A Recovered Los Cabos – Hacienda Encantada
Los Cabos – Beauty, Warmth and Fun at Hacienda Encantada
I don’t live that far from Mexico – a few hours’ drive and I could be over the California border. During the last few years we’ve heard all sorts of terrible things happening to our neighbor country. Between the violence and devastating Hurricane Odile, it just hasn’t been on the top of my list to visit. And that’s a shame really. Mexico has given me much joy for many, many years – from cheap party weekends in college, communing with wildlife while camping along Baja, surfing trips on the Sea of Cortez, to romantic getaways in its resorts. That’s a lot of joy.
Despite its recent high ranking in Condé Nast Traveler, I didn’t hold high expectations when I received the invitation to stay at Hacienda Encantada, Los Cabos. The area had been wrecked by Hurricane Odile just this last September and I was expecting half-assed recovery. I was wrong.
Double sized veranda
The first surprise came as I exited the plane into a new San Jose del Cabo terminal with sleek modern design – heading down the corridor to the exit the Los Cabos message was literally on the wall in a huge sign that read, “We are Back and Moving ahead. Continuing to serve you.”
“OK Cabo,” I thought, “game on.”
The Hacienda Encantada is family owned with roots deeply set in the Mexican soil. According to Gabriel Ibarra Macias, Commercial Director, two of his uncles started Carlos & Charlie’s and Señor Frog’s. Very familiar names to anyone who’s spent time in the youngster hotspots of Mexico – me included. So, when the hotel shuttle took me up the long resort driveway, I was impressed by where my ill-spent-youth dineros had gone. Terraced on a cliff overlooking the Sea of Cortes on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, it’s hard not to get a great view from any angle. There is actually an ocean vista from both front, back and side, as the resort is set on the end of a peninsula. People have complained about limited beach access, which is sort of true – the resort area on the beach is rocky and not ideal for beach swimming, but perfect if you like wildlife, tide pools and the peace that comes from being on an isolated strip of the coastline.
My suite was massive with a full living area, 2 bathrooms, en suite bedroom and furnished with colorful and elegant pieces of Mexican folkloric art, yet had a home-spun welcoming warmth. My bags were barely in my room when I was greeted by staff in the suite’s fully appointed kitchenette for a lesson on how to properly make guacamole – they cracked open a beer for me and left me munching on my guac, which I took out to the doublewide veranda. And oh my. What a view of everything. The vast expanse of azure ocean, the curving crystalline pool with bar cabana and the rolling hills leading to Cabo Marina in the distance. All citified worry, stress, yadda yadda rolled off into the ether not to be felt again for the three glorious days of my stay. And damn, that guac was good.
You can book at Hacienda Encantada as an all inclusive or just the room itself — they also have a time share packages. I was on the all inclusive deal and it worked out well, just be sure to have your room number and sign off on any meals or purchases at the end of each transaction. There is a big variety of rooms with more being built. If you can swing it, the private villas are jaw dropping and open out to the cliffs and ocean, but really, anywhere is good at this resort.
The property serves all meals at its terrace style restaurant, where there is a buffet or a la carte and has a simple mix of Mexican and American foods on offer. If you get a chance to order atole, the Mexican porridge/hot cocoa beverage – do it. They make an excellent version. You also have the El Patio pool bar for tasty, but basic choices (the chicken quesadilla is outstanding) as well as the upper pool bar/restaurant, La Pergola, for sushi. The owners are also proprietors of a few restaurants downtown and the all inclusive covers those as well. The dinners are of a higher caliber than what I expected from an all-inclusive, and if you want to wow your date and your palate, Chef Jose Luis showcases his seventeen years of talent at the resort’s La Trajnera restaurant.
I’m not big on spas, but the Milagro Holistic Spa is one is worth mentioning. It was the best message I’ve ever had and in compliment with the hot stone treatment I chose, it gave my chronically pained back a few days of respite. My travel partners had excellent reviews for the Mayan Massage and the Sports Deep Tissue Massage – I’m guessing all the treatments are good. The spa itself is small, clean, staffed by friendly, professional people and conveniently located onsite.
The property hosts various events and entertainment – ranging in Mexican folk dancing with a buffet and infused tequila bar (good stuff), cooking classes, exercise groups, and a range of pool activities. It’s family friendly, but not overrun with children. If you plan on bringing your kids, do not expect a Disney Cruises type of situation, but do expect plenty of time to hang with them at the pool, explore the town and have some off-property adventures.
Los Cabos has plenty to do – from the debauchery of bar hopping in Cabo San Lucas to water sports, fishing, horseback riding, whale watching, and whatever usual resort fun you can think up. I was there in the height of whale season and whale watching was a no-brainer choice. Our group went out on a large pontoon for a Photo Safari with Cabo Adventures. There’s a water activities terminal area on the docks where you can take your pick
from the many activities they offer. If you are whale watching, it’s fun, but not a smooth ride – probably not the best pick for those that get easily sea sick. I’ve been on larger crowded double deck boats where people jostle for the best position on the guard rails and the pontoon was by far a better alternative for photography. You are very close to the water and share a seat with only one other person – it’s also a fun ride when it picks up speed, not unlike a banana boat. Do bring sun block, do bring a hat, and even if it’s sunny – do bring a windbreaker (you get wet). The whale watching guide was well versed on the animals and we had several sightings, including three breathtaking full breaches. He also dropped an aquatic mike into the ocean so we could hear the whales communicating. The guide and the captain maintained a respectful distance from the whales, which the animal lover in me appreciated – but I also have to say when we returned from the adventure, some of my joy was deflated when I noticed they have a lonely dolphin in captivity back at their marine center.
Within walking distance to the marina is Hacienda Encantada’s lively sister property, Marina Fiesta. And a fiesta it is – where Hacienda Encantada is a haven for relaxation and rest, Marina Fiesta is located in the Golden Zone (party time) of Cabo, which can be accessed via the shuttle from Hacienda Encantada. Though the property is well appointed, clean and stylish – the crowd is zesty and seemed to congregate at the pool bar. I would imagine if you want to get a full Cabo experience in a few days, spend the first at Marina Fiesta and then book recovery days at Hacienda Encantada.
In all honesty, though the area is still in recovery from the brutal beating it took from Hurricane Odile – the state of repair you see here and there looks pretty much like every trip I’ve taken to Mexico. Building in process is just a part of the normal fabric of daily life in this country. The Hacienda Encantada actually withstood the onslaught much better than many of the other resorts in Los Cabos. They had some roof work and landscaping to fix, but dried out and were up and running within weeks.
Before starting any repairs, the owners of Hacienda Encantada first assisted the staff who had been affected by Odile — which draws back to the familial base of the resort and reflects the authentic kindness and care that represents the people of Los Cabos. The resort is family owned and it shows – you will not get the typical Americanized cookie-cutter experience of the tourist world when you are there. Instead, you are drawn in – like joining a warmhearted family and being pampered through thoughtfulness and consideration.