By Jennifer Michaels, National Family Travel Examiner
After a much-too-long Chicago winter, I decided to pack up the kids and take them to Los Cabos, Mexico for a last-minute summer getaway. Far from the daily work grind, the baseball diamond and summer jobs, I wanted a destination where our family of four could relax, but still find some active adventures my teenaged boys would find memorable. Los Cabos was definitely the best bet; I didn't hear "I'm bored" the entire time, which is the true test a great family vacation.
The Baja Peninsula of Mexico is one of the most popular international travel destinations, typically welcoming more than two million visitors per year. With plenty to do at reasonable prices, the last-minute plan to visit Los Cabos was made just two weeks in advance, proving that even procrastinators can plan an awesome family vacation to Mexico.
Our choice for accommodations was a Starwood resort, Sheraton Hacienda del Mar Golf & Spa Resort, Los Cabos. The spectacular destination takes its name from the union of two cities: San José del Cabo, where the San Jose Del Cabo International Airport (SJD) is located, and Cabo San Lucas. The Sheraton Hacienda del Mar Golf & Spa Resort is conveniently located at the Corridor, the area between both cities, only six miles from downtown Cabo San Lucas.
Each sunrise from our ocean-view room brought new surprises and the property gave us the authentic feel for the country. With five swimming pools, a fitness club, children's activities, golf and spa, there was always something to keep the whole family busy and entertained. The hospitality and service lived up to the promise and our fun-filled itinerary made this our best family vacation to date.
Whether dining on Mediterranean-inspired cuisine at Tomatoes Restaurant or grabbing a bite poolside in the thatched outdoor patio at Las Sirenas, the resort offers so many wonderful choices for dining, we had no reason to leave. We were even able to sneak in dinner alone on the outdoor patio with gorgeous views while the boys enjoyed their favorite things in the Sports Bar downstairs: ping-pong, pool, sushi and sports on TV.
From deep-sea fishing, ATV riding, snorkeling, rock-jumping, eco-tours, sight-seeing, golf, dining and swimming, our family found adventure at every turn.
Some helpful family travel tips I picked up along the way can help you avoid what I call the Aggra-vacation and also save time, money and hassles along the way:
Learn Some Spanish
The basics will get you through the rough patches. But, it's always a good idea to encourage kids to use the native language. Since my boys have taken a few years of Spanish as a language in school, I suggested they try ordering meals in Spanish and explained that "Por Favor" and "Gracias" will take you a long way. More importantly, I suggest reminding the kids that the showers may say "C" for Caliente (hot) and "F" for Frio (cold). While "C" is for Cold at home, it's the opposite in Mexican showers.
Rent a Car
I suggest renting a car versus taking taxis or shuttles. This will save you money and make it easier to be spontaneous and explore the peninsula. I made this decision upon our arrival as I was bombarded with timeshare salesmen the minute we got off the plane telling us all about our "free" transportation. I made a dash to find the closest rental car vendor, which proved to be a smart idea. There really is only main road between San Jose del Cabo to Cabo San Lucas, which made touring the corridor and finding our destinations really simple.
BYOS (Bring Your Own Snorkel)
Rather than pay higher prices at Medano Beach, we borrowed snorkeling equipment from the Activities Desk at the Sheraton. For only $20/day per person, we each had a complete set of masks, snorkels and fins. At the tip of the Baja California peninsula, Cabo San Lucas is home to El Arco (the arch), a modern marina, and Playa El Medano—the bustling headquarters of fun. At Medano Beach, a short drive from the hotel, we caught a Water Taxi ($10/per person) for a scenic tour of the famous Land's End. Parking at the Puerto Paraiso Mall was only $2.00 USD for the entire afternoon. Our next experience was "straight out of National Geographic", according to the kids. The scenic Tourist Corridor is famous for its eighteen miles of jewel-toned bays, sun-swept shores, and fantastic snorkel and dive sites. We unexpectedly saw flying manta rays jumping with their huge wings belly-flopping out of the water, a spectacular sight as we passed Lover's Beach. Sea lions were also soaking up the rays on a rock. he highlight of the trip was when we hopped off the boat at Pelican Rock. My boys snorkeled out to the rock, climbed it and jumped into the waters below. (I watched from the beach shore, taking in the beauty of Cabo and the natural playground we had discovered.)
Go in the Water
While you must pay close attention to the "No Swim" warnings at many of the local beaches, there are many choices for spending the day in the Sea of Cortés. Many properties fortunately have a strict swimming policy. The hotel gives strong warnings upon check-in, which I appreciated since sometimes Mom and Dad going over the rules just isn't enough. There are many beaches that are fine to swim at in Los Cabos. We found Chileno Beach, just a few miles away, a great place to surf the waves and take some family photos while cooling off in the Sea of Cortez with the locals. Whether you chose a paddleboard (head out in the morning when the water tends to be calmer), a lightweight sit-on-top kayak or rented Sea Doos or Yamaha Wave Runners like we did along Medano Beach, there is something for everyone. For the younger set, boogie boarding is a fun activity.
Ask, "Is There A Doctor in the House?"
One hotel amenity you hope you don't need (but are glad exists when you travel out of the United States with kids) is that the Sheraton has a contracted medical service that provides doctors who make house calls.
Deep Sea Sport Fishing is a one of my boys' passions. While I normally go along, I opted for some "Me Time" at the Cactus Spa. The boys had the most memorable full 8-hour day of fishing. I suggest booking the trip before your vacation, as the charters do fill up quickly. My boys hit the open seas with Lands End Charters, which operates one of the best fleets in Cabo San Lucas. Their website boasts, "We specialize in FISHING, not boat rides" and they aren't kidding. With the help of the fantastic crew of the 33-foot Viviana IV, the boys caught Dorado, Yellowfin Tuna and Skipjack Tuna - enough to cook up dinner (Ask the fleet manager which local restaurants will prepare your catch for you.) Included with the booking is captain, crew, fishing gear, fishing tackle, fuel, live bait. Land's End Charters also provides lunch and drinks. Call 1-800-281-5778 and ask for the owner Greg, who will give you all the info. you need to plan your once-in-a-lifetime trip with local fishermen who know their stuff and take pride in their boats and their expertise.
Adventures for Land Lovers
Wild Canyon Adventure Park is the place to go for real Cabo outback adventures. If you are feeling brave, this is where the tough get going. A canyon bridge (yes, my boys did this) is a wild ride. "It isn't as scary as it looks, Mom," said my 13-year-old after his ATV ride. Good to know. The park is a one-stop-shop for non-stop adventure and entertainment. From zip-lines to camel rides and a lot in between, there is no lack of fun to be had. There is even a restaurant if you need some post-ride tequila to wind down afterwards.
Channel Your Inner Spielberg
Family travel can create opportunities to discover new places and passions. On this trip to Los Cabos, my son discovered the beauty of Baja was the perfect backdrop for creating our own short family films and memories. With his new GoPro video camera, he was able to capture the non-stop action - from rock-jumping to fishing and ATV-riding. He's very busy editing it, so stay tuned....My next post will include links to all the action.
In the meantime, for more information on Los Cabos, please visit: http://visitloscabos.travel