Cabo San Lucas History

Cabo San Lucas is now a popular resort destination, with golf courses, beaches, and nightclubs galore, but in addition to its myriad modern attractions, Cabo San Lucas history also offers an interesting dimension to a Los Cabos experience. With a colorful history including pirate attacks, the establishment of a Jesuit mission, and visits by the rich and famous, the history of Los Cabos forms an important part of Baja California history.

One of the most colorful facts about Cabo San Lucas is its former status as a center for piracy. First discovered by Hernán Cortés in the 1500s, Cabo San Lucas was initially merely a watering-ground for pirates laying in wait for Spanish galleons returning to Europe from the New World, laden with treasure. Famous pirates such as Sir Francis Drake and Sir Thomas Cavendish form part of the history of Los Cabos. When a great Spanish treasure ship, The Great Saint-Anne, was captured off Cape San Lucas in 1587, the Spanish Royal Crown built a small fort and outpost on what is today Cabo San Lucas.

San Jose del Cabo Mission
San Jose del Cabo Mission

Although there was sporadic exploration and settlement on the Baja peninsula during this time, it was not until the 1700s that zealous missionaries established a Jesuit mission at what is today San Jose del Cabo, in part to strengthen the area against pirate marauders. The remnants of the mission can still be viewed today, giving visitors a glimpse into Cabo San Lucas history. One of the most interesting facts about Cabo San Lucas is that there are many inhabitants of Los Cabos today who are descendants of buccaneers of earlier times, who later became ranchers and farmers, and now form part of the living history of Los Cabos.

Cabo San Lucas didn't appear on the tourist scene until much, much later. One of the interesting facts about Cabo San Lucas is that though there was an outpost at San Jose del Cabo due to the proximity of a fresh water oasis, Cabo San Lucas itself did not have a reliable water source. For centuries, it was just a dusty village connected to San Jose del Cabo by a dirt road. It was only in relatively modern times, in the 1930s to 1950s, that Cabo San Lucas' idyllic beaches and heavenly fishing grounds were discovered by the rich and famous, including Bing Crosby and Duke Ellington, who visited the difficult-to-access area by yacht or plane, inaugurating the most exclusive and glamorous period of Cabo San Lucas history.

With the construction of the Baja peninsular highway in 1974, Cabo San Lucas finally became accessible to the vacationing crowd of America. With its unparalleled fishing grounds with such big game such as tuna, marlin, and billfish, huge fishing tournaments began to turn the sparsely populated area into a boom town. Meanwhile, developers with an eye on the beautiful beaches between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo began to build the resorts and golf courses that make the eighteen-mile beachfront corridor so popular. With the government pouring resources and money into Los Cabos, it has blossomed into one of the most beautiful resort areas in Mexico.

Today some of the history of Los Cabos can be glimpsed on a visit to the older and quieter San Jose del Cabo, where the old cathedral in the main plaza is built on the site of the original Jesuit mission. Here there are still many spacious old neighborhoods, wrought-iron benches overhung with trees, and generally a more staid atmosphere than the young and raucous Cabo San Lucas, a lively destination that’s particularly popular during Spring Break.

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