There isn’t much that’s more peaceful than watching the sunrise over the marina in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The way the desert collides with the ocean creating one-of-a-kind, vibrant views at the perfect temperature each morning is just one of the many things that make Cabo San Lucas one of our favorite go-to destinations.
Like most of our travel, the first time we visited was just luck! Our friends decided to have a destination wedding in the middle of the week in early November. Luckily, I was a law student at the time so only one of us had to take off work. However, our friends’ hotel block was just a little out of our price range… and by a little, I mean about 10 times more than we could afford to pay at the time. We ended up searching for cheap hotels pretty much anywhere in Cabo that would make this trip possible with our budget. Once again, Groupon came through with an amazing marina view hotel for less than $100/night.
Our first time in Cabo we really had no idea what to do or where to go. The rest of the wedding party was at an all-inclusive resort, while we were in the heart of town with only a hotel room included. We ended up LOVING our Cabo San Lucas adventure and have returned gaining more knowledge each time we go. We use our friends’ anniversary as an excuse to travel back.
You can make Cabo as expensive or as cheap as you want. It really depends what you are looking for. We love staying on the marina with access to restaurants, bars, adventure experiences, and the beach. Cabs are pretty expensive in Cabo (we couldn’t order Uber/Lyfts there), so being able to walk anywhere is key.
Because we wish we had some budget-friendly advice before we went, we are going to go through our most important tips for experiencing ALL Cabo has to offer without going broke!
Our first tip is… track flights! The first time we went, we got lucky. Our flights were super cheap. The next time we went was on Thanksgiving. Who knew so many people flew to Cabo (SJD) for Thanksgiving?? We ended up tracking flights for months because they were way more expensive than normal. Book your hotel, then track flights for that day. Our favorite flight tracking tools are Google Flights, Skyscanner, and Hopper. Southwest Airlines has sales to Cabo periodically, so make sure you stay on top of it.
Plan transportation to your hotel ahead of time. Whether you do it through your hotel or book it on your own, just do it ahead of time. SJD is a pretty small airport. As you walk through the airport, dozens of people will come up to you asking if you need a ride to your hotel. They look like they work for the hotel, but they don’t! Many of these drivers will take you to a timeshare presentation before your actual resort. Walk straight on through to the outside and look for the transportation you planned. Make sure to ask what color shirts they will be wearing and what their sign will say. There is a bar outside the airport that you can drink at while you wait. *TIP* Bring small shots of liquor on your carryon and buy a coke prior to departure. Make your own rum and coke when you arrive instead of buying a Corona Light for the price of a craft beer in the US!
Los Cabos is actually made up of two towns, Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo. Most tourists stay in Cabo San Lucas, which is about 35 minutes from the airport depending on where you are staying. You are often in a shuttle with guests from different hotels, which could extend your time on the shuttle. It’s really pretty, and plan ahead by bringing that rum & coke and some snacks from home with you (nothing that’s not allowed past customs). We had a nice buzz by the time we arrived at our hotel. Check out your surroundings! Going from desert to ocean is awesome.
ONCE YOU GET THERE
Cabo is home to timeshares galore. You may be staying in a timeshare and not even know it (which happened to us the first time). *TIP* If your hotel approaches you asking if you’d like to save money on excursions by attending a presentation, you have the time to sit through one, and you have the willpower to say no, do it! Make sure to verify that you are not required to sign up in any way before signing 3 hours of your life away. We took advantage of this and got a breakfast buffet, snorkeling adventure, and dinner cruise for 3 hours of our time plus about $40 in taxes/port fees/tips. The snorkeling and dinner cruise included alcohol and food, so it was a no-brainer for us! We actually met some ex-pats that live in Cabo. They attend these presentations throughout the year to get free rounds of golf, snorkeling, parasailing, and whatever else they feel like doing when they wake up! Keep in mind, the sooner you attend the presentation, the sooner you get it over with.
There are so many different types of Cabo excursions that we never have time to do them all. Next time, scuba diving and camelback riding are on our list!
GAINING YOUR BEARINGS:
Once you pick out a couple of excursions to experience throughout your trip, you’ll want to either explore the city or get to the beach as fast as possible! Make sure to take out cash if you plan on buying items at small shops. We always get pesos out of the hotel’s ATM because USAA reimburses us for any ATM fees. It’s the cheapest way for us to get foreign currency. In general, many places in Mexico make their own exchange rate. Pay attention to what you’re being charged. Pretty much everywhere accepts USD, but you may be getting a horrible exchange rate when you pay with USD.
