If you are new to Cabo San Lucas—or simply Cabo, as it is often known—it will not take you long to get your bearings. Just remember, Cabo is at the very southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, so the water from town is always south. The distinctive sea arches at Land's End are to the southwest. If you see land ahead of you it has to be east or north; check where the water is and you will know for sure. The airport is north of San Jose Del Cabo (which, together with Cabo San Lucas, makes up the area called Los Cabos) and by taking Mexican Hwy 1, you can travel from San Jose to the west and 20 miles to Cabo San Lucas. As the highway enters town it becomes Lazaro Cardenas. This primary street meets Boulevard Marina at the Marina area and ends there, branching into many other streets. The resident population here is only 40,000, so the city is not very large. It is however, confusing. Don't be surprised when addresses have no numbers. Unlike other cities, locations here have only street names. If you stop for directions, ask for place names that are near what you seek, it increases your chances of spotting the place and the locals rarely pay attention to street names. Now that you know how to find your way around, you will want to know what you can do and where you can find the most popular attractions.
Although Cabo is a relatively new vacation scene, having become popular during the last 20-30 years, its reputation as a fun vacation spot is well deserved. There are significant communities that have developed throughout the city, and each is special for different reasons. The Pacific Ocean to the west borders the Playa Solmar, where there are three large resorts of impressive quality. Each of them (Hotel Finisterra, Solmar Suites, Terra Sol Beach Resort) is a community in its own right, but the fine dining options provided are open to the public. Use dinner reservations as an excuse to check out the facilities, even if you are not staying there. To the east of this (and towards downtown) is the Pedregal Hills area. Commonly referred to as "the exclusive community district", this gated community houses many U.S. citizens and offers beautiful views. Pedegral Villas, for example, has 24 exclusive suites in a gorgeous seaside setting.
Heading to the east, you will arrive in the downtown area. Split into two sections, one of these, the block adjacent to the marina, is considered the marina district, while the rest is considered downtown. These separate areas within the town center have different characters and attractions despite their proximity. The marina leaves no doubt that this is, and always has been, a fishing village. It is charming, offers more interaction with locals, and provides a more authentic experience of a Mexican city. The downtown area represents an unrivaled tourist center.
Downtown is chock-full of wild bar scenes and restaurants with pizazz and a great partying atmosphere (try the Stop Light Bar & Grill). This district is almost exclusively filled with tourists in places such as Latitude 22+ and Sammy Hagar's Cabo Wabo Cantina. The shops downtown are upscale, with galleries and silver studios like Magic of the Moon and Taxco Silver.
In contrast, the marina district holds the local handicrafts market filled with local crafts and traditional Mexican items. This district also has some of the older seafood restaurants like El Shrimp Bucket, which has appealed to locals for many years and provides simple, reasonably priced shrimp meals. A surprise is in store for any tourist if they move several blocks north after walking through the downtown's sparkling streets and exclusive boutiques. The first-world polish is nowhere to be seen and the life here is one of dusty rutted roads and simple shacks held together with baling wire. Pop into one of the tiny mercados (markets) here and experience the friendliness of the people, particularly if you make an earnest attempt at their language.
East of downtown is the ultra-popular, safe swimming Medano Beach. One of the primary party zones, it offers beachside drinks and dining, constant activity (water sports, horse rides and more), fun in the sun, and some extremely posh resorts. From the informal beachside restaurant The Office to Bella California, this district is a wide mix of people, activities and dining opportunities. Shopping ranges from the constant stream of beach vendors to the high priced gift shops located in the up-market hotels.
The last of the districts, going east on Highway 1, is the Corridor. This is the thoroughfare to San Jose and it spans the 20 miles between the two cities. Growth really began in Cabo when this road was finished in the 1970s. Then, in 1990, the area was opened up to development and the boom of resorts began. A wealth of resorts and golf courses attract those searching to get away from the city commotion and onto the greens that are only steps from your door. With rooms starting at MXN 22.000 a night (plus the restaurant and shopping privileges that accompany them), this area caters mostly to the elite traveler who has little concern for costs. For more penny wise vacationers, the Corridor offers several beautiful beaches with snorkel and diving locations such as the Santa Maria Beach.
Before you are ready to enjoy yourself in this beautiful vacation paradise, however, there are a few warnings. Remember that not all beaches are swim-friendly. Because Land's End marks the division between the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean, there is a great force of water spewing around this point and into the Cabo area. Double check before you jump in anywhere. Undertow warnings should be posted wherever there is danger. Don't ignore them.
Another warning regards food and water. Remember that not all the water is purified here. “Montezuma's Revenge,” the lighthearted name for stomach illness, is just as prevalent here as it is in the rest of Mexico, so take precautions. Being extra careful never made anyone lose two days in bed while on vacation. Part of the problem comes when food is not prepared with purified water. Remember this when you are tempted to try quick vendor fare along the streets of downtown. In addition, ice in your drinks can be dangerous (unless the water was boiled before it was frozen); and salads, fruit without peels and other items may have been rinsed in unpurified water. A good rule is: if you're not sure, don't ingest it. Bottled water is available in stores around town and most large resorts. It is not insulting to ask at a restaurant or hotel if the water is purified: many will have signs openly stating their policy on water.
With those simple caveats out of the way, it is time to enjoy Cabo San Lucas.