A Cabo Overview

Cabo San Lucas is best identified by the image of the world famous rock arch formation "El Arco" where the Pacific meets the warm water of the Sea of Cortes.

Los Cabos in Spanish means "The Capes". The 2 most famous cape towns are San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas. Both are very different towns -- San José del Cabo to the northeast, Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip -- bracket a twenty-mile seacoast ‘Corridor,’ home to a range of elegant hotels, and to a collection championship golf courses that combine the green velvet-in-a-desert look of Arizona links with the oceanfront challenges of Pebble Beach.

Picturesque and historic San José del Cabo still looks like the 18th Century mission town it once was; Cabo San Lucas, where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortés (home to world-class Marlin fishing) at a natural stone arch, jumps around the clock with shops, restaurants and nightclubs, the Marina and the mariachis. In both towns, and all along the highway between them, are places to stay that suit any style and fit most budgets.

Los Cabos is at the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. Approaching by air across the Sea of Cortés (which separates the Baja from the rest of Mexico) the visitor first sees contrast: the craggy peaks of the Sierra de la Laguna form a backdrop to miles of golden beach, blue water and dramatic red rock formations; saguaro cactus, palms and cultivated gardens cover the pale gold desert landscape.


Although the sea of Cortez bares his name, it was not Hernan Cortez, but his navigator, Francisco de Ulloa that was credited with first discovering Cabo San Lucas in 1537. It soon became a busy trading port and stopover for pirates. British and Dutch ships both had a field day cashing in on the Spanish treasure ships trying to take treasure back to Spain.

The Spanish treasure-galleon, the "Great St Anne," was captured off Cape St Lucas by Sir Thomas Cavendish November 14, 1587 prompting King Phillip II of Spain to establish a small fortress at Cabo San Lucas to try to rid the waters of "undesirables."

With the establishment of a fort at Cabo San Lucas, the area was opened up to exploration. Settlements along the Baja began to spring up as pearls were discovered in the Sea of Cortez. In 1730 a Jesuit mission, Jose del Cabo, was established to the north. Together, the two towns became known as Los Cabos (the capes). However, Cabo San Lucas remained largely undeveloped having no steady water supply.

By the 1930s the population of Cabo San Lucas was still around 400 when it started to become know as a sports fishing haven. Accessible only by small plane, long range yacht, or anyone willing to travel 1000 miles of rutted dirt "roads" to get there.

After World War II, word started spreading around Southern California's elite and Los Cabos became a playground for the rich and famous. By 1950, Bing Crosby, Phil Harris, Desi Arnaz, and The Duke had built the exclusive hotel Las Cruces on the East Cape. More development followed.

In 1974, with Cabo's population at around 900, the peninsular highway was built and Los Cabos started to become accessible to Middle America. Mexican architecht Manuel Díaz Rivera purchased 250 acres which would become the development Pedregal. Marlin fishing tournaments began drawing international attention and Fonatur, the Mexican tourist agency along with international developers began to pour money and resources into the region. Construction of an international airport in San Jose Del Cabo, a modern 300 slip marina and a fresh water pipeline to Cabo San Lucas have ignited the current boom.


Spanish galleons first visited Estero San Jose at the mouth of the Rio San Jose to obtain fresh water near the end of their lengthy voyages from the Philippines to Acapulco in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. As pirate raids along the coast between Cabo San Lucas and La Paz became a problem, the need for a permanent Spanish settlement at the tip of the cape became increasingly urgent. The growing unrest among the Guaycura and Pericu Indians south of Loreto also threatened to engulf mission communities to the north. As a result, the Spanish were forced to send armed troops to the Cape region to quell the Indian uprisings in 1723, 1725 and 1729.

In 1730, Jesuit Padre Nicholas Tamaral traveled south from Mission La Purisima and founded Mission San Jose del Cabo on a mesa overlooking the Rio San Jose some 5 km. north of the current town site. Due to the overwhelming presence of mosquitoes at this site, Tamaral soon moved the mission to the mouth of the estuary on a rise flanked by Cerro del Vigia and Cerro de la Cruz.Tamaral and the Pericus got along fine until he pronounced an injunction against Polygamy, a long tradition in Pericu society.

