The 2017 Los Cabos Highlights Tour

May 15, 2017
I just got back home in Boise, Idaho, after leading another small-group tour in one of my favorite places to go — Los Cabos at the tip of the Baja California peninsula. The 2017 Los Cabos Highlights Tour was a huge success with more people learning about the beauty (and SAFETY) of the area around Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo, La Paz, and Todos Santos. CLICK HERE to read about the 2018 Los Cabos Highlights Tour that is being held in June next year so that teachers and other school employees/students are able to attend.
Some of the highlights of our “Highlights” tour:

The hotel for our tours is the charming Casa Bella, the #1 Trip Advisor boutique hotel in Cabo San Lucas. Barbara and her staff always make us feel as if we’re her invited guests in her own home. Each spacious room is individually styled with a large bathroom and huge walk-in shower. There are no in-room televisions or telephones, but there is free WiFi throughout the property, including by the cozy swimming pool. Even though we’re right in the middle of town, just one block from Cabo Wabo Cantina, it’s very quiet and only a short walk (two to three minutes) from a great coffee house, a wine bar, sushi restaurant, and a dozen more places to eat.

The guests arrived on Sunday afternoon and I picked them up at the airport. We returned to the hotel where they dropped their bags and we headed out for a quick lunch of tacos. We then came back as Cabo Kruzer (Mirek Hrbanek) was setting up to give us some information about tequila. We tasted four different types (Blanco, Reposado, Añejo, and Extra-Añejo), and he left the bottles with us — that’s one of the reasons we did Tequila Tasting on the first day! We now had some nice tequila for the rest of the week. We had dinner that night at Captain Tony’s on the marina, and Barbara had a delicious Caesar Salad that was made right before her eyes.

After breakfast on Monday we went to Casa Dorada where we had a great cooking class hosted by the Cabo Wine Club. We first made tortillas, then some guacamole, then a molcajete salsa, and finally some tempura fish. All of this was for our Baja Tacos, which we thoroughly enjoyed as part of a delicious three-course meal. The chilled Sauvignon Blanc wine was the perfect beverage to go with everything. The views from Casa Dorada into the bay were absolutely stunning, and two cruise ships came into port to add to the sight.

After some time to let that huge lunch settle, we walked one block over from the hotel to the world-famous Cabo Wabo Cantina. We sat outside where the music was still quite loud, but the drinks were very delicious. We were not all of one mind when it came to picking our drinks — beer, Piña Colada, and Waborita were the three drinks (two of each) that made it to our table. Where we sat was a great place for people watching, an activity made easier when most people came in, had one drink, and left after seeing the price of that one drink! Dinner that night was Italian at nearby La Dolce.

Tuesday began with too much to eat down the street at Mama’s Royal Café. The service was excellent, and it’s easy to see why it has an excellent reputation for one of the best breakfasts in Cabo. We hopped into the van and drove the fifty miles north along the Pacific Coast to Todos Santos. What else are you going to do in Todos Santos if you’re not going to the Hotel California? Yes, there are legal arguments going on about trademarking, etc. Who cares? It’s a fun place to go, and we had two plates of baked nachos (they’re enormous!) and some margaritas. Sadly (perhaps upon legal advice), they didn’t play one song by the Eagles! We walked around a bit, did some shopping, visited the church (misíon), and then headed back to Cabo. We pulled off the main road as we were heading back and drove down to a little fishing spot called Punta Lobos. There was a small fish market set up there, and they were selling buckets full of the fish they’d caught. It was interesting to see them drive the boats straight toward shore and then up onto the sand; they’d then lift the motor, attach a rope to a truck, and the truck pulled the boat up to the “parking” area. Dinner that night was at my favorite restaurant — Maro’s Shrimp and Lobster House. Those who’ve been to Maro’s know it gets quite crowded, and it was more than that when we got there. There were quite a few groups outside, parhaps thirty people in total. I walked through them, greeted Maro, and he asked me, “How many?” I told him, “Seis,” and he pointed to a table and I went back out and got the others. There’s a real advantage to having eaten there over tow dozen times in the past ten years. He appreciates my coming back all the time and bringing friends — loyalty does have its rewards!

