Looking for the perfect destination for a Christmas cruise? Risa Merl suggests a superyacht holiday in Los Cabos, Mexico, to spice up the festive season.
The yachting set has been well taught that summers are meant for the Mediterranean while winter is for the Caribbean. It’s natural that the latter’s warm waters host the bulk of the superyacht fleet every year, to anchor in the same ports and dance the night away on the same tables. But Mexico’s Los Cabos is on the up and it might be able to lure even the most ardent milk run fan to its Pacific shores.
On the southernmost tip of the Baja Peninsula, where the wild Pacific meets the serene Sea of Cortez, Cabo offers the perfect mix: nightlife and nature; glamour and adventure; vibrant marine life and land-based exploits. And Cabo gives even St Barths a run for its money as a New Year’s Eve hotspot. As the clock strikes midnight, a dozen fireworks displays erupt along the coastline, painting the sky in brilliant, shimmering light. The best place to view this spectacle? “Definitely on board a yacht,” says Antonio de Yturbe Redo, sales and charter broker with Edmiston, based in San José del Cabo. “The entire skyline comes to life with display after display.”
It’s less than two-and-a-half hours from Los Angeles by private jet but Cabo’s status as a luxury holiday stop-off looks set to expand globally. “Cabo is already a landmark destination, particularly for tourists coming from Texas and the West Coast of the US and Canada,” says Yturbe Redo. “But with new hotels opening – most notably the Nobu Hotel and the Four Seasons Costa Palmas, which opens in November 2019 – combined with the start of direct 12-hour flights from London (beginning the same month), it will soon be the hottest destination for tourists from all over the world.”
“Cabo” refers to this destination in its entirety, but the area is comprised of two towns set 15 nautical miles apart: Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo. Collectively, they are Los Cabos, though each has its own vibe. Cabo San Lucas is the place for nightlife and high-end shops on the aptly named Luxury Avenue. San José del Cabo is more peaceful, with a vibrant arts district full of Mexican restaurants and galleries. Though the area attracts A-listers, it’s an incredibly relaxed place. The celebs who do frequent this beachy enclave – Jennifer Aniston, George Clooney and Justin Timberlake to name a few – do so in shorts and sandals.
Set on the Pacific side of the Baja Peninsula just outside Cabo San Lucas, the new Nobu Hotel, which opened in April, has certainly upped the area’s cool credentials. The brainchild of Japanese celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa and actor Robert De Niro, the Nobu brand prides itself on creating hotels that authentically match their environs. So Mexican fare – and design – is abundant at the 200-room beachfront property, with a touch of Japanese decor thrown in, such as the deep wooden soaking tubs in the rooms. Marble, stone and a grand plaza define the minimalist architecture. The hotel looks as if it was carved out of stone, in fact, and placed on the sand dunes of Playa el Suspiro.
One of the joys of staying at the Nobu hotel is that it is located on this undeveloped stretch of beach, backed by a private golf course. As I walk, the only sounds are of the sea and the wind, and the sand stretches for miles without another soul in sight. At the end of the beach, a tumble of boulders rises up, evocative of the Seychelles or the BVIs. “The heart of Cabo used to be more like you see here at Nobu, with this solitude. Now it is all built up,” says Alejandro Flores, the head concierge at Nobu.
Like many beaches in Cabo, this one isn’t ideal for swimming – powerful rips can drag even the most capable swimmer out to sea – but Nobu makes up for it with four pools, including an infinity pool set on the beach. Medano Beach is the safest for a swim and is set in the heart of the action in Cabo San Lucas. For a quieter sandy spot, the horseshoe-shaped Santa Maria Beach is about 15 nautical miles away. There are also beaches for surfing, which is one of Yturbe Redo’s pastimes, along with scuba diving. “The visibility [for diving] is best from October to January,” he says. “This is also the season for watching whales and whale sharks as well as sportfishing – you can catch huge marlin, wahoo and tuna.”
With so much on Cabo’s doorstep, a boat is the best way to explore. “You can do it all in one day in a small chartered boat,” says Brian O’Sullivan, owner of 40-metre Komokwa, which was based in Cabo for a few winter seasons. Heeding this advice, I head out from the IGY Marina Cabo San Lucas for a day trip exploring the Cabo coastline. Within moments, we approach the most coveted photo-op in Cabo. El Arco is a rock formation of granite and limestone at the very tip of the Baja Peninsula, the marker separating the Pacific and Sea of Cortez. It’s a prime spot from which to view the sunset, with the arch framing the sun as it dips beyond the horizon. But there is still daylight to be had, so we sail eastward, further into the Sea of Cortez, passing long beaches and hilltop hotels.
We drop anchor at a beach and jump into the dazzling waters for a bit of paddleboarding. I am struck by the contrast between the multicoloured sea and the red-tinged mountains in the distance. For those with more time on their hands there is plenty to explore further afield. “My favourite thing to do is go north to the cruising areas starting at Isla Espíritu Santo,” adds O’Sullivan. “The real gem is the Sea of Cortez from La Paz north, where there are dozens of protected anchorages and tonnes of wildlife.”
The surrounding cruising grounds are stunning but as dusk falls there is plenty to tempt a thirsty sailor back on shore – Mexico is the home of tequila after all. It’s a fact that the Nobu Hotel takes full advantage of with its tequila tastings. We sidle up to the open-air bar at the Pacific restaurant to learn all about the strong stuff. There are more than 5,000 tequila brands out there, but only 1,800 are certified, Nobu’s beverage manager Nestor Can Jones tells us. We are instructed to take three sips of each tequila. “The first sip is paired with water, the second sip is without water, and the third sip is like water,” Can Jones says with a smile. Pairing plates appear in front of us as the spirit is poured. I spoon a bite of fresh ceviche into my mouth after sipping the silver tequila, which works particularly well with seafood and citrus. “A few years ago, people thought food only pairs well with wine, but nowadays people are more daring,” adds Can Jones.
Of course, the main palette-thrilling attraction at the hotel is Japanese fare. We have dinner on the deck of the Nobu Los Cabos restaurant, watching the sun set in a fiery glow over the Pacific, and delighting in the chef ’s tasting menu, with rock shrimp tempura and spicy sashimi topped with jalapenos – washed down with margaritas, naturally. Like Nobu, many of the top restaurants in the area are located in hotels, such as Cocina del Mar perched on the clifftop at the Esperanza hotel. But for an authentic Mexican experience, Flores recommends trying La Lupita, in the San José del Cabo’s art district, or La Playita, for its ceviche and fish tacos.
“The sheer variety of activities – snorkelling, scuba diving and surfing, not to mention all of the land-based activities like hiking, mountain biking, ATV and desert buggy adventures and world-class golf courses – makes this a fantastic winter destination,” sums up Yturbe Redo. From my short time on these shores I couldn’t agree more. There is nothing wrong with the Caribbean honeypot stop-offs, but Cabo is cool – and that’s not just the tequila talking.