The
Baja
Highway

Los Cabos
and Land's End





El Arco:
Sunset at the End of the Earth.


Los Cabos (the capes) is a name invented, appropriately enough, by real estate promoters. They needed a term to identify the resort areas they were developing along the Cortez coastline from Cabo San Lucas to San José del Cabo, and along the East Cape from San José to Los Barriles. Their name stuck, and Los Cabos is now the official name of the southernmost municipio (county) of the Baja California Peninsula. Tourism has made Los Cabos the most rapidly developing area in southern Baja, and one of the fastest-growing regions in Mexico.

Scenes along the Todos Santos Cutoff:
Highway 1 and Hotel California, Todos Santos;
Playmates in El Pescadero;
Pacific Ocean south of Todos Santos;
Hillside rancho, south of Todos Santos.


Lying mostly south of the Tropic of Cancer, Los Cabos is the only truly tropical region in Baja. However, lack of rainfall makes this the "dry" tropics. The region is hot and steamy in the summer, but the desert winters are sunny and warm, and they attract more than half a million visitors every year.

The tourism boom has also made the region a magnet for Mexican workers, who migrate from the mainland to seek some of the highest wages in Mexico. Unfortunately for many, their wages still don't match the inflated cost of living brought on by the tourists, and the struggle to keep up with the social and infrastructure needs of the exploding population keeps authorities overwhelmed.

The area is also home to thousands of North American retirees and expatriates, most of them legal, but more than a few on the shady side of the law.

19th century architecture in El Triunfo.

The first resorts in Los Cabos were built after World War II, financed in part by Hollywood money. There were no paved roads, and the resorts were supported mostly by wealthy clients with yachts and private airplanes.

Completion of the Transpeninsula Highway in 1973, an influx of cash from international developers and the Mexican tourist agency, Fonatur, and the construction of the modern marina in Cabo San Lucas and the international airport at San José in the 1980's, ignited the current boom.

The final leg of our southbound journey, to Cabo San Lucas and Land's End, begins at La Paz. After nearly a thousand miles of Baja Highway, we are confronted, 26 kilometers (16 miles) south of La Paz, by our first real fork in the road.

The branch to the left, the continuation of Highway 1, is the original Transpeninsula Highway to San José del Cabo and on to Cabo San Lucas. But, the right fork is now the fastest route to Land's End. Sometimes called the Todos Santos Cutoff, Highway 19, paved in 1985, is a relatively straight shot to Todos Santos, and from there it follows the Pacific coastline south to Cabo San Lucas.

East Cape:
Los Barriles; Surf fisherman.
On either route, the biggest danger is the cows that graze along the highway. They frequently wander across the pavement, to get to the greener grass on the other side. All of Baja is open range, and animals are always a hazard on the road, but between La Paz and Cabo San Lucas, the numbers of cows, horses, burros and goats per mile of pavement easily exceeds the count on any other stretch of the highway.

Evidently, the vegetation, watered by moisture that collects at the edges of the pavement, provides good nutrition. The livestock looks quite fat and healthy, somewhat surprising, given the lack of visible forage in their cactus covered pastures. But, the animals are a serious driving hazard, especially at night along the Pacific coast, where a cow crossing the highway in the fog can be invisible and deadly.

During hurricane season, washouts can also be a hazard. Road repairs are often not completed for months, and detours across river beds, usually but not always dry, are common.

Because it's wider, straighter and faster, the Todos Cutoff is the choice of most drivers from La Paz to San Lucas. The route is less than scenic crossing the desert from La Paz to the Pacific coast, although the desert vegetation becomes impressive near Todos Santos, and to the south the road offers grand Pacific Ocean vistas, especially spectacular at sunset.

Vicinity of San Jose del Cabo:
The "four-lane" at Santa Rosa;
The Sierra de la Laguna;
Estuary and East Cape to Punta Gorda;
Surfer at Costa Azul.


Todos Santos was founded in 1724 as a Jesuit outpost. Disease and rebellions by the Pericú Indians kept the settlement from developing until the late 1800's, when sugar producers built several mills to process sugar cane crops irrigated by the local springs.

The town prospered as Baja's sugar capital until the springs dried up around 1950. In the 1980's, the springs began to flow again, and Todos Santos is now a lush oasis of some 4,000 people, supported by agriculture, fishing and tourism.

Many of the town's 19th century buildings have been renovated for use as shops and galleries, and a small community of Mexican and North American artists has settled here in recent years.

Tourist facilities in Todos Santos include the Hotel California, which claims to be the inspiration for the Eagles' song of the same name. Even hardcore Eagles' fans can get their fill of the song, which at last report had been playing non-stop in the hotel gift shop since the day it opened, four years ago.

San Jose from Palmilla Point,
on the Los Cabos Corridor.
Inset: Familiar spout of gray whale.


Highway 1 has less traffic than Highway 19, but its narrow curves and steep grades make it a slower route to Land's End. It winds through the Sierra de la Laguna, southern Baja's highest mountain range, with peaks rising over 7,000 feet from the Sea of Cortez.

The highway passes through or near several historic towns. El Triunfo was a center for gold and silver mining in the mid 1800's, and San Antonio, where silver was discovered in 1748, served briefly as capital of the Californias, before the capital was moved to La Paz in 1830. The highway drops out of the mountains to the Cortez coast at Los Barriles on the East Cape, then cuts inland again, south of the mountains toward Santiago.

Santiago, on the Tropic of Cancer, was the site of some of Baja's bloodiest Indian uprisings, resulting in virtual abandonment of the mission there by the end of the 1800's. Today the town is a thriving farming community, and home to the only zoo in Baja south of Mexicali.

