Mexico has many faces. Anyone with half an eye on international news this week will have noticed the furore surrounding the recapture of mega drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, and the murder of Temixco Mayor Gisela Mota after only one day in office.
However, none of this seems to have put people off going there on holiday, as the tourist industry has experienced something of a revival over the last 10 years, especially among British sun-seekers. Package holidays to Cancun are now just as run-of-the-mill to us Brits as a long weekend in the Algarve.
While parts of Mexico may have lost their exoticism, there are other, lesser-known regions that still harbour an air of exclusivity. The most well-established is Los Cabos, perhaps because “I’m going to Caaaaaaaabo, darling” has passed through the lips of many a Kardashian and others of their Californian ilk. When I arrived, eager taxi drivers asked where I was going, angling for a fare. I told one and he replied, “Ah, you a celebrity, uh?”
I told him I was. The stopover in Los Angeles the night before had clearly gone to my head. Breaking up the long trip with a dip in the United States is an increasingly popular way to travel to Central America, and if you’re only going to spend a night in a city like L.A., you need to do it in style.
I stayed at the Beverly Hills Hotel, or the “Pink Palace”, as it’s known locally. The blushing walls, covered with painted palm leaves, throw you back to a time of 50s glamour, and the concierge artfully dropped in that a night at the hotel features on many a bucket list. It’s so Hollywood that there’s even a “Doggie Menu” for room service, offering salmon and brown rice for $16, when there’s a crème brulee on the human menu for only $14. The day it’s more expensive to feed your dog than it is to feed yourself, is the day you need to get out of L.A.
Luckily, I was heading over the border the next morning to the peninsula that dangles off the end of California or, more accurately, the Baja region. It’s home to a striking coastline of jagged sandstone rocks – Los Cabos means The Capes – that rise up out of the Sea of Cortez. The landscape has a rich geographical history of volcanic activity and earthquakes, which split this 1,100 mile finger from mainland Mexico.
The One&Only Palmilla resort rises up – a vision in gleaming white stone – from one of the only swimmable beaches in the area. Originally a 15-room hideaway built in 1956 for the son of the President of Mexico, it’s grown to be the most expansive and luxurious hotel in the area. Its earliest guests included John Wayne, Bing Crosby, Lucille Ball and President Eisenhower. The One&Only group took it over 11 years ago and it’s pretty picky, limiting itself to nine ultra-luxury resorts in the world.
The dramatic terrain in this part of the world was formed by equally dramatic weather. As it happened, I was in Florida when Hurricane Wilma hit the central American coastline in 2005. I stayed in with several sharing bags of crisps and watched true crime documentaries while rain pelted the windows. But further south, it pretty much decimated Cancun, re-arranging beaches and even causing some to disappear entirely from the coastline.
A similar tragedy struck Los Cabos in 2014 – Hurricane Odile was certainly an ordeal for the resort, causing more than $1bn worth of damage. The group closed the resort for a year, using the time to completely refurbish the rooms and replant 1,000 palm trees that were torn out of the ground. It re-opened in April with some new features and the incident hasn’t put the group off investing in Mexico, as One&Only is currently building two more enormous resorts there.
New additions include outdoor, adult-only lounge areas, an enormous spa and fitness area (full of perma-tanned Californians that are abbed-up to the nines) and Seared, a sophisticated steak restaurant full of dry-aged primes in temperature controlled cases.
It was here I spotted pint-sized Uptown Funk singer Bruno Mars and I couldn’t resist having a poke around his digs after he left the next day. He was staying in an Ocean Front Casita Suite that had its own infinity pool and private access to the beach. Small privacies like these make the hotel popular with the famouses, so much so that it’s currently building a second private on-site villa because the first one – the $25,000 a night Villa Cortez – keeps getting booked up. Apparently, Jennifer Aniston is a regular taker, but the staff are ordered to stay tight-lipped about its starry guests.
Most rooms, furnished with geometrically-patterned Mexican flair, have sea views that fill up with the majestic sight of migrating humpback whales from December until March. They also come equipped with little ceramic pyramids filled to the brim with tequila, and trays full of snacks that your butler – shared with a few other rooms – surprises you with every afternoon.
Then it’s time to tuck into the resort’s restaurants. Suviche was an especially intimate affair, with a live band playing to less than 20 tables, serving up platters of sushi and sashimi. Agua by Larbi, bedecked in multi-coloured stained glass underneath a rustic, thatched roof, is the place to go for Mexican fare, while Breeze is the place to be for breakfast, serving up a turquoise vista with your haevos rancheros.
A veritable feast of watersports, spa treatments and fitness classes are on offer (particularly popular with the buffed and perma-tanned Californian set). Less unexpected was Barber & Blade, where men can swap a pedicure for a close shave administered by a dapper-looking chap in braces and a bow-tie.
If you really want to splash out, in more ways than one, then jump on the hotel’s yacht. Bookings start from $1,300, but whether it’s a special dinner for two, snorkelling tours along the coastline or a sunset cruise, the crew pile the boat high with champagne and plates of homemade nachos for the journey.
I found off-resort options somewhat limited but there are a couple worth exploring. San Jose is a better pick than San Luca by a mile; only a 15 minute taxi ride away, the winding cobbled back streets are full of art galleries selling the sort of dark, yet kitsch paintings that Walter Keane was famous for.
Or take advantage of the culinary packages on offer through the resort for Heurta Los Tamarindos, a 17-acre farm and restaurant in the middle of the desert. The chef piles plates of fresh herbs and vegetables onto long wooden tables and serves up margheritas in glasses the size of dinner plates.
Then book a mescal tasting on the roof of the 19th century property, and look out at Los Cabos, twinkling in the distant desert, the most star-studded place you never knew existed.
NEED TO KNOW
One&Only Palmilla offers entry level rooms from $525 for travel in 2016. To book or for more information visit oneandonlyresorts.com.
The Beverly Hills Hotel offers rooms from $495. To book or for more information visit dorchestercollection.com. Azure (azurecollection.com / 01244 322770) offers five nights at One&Only Palmilla in an Ocean View Double room on an American Breakfast basis and two nights at Beverly Hills Hotel in a Superior Double room on a no meals basis from £3,095pp based on two people sharing.
The price includes return economy flights with British Airways and American Airlines and private round trip airport transfers in L.A. and Mexico.