I won’t keep you in suspense: The Viceroy Los Cabos is quite simply the handsomest, most gorgeous beachfront hotel I’ve ever had the privilege to visit. It’s the kind of place where one dreams of being marooned, or riding out a hurricane, which is exactly what I did this past summer.
“At 600 AM MDT (1200 UTC), the center of Tropical Storm Bud was located near latitude 21.4 north, longitude 109.5 west.” So began the weather update that was slipped under my door on the morning of June 14. What the Viceroy management was loath to add, what the Viceroy was in fact dreading—having planned that very week to show off their handsome, gorgeous hotel to travel writers from around the country—was the sober admission that a serious storm was just 100 miles south of Baja California Sur. And yes, it was headed straight for us.
Well, now I understand why this place has a movie theater, I thought—a cozy, Hollywood executive screening room kind of place just steps from the beach. On second thought, though, that couldn’t be the reason, because hurricanes of the non-paper-umbrella variety aren’t terribly common on Baja. Indeed, rain of any sort is scarce. After all, “it’s summer in Los Cabos all year round!” says the weather page of Los Cabos’ official visitors’ site. “Having 350 days a year of clear skies, you just can’t miss.”
As the skies began to darken, the sere white buildings of the Viceroy turned ashen, and the vast shallow pools on which they sit went from serene to choppy gray. Nido, the hotel’s signature restaurant, would remain closed for the next few days, its tables only partially sheltered from the elaborate and, yes, nest-like wooden lattice work that serves as its walls and ceiling. Of course the beach itself was closed too—waves from the Sea of Cortez crept closer to the Viceroy with each passing minute. In short, everything conspired to make the resort appear even more stunning than it had in the bleaching, blinding sun. Which was something of an achievement in itself.
“One of Mexico’s preeminent architects” is how Forbes described Miguel Ángel Aragonés, the hotel’s creator, a few months back. (It opened in 2015 under the name Mar Adentro, before being sold late last year to the Viceroy Hotel group, which runs several other luxury properties around the world.) His inspiration? “I felt the enormous drive of water under a scorching sun,” wrote Aragonés on his website, an observation that ultimately led to “a box that contained its own sea… given the happy circumstance that the universe had created a desert joined to the sea along a horizontal line.”
To say that Aragonés adhered to his original inflatus with consistency and rigor hardly does justice to the Viceroy. A series of large, solid white boxes encase 194 hotel rooms and, eventually, 50 residences, all of which are joined along horizontal lines to wraparound reflecting pools. A number of floating catwalks slice across them, connecting the buildings with the resort’s four pools, its spa, and its large, state-of-the-art fitness center. This last was designed by Harley Pasternak, a “celebrity nutritionist and trainer” according to his official website (which, you will note, includes a testimonial by Hilary Duff and a dedicated tab devoted to Pasternak’s “star clients”). For Viceroy guests, this means the chance to work out in a fitness center both punishing and vast, one which counts an “adult jungle gym” and bootcamp room among many other offerings.
A distinct stirring of the palms was observed as the afternoon progressed and the first raindrops began to fall on San José del Cabo, the town that the Viceroy calls home. This is not the Cabo San Lucas of jello shots, perpetual spring breaks and bachelorette parties gone awry, which lies 30 minutes south. This is the “real Cabo,” as I was told more than once. At first glance the “real Cabo” appears to be a homely cousin, a somber little desert town, but there is great charm to its peaceful cobblestone streets and large, traffic-less main square, at least after you get past the woman hawking cheap Viagra to male tourists of a certain age.
“I got good Viagra for you,” called out a pharmacy clerk on the Paseo Malecón San José as I rode by on a fine little Viceroy bike with a hair-trigger bell. It was the day before the storm and the woman wore a broad smile, confident that the impending boarding-up of windows and resultant house-bound-ness would lead to a boom in sales. I rang my bell and kept going.
“You need it?!” she screamed, attempting to give chase. I noticed a small crowd of tourists break out laughing across the street as I turned to give the woman a dirty look, whereupon I also noticed that her pharmacy was next door to a massage parlor, which made me question the strength of Mexico’s antitrust laws. I rang the bell again and sped off.
Although far older than Cabo San Lucas, San José del Cabo feels like a reaction to it, complete with all-inclusive resorts, great flowering poinciana trees and bonfire-size torches that light up the paseo from morning till night. But I was in search of the real Cabo, and for that you have to head north on Blvd. Antonio Mijares until it dead-ends at Shooters sports bar, then proceeding by bike or on foot. Plaza Mijares makes for a most attractive town center, one dominated by Parroquia San José, a former Jesuit mission that dates back to 1730, when the Jesuits first endeavored to convert Cabo’s native peoples to Catholicism. A few years later, those peoples rebelled and destroyed the mission, which the Jesuits rebuilt several times before themselves being expelled by the Dominicans. The church that now sits on the plaza dates back to 1919, the previous church having been destroyed in 1918 by… a hurricane.
By the time I made my way to Los Tamarindos the next day, the showers were steady and the journey white-knuckle. The celebrated farm-to-table restaurant sits, naturally, atop a steep little mountain, one only reachable via narrow mountain roads of the type that wash away during flash floods, the same roads that cause buses to tumble into ravines, producing multiple fatalities that you later read about on the CNN news crawl.
Comfortably ensconced in a 19th-century farmhouse, the lovely little establishment could probably get away with leaving the “to” out of its farm-to-table description altogether, so convenient are its gardens to Los Tamarindos’ kitchen. The house itself is largely the same place that once presided over a 17-acre sugar plantation, and its large stone patio—except for the 15 days a year allotted by the tourism board—must be a pleasant place indeed in which to dine, its tables shielded from blistering sun by a thickly thatched roof. On the other side of the house, Los Tamarindos hosts a variety of popular outdoor cooking classes in which a half-dozen or so cooks, shielded by yet another thatched roof, gather around a long table to prepare fruits and vegetables they’ve just picked themselves. Sadly, this was a day for neither cooking, dining nor thatched roofs, but I’ve made a mental note to return.
Enrique Silva, who owns the place, is one of the area’s leading organic gastronomes, although high-quality produce is everywhere in abundance in San José del Cabo. That’s definitely the case at the Viceroy’s restaurants, where I enjoyed two fine meals, one a dinner of Mexican specialties at its Casera Cocino that began with meltingly good yellow mole quesadillas with beef, glided into a bevy of house-made salsas, and ended with a contest of juiciness between plates of suckling pig and Cornish hen. And then there was the pre-storm dinner I had at Nido, the stars clearly visible through the rafters above. The breathtaking dining room is absolutely one-of-a-kind, and the food served there is just as memorable, especially the octopus tostada, tuna tiradito, Peruvian causa—a tower constructed of shrimp and salmon layers—and a tangy, terrific cake suffused with maracuya (you know it as passionfruit) and baptized with berries.
As it happens, the only thing more impressive than the Viceroy’s views and flavors are its guestrooms, which, like the boxes containing them, are massive, bold and white. I’ve stayed in rooms smaller than the balconies that run the full-length of them, each boasting its own bed and outdoor tub big enough to lie flat in. As the winds reached maximum velocity on the dark Thursday afternoon that Bud finally came ashore, producing a roar louder than anything I’d ever heard, it was a very good day to find oneself inside a concrete box. Even as the resort lost power and bits of debris and driftwood began flying in all directions, I watched all hell break loose with hardly a care, my demeanor a testament to unflappable equanimity and a bottle of soul-soothing mezcal, my face the picture of an intrepid viceroy presiding over a lawless land.