BEACH DAY — Wednesday was a day at the beach, literally! We started with breakfast at The Office, where the tables are in sand right near the water on Medano Beach. The Mimosas were tasty (so I heard; I wasn’t consuming) and the food was great as always. Barbara had a fruit platter that was big enough to serve the table. It was Mother’s Day (Feliz Dia de la Madre) in Mexico — it’s always May 10th, and it is also a Federal Holiday, so families were out celebrating in all forms and multiple generations. After our breakfast we got into a glass-bottom boat for a ride out the Land’s End, and the Arch. After a trip around to the Pacific side, we returned to the bay where we were dropped off at a small sandy area called Playa del Amor (Lover’s Beach). If you walk across the sandy stretch back to the Pacific Side, that area is called Divorce Beach — perhaps because the water and undertow are so rough, that if your spouse goes in . . . you get the idea. We spent a couple hours at Lover’s Beach before getting back in the boat and going back to The Office where we retrieved the van and went to the hotel. I had a great place picked out for lunch, but it was closed (that happens quite frequently in tourist towns), so went to another local haunt where the tortas are as big as a football — I hope I remember that next time. For dinner, we continued with the “Beach Day” theme and went for an evening cruise on Cabo Escape. The liquor was flowing quite freely, literally, and the fajitas were well-portioned and flavorful. While most of the younger set was on the upper deck enjoying the sounds from the DJ, we stayed on the main deck, watching the sights and the other boats. The water in the Pacific was too rough for boats to go out there for the sunset, so we maneuvered around in the bay until it was our turn to return to port.

Thursday is always a fun day in Cabo, especially in the time from November through May. There is the world-famous Art Walk in San José del Cabo that we try to attend each time we’re down there. We began our trip to San José by going north of the international airport (code SJD) to the Tropic of Cancer Monument. Unfortunately, all the buildings were closed, but there were still items inside them, so perhaps they didn’t open until the weekend. Some workers were taking down “party tents” in the parking lot, so we thought that they must have had a celebration there on the previous day (Mother’s Day, a Federal holiday). Even though we didn’t get to see much there, my guests were impressed with the rolling landscape and roaming animals (donkeys, goats, cattle, horses) that we saw along the way. We had a late lunch at el Toro Guero, a local restaurant that is very popular with the locals. I was at first concerned that it might not be open at three o’clock. Then when we got there I was hoping there would be an open table. The place was packed. They serve excellent seafood is why they’re so busy. Darlene’s shrimp soup had so much shrimp that she couldn’t eat it all. We ordered a seafood platter for the table, and it had something on it for everyone – shrimp, scallops, fish, octopus! This was the fifth time I’ve eaten there, and I’ve always been more than satisfied with the service and the food! We all waddled out of the restaurant and then went to Art Walk so we could walk off our lunch! Attendance was a bit sparse as the season was winding down; there are just a couple more weeks until Art Walk is closed for the summer! But we enjoyed stopping in to see some of our favorites, stop at the Blown Glass factory, and even take in a stroll through the municipal cemetery. All in all, we had quite the day in San José!

The week was coming to a close, and Friday was a fairly relaxing day as people needed to pack, do some more shopping, and then just sit around and relax. The evening started with some amazing margaritas at Monkey Cave’s Bar next to the hotel. I thought that the “sun” that they made out of a lime was really interesting, so I had to take a long look at it and figure out how they did it. We then walked up the street to the Cabo Wine and Jazz Club where we had dinner and some wine. The music was quite good, and the artists, Daline and Diego, had a good following there for the evening. It was getting and so we called it a night. Tomorrow was approaching, and that was our departure day.

It was a pleasure for me to once again show people around Los Cabos, an area that many don’t want to go to because of bad press that is only in certain parts of the country. Cabo is THE SAFEST place in all of Mexico, and so I’m looking forward to hosting another Los Cabos Highlights Tour in 2018. CLICK HERE for more information about that tour. Or if you’re more interested in Food & Beverage, check out my new Cabo Foodie Tour for next year by CLICKING HERE.


