Baja California: A Vacation Done the Right Way
*Brian and Sylvia receive NO compensation of any kind from tour and service providers for appearances on this page. If we give a shout out, it’s entirely because we wanted to.*
It was with a heavy heart that we left Cabo San Lucas and returned to Raleigh. There wasn’t much about our Baja trip that we would do over. Sylvia had enjoyed our Big Tenth anniversary in style as she had hoped, and Brian rejoiced at finally achieving the ideal tropical vacation that had eluded him a decade ago.
They only thing that we did not achieve was to be here in the ideal season. The Baja mid-summer is so hot as to preclude most non-water associated sports. Also, much of the migratory marine life was not in Mexican waters at that time of year. We had much the same issue when we travelled to Maui and again in the San Juan Islands…In order to get the best deal and maximize our available time off, we travelled out of season and it was worth it. But to see and do the rest of what Cabo has to offer, we will need to return during the prime tourist season. Which of course means a higher price tag.
Apart from that…There was some drunkenness and some ignorant louts in the resort, which we suppose is to be expected. It’s Cabo after all, not The Vatican. Even so, it’s hard to relax when you have the dregs of the hedonism crowd in town. But in general, the resort staff kept things under control pretty well and dealt very patiently with the uglier sides of their not always grateful American guests.
We also enjoyed good food (some of it excellent) very good service, a great room with an unexpectedly fine view and even some fine entertainment.
Sylvia was a bit disappointed that she could not go into the ocean near the resort (it likely would have proven fatal to try.) We could easily add in a beach trip as a future excursion…we had simply set our sights on other things for this trip.
We found the nearby village of San Jose de Cabo to be small, mildly charming, and very sleepy. Virtually every street corner is someone trying to sell you Viagra, pot, or something else you can’t easily get in the US. You get used to it after a while.
Cabo and the main tourist corridor we mostly avoided but it looked busy and happening…this is more Sylvia’s sort of thing than Brian’s.
All the excursions we booked were enjoyable. Professionally run and generally affordable. Of the three, the best by far was the sunset sailing cruise. The least was probably camel riding, but we’d stop well short of saying it was a miss. It was still an interesting experience.
One slight issue was that the resort was well outside of Cabo, and so heading into town required a $65 cab ride.
We also ended up being pestered by the resorts aggressive “This is NOT a time share it’s a VACATION OPPORTUNITY!” time share sales and marketing attack, which ended up wasting one morning and left a sour taste in our mouths. Still, this ‘business opportunity’ is probably part of the reason we got such a swell deal.
And it was a swell deal. We never lacked for anything in the resort. Our cup was almost never left unfilled and frankly, we never absolutely had to leave to go into town. Everything we needed, except the nightlife, was right there in the resort.
Brian and Sylvia (especially Brian) were both VERY pleased to be FINALLY staying in a true all expenses paid resort. We have heard many good things about such places, and some very bad things too.
It basically boils down to two things: the quality of the resort you stay in and the level of service you purchase at that resort. Some resorts are better than others; but even good resorts often will offer basic or low budget packages that they claim are all-expenses included, but really aren’t. Our advice is that paying extra for a REAL all expenses package often ends up costing no more than (or even less) than the budget packages do when all is said and done, and you will feel far better about how your dollars were spent.
All expenses included, by the way, means…all meals and drinks plus all the expected services that come along with being in a hotel. It generally doesn’t include excursions, special events (like dinners for two on the beach) Spa treatment, and things purchased in the gift shop. But most resorts will offer specials that include coupons or vouchers for these events, many of which we used to good effect.
And if you end up in a quasi-all expenses deal, you’ll know it right away. Look for the signs –continual nickel and diming, offers of ‘upgrades’ and ‘premier member’ service options everywhere, what you could have for more money being continually waved in your face, long lines and waiting lists for activities, etc.
Our advice is to get the BEST deal you possibly can on your budget without breaking the bank. Consider going mid-week or at off peak times if you must. Note that almost all Mexi-Carribean resorts are much more expensive and usually booked up during the US/European holiday weeks.
