One&Only Palmilla—a luxury seaside escape that sits at the edge of the Baja Peninsula, where golden desert sands meet turquoise waters.
Written byCarolyn Miller McCusker
“This is the best beach,” says Mike Pinneo, managing guide at Tropicsurf, his gaze taking in pristine Playa Palmilla under the Baja sun. “It’s pretty amazing. The One&Only Palmilla was the first here so it got the best spot.” Sitting on my board in the warm Sea of Cortez, catching my breath before the next surf break, and awaiting instruction from professional surfer Josh Kerr and Pinneo chilling on their boards next to me, I had to agree. Ahead stretched the dramatic coastline of Los Cabos, and behind us, perched on a bluff overlooking the turquoise sea, sits the elegant One&Only Palmilla resort.
Los Cabos, located at the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, is experiencing a tourist boom with a debut of new properties. But the iconic One&Only Palmilla—whose property was a vacation hideaway for celebrities when it first opened in 1956, then popular among Hollywood stars when it was reborn as the gorgeous One&Only Palmilla in 2004—continues to evolve and perfect the art of the luxury beach resort.
A convenient 3-hour flight from San Francisco, the 250-acre resort offers unique experiences for discerning guests seeking luxurious accommodations, 5-star service, authentic cuisine, transformational wellness treatments, customized excursions, or time to sip margaritas in an infinity pool and watch gray whales breach on the horizon.
I always try new things when on vacation, whether it’s helicoptering on safari in Kenya, climbing glaciers in Patagonia, or escaping to a luxe resort south of the border for a lesson with a surf pro one day and a mind-altering wellness session with a shaman the next (see sidebar). I want customized adventure and leisure experiences. To my delight, I discovered that the One&Only Palmilla does both exceptionally well.
As I spotted the swell forming on the horizon, I re-focused on the surfing basics: paddle, pop-up, get in stance! (Why didn’t I work harder on my core strength before this trip?)
“Keep your eyes forward. Relax. Don’t overthink it,” coached Kerr, an Australian who spent more than a decade on the world pro tour. “Feel the energy of the wave.”
Kerr, who loves surfing in Cabo with his 11-year-old daughter Sierra who was there cheering me on, is one of an elite group hired by the One&Only Palmilla to surf with wave riders—from beginners to die-hards—through a partnership with the Australia-based operator Tropicsurf. While I didn’t totally embarrass myself (after several attempts I finally caught a wave), the rush of adrenaline, the crystal clear water, and the opportunity to learn tips from a pro all made for an awesome afternoon a world away from my busy Bay Area life. Which, at the One&Only Palmilla, is exactly the point.
From the moment I arrived at the resort’s palm-fringed property and was greeted by the staff with their hands over their hearts in a welcoming gesture, I knew I was someplace special. Carlos, my personal butler (each guest has one), escorted me to my high-style suite boasting an oceanfront balcony, a bed covered in luxe linens, a tequila bar, and a bathroom featuring a sumptuous stone tub poised next to the window.
After changing into a flowy dress, I was off to meet mixologist Francisco Oropeza for tequila tasting with a small group. I found Oropeza smiling behind the amber-lit Agua bar, where guests sip cocktails while watching the stunning sunset. His goal was to enlighten us on the tequila-making process, its 100-year history, and the magic of the region’s agave-based spirit.
“There are 2,000 brands of tequila in Mexico,” Oropeza began. Then he explained, while pouring the refined liquor, that tequila is classified by age, from youngest blanco or silver, to reposado or middle aged, to oldest, an añejo, and an extra añejo. He advised us to sip small amounts slowly, letting the spirit come alive and fill our mouths to appreciate the characteristics and taste. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I preferred sipping blanco tequila neat, to drinking it mixed in a margarita. And rule number one: never buy tequila that’s not labeled “100% agave.” Cheers!
The tasting was the perfect prelude to my unforgettable dinner at the resort’s Agua by Larbi with its seaside glamour and inventive menu featuring authentic moles, fresh ceviche, and mouth-watering dishes like roasted local sea bass with a Moroccan flair, inspired by Chef Larbi Dahrouch. Agua by Larbi is one of six dining spots at the resort—all with exquisite views.
The fanciest dinner during my weekend getaway was at SEARED, with Michelin-starred Chef Jean-George Vongerichten at the helm serving up delish signature dishes like Japanese Wagyu beef and the freshest seafood paired with fine wines. As the celebrity chef moved about the candle-lit room, the fashionably dressed diners seemed delighted to have him visit their tables.
After dinner, I bid “Buenas noches,” and once outside, slipped off my heels and walked barefoot in the warm breeze back to my dreamy suite. Within minutes, I fell asleep to the soothing sound of waves on the beach below.
The Ancient Healing
Tradition of Temazcal
Some are calling 2019 the year of mindfulness—and I’m in! In pursuit of a unique way to get my zen on, and always searching for ways to purge my middle-age self of impurities (especially after enjoying my share of tequila and guacamole), I agreed to try centuries-old temazcal, a wellness experience inspired by the region’s ancient rituals and traditions, arranged in advance through the resort’s celebrated spa.
“I asked Mother Earth’s permission to take these rocks, and she said yes,” said resident shaman and healing practitioner Raúl Retana, as water was added to the red-hot volcanic rocks hand-picked from a sacred Mexican desert. The scorching rocks were in the center of the tiny sweat lodge where four of us sat in our bathing suits. Immediately, the small space filled with steam and the potent perfume of eucalyptus and detoxifying herbs.
The idea behind temazcal, or Mayan sweat lodge, is to cleanse the body and soul while being guided through the four healing traditions: fire, earth, water, and wind. Each phase is to remind us of who we are and where we came from. Retana, a member of the Mayo indigenous tribe of Sonora, softly chanted ancient songs that moved one guest to tears. The 120-minute physical, emotional, and mental journey to detox the body and heal the mind was like none other. I didn’t know what to expect. But I loved it.