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. Ownership of images and content from linked sources remains with those sources or their attributions; no ownership by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC, is implied or claimed.




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To Tip or Not or How Much or Why . . . ?

As I travel to various parts of this wonderful world — whether it’s speaking on cruise ships or just enjoying the beauty of the area — there are activities and customs that can be downright confusing to some. One of those customs has to do with leaving a tip for someone who’s provided a service to you. That service could be the person cleaning your hotel room, serving you a meal, driving you somewhere, making your special morning latte, toting your luggage at the train station. There are lots of services being done every day as people move about in their own city or in some place far away.


One quick story. It was my first business trip to Japan, and I was staying at the Hyatt Hotel near the Shinjuku Station. I’d been given directions on how to use the train from the airport to the train station, so I was all set for getting to the area. Once at the station, I got in a taxi and told him the Hyatt Hotel. We were off in a jiffy, and we made it to the hotel in about six minutes (I didn’t know how close by it was; I walked from then on). As we got to the hotel, a man ran out to the taxi, grabbed my luggage and ushered me into the hotel after I paid the taxi driver. Once inside, the bellman stood by my luggage as I checked in, showed them my passport, etc. With key in hand I head to the elevator as the bellman dutifully and politely followed me. We ride up together, neither of us saying anything, until we reach my floor. Off to the room where he waits for me to invite him in with MY luggage. He brings it in and turns around to leave. I said something and he turned around. I had some money in my hand to give to him and he shook his head “No.” He bowed politely and left.
After I put my clothes away I looked at the hotel check-in form and there it was in bold letters: NO TIPPING. That was certainly different from what I was used to the the USA!

Many customs can cause confusion as there doesn’t always seem be rhyme or reason why “Yes” here, “No” there, “Maybe” or “Sometimes” in other places. As these are customs and not laws, there is no definitive source for what is actually the right thing to do, but Wikipedia does have a nice reference article: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gratuity. You might not want to print the article although you could jot down a few notes based on the countries you’re planning on visiting.

Many people say that you shouldn’t have to tip if the service people are paid “a decent wage.” That sounds good, but that’s not always the case. For some workers, particularly in restaurants, hotels and other customer-focused service industries, their base pay is pathetic, perhaps three dollars an hour with the expectation that they’ll make it up in tips. Our son worked six years in a restaurant where a very significant part of his pay was the tips he received. His experience helped us to be even more generous when we tip; it will be 20% at a minimum in a restaurant unless the service is sub-par.

One of my recent cruise ship speaking experiences was a six-week voyage from New York City through the Panama Canal to Sydney, NSW, Australia — what an awesome experience. It was the last segment of a 3+ month world cruise that sailed round trip from Sydney, so it was mostly Aussies and Kiwis on board. Because the ship was home ported in Australia, it was a requirement that there be no tipping on board. When you bought a drink, your room card was charged the menu price, and the bill was closed out. There wasn’t even an option to add a tip. That was strange for us (so we did personally tip some of the staff), but it was life as usual for the Australians. I came across an article on Cruise Critic about tipping, particularly on cruises, and I thought it was interesting — here it is.

Travel is a wonderful thing; whatever you do, wherever you go — remember there are people working to make a living so that you’re able to enjoy your travels. Even a few dollars from you — such a small amount for you — can make a big difference for the service staff.


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. Ownership of images and content from linked sources remains with those sources or their attributions; no ownership by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC, is implied or claimed.




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A hidden Gem in downtown Cabo San Lucas

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Casa Bella Hotel

I’ve been going to Cabo San Lucas, at the tip of the Baja California peninsula, each year since 2003. It started out while I was still working, and I’d go one week a year. A few years later it became two weeks a year, and now it’s anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks a visit, and we go up to 3 times a year. So you’d think we would know the area very well. We do, of course, but it’s not until you stay somewhere different that you start to explore that “new area.”

