Photos and text by Shilo Urban
An easy three-hour plane ride will have your travel party settled in time for nibbling chapulines, escamoles and gusanos, which translates into a walk on the culinary wild side with grasshoppers, ant larvae and worms. It’s a traveler’s moment of truth.
The freewheeling insouciance that a Mexico beach vacation inspires arrives quickly in Los Cabos, along with a companionable sense of magical possibilities. Happy hour is signaled by stingrays that stunt-leap out of the water and turn flips. Somewhere, someone plays the Rocky theme song on a flute as the sun slips into the shimmering Sea of Cortez.
After touching down at the airport, everything is easy on the spirit, including the 20-minute ride in a private SUV to One&Only Palmilla, an oceanfront hotel once only accessible by boat or private plane.
One of the first luxury resorts in Los Cabos, it is now expanded and modernized, but retains its secluded garden retreat ambiance (and still attracts the rich and famous). Pathways curve through cascading tropical greenery, pass under archways and wind up to swank villas.
The heady fragrance of frangipani flowers hangs in the air making you feel like you’re at the ends of the earth, and you are — at the tip of the Baja California peninsula. The area’s two main towns are collectively known as Los Cabos: Cabo San Lucas (a nightlife hot spot) and San José del Cabo (artsy and more upscale). One&Only Palmilla stretches around a small cape, bookended by the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean.
The confluence of two massive bodies of water produces spectacular crashing waves but few swimmable beaches. That said, golden sand cradles the entire resort, which unfolds down a gentle cliff. The gemstone blues of the water — turquoise, sapphire and aquamarine — are thrilling.
There’s a treasure trove of sea life to be discovered and, during whale season, which runs through mid-April, you can sail alongside the magnificent creatures or simply watch them pass from your lounge chair. Los Cabos also is a playground for sports adventures, from deep-sea fishing to scuba diving.
At Palmilla, there’s no shortage of activities. Families enjoy swimming, surfing and snorkeling opportunities. Kids in need of time away from parental units have a club of their own. Should you book a tee time or a desert safari? Learn to surf? Set off in a kayak or catamaran? Or you might swim up to the bar for a banana milkshake and gaze at the ocean, a constant reminder of the world’s vast expanse and the smallness of our worries.
The view is just as beautiful from the suites with their hand-painted Mexican tile work. Rustic rivet detailing evokes an Old World-meets-New World elegance. Lulled by the sound of the waves, you’ll want to stretch out on the patio’s oversized daybed. Binoculars stand ready for stargazing and whale-spotting, and a butler stashes pink grapefruit-ginger margaritas in the minibar.
Some resist those temptations and explore San José del Cabo. A charming church anchors the town, the descendent of a Spanish mission founded in 1740. Shops and cafes surround the wide plaza, and it’s easy to gallery-hop on the side streets, admiring art that veers from colossal skulls to intricate Huichol beadwork.
You also can check out Los Cabos’ farm-to-table scene; restaurants such as ACRE and Flora’s Field Kitchen boast international buzz. But chef Harunobu Furuta awaits at Suviche, the Japanese-Mexican eatery at the hotel. He greets guests with his hand over his heart, the customary salutation at the resort. There are three other restaurants on the property: Agua and Breeze (both outdoors), plus SEARED for surf-and-turf from Michelin-star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. It’s a name you hear whispered by the pool with reverence.
When another celebrity chef, Matthew Kenney, hosts a dinner in the herb garden, he admonishes diners not to call the menu vegan food; this is “plant-based culinary art.” You can laugh, but then you will be amazed by six courses of pure kitchen wizardry. Kenney transforms cauliflower into caviar, macadamia nuts into mozzarella and at least one beef-loving Texan into a true believer.
After days of feasting on creamy Baja oysters, lobster tacos and cajeta-filled churros, there’s a chance you’ll begin to feel a bit tubby. That all changes with time in the resort’s spa.
But back to those insect hors d’oeuvres. Each bite into a buggy canape is shocking — they’re beyond delicious. The grasshopper legs are a bit challenging, but the agave worm and ant larvae taste nutty and buttery and totally distinctive. This is travel’s greatest gift: the new experiences that give you a deeper understanding of the world and of yourself — and a good story to tell friends.