Stepping off the plane in San Jose del Cabo, you get a really quick impression of what most people are traveling to this tip of Baja for. The bars begin right outside of customs and keep flowing through tents set up throughout the car service pick up area. Even in the off-season, there was enough demand to keep the bartenders doling out cervezas and cheap, headache-inducing margaritas busy.
The vans are lined up, ready to take everyone to the huge all-inclusive resorts that line the coast between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. Here and there you’ll see some serious sport-fisherman with their rods and a few surfers with boards, but for the most part people are there to sit in the sun and get their drink on.
After all, most of the coastline isn’t even approachable for a casual swim, it’s just something to look at from the pool, especially at this time of year when the shorebreak is pounding from the wonderful South swells that light up point breaks all along the cape.
My driver greeted me with a smile and a reminder that a cooler of beer awaited in the car.
I had been in New York City for the week prior to my trip to Cabo, so was looking for a switch from the up-until-4am routine to the up-at-5am dawn patrol program. But I’ll admit the ice-cold can of Corona went down pretty nicely after about 10 hours of travel.
Mexico has almost 6,000 miles of coastline on two sides and is a major producer of high quality coffee, so it’s credentials as a surf and coffee exploration destination are pretty top notch. Whether it’s the desert of Baja or the lush regions along the southern mainland, there’s something to suit most wandering surfers. There’s plenty of diversity in the surf to suit all experience levels and everything from all-inclusive resorts, surf camps, and desolate beaches to scratch every sort of travel itch.
My plan was to hunker down close enough to walk to the breaks from Old Man’s to Zippers for a few days. If there was the need to be more mobile, then I could just get a car later. To me, there’s something calming about giving up the car and constant driving to just take what comes within walking distance. When that walk includes four pretty good breaks, I’m happy.
I found that the best rental boards in the area were from Costa Azul Surf Shop, right across the road from Zipper’s Cafe. The road there is busy, but you can dip under an overpass and if you’re lucky get a show from a mariachi band practicing for an upcoming gig like I did.
Some of the other board rentals in the area only had epoxy boards or only rented for the day, making pre-dawn surf sessions impossible. Costa Azul has a bunch of regular fiberglass boards from the local Olea shaper in great condition, they were cheaper than others, and you could keep it. I got a nice quad fish for the week and was all set.
A little surf shop right down the road had a couple of twin-fin fish hiding in the corner, but I didn’t see that until I was about to leave.
As far as waves are concerned, my timing turned out to be pretty good. A solid swell was peaking just as I arrived and looked to be holding, though fading, throughout the week.
Zippers was mostly closing out and the rocks sticking out of the water at La Roca made me nervous and looked like a fast-track to owning a dinged-up rental board, so I mostly stuck to Pescadito right in the middle. The right point made for pretty long fast rides. A mellow crowd with usually only one or two other people out super early made for some great sessions with tons of rides while watching the sun come up to the East.
In short order, I fell into an enviable routine – early surf, nap, head into the old town of San Jose del Cabo for a good coffee, cruising of the local art galleries, evening surf if the wind cooperated.
One of the ironic and amazing things about a surf trip to the southern tip of Baja in May is that the summer south swells that roll in coincide with the slow season as far as tourism as a whole is concerned.
The warmer temperatures and pounding shorebreak apparently don’t suit the cruise ship crowd, so there is a calm to the town and less urgency from the street hustlers. I still found the temperatures comfortable enough for great cruising and sleeping without the air conditioner. The coffee shops were mostly empty or had a few locals plugging away on laptops and the town square as full of local kids still in their school uniforms playing before dinner time.
I swung into one of the many tequilla shops in town, just to check the inventory, and asked the shopkeeper where she liked to grab coffee. She mentioned the Cafe Paris right down the block, and it ended up making for a good spot to hang out. It’s outdoor tables nestled in a small, side street patio made for some good people watching and catching up on writing. This place also made for a good early breakfast spot when I stayed in SJDC the night before flying out.
After a bit more wandering around, I stumbled upon what would become my go-to afternoon espresso spot. Almost hidden inside a courtyard with only some tables giving away the presence of some sort of cafe, XXX XXX was pulling some great espresso shots and also had all the kit to make a nice pour over.
Additionally, the fountains in the courtyard drowned out the street noise and made for a quiet refuge.
Five days quickly slid by and I definitely felt rejuvenated by the surf, the daily routine, all the friendly people I met, and the town itself.
My family was arriving and it was time to explore other surf and coffee rich areas of Baja, so be sure to read Part II!