Construction projects are booming throughout Los Cabos, from the Pacific Coast north of Cabo San Lucas to Puerto Los Cabos, the luxury development located just outside San Jose del Cabo. Even the East Cape – a 70 mile stretch of coastline known for its pristine beaches and off-the-grid communities – is not immune, with at least two new high-profile projects in the offing.
One need only drive the 20-mile tourist corridor which connects cape cities San Lucas and San Jose to see the incredible changes that are underway. Enormous building sites teeming with workers rise up every few miles, while the intervening highway lanes are littered with orange cones – for rerouting, and also for the additional entrances and exits needed to accommodate the ambitious new resorts that are transforming the coastline.
Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, Nobu, Hard Rock, VieVage, Montage, Solaz and Le Blanc are among the many brands moving into Los Cabos, pushing maximum hotel capacity from 14,000 to 18,000 rooms in the space of a few short years (2015 – 2018). That’s an increase of about 22%; a massive leap. And of course resorts in Los Cabos promise an impressive array of amenities, which means more new golf courses. Already home to 14 impressive courses, including three of the world’s 100 best loops (per Golf Digest), new Los Cabos layouts are on the way from major champions Fred Couples and Greg Norman, among others.
Whether this meteoric growth is sustainable or not is a very good question. There are many reasons to believe it is: steadily rising tourism rates in Mexico, increased numbers of flights and tourists to Los Cabos, and beefed up infrastructure most prominent among them.
Los Cabos saw a 14.7% rise in tourism in 2015, and Mexico as a whole has seen a similar jump in 2016. Flights to Los Cabos were up significantly in 2015, and more gains are expected as carriers take advantage of new liberalized aviation agreements between the U.S. and Mexico. Southwest Airlines, in particular, has ramped up flights to Los Cabos from destinations around the U.S., and is currently seeking permission to expand its Mexican service from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). A new toll road from the Los Cabos International Airport (SJD) to Cabo San Lucas has helped alleviate some of the traffic congestion in an area that is now home to almost 300,000 people.
But it is debatable how much these new developments help local merchants, who have suffered in the wake of the new trend towards all-inclusive resorts. One good storm or incidence of cartel related violence could set the area back substantially, and it still remains to see how a desert area with a limited water supply is going to cope with rapidly rising demands. Yes, desalinization is a requirement for new properties, but desalinization brings its own problems, including harmful impacts on local fish populations. You know, the reason tourists came here in the first place.
What’s not debatable is the remarkable comeback from the situation some 18 months ago, when the vast majority of hotels were still struggling to recover from Hurricane Odile, the category 4 storm that devastated the area during the evening and early morning hours of September 14 – 15, 2014. The storm, with sustained winds of up to 165 miles an hour, knocked out running water, not to mention phone and internet service, pretty much everywhere south of La Paz (530 transmission towers, 1350 transformers, and nearly 8000 telephone poles were put out of commission).
Every place is engaged in a constant state of flux. The granite monuments at Land’s End may have been holding steady for 30 million years, but everything else in Cabo San Lucas seems to have been shifting and changing at a rapid rate, especially during the last 50 years.
In 1960 the community consisted of about 300 people, and the center of commerce was a tuna cannery. By 1970 several landmark hotels had been built, from tourist corridor based properties like Hotel Las Cruces Palmilla and Hotel Cabo San Lucas to the Hotel Hacienda on Medano Beach. The Transpeninsular Highway opened in 1973, the year dredging began on the Cabo San Lucas Marina. Baja California Sur became the 31st and final state of Mexico in 1974, and Don Luis Bulnes opened Hotel Solmar a few hundred yards from the cannery he had once managed. By 1990, the population of Cabo San Lucas numbered 16,059. Twenty years later it had grown to 68,464.
Hurricanes and other disasters arrived at intervals, as if to illustrate the inherent unpredictability of historical processes. There was even a tornado in the early 1970s, the first and hopefully the last.
I thought about change often after Hurricane Odile, when many of my favorite neighborhood hangouts in Cabo San Lucas were closing. Live in a place long enough and there is a history associated with every person and place you know. Walk by a certain storefront and the last three or six or nine businesses to inhabit the space spring immediately to mind, as well as the ways in which your life was different when each one was open. The change is constant and unstoppable. New businesses open. New people arrive. Old bars and restaurants fade away. Old friends die.
The influx of new hotels and resorts is just the latest manifestation of an age old cycle, one that has been going on since the first inhabitants, the Pericues, arrived on rafts from Melanesia some 10,000 years ago. The whole place started going downhill, as far as the Pericues were concerned, when Hernan Cortes showed up in La Paz in 1535 seeking pearls and precious treasure; and escalated around 200 years later, when Jesuit missionaries began urging the men to foreswear their polygamous lifestyle. They beheaded Nicolas Tamaral, founder of the mission in San Jose, for that reason in 1734. But their rebellion didn’t staunch the onrush of change. The Pericues were culturally extinct a little over 30 years later.
And so it goes…into the present time, as people bemoan the developments encroaching upon Playas Chileno and Santa Maria, and the new luxury properties popping up like pimples on the East Cape, fouling its immaculate complexion.
That the current massive growth spurt is causing consternation to many residents and long-time visitors is thus entirely predictable. Almost everyone who falls in love with a place wants it to stay just the way it is; if it were in their power, they would ban all progress from that point forward.
Who knows that during the first half of the 19th century Cipriano Ceseña, reportedly the first person to build a permanent dwelling in Cabo San Lucas proper, didn’t wince when he saw others moving in and think “there goes the neighborhood. “
Seen from that perspective, the Land’s End community has only been going steadily to hell for about 185 years.
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