We’ve heard it before. A first-time visitor exclaiming, “This doesn’t even seem like Mexico!”
We’ll admit there’s a bit of truth in that. Sometimes, Los Cabos doesn’t feel like Mexico. You’ll see an Applebees here and there, fancy American hotel chains, even Wal-Mart. Most locals speak English, and almost everything is bilingual. The casual observer might even be tempted to think, “Well, the only thing Mexican here is the tequila!” An easy assumption to make, but scratch the surface and you’ll find a wealth of culture that makes Baja Sur distinctly…well, Baja Sur.
A healthy dose of mainland Mexico combines with a legacy of indigenous culture, and a long history full of Spanish explorers, pirates, and other scintillating characters worthy of the movies. Over time, Baja Sur has developed into a unique destination, an intersection of international influences juxtaposed with sleepy Mexican village life. Here international jet setters rub elbows with laid-back fishermen in traditional boats, and the result is a multi-cultural mix that we like to call Baja Culture. Take a peek and you’ll find a wealth of cultural events to stimulate the spirit.
First off, Baja Sur and Los Cabos does feel a little different than mainland Mexico. The indigenous Pericue people had first contact with Hernan Cortez, the Spanish explorer, who heralded the arrival of Spanish culture and Catholicism on the Baja Peninsula. Pirates landed here, thanks to Baja Sur’s convenient location as a gateway to other parts of Mexico and the Americas. This influx of people from around the world gave Baja Sur a multi-cultural flair even hundreds of years ago. But the peninsula remained part of the republic of Mexico, with a distinctive history. Today, Mexican traditions are alive and well in Baja Sur, and the best way to get a feel for the lively, colorful Mexican culture is experiencing a traditional Mexican holiday.
If you find yourself in Los Cabos around Mexico’s Independence Day (September 16th), get ready for fireworks, colorful banners and an all-night party that concludes in a spectacular bonfire. On Mexico’s Day of the Dead (November 1st), you’ll see families heading to cemeteries with brightly colored flowers, candies and other goodies to offer to their deceased loved ones. The holy week before Easter is another popular Mexican holiday, as is December 12th, the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico. These holidays are all celebrated in mainland Mexico, and regular visitors will recognize many of the traditional foods, songs and activities practiced throughout the country on these days. For the first-time visitor, it’s a great introduction to Mexican culture and the exuberant art of celebration in Mexico.
True to form, there are some celebrations that can only be found in Los Cabos. From the 8th to the 19th of March, San Jose del Cabo celebrates the Festival of San Jose, the town’s patron saint. Experience an 11-day festival that brings together locals and visitors alike, to sample traditional foods, play games and dance in the plaza, all in a carnival-like atmosphere. On October 18th, Cabo San Lucas celebrates its patron saint with a parade, music, dancing and food. Choyeros (or, people from Los Cabos) love off-roading, and it has become a beloved local sport. Watch souped-up vehicles kick up a lot of dust, and join locals for a lot of fun, at the off-road races in San Jose del Cabo and La Paz.
As Baja grows and changes, newer festivals are quickly becoming traditions. The arrival of big sport fishing tournaments to Los Cabos gives the area a feel of a holiday, as businesses roll out the red carpet for visiting fishermen and their families. Dive aficionados gather for an annual dive festival ever summer, and Cabo San Lucas hosts an annual jazz festival that brings musicians and enthusiasts together for amazing music and beautiful sunsets, culminating in a spectacular fireworks show. Even the weekly San Jose del Cabo Art Walk has become a tradition, as galleries welcome visitors in, the streets close for a few hours, and people dance the night away.
Then, of course, there’s Todos Santos. Arguably the “culture capital” of Baja Sur, Todos Santos is a haven for artists. Simply walking around Todos Santos is a cultural experience, as you take in the sights and sounds of a real artist’s community: gallery works, live music and jaw-dropping gastronomy. October 12th is the festival of Nuestra Senora de Pilar, the patron saint of Todos Santos and the celebration of the founding of the town. You’re sure to find food, drink, music and plenty of art during this celebration. Todos Santos also hosts an international film festival. Founded in 2004, this festival is dedicated to showcasing independent cinema created by and about Latinos. From film viewings to famous actor sightings, Todos Santos comes alive during the festival, a true amalgamation of traditional Mexico and visionary art.
You could write of Los Cabos as a wannabe-America, a little extension of the state of California. But as you begin to explore the world beyond the chain stores, you’ll find a richly varied culture, bursting with color. There’s more here than meets the eye, but experiencing Baja Culture for those who take the plunge is worth every moment. You’ll discover a world apart from any you’ve experienced, a place that’s a mixture of old and new, international and Mexican. Baja Culture can teach you how to sit back, relax, and celebrate life.