15 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Los Cabos and Baja California Sur

15 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Los Cabos and Baja California Sur

Think you know a lot about Los Cabos? Did you know…

Fishing was big in Los Cabos long before the age of tourism…

The first inhabitants of Los Cabos were the Pericú, a tribe of hunter gatherers whose territory extended beyond the boundaries of the present day Los Cabos municipality, and included offshore islands like Espíritu Santo, Cerralvo and San José. The Pericúes have been culturally extinct since the late 18th century, but they remain relevant because of the mysteries which surround their origin.

15 Things You Probably Don't Know About Los Cabos
The original inhabitants of Los Cabos were a tribe called the Pericú, hunter gatherers noted for their fishing prowess.

The Pericúes were one of the first groups whose existence posed a problem to the Beringian Migration Theory, the idea that all humans in the Americas arrived by means of a land bridge over the Bering Strait (before it was covered by rising sea levels at the end of the last ice age). The Pericúes, we know now, shared the same genetic makeup as Australian aborigines, and seem to have reached the Baja California peninsula from Melanesia some 15,000 to 30,000 years ago. Their language bore no similarities to those of the Guaycura and Cochimí, the two other major tribal groups on the peninsula.

Much of the culture and language of the Pericúes has been lost to history, but thanks to descriptions from European sailors and missionaries, we know something of their way of life; including their prodigious talents as fishermen. Captain Woodes Rogers, an English privateer who later became Governor of the Bahamas, described their methods (if not their character) glowingly in his 1712 book, A Cruising Voyage Round the World.

“They subsisted chiefly on fish while we were here…We saw no nets or hooks, but wooden instruments with which they strike the fish very dexterously, and dive to admiration. Some of our sailors told me they saw one of them dive with his instrument, and while he was underwater put up his striker with a fish on the point of it, which was taken off by another that watched him on a bark log. The reader may believe of this what he pleases, but I give it the more credit because I myself threw some rusty knives overboard on purpose to try those divers, who seldom missed catching a knife before it could sink three or four fathoms; which I took to be an extraordinary proof of their agility.”

The oldest religious site in Los Cabos isn’t a church…

The high point of the half-mile Land’s End headland is a hill capped by a white cross. This hill has been dubbed Mt. Solmar by some history challenged gringo expats, who don’t seem to realize this natural landmark is hugely important in the history of Los Cabos, and had a name hundreds of years before Solmar Suites opened in 1974.

Its true name is El Vigía (The Watcher), and according to Ann Zwinger in her excellent natural history of the region, A Desert Country Near the Sea, its peak stands at 560 feet above sea level. In the age of piracy, lookouts were often posted on Cerro del Vigía to watch for incoming galleons. Its importance goes back thousands of years before that, however.

“Cerro del Vigía was almost certainly a sort of sun worshipping temple for the Pericúes,” says Roberto Cuétara González, Director of the Museo de Historia Natural de Cabo San Lucas. “And yes, there were bodies buried in caves there. Local people over 60 years of age still remember seeing bodies there.  At some point about 50 years ago, however, the remains were stolen. And since they weren’t able to be scientifically evaluated, we don’t know whether they were Pericúes or sailors from a later time. “

Los Cabos was a stop on one of the world’s most famous trade routes…

15 Things You Probably Don't Know About Los Cabos
English privateers commanded by Thomas Cavendish (seen here) sacked the Spanish Galleon Santa Ana in 1587, after a six hour battle in Cabo San Lucas Bay. It was the largest loss in the history of the Manila – Acapulco Galleon Trade, as the English made off with a fortune in gold.

Spain was at the peak of her colonial power in 1565, when two navigators named Alonso de Arellano and Andrés de Urdaneta discovered the necessary trade winds, the famed “westerlies,” that enabled ships to sail from the Philippines to the New World. Thus began the Manila–Acapulco Galleon Trade, a lucrative trade route that would fill the royal coffers for the better part of 250 years, until the Mexican War for Independence effectively ended it.

Mexican gold and silver were sent East to purchase Asian silks and spices, and the amount of treasure these booty-laden galleons carried beggared belief. Often one, but later two ships in convoy would make the voyage each year. These journeys were perilous in the extreme for a couple of reasons. One, storage space was at such a premium that the galleons carried meager food and water rations. Many crew members who survived were suffering from scurvy by the time they reached México. The other problem, of course, was pirates.

