), we are much more into exploring new places, so our destination was an older condo complex set just a block back from the beach.
When we talked with several Cabo veterans about going down in September, they all told us to push the trip off until October when the heat and humidity would both drop significantly. There is no sugar coating it; September is a hot and humid month for the Baja peninsula. With Hawaiian island-like weather most of the year, many locals actually leave during August and September to take their vacations away from the heat and humidity. With plane tickets and hotels 40 to 60 percent cheaper during these months, we decided the little bit of extra heat would be OK to deal with.
The main attraction to most tropical vacations is the beach, and Playa el Medano is the center of all the daytime action in Cabo San Lucas. Playa el Medano stretches from the marina up along the entire bay and is the main safe swimmable beach in the area. The beachfront is littered with casual bars and restaurants, a few expensive all-inclusives and, as like the rest of Mexico, plenty of vendors. Dressed in all white and constantly meandering up and down the beach, they are looking to sell you everything from hair braiding and henna tattoos to sombreros, jewelry and cigars. While it can be a little overwhelming at first, a simple “No thank you” or just ignoring their attention-grabbing pitch will often lead them to move on rather quickly. Vendors are not allowed inside the beachfront restaurants either, so as long as you aren’t in the first couple rows of beach-front seating, you’ll be left more at peace to take down your margarita or Dos Equis.
Water sports are easy to arrange here with jet skis and parasailing easily rented right from the beach. A dip in the warm waters feels incredible after walking through the humid air. The seas are less tranquil in the fall, but you can still wade out about 20 to 30 yards with your feet on the bottom.
Water taxis are running constantly to take visitors out to Lover’s Beach at El Arco, the area’s famous landmark. While still busy, there are no services here, so it’s a little less hectic than on Playa Medano, and seeing El Arco up close is also a memorable sight.
As you would expect, seafood is the specialty in most restaurants and cafés in Cabo. With high heat during the day, we found ourselves mostly munching on appetizers and fish tacos. We found Tacos Gardenias right behind our condo and ended up eating there several times. The fresh fish ceviche and molcajete were incredible. Fresh fish or shrimp tacos were grilled or fried and came with a tray of about a dozen different sauces, salsas and garnishes to make an awesome and affordable lunch or late-night snack.
Baja Brewing Company was started by a couple of friends from Colorado and now has three locations. We frequented the one atop the Cachet Beach Hotel roof just about every day. With so few tourists around, we were able to snag the tables with the best view, kick back and enjoy solid craft beers.
As mentioned earlier, many locals will take off during the humid season, so a few of the more heralded restaurants were closed for a few weeks while the owners took their vacations. I would estimate this was only about 5 to 10 percent of the restaurants, and we were able to find plenty to eat everywhere we went. We splurged one evening and went to Los Tres Gallos, which focuses on locally sourced traditional Mexican fine dining. The open-air restaurant was dimly lit, and you feel like you are eating in a 200-year-old courtyard. The meal and ambiance were incredible.
Other than the beach, many come to Cabo for its renowned nightlife which is located around the marina and the streets directly behind it. Once the sun goes down the music goes up and loud beats pump into the streets as employees look to lure you into high-octane parties at places like The Giggling Marling, El Squid Roe and Mandala. The over-40 crowd often makes its way to Cabo Wabo in hopes of spotting owner Sammy Hagar or some of his buddies up on stage for an impromptu live set. We found a few of the smaller bars a bit more appealing like Happy Endings Cantina with its two beers and two shots for $5 daily promotion and Pochos with its open patio and views of the super yachts parked in the marina.
While partying and beach going is always available, there is plenty more to do with a week in Cabo. Some of the best sport fishing in the world is found off its shores; there are horseback and ATV trips into the surrounding dessert; and a day trip up to the town of Todos Santos can give you a break from fast-paced Cabo to enjoy a peaceful and artsy community where you can also visit the Hotel California from the famed Eagles’ song.
There is always a reason off-season travel is cheaper, but those willing to risk the potential for less than ideal conditions often come away with an incredible experience for a lot less than they would have otherwise paid.
What are you waiting for? It’s never too early to start planning your fall getaway today.