We have noticed that many people, particularly young people, book budget friendly three or four day “guerilla raid” extended weekend stays at these resorts. Aside from being yet another reason to avoid booking on weekends, we feel that this is an absolute waste. (Yes, we have indulged in such trips ourselves.) The purpose of staying at a tropical oceanside resort is to relax an unwind, and it takes at least a couple days for most people to clear of city mode. Having just one or two non-travel days just won’t cut it. Any such trip inevitably devolves into a 72-hour drinking binge and one of those vacations you need a sick day to ‘recover” from.
Our advice is…save the money up, look for a deal and stay a full week. You won’t be disappointed.
Another piece of advice is to bring all tropical kit items such as sunscreen, sunglasses, suntan lotion, sunhat, sandals, lip balm, bug repellent etc. These items are NOT inexpensive in hotel gift shops, and most resorts — well aware of the fact that a sizable portion of their clients will arrive on site without at least one of those items – will charge extortionist prices for them. Brian, who is not a very ‘sun-friendly’ person, managed to forget both his sunglasses and sunscreen. We recommended that if you do have small purchases like that to make, do so in a market outside the resort.
This leads us to another point: Mexico has a reputation, one not entirely unfair, as being a relatively dangerous country to travel in. What is less well known is that many Caribbean nations such as Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, The Bahamas etc have violent crime and murder rates even higher than Mexico, and most central countries (Panama, Honduras, Belize etc) are about the same. This is not to say by any means that it is unsafe to visit these places; but it is important that a visitor get a good frank assessment of the situation of the ground near the resort.
Generally speaking, it is very safe in most resorts and entirely safe to travel with most of the better tour companies (our resort had very strict security protocols.) But when you venture out on your own, be careful who you go with, where you go and how you get there (and back.) Sylvia speaks fluent Spanish, and we felt safe enough to venture out on our own to the small village of Cabo San Jose; but we would not have gone further. Ask at the resort or with tour operators before setting off on your own, and if possible, go with a sizable group. If you don’t feel comfortable don’t do it at all; and if you do, try to learn some of the local language.
One caveat to the above is that many times have found that what a person from Mexico might consider a for example a ‘good’ beach or nightclub or restaurant might not be the same as what a gringo might think.
A final note about the gift shop…we found to our surprise that many of the ‘clearance’ deals in the resort gift shop matched or beat the prices in the little stall shops in town. This was almost certainly because we visited out of season. In other words, you will get screwed on things you might need to by, but you might get a good deal on things like t-shirts and nick knacks that the resort wants to get rid of.
Even so, shopping at the local places is more fun, more of an experience and contributes directly to the local economy. We still advise you to experience it if you can, no matter how good the deal in the gift shop.
A note on excursions: chose wisely. Most will only be able to afford one or two, so chose the things you most want to do and are willing to pay money for. Brian in particular is a big opponent of ‘canned fun’; don’t just do the same ‘go fast’ adrenaline excursions you could do at home. Try to do something where you get to see the true country outside of the resort. We would recommend excursions that are at least a few hours in length and the smallest groups possible; large groups tend to get rushed around from place to place. Make sure you invest in time enough to enjoy.
We’ll say one last thing about our adventure in Mexico; perhaps this should go without saying but we will say it anyway. When staying in an all-expenses paid resort, it is imperative to exercise some measure of self-control. Having your drink refilled without having to pay for it, no questions asked, is simply too much for some people. When there’s no price to be paid – financially, socially, legally – the tendency is to simply indulge until events get out of hand.
We advise you not to be one of these people. Exercise proper self-control, know when to stop, and always treat your hosts the way you would want to be treated and never be that loud, rude, loutish Gringo a-hole who gives the rest of us a poor reputation. The Mexican people are among the warmest and friendliest of any we have visited; be good to them, and they will be good to you.
And leave a decent tip, for the love of God. Remember that a peso is worth all of five American cents, so a decent tip means quite a lot to these people.
(Thanks to the Secrets Resort Puerto Los Cabos, Costco Travel and Cabo Adventures for getting it all done for us. And thanks to virtually every member of the resort and tour staff we met for excellent service!)