Once you have your cash, it is definitely worth it to take the time to walk along the marina. It really is beautiful and there are so many fun shops/sculptures along the way. You will be approached by people wanting to sell you things. If you aren’t interested just say, “No gracias.” There are plenty of other people they can sell to! Walking along the marina, you’ll see a lot of restaurants as well. Most of these have awesome views of the ocean. You also pay for these views in the price of their food. It’s at least double for a meal at one of these restaurants compared to restaurants just a block inland.
If you walk along the marina, you can keep on walking to Medano Beach! You’ll pass plenty of beach space that is free for public use. This area has pretty peaceful waters that should be safe to most swimmers.
You can continue to walk past the public beaches to get to some of the beach-front bars. We definitely recommend stopping by Mango Deck. We bought a bucket of beers and ended up staying for hours thanks to all the free shots we got from drinking competitions they host throughout the day. Keep in mind that you might be required to buy a certain amount of food/alcohol to have a beach chair. It takes about 20-30 minutes to walk from Club Tesoro to the beach.
After a day of drinking and swimming, you can take a ride back to the marina on a water taxi. These shouldn’t be too expensive – running you only a couple dollars per person along with a small docking fee.
This is where we wish we had more guidance when we first traveled to Cabo. There are so many great places to eat around town. We feel totally comfortable and safe walking around on our own throughout the day that we ended up finding some really great restaurants!
-This was recommended to us by some expats, and we are so happy we went. There was awesome live music while we were eating our delicious breakfast. Everything was very reasonably priced.
-We walked here on our late mornings for a quick caffeine pick-me-up and for the free WiFi. They brew their own coffee, and everything here is so good! They also have a small book exchange where you can pick up a free book if you finish yours and want to donate it before your trip is done.
-We ended up here because it was across the street from our hotel. We loved the inexpensive food and micheladas.
-Another amazing expat recommendation! Come hungry and plan to split a platter (~$25) because the amount of food you get here will be more than enough. The lobster, shrimp, fish, and oysters were some of the best I’ve ever had. It’s local favorite and so amazing that you just have to try it for yourself.
-This is a must-see if only because it’s so famous in Cabo. There is usually great live music. Although the food and drinks aren’t cheap, everything is so good. We highly recommend splitting the nachos arrachera for a good, filling lunch on your way to Medano Beach.
Cabo has so much nightlife and so many bars that it’s hard to pick our favorites. Here is the area that most of the locals recommended to us (the area from Pink Kitty to Squid Roe):
There are bars here that stay open well into the morning. Some play rock, some play club music, and some are just good old dive bars. People will approach you enticing you to come in with free drinks. We actually took some up on it and had our fair share of free tequila shots and margaritas! Walk along the street to see what calls out to you!
One of our favorite bars to drink during the day/evening was Cabo Blue Bar. This is where we met all our expat buddies. They serve amazing french fries and keep the drinks flowing with fun drink lotteries. Wait for your number to pop up on the screen to get a free brewski.
All these are solid recommendations for food, but don’t be shy… if you see something you like, try it! Many restaurants have specials posted outside or promoters that will offer you really great deals. If the food sounds good, go for it! We ate out almost every meal, and most of them were ones we just happened to walk by at the time. Let your eyes and nose be your guide.
*TIP* stock up on essentials at the closest OXXO or mini market. These mini-marts in town are stocked with water, snacks, beer, candy, etc.
If you’re looking for a day in the life of Cabo guide, here is how we planned a typical day by starting with breakfast, moving to the beach, dining on the water, and ending with a nightcap in town. Here is a link to the Google Maps route below:
-Mama’s Royal Cafe (breakfast)
-Plaza Amelia Wilkes
-Church (Parroquia San Luca)
-Hotel to change
-Hacienda Tequila or OXXO to stock up on cheap drinks and snacks
-Cabo Wabo (lunch)
-Medano Beach (snacks and drinks)
-Water taxi or walk back
-Cabo Blue Bar for snacks and drinks
-Mariscos Mazatlán for dinner
-Whatever nightclubs call to you on the way home!
Email us at RichLivingLessSpending@gmail.com with any questions you may have.