Cabo San Lucas has a reputation.
Mention it by name and the first thing most think of is tequila and the bar where the shots are being served. I went to Cabo my senior year of college, that’s 1993 for anyone doing the math. It was a great place to play as a youngster. But now that I have youngsters of my own, it hasn’t been high on my travel list. It just didn’t scream family-friendly. But the Cabo I knew as a college student is gone. It’s a different Cabo now. And though drinking tequila still reigns supreme, there are plenty visitors drinking Shirley Temples these days.
I was invited to come see the new Cabo San Lucas by Solmar Hotels & Resorts, and was impressed by the number of families I watched play by the pools that serve as the center of Playa Grande Resort (the latest addition to our portfolio).
Location, Location, Location
Cabo San Lucas is an easy flight for West Coasters. Just a 3-hour flight from San Francisco, It’s located about 1,000 miles south of San Diego at the tip of Baja, where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean. Spanish is the official language, but I don’t speak a word of Spanish and didn’t have any trouble communicating. If you’re in town for more than a few days, you can head to a large assortment of ATMs to get Mexican pesos, but don’t stress about it. Dollars are welcome with a smile as well. I actually find it more convenient to just take lots of small bills to Mexico. It makes tipping and souvenir shopping simple.
Mexico has been in the headlines lately for all the wrong reasons. The U. S. State Department has issued a travel warning for citizens considering a trip south. Except for the city of Tijuana, at the San Diego border, the Baja peninsula is not mentioned as a destination of concern. Spring Break in Mexico – “Know Before You Go,” gives visitors a good overview of what to expect at more common resort destination’s along with a good reminder not to leave your common sense at home on vacation.
What to Do
The age of your kids will dictate the type of vacation Cabo can offer. The younger the kids, the less active the vacation. Think hanging out by the pool and taking naps in the sunshine. The older the kids get, the more options become available. Hotel kids clubs are widely available for school aged kids, offering fun activities like arts and crafts and Spanish lessons. Tweens and teens have more of what I like to call “brag about to friends when they get home adventures.”
Kayaking and Snorkeling
You can’t truly explore Cabo without getting wet. With a beautiful marina that leads straight out to the Sea of Cortez, there are so many possibilities, deciding what to do can be difficult. Parasailing, scuba, and even snuba are all popular activities for visitors, but if you’re looking for something a little more mellow for you and the kids, consider a kayak tour that gives you time to do some snorkeling.
The adventure I went on was run by Cabo Expeditions. A 5-minute boat ride takes you outside the busy marina, where you climb into a glass bottom 2-seat kayak. If you’ve never kayaked before, now is the time to learn. Numerous folks in my group had never been in kayaks before, but no one had any problems navigating the Sea of Cortez and the stretches of beaches that lead to the world famous arch. The 2-seat kayaks are very family friendly, allowing younger children to hitch a ride with parents. Kids ages 8 and older will love paddling through the water. If your kids are younger, but comfortable in the water, I could easily see adventuresome younger ones coming along for the ride, with mom or dad doing most of the paddling. Everyone wears life jackets at all times.
The scenery is stunning, but what I really liked about the adventure was the all of things I learned about the area’s fauna and marine life. Our guides did a fabulous job pointing out a variety of native plants, rock, fish, pelicans and other birds. When we reached the arch, the sea lion colony was the focus of our conversation until a whale in the distance stole the spotlight. After tying our kayaks to the boat, we snorkeled for about 45 minutes at Pelican Rock. Not too long to get cold, but long enough to see the beauty of life under water.
Tours companies are plentiful in Cabo San Lucas. We passed several boats crowded with folks getting ready to get wet in some way or another. But I was really impressed with the care Cabo Expeditions showed for the Sea of Cortez. More than once, I saw the guides go out of their way to pull trash out of the water. The company has also organized a series of clean-ups in the area. Every Saturday through November, divers scoop up trash on the sea floor, while kayakers and others follow the coastline picking up all those picnic extras that got away. Committed to both clients and the environment earns the group bonus points in my book. The company also encourages participants to use biodegradable sun screen.
Up, Up and Away!
When you find you need a break from the water, head for the Mexican hillside. Tucked away about half an hour from the Los Cabos International Airport is base camp for an outdoor adventure your family will be talking about for years to come. Think Tarzan meets Mexico. For two hours, you and your kids can explore the Boca de Sierra Biosphere Reserve while flying through the air on a series of zip lines, wire bridges, climbing walls and rappel lines.
I am by no means the brave outdoor extremist type, and will fully admit to feeling a bit nervous before my adventure began, but after the first zip line across the canyon I was hooked. I didn’t do an official count, but I think there were just as many safety conscious guides and there were guests. They did a fabulous job of explaining what to do and when to do it. Though I had to stop and take a deep breath before I threw myself over a cliff and started rappelling nearly 100 feet down to the canyon below, I never questioned my safety. This isn’t the type of activity for proud couch potatoes. That said, there were a variety of folks, all shapes, sizes and ages in my group.
Cabo Adventures welcomes kids ages 8 and up, but they must be 4 feet tall. There is also a 250 pound weight limit, and be forewarned, they don’t take your word for it. A shuttle bus will pick up at your hotel and take you to base camp. Before you are allowed to get on the shuttle, you have to step on the scale. The shuttle is essential, because most visitors don’t rent a car and it takes a good hour from downtown Cabo to get to the Reserve. But traveling by shuttle is also time consuming. Pick-ups at hotels take time, and if you’re the first one on, that means you’re also the last off. From pick-up to drop-off, your kids could wind up spending three to four hours on the shuttle. Bring something, like a book or iPod to help pass the time. One last tip, specifically for the girls in your group, wear long shorts, even capri style leggings or running pants. The safety gear has a way of making short shorts, even shorter.
Beaches in Cabo
The biggest strike against Cabo as a family destination is its beaches. They are beautiful, but they are also incredibly dangerous. Swimming on the Pacific side is not allowed due to swift currents and powerful waves. The majority of the beaches in Cabo have seas with severe undertows, rip tides and deep drop-offs close to shore. Pay attention to the warning signs, there are no lifeguards. I grew up on the beach and love the water, but I also respect how dangerous it can be and would opt to just stay off of it with my kids.
Family-Friendly Resorts in Cabo
When choosing where you’re going to stay, if hitting the beach is on your list, pick your hotel wisely. Only a select few have swimmable beaches in their backyard. Many families gravitate toward resorts with kid-friendly pools. But it’s also important to know most resorts do not have lifeguards. Ask before you make your reservation.
We have a terrific list of family-friendly Mexico hotels and resorts on Ciao Bambino. Note, however, that all hotel rooms are not created equal, particularly if you’re trying to be budget conscious and squeeze the entire family into one room.
I think it’s best to pay for the extra space and get a suite with a kitchen. On this trip, I stayed in a luxury suite at Playa Grande. With two full bathrooms and a full kitchen, the upgrade will save you frustration and money. I talked with numerous families visiting Cabo on vacation, and having a kitchen was the common recommendation. Most said they typically ate breakfast and lunch in the room, and ventured out at dinner. It means a trip to the store when you arrive, but in the long run, in my experience, it’s worth the time and taxi fare. Just tell the driver where you want to go: Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart — they’ve all found their way to paradise.
Dana Rebmann received complimentary airfare, lodging, and activities in Cabo San Lucas as part of a press trip sponsored by Solmar Hotels & Resorts. We were not asked to express any particular opinion or point of view.
Photos by Dana Rebmann
Need help planning a trip to Cabo San Lucas or anywhere else in Mexico? Our Family Vacation Planning Service can help! Request assistance on My Trip Planner.