Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cabo San Lucas Resort Reviews

From the blue topaz-like water to the sweet, blue agave scent that seems to waft through the air, Los Cabos is one of my go-to quick getaways.


Long a favorite of Los Angeles celebrities and professional athletes, it's an easy trip for those of us coming anywhere ranging from Dallas (two hours 17 minutes) to northern California natives (just under three hours).  I arrived this past Saturday for a three-day jaunt and barely missed every Mavs fan Denver Nugget nemesis.  Our driver had just taken Chris Anderson to the airport.  (FULL DISCLOSURE: I was joking when I tweeted I saw him and his tattoos in a Speedo). 

Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant, Jennifer Aniston, Harrison Ford had all made recent visits to Palmilla, an area that overlooks the Sea of Cortes in a corridor between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo.  It's also my home base.  It's kind of funny watching people in hotels and restaurants try to nonchalantly check out who's who.  Everyone seems to be on the celebrity hunt but no one wants to look like they're a paparazzo-in-training.

This was my second trip to the Los Cabos area on the Baja California Sur.  I am lucky enough to stay in a friend's house in Palmilla, just a stone's throw from the famous One & Only Palmilla hotel.  There are few things I love more than a good hotel and my mission was to scope out the area's top three.

Esperanza grounds
Esperanza Resort
Travel + Leisure magazine recently rated ranked the Esperanza Resort as the country's number one resort for service.  Staff members already had "#1" carved on their wooden name badges.  We stopped by there Sunday afternoon to survey out the scene.

Esperanza awards
The resort itself reminded me of a beachy Generiott.  While the property was lovely and featured thatched palapas, authentic wood fencing and beautiful landscaping, it wasn't as unique as the others we sampled.  It could have been any beach resort in just about any ocean front location.

Esperanza pool view
We ordered margaritas and ceviche.  That's where the Generiott vibe ended.  The Esperanza margarita was absolutely the best I've ever had.  Trust me - I'm an expert.  It came in a short glass with a huge fresh lime wedge and salted rim.  I hate cough syrupy sweet margaritas.  This was the perfect blend of tangy lime juice with that hint of sweet.  The ingredients were simply fresh-squeezed lime juice, tequila, a splash of Cointreau and simple syrup.  It was a winner on all fronts.

Esperanza margarita
The ceviche service was huge.  It featured six servings of four types of fish: ahi tuna, shrimp, scallops and whitefish.  The shrimp was by far the best.  Again, more fresh lime, avocado and cilantro.  Just delicious.  The scallop ceviche was unique.  It featured some sort of pineapple cream sauce that, while nicely flavored, didn't do anything for me.  I am not a fan of creamy fish anything.

Esperanza ceviche
Esperanza feels very resort-y.  It's the kind of place that attracts guests who were Cancun spring breakers in a former life.  The food and cocktails were wonderful but the setting itself wasn't mind blowing.

Las Ventanas al Paraiso
Next up was Las Ventanas al Paraiso (translated "windows to paradise"), managed by Dallas' Rosewood Hotels and owned by California billionaire Ty Warner.  He also owns the Four Seasons Biltmore and Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club in Montecito (two of my favorite places in the world).
Beach view of Las Ventanas al Paraiso
The property had that elegant Ty Warner/Rosewood feel: unique design elements that are incredibly authentic to the locale.  There wasn't the lush greenery the other properties had.  Sand gardens with agave, Spanish dagger and cactus plants dotted the property. The buildings were white stucco, giving the resort an "Acapulco in the 70's heyday" vibe.

Las Ventanas al Paraiso suite
We ordered margaritas and walked the property.  They were fine.  Garden variety cocktails that I could make at home.  Not as fresh as Esperanza's.

What sets Las Ventanas apart (and many Rosewood properties, for that matter) is the service.  We were genuinely welcomed and greeted at every turn.  I continued to practice my bad Spanish but every hotel employee was gracious, patient and helpful while encouraging me to continue in Spanish.

Las Ventanas al Paraiso bar
Las Ventanas is chic, elegant and understated.  I could see a Greek shipping heiresses spending summers here to get away from the chaos at home.

One & Only Palmilla
Finally we hit the big daddy: the One & One Palmilla.  Whenever you see photos of celebs in "vacationing in Cabo" it's usually at the One & Only.  There is a reason: it's exclusive and stunning.  It's located on the southernmost point of the Baja Peninsula, almost carved out of the rocks.  The views are incredible and the sound of the waves crashing into the rocks is intoxicating.

One & Only Palmilla balcony

The property itself is gorgeous.  Balconies and patios are constructed of native stone.  There is an almost jungle-like lushness that engulfs you as you walk the grounds.  

We had cocktails at the One & Only during our last trip there so we decided go for breakfast.   We ate on the patio overlooking the water.  First up was a mango-lime smoothie that was remarkably fresh.  I ordered the granola, berry and yogurt parfait while the boyfriend had coconut pancakes.  The berries, again, were picked-off-the-vine fresh.  While both dishes were good, they weren't over-the-top amazing.  The coffee, however, was some of the best and most flavorful I'd ever had.

View to the Sea of Cortez
Again, it's the service at the One & Only that sets it apart.  I casually mentioned to my boyfriend the sun was hitting and two seconds later a server moved the umbrella to shield me from the rays.   The servers were also thrilled that I tried to order in Spanish.  They were gracious when I asked them a ton of vocabulary questions and seemed genuinely interested in helping me.

Everything about the One & Only is expensive.  Breakfast totaled around $80.  My December dinner there was roughly the price of a new pair of Manolo Blahniks.

Speaking, of shoe porn, their boutique is one of the higher-priced stores I've ever browsed.  It's stocked with Stella McArtney, Pucci and Lanvin.  A pair of men's loafers I'd seen in the U.S. for around $200 was $740 here.
One & Only grounds
The One & Only Palmilla has a "lunch at the Ivy" feel.  It's a Mexican version of Los Angeles.  When I was there for dinner and drinks in December, I felt there were agents cutting deals at the table next to me.  At breakfast, a teen star was showing me how fabulous his iPad was while getting ready to do yoga.  It's all about looking a part and acting it.  Unfortunately for me, I like to slum it, wear no makeup and get away from the scene when I'm out of town.

All three hotels had special qualities and aspects I enjoyed.  It's hard to pick a favorite considering I didn't see the rooms.  For margaritas - I would order from Esperanza all day.  For basic beauty and beach zen, it's all about Las Ventanas al Paraiso.  For scene, nothing compares to the One & Only Palmilla.

View from our home's patio
I still prefer staying in a house in Los Cabos.   It's truly a way to get away, have some seclusion and feel refreshed even if the trip is only for a short period of time.
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