After Tamaral punished a Pericu Shaman for violating the anti-polygamy decree, the Indians rebelled and burned both the San Jose and Santiago missions in October of 1734. Tamaral was killed in the attack. Shortly thereafter the Spanish established a presidio, which served the dual purpose of protecting the community from insurgent Indians and the estuary from English pirates.

By 1767, virtually all the Indians in the area had died either of European diseases or in skirmishes with the Spanish. Surviving mission Indians were moved to missions farther north, but San Jose del Cabo remained an important Spanish military outpost until the mid-19th century when the presidio was turned over to Mexican nationals.

During the Mexican American War (1846-48), marines from the U.S. frigate Portsmouth briefly occupied the city. A bloody siege ensued and the Mexicans prevailed under the leadership of Mexican Naval officer Jose Antonio Mijares. Plaza Mijares, San Jose's town Plaza is named to commemorate his victory. As mining in the Cape Region gave out during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, San Jose del Cabo lost population along with the rest of the region. A few farmers and began trickling into the San Jose area in the 30s and in 1940 the church was rebuilt.

San Jose del Cabo remained largely a backwater until the Cape began attracting sportfishers and later the sun-and-sand-set in the '60s and '70s. Since the late 1970s, FONATUR (Foundation Nacional de Fomento del Turismo or National Foundation for Tourism Development) has sponsored several tourist development projects along San Jose's shoreline. Fortunately, the developments have done little to change San Jose's Spanish colonial character. Local residents take pride in restoring the towns 18th century architecture and preserving its quiet, laid back ambiance.

In November of 1993, a severe storm wreaked havoc on beachside condos near San Jose del Cabo but the town itself suffered little damage. Today, San Jose del Cabo provides a welcome respite from the busy, fiesta atmosphere found twenty miles south in Cabo San Lucas.


The Earliest traces of human habitation in the Todos Santos area date back 3,000 years ago to “Matancita Man” the defleshed and painted remains of a tall male who lived at least 75 years on a vegetable and animal protein diet. The first Spaniard to sight the oasis, Jesuit padre Jaime Bravo, found nomadic Guaicura availing themselves of the inland water source and collecting shellfish along the coast.

Padre Bravo established a farm community and a mission de visita called Todos Santos here in 1724, to supply the water-poor community at La Paz with fruits, vegetables, wine, and sugarcane. By 1723 Todos Santos was producing 200 burro-loads of panocha (raw brown sugar) annually, along with figs, pomegranates, citrus, and grapes. Two years later deeming the local Guaycura amenable to misionization, Padre Sigismundo Taraval founded Mision Santa Rosa de las Palmas at the upper end of the arroyo about 2 km inland from the Pacific. Taraval fled to Isla Espirutu Santo near La Paz following a 1734 native rebellion, and the mision returned to visiting-chapel status the following year.

Anglo whalers visiting Todos Santos in 1849 praised the town as “an oasis” with “friendly and inteligent people.” In the post mision era, Todos Santos thrived as Baja’s sugarcane capital, supporting eight sugar mills by the late 19th century. While carrying out a survey of Cape Region Flora for the California Academy of Science in 1890, botanist T.S. Brandegeecommended one of the areas beauty and bounty. During this period handsome hotels, theatres, and municipal offices, and homes for painters and sculptors were built.

Sugar prices dropped precipitously following World War II, and all but one mill closed when the most abundant freshwater spring dried up in 1950. The remaining mill closed in 1965, though smaller household operations continued into the early ‘70s. The town faded into near obscurity.

Around 1981 the spring came back to life, and the arroyo once again began producing a large variety and quantity of fruits and vegetables. Three years later, Mexico 19 was paved between San Pedro and Cabo San Lucas, opening Todos Santos to tourists and expatriates for the first time