The trade route Arellano and Urdaneta uncovered involved sailing north from Manila to the 38th parallel (off the coast of Japan). Ships would then go East until they reached the California coast, keeping land in sight as they proceeded south. San José del Cabo became a stop along the way for fresh water – the Spaniards referred to the estuary there as Aguada Segura – and food stores. English and Dutch pirates seized on this knowledge of the route, laying in wait behind Land’s End to attack unwary galleons.

Sir Francis Drake was conducting raids in the area by the 1570s, and in 1587, a young English captain named Thomas Cavendish sacked the supposedly invincible galleon Santa Ana after six hours of fierce fighting in Cabo San Lucas Bay. It was the largest loss in the history of the Manila–Acapulco Galleon Trade, although far from the last. Woodes Rogers, the man who sketched such vivid portraits of the Pericúes, spent time with them only because he was waiting for the yearly galleon. He and his men captured the Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación y Desengaño in 1709.

15 Things You Probably Don't Know About Los Cabos
Dinosaurs still roamed the earth when El Arco was formed.

The Arch at Land’s End is old…really, really, really old.

Geological estimates for the oldest granitic monuments at Land’s End suggest a mind blowing antiquity. According to The Atlas of Coastal Ecosystems in the Western Gulf of California, the Cretaceous Period granite that forms El Arco is equivalent in age to that found at subsurface volcanic sites at Las Tres Virgenes in the municipality of Mulegé:  approximately 84 million years old.

San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas are not the original names of the cape cities…

Cabo San Lucas  and San José del Cabo were not always referred to thusly. The Pericúes referred to the former as Yenekamú, the latter as Añuití. Until Francisco de Bolaños named Cabo San Lucas on October 18, 1541, it was listed on Spanish maps as “Ballenas” (Whales).

In 1602, when Sebastián Vizcaíno undertook an exploratory voyage of the California coast on behalf of King Felipe III of Spain, he stopped in San José on June 11, dubbing in San Bernabé in accordance with the Catholic calendar. San Bernabé it would remain for over 100 years, until a Jesuit mission was founded there in 1730 by padres Nicolás Tamaral and José Echevarría.

According to historian Pablo L. Martínez, who grew up in nearby Santa Anita, “The name of San José was given after José de la Puente, benefactor of colonization (the Marqués de Villapuente, to give his official title, funded a large percentage of the Jesuit missions in Baja); and that of del Cabo was added to distinguish it from Comondú, which was also San José.”

Lover’s Beach has a not so romantic backstory…

Romance is often in the air at this gorgeous Land’s End beach, which is accessible only by water based transportation. In fact, there is no more romantic picnic spot in all of Los Cabos, and local photographers often use it as an ideal setting for wedding and renewal of vows pictures. The beach’s history, however, is not nearly so romantic as one might think.

Old-time sanluqueños still refer to it as Doña Chepa, or Doña Chepita, after a prostitute who appropriated the area for business purposes during the 1920s. Love is probably not the most accurate term for what used to go on there, but the  activity in question did serve as the genesis for la playa’s modern moniker.

If that story doesn’t ruin the romance factor, it should be noted that neighboring Divorce Beach is five times larger.

15 Things You Probably Don't Know About Los Cabos
Cerro del Vigía, the high point of the Land’s End promontory, was once used as a sun temple by the Pericúes.

The two worst hurricanes in Cabo San Lucas history happened on the same day…

The devastating “Inundación” of 1939, which washed away much of Cabo San Lucas, and category-4 Hurricane Odile in 2014 struck the Land’s End community 75 years apart on the same day:  September 14.

Here’s how local historian and professor Fernando Cota described the former in C.M. Mayo’s superb 2002 travelogue Miraculous Air:  “1907, 1918, oh much suffering; another one in 1927, many animals and fruit trees lost. And then there was the chubasco of 1939…Some people rode it on horseback from Cabo San Lucas – it was impossible to cross El Tule in an automobile – and they told me when they passed by the school:  Cabo San Lucas is gone! So we went there on horses. We sent some mules across El Tule first because they are more surefooted, and if they can cross, the horses follow. We rode and walked through the night and we arrived at sun-up. From the sea to the foothills of the sierra there was nothing but broken pieces of cardón cactus. There were no references, everything had disappeared.”

