While the 170- vessel Baja Ha-Ha XVI fleet descended on Cabo San Lucas in November 2009 as part of an annual sailing pilgrimage to the cape, the Cabo Isle Marina was able to accommodate all vessels who sought berths without having to resort to raft ups – a rarity, normally. Weak economic conditions in Baja opened plenty of berthing space in the high-priced Cabo marina on this. Even with the 25% Baja Ha-Ha discount, berthing costs were very high -- about three times what cruisers would normally pay at many marinas north of the border. Nevertheless, many cruisers came in for at least one day to replenish supplies, fill water tanks, fuel up, wash vessels, empty garbage bags, and pump out holding tanks. Those on tight budgets headed out to the anchorage East of the harbor jetty entrance, stretching for several miles with beachfront condos and hotels. Anchoring in depths ranging from 15 to 60 feet is manageable in most conditions but the noise and wakes from pangas, passenger vessels and jet skis can be a nuisance. Pangas regularly cruise the wide expanse of the anchorage for about $3 dollars per passenger from the vessel to the marina – a better alternative to taking the dinghy when the water is churned up or bigger swells roll in.
After a night in the down, getting back to the vessel in the anchorage can be tricky. The pangas will be patient with you as you scout around to find your vessel in a sea of hundreds of vessels on a dark night. Either a pocket GPS aid, or distinctive LED lighting on the vessel will help.
Cabo San Lucas is suffering from the economic downturn that has beset California as real estate sales have slowed down, and fishing tournaments have seen a steep falloff in participation. While the US has seen a moderate rebound in the economy, Baja is lagging and business are watching carefully if sun worshippers, golfers, and fisherman will return in the usual large numbers. There are excellent deals at the normally high-priced hotels which are starving for tourists. The cut rate prices have brought a lower income level visitor to town helping some sectors. Even golf courses have slashed prices.
The Cabos San Lucas “medical business” has been tarnished with a dubious reputation of bilking tourists. Medical care in Mexico is normally a fraction of what it costs stateside. The situation has gotten so out of hand that the American consulate complained to local officials to stop the thievery and even threatened to put out a State Department advisory warning of these problems in Cabo San Luca. According to locals the problem went underground for a while but it seems to be resurging.
The medical scam problem hit home when one of the Baja Ha-Ha cruisers last year who needed hospital care was “held” until they came up with $3,000 to pay a bogus bill. The way the scam works is that the sick person is usually physically held until the perpetrators empty out their wallets or drain their credit cards accounts. Sometimes the police even back up the doctors and scammers. This time, the Baja Ha-Ha participant called the police with and an ensuing hassle…but would not relent to the wishes of the detainees. The person was taken to another hospital and was finally charged a much lower appropriate bill. Needless to say, the Mexican government and the Mexican locals should demand a stop to this practice or the tourists will not come—affecting the livelihood of the entire tourist industry. The information dissemination power of the Internet is wide and fast.
While Cabo still shows signs of life, the La Paz tourist scene was absolutely moribund – except for the activity brought in by the sailing and cruising community. Compared to previous visits to the city of peace, La Paz is hurting from lack of visitors and their tourist dollars.— restaurants were empty, real estate projects were stopped, storefronts catering to tourists were closed and overall a very quiet atmosphere prevailed.
While there was no shortage of berthing space in the four area marinas, berthing prices remain high -- about $700 plus electricity for 40 foot vessels, for example. Marina La Paz remains popular since it maintains a clean, efficient operation with easy access to town and supplies. It is also the home of Club de Cruceros, a small yacht club on the marina property which remains popular as a yachtie hangout.
The relatively new marina at the Costa Baja resort is well protected and comes with first class amenities such as pure drinkable water, Internet, cable TV, dockside pumpouts, security, and use of facilities, including an infinity pool. Being from Bellingham, Wash., it was interesting to note that docks were constructed by a Bellingham company, Bellingham Marine. Costa Baja is being marketed as the jewel of Baja and the aquarium of the world. All in all, it is very impressive but costs are high and may go higher if mega yachts come. Current Expedia room rates have been reduced to $139.00 per night. When the marina first opened several years ago, berths were practically being given away to occupy the slips. The Moorings charter operation moved from the Marina Palmira to Costa Baja. During the visit, the marina was almost full but most of the rooms were empty with the only activity being the bar and the restaurant.
In general, real estate is still overpriced in La Paz in my view. The city began to be discovered about five years ago with several new high rise condo projects and the development on the El Mogote mangrove called Paraiso del Mar. Most of these projects have stalled. General consumer living cost prices are comparable to US prices…marinas are overpriced. Annual real estate taxes are low (several hundred dollars) and the price of gas which is controlled by the government is a bargain (about 30% below US prices). Restaurant fare and beer are somewhat less than in the USA. Grocery store prices at the big stores are about 25% more expensive than in USA. Having dined out at a variety of restaurants in town, and in touristy areas, I was generally unimpressed by the quality of the cuisine – the best dinners were those done on the barbecue at our condo. Some restaurants I visited on earlier trips, which were billed as top seafood joints, such as the Las Brisas, were overpriced and disappointed on this trip. Service and friendliness of the Mexican people remains one of the highlights of the trip as in the past.
For those thinking that Cabo San Lucas or La Paz are low cost retirement havens, the real estate and living costs have reached levels which are equal or above US prices. The days of 25 cent cervesas and three tacos for a $1 are long gone. The beaches are pristine as ever but they are now marine sanctuaries with a big push in eco-tourism. Mexican culture has not changed much over the years and one will find nice villas next to rubble and poverty. For now, my own view, is that La Paz is off the radar as a retirement haven unless one is fairly well heeled or can be happy living on the hook in a sailboat or in basic housing with a very basic lifestyle in local neighborhoods away from the tourist zones.
If you have any additions or disagreements, feel free to post your comments below.