Santiago's "zoological gardens" house such native animals as coyotes, bobcats, and a pit full of rattlesnakes, along with a bear, a tiger, and some ducks and sad-looking monkeys. Cages are tiny and life rather bleak for residents here. Animal lovers might want to avoid the zoo, or consider making donations to improve conditions for its residents.

Downtown Cabo San Lucas,
and the end of the Baja Highway.


San José del Cabo is the administrative, commercial and agricultural center for Los Cabos. San José gets its share of the tourist business, but is smaller, cleaner and quieter than San Lucas, and richer in history and Mexican character, with a traditional town plaza, a small municipal market, and wide boulevards lined with palm trees to complement its downtown maze of narrow, one-way streets.

San José rests on hills overlooking the Sea of Cortez, next to an estuary formed by the Rio San José, a river that flows mostly underground from the mountains, then emerges from the desert at the head of the estuary just a few miles from the ocean.

The logs of Spanish galleons refer to the estuary as aguada segura (safe watering place). Pirates used the estuary for fresh water and shelter, hiding nearby to ambush the galleons, loaded with Mexican gold and silver, sailing from Acapulco to the Philippines to buy silks and spices.

In 1587, Thomas of Cavendish, a British pirate, sacked the "invincible" galleon Santa Ana off Cape San Lucas, and put 190 survivors, including women, ashore at the San José estuary. That prompted King Philip II of Spain to charter soldiers and Jesuit missionaries to begin colonization of California to protect Spanish shipping.

Medano Beach and Cabo's Resort Row,
on the Cortez side of Land's End.


Despite San José's abundance of fresh water, fierce Pericú warriors prevented establishment of a settlement here until 1730, when Jesuit padre Nicolás Tamaral succeeded in founding a mission. The Pericú killed Tamaral and his party four years later, to protest his attempts to outlaw polygamy among the Indians.

The Spanish later built an important military outpost at San José, for protection against both Indians and pirates. During the U. S. War against Mexico (1846-48), the garrison at San José was occupied briefly by American troops.

Today, the estuary is legally protected as a bird and wildlife sanctuary, although its natural status is under considerable pressure from surrounding development.

Pirates still roam Los Cabos, but today they are disguised as timeshare hucksters, street hustlers and real estate promoters. They lie in wait for unwary tourists sweeping down from the sky in jetliners, and, of course, for travelers like ourselves, arriving at the end of a long drive down the Baja Highway.

Solmar Beach,
on the Pacific side of Land's End.


From Los Cabos International Airport, northeast of San José, Highway 1 becomes a four lane freeway for its final 20 miles. But, even the modern "four-lane" is not immune from the Baja Highway's familiar hazards.

For several months following a recent September storm, driving from San Lucas to San José involved fording a hubcap-deep stream flowing a quarter mile wide across the roadway, and the storm reduced several sections of freeway to two-lane tracks while crews worked on repairs well into the new year.

Although cows are fewer here than elsewhere, it is not uncommon to see them grazing on the median strip near downtown San José. High-speed drivers, drunks, and passengers bouncing from the backs of pickup trucks also contribute to an accident toll that includes several fatalities every month.

The freeway follows the coastline to San Lucas Bay, among the world's deepest, and the town of Cabo San Lucas, which sprawls from the bay to the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna. The busy "four-lane" is the main artery for the Los Cabos Corridor, the final twenty-mile stretch of Cortez coast between San José and San Lucas.

The Corridor includes some of Mexico's most beautiful beaches, but exclusive vacation housing tracts, condos, golf courses and resort hotels are rapidly taking over the coastline.

Sunset on Solmar Beach.

Cabo San Lucas is all tourism, a vacation and party town that caters to beach lovers and sun worshipers, nightclubbers, shoppers, golfers and sport fishermen. Local charter fleets compete for claims to world records for blue marlin, striped marlin, swordfish, sailfish, dorado, roosterfish, tuna and many other species.

In just three decades, the town has grown from a small village of a few hundred fishermen and cannery workers, to a major resort center with a population approaching 50,000. Developers have thrown up more than 10,000 new hotel rooms in just the past ten years.

To Baja "purists", appalled by the town's crass and chaotic overdevelopment, Cabo San Lucas is a malignant tumor, eating away at the pristine beauty of their unspoiled peninsula. But, to those who thrive on the tropical resort and party scene, Cabo is heaven on earth.

The Baja Highway's final miles reveal vistas of Cabo San Lucas and its sparkling blue bay, encircled by the long arm of the cape and its famous arch, against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean, a magnificent panorama reproduced endlessly on local postcards, tee shirts and tourist brochures.

Cabo straddles Cape San Lucas, the last rocky finger of land separating the Sea of Cortez from the Pacific Ocean, at the very end of the Baja Peninsula. The last beach in Baja sits like a saddle across the end of the cape, washed by both the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez.

On the serene Cortez side, it's called Lovers' Beach, and on the treacherous Pacific side, where "sneaker" waves can be huge and the undertow deadly, it's known as Divorce Beach.

San Lucas Bay and Finisterra.

The End!

At the very tip of the cape, and of the Baja California Peninsula, is Baja's most famous landmark, El Arco, the exclamation point at the end of the Baja Peninsula.

This natural arch was carved from the granite cliffs by the collision of the warm Cortez current with the cooler Pacific flow that sweeps down the peninsula from the west, the same current that once carried Spanish galleons home to Mexico from the Philippines. This is Finisterra, or Land's End, literally the end of the earth.

And so, the Baja Highway completes its thousand mile journey, a time zone, a zone of latitude, and several worlds from where it began. It's been a long trip, but we thank you for keeping us company, and we hope you enjoyed the drive!


For more information and photos of Los Cabos,
visit Cabo Bob's Los Cabos and Los Cabos Photo Tours!

Cabo Condo Rentals


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