Cabo San Lucas wasn’t the only regional community to suffer brutal weather in September of 1939. The Bahía Magdalena area received more rainfall in a single month than it would during the next 24 years combined!

Baja California Sur is the youngest state in México…

México has 31 states and a federal district. Baja California Sur was, along with Quintana Roo, the last to achieve statehood, being elevated from territory status on October 8, 1974. Baja California, by contrast, was officially given statehood in 1952.

Baja California Sur has more coastline than any Mexican state…

México has approximately 9,330 kilometers of coastline, and a rather staggering percentage of it surrounds the Baja California peninsula. Baja California Sur owns 2,131 kilometers, Baja California 1,493 kilometers. Together, they account for 38% of the nation’s coastline.

The Sea of Cortés is the world’s youngest sea…

What we now call Baja California was born amid cooling magma in the distant mists of the Mesozoic Era, between 135 and 225 million years ago. For millions of years afterward, plate tectonics, continental drift, subduction and other forces acted upon the coastline, finally resulting in a peninsular break from the Mexican mainland.

This fracture occurred from the top down–at the terminus of the Colorado River–beginning about 12 million years ago. As recently as five million years ago, present day Los Cabos was still connected to the continental massif, at what is now the state of Jalisco.

The mouth of the Gulf of California, or Sea of Cortés, finally opened three million years ago; and approximately 1.8 million years ago, in the early stages of the Pleistocene Epoch, the peninsula achieved what we consider its present position…although it continues to move away from the mainland at a stately pace of about six centimeters per year.

15 Things You Probably Don't Know About Los Cabos
Catedral de Nuestra Señora de La Paz was built in 1861, 326 years after conquistador Hernán Cortés first landed there.

The peninsula has a state song…

Canto a Baja California was written by Rafael Trujillo and put to music by Rafael Gama. The song, which begins “Baja California, brazo poderoso, al servicio eterno de la Patria” (Baja California, powerful arm, in the eternal service of the country) was adopted as the official state song of Baja California on September 27, 1956. Baja California Sur gave the matter decades of consideration, but finally followed suit in 2012.

La Paz is the oldest community on the peninsula…

Each year on May 3, La Paz honors its foundation, remembering the day conquistador Hernán Cortés came ashore in 1535. This year, Baja California Sur’s capital city marked its 482nd birthday, and as always, celebrated with a Foundation Festival featuring food, drink, live entertainment, and of course a traditional reenactment of the landing of the Spaniards.

Loreto was the first capital of the Californias…

From 1697, when the Jesuits founded the first permanent peninsular community at Loreto (the indigenous inhabitants were hunter gatherers), Loreto was the capital of California. Loreto didn’t give up this privilege until 1777, when the capital was moved to Monterey in Alta California. Loreto remained the capital of Baja until 1829, when a particularly damaging hurricane caused the seat of government to briefly be moved to San Antonio. La Paz became the peninsular capital in 1830, and has remained so for Baja California Sur until the present day.

15 Things You Probably Don't Know About Los Cabos
Loreto was the capital of Las Californias from 1697 – when the Jesuits built the peninsula’s first mission there – untill 1777.

San Antonio is the longest continually occupied secular community in the Californias…

The Jesuits, Franciscans and Dominicans founded many missions in Las Californias, but the oldest continually occupied secular community is at San Antonio, a small town near El Triunfo, about 40 miles south of La Paz. San Antonio was founded in 1756 by Simón Rodríguez, as a community for mine workers at the newly formed Santa Gertrudis mine.

The final skirmish of the Mexican-American War took place near Todos Santos…

Although omitted almost entirely from books on the subject, Baja California was a hotbed of resistance during the Mexican-American War, and several pitched battles and sieges occurred on the peninsula. The war effectively ended when General Winfield Scott and his troops captured Mexico City in September 1847; but Bajacalifornio patriots under Capt. Manuel Pineda and wartime jefe político Mauricio Castro continued to fight for their country. The final skirmish took place just north of Todos Santos on March 30, 1848, three weeks after the U.S. Congress had ratified the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

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Chris Sands



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