CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico — Medano Beach is the waterside Times Square of Cabo San Lucas — a sandy, wet, crowded, noisy, naughty world of wall-to-wall suntan-oil-slathered flesh.
Up from the water’s edge are a string of sand-hugging bars where Jell-O shots and buckets of cerveza rule. From the relatively sedate blue umbrellas of The Office to the party-all-the-time Mango Deck, it’s often hard to find a sober soul well before noon.
All around is the mildly debauched communion of men and women dancing a conga line to “Tequila,” waiting to get to a guy in front who will pour an orange boozy concoction straight down their throats.
For many people heading to Cabo, the party atmosphere is the magnet. They are seekers of Cabo’s wild side.
“I plan on having a fantastic time partying, drinking and sunbathing,” said Tara Kimmins, 38, a first-time visitor from Laguna Niguel.
Kimmins was smart to bring along a slew of friends, some of whom knew how to navigate the different watering holes.
“Our ritual is to spend a good part of one day at The Office,” said Holly Hoffinger, 39, of San Diego. “We’ll go into town to Cabo Wabo, but not Squid Roe — that’s a bit too much.”
For travelers like Kimmins and her crew, central Cabo San Lucas is home base. The town wraps around the bay and harbor, backed by stacks of condos and hotels, ranging from budget to American chains to high-end timeshares that look like they have been teleported from the cliffs of Southern California. From there it’s a stroll down (and a stagger back) to Medano. On the recommendation of a colleague, I checked into Casa Dorada, a mid-to-upper level timeshare resort tucked behind Mango Deck.
Stepping from a hotel lobby onto Medano Beach is like stepping into the middle of a circus — water scooters roared around the waves, passing boats pulling parasailers into the air. The Carnival Splendor sat at anchor, farther out than Attessa, the mega yacht of Montana billionaire Dennis Washington, complete with a helicopter on the aft upper deck. The yacht has received an upgrade over the years, but the outlines were the same from when it starred in the Goldie Hawn comedy “Overboard.”
In Cabo, you’ll hear “Hotel California” played at every bar, residue of the largely debunked story that the hotel that inspired the song is in nearby Todos Santos. The second most popular song is “Tequila.” But a close third is a song rarely heard north of the border. “Cabo Wabo” is an homage to excess at Land’s End that rocker and sometimes Cabo resident Sammy Hagar recorded during his stint in Van Halen.
The chugging tune starts out with a bit of tourism office-worthy braggadocio, with Hagar saying he had been all over the world and thought he had “hit it all” until he landed in “a sleepy town lies South of the border.” After extolling the girls and the beaches, it gets down to the main drawing power of the town at night, including Hagar’s own club named after the song: getting hammered on booze.
“Face down (Face down)
Down in Cabo
Take me down (Take me down)
Down to Cabo. Uh!
Face down (Face down)
Down in Cabo
Doin’ the Cabo Wabo, ow!
Take me down (Take me down)
Down to Cabo, woo!
Come on, get it, get it, ow!
Ah-hah! Woo-hoo! Ow! Come on!”
Other stops — including Uno Mas, Gringo Grill, Love Shack, Desperados, Museo del Tequila, Happy Ending, Slim’s Elbow Room and the Giggling Marlin — vie for thirsty vacationers. The centers at night are the relatively self-controlled party crowd of Cabo Wabo and the wilder scene at El Squid Roe, where the upstairs bar is the scene of gulping tequila, spinning on table tops, bump-and-grind dancing and a lot of glazed eyes and staggering walks.
Most of the joints are in downtown Cabo San Lucas, which, to put it charitably, is not the prettiest side of Mexico. Bars are flanked by tumble-down flea market shops, concertina wire around stalled building projects, pharmacies selling every kind of erectile dysfunction medicine known to mankind and massage parlors with aggressive hawkers out front. But there are cool surf shops and high-end sushi bars like the tasty Nick-san.
It takes just 10 American dollars and 10 minutes to get from Medano Beach to one of the most beautiful spots in North America. We hired Manuel Montes and his high-powered skiff to take us across the bay to Land’s End, the point where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez.
Once we were in, the deeply tanned Montes gunned the boat into the middle of the traffic-filled bay, dodging other craft, big and small, slow and speeding. There were life jackets lying on the floor of our boat, which the driver didn’t use or tell us to put on. We went with the casual flow, a move I regretted when we got into the swells off the point. Our money got us a narrated tour of the local topography — rocks that looked like the cartoon character Scooby Doo, a witch and a dinosaur. Montes pointed to a hole called the San Andreas Cave.
“They say it’s magic because two people go in and three come out,” said Montes, with a grin.
As we headed toward the point, we watched as a couple tried to race against the rising tide, only to be slammed up against a rocky shelf. They held on and when the water receded from under their armpits, they hobbled the last 20 feet to safety.
We passed a second cave called Pirates Cave.
“Here, two people go in and only one comes out,” Montes said.
We scooted past Lovers’ Beach, through the waves, past a seal lion perched on a rocky ledge, and to the Pacific side, where the much rougher Divorce Beach is located. The powerful outboard was able to pull us up and over waves that seemed ready to flip the boat or send it crashing into the rocks. We swung wide out of the turbulence and went back to the first beach to pick up some people who had paid earlier in the day to fetch them off the beach. A Mexican woman waded out to her waist with a young child, lifting him onto the boat. A couple from Boston clambered aboard and we headed back to Medano.
As our boat skidded up against the sand and we flopped out into the knee-slapping waves, I looked over at Mango Deck. The sun was going down and another conga line was forming at the bar.