We just got back from a 2-1/2 week stay — two weeks in a timeshare unit right on the Pacific Ocean (we love watching and hearing the waves!) followed by 3 days in a charming boutique hotel that looks like a family villa straight out of Spain or Italy. Casa Bella was originally designed as a family home for a large family — but then they had only one child, daughter Barbara, who now manages the hotel. It’s easy to miss the hotel as you walk along Hidalgo Avenue because its facade blends in beautifully with the other businesses along the sidewalk.

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But once you walk through the entrance way into the delightful courtyard, you’ll forget that you’re in the middle of a major tourist town and only one block away from the famous (and very noisy) Cabo Wabo Cantina. There are about a dozen rooms, all tastefully decorated and with very large bathrooms, and there are two mini-suites up a flight of stairs. There is no elevator, so be ready to carry your suitcase up the stairs.

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I had previewed this hotel in May 2015 as I was researching locations for an upcoming small-group tour that I’m hosting this April — it’s called Los Cabos Highlights TourCLICK HERE for tour information. This hotel is going to be just perfect for us because it is quaint, quiet, and very charming.

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There is a covered terrace area where Barbara and her staff serve a continental breakfast each morning; once you let them know your selections, they automatically bring them out each morning — that beats the service on a cruise ship! It’s also a great spot where you can hold an informal business meeting if you’re so inclined, or just enjoy the free wifi that’s throughout the complex.

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The swimming pool is not very large, but just the perfect size for socializing or cooling off after a warm day in town. If you love plants, you’ll truly enjoy strolling around and seeing all the different types of palms and other varieties that adorn the open spaces.

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Another benefit of being right in town is that you’re able to find small restaurants that are “just around the corner.” We found a great sushi place, a new cafe, and Argentine restaurant, and a superb coffee shop — all within one block. There are more, of course, in that area, but you can’t go to them all — unless you come back for another stay.

The next time you’re planning a visit to a familiar place, check out some places that are new to you on TripAdvisor — you just might be surprised with your new find. I submit reviews of almost every place I go so that I can provide helpful hints to other travelers.



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out a monthly newsletter, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com.

How to Select a Tour

Do you receive emails and brochures on a regular basis from travel companies enticing you to go on one of their tours? I get a lot of them, partly because I’ve taken a tour with them, or I’ve signed up to have information sent to me. They ALL look wonderful; so the question becomes — how do you decide which tour, if any, to select?

I wish there were a simple answer that would work for everyone, but there isn’t. I remember going into the Local Automobile Club office in late 2005 just to pick up some catalogs on Italy. Why? Well, I was going to plan a trip to Italy the next year, one that we would do on our own. The Travel Consultant asked if we’d ever thought about going on a tour? No, was my reply. I travel a lot internationally, so I know how to plan a trip.

She wasn’t going to give up that easily. She told us about a couple tours (notice, she didn’t bombard me with a dozen possibilities), and then she said something that made perfect sense to me. She said we could take the low-end tour but if we didn’t like it, was it the tour itself or that we didn’t like touring? Or we could take the high-end tour. If we didn’t like that tour, it certainly wouldn’t have been the tour; it would be that we didn’t like touring at all.

Would that apply to everyone? Probably not, but I liked the logic. We signed up for the high-end tour (the company is Tauck) and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Since then, we’ve taken a 21-day tour through Rick Steves’ Europe Through The Back Door, and I’ve taken two tours with The Traveling Professor. We’ve also been on many cruises where we’ve also taken one- and two-day tours.

So let’s get back to the initial question, “How do you decide which tour, if any, to select?”

  1. Where do you want to go? (and don’t say “anywhere”) Don’t even look at THE BEST tour to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam if you have no desire to go to Southeast Asia
  2. How long can you go, instead of how long would you like to go?
  3. What is your realistic budget? (you’ll probably go over budget, but try to focus at tours within “your price range”)
  4. Is airfare included? What extras do you have to pay for?
  5. Is the currency exchange rate favorable to you? (right now, the U.S. Dollar is very strong against most other currencies, meaning it’s a great opportunity to travel internationally)

Try answering those questions as you look at different tours and see if your answers help to narrow down your choices.

Remember, if you have a question about international travel, don’t hesitate to contact me, America’s International Travel Expert® by submitting the simple form on my CONTACT page.