Long before the sleepy fishing villages of San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas were thrust into the international tourism limelight of the 20th century, Baja already had been drawing other world travelers for centuries as a coveted region for privateers, pirates and other scourges of the open sea in search of riches.
The history of Los Cabos reveals that the area was once inhabited by indigenous tribes Guayacura and Pericu – archeological sites have unearthed cave burials and rock shelters dating as far back as 10,000 years ago – until a Spanish navigator Francisco de Ulloa, who served at under conquistador Hernan Cortez, discovered it in the mid 16th century and later built the town of Cabo San Lucas. According to the history of Cabo San Lucas, the area was a haven for pirates, namely one Thomas Cavendish. Legends tell of how pirates used the Arch as a lookout to target passing ships – the pirates who stayed behind became the ancestors of the fishermen who plied the waters centuries later.
In the mid-18th century, Jesuit priests built San Jose del Cabo as a Catholic mission after establishing a permanent mission in the northern outpost of Loreto in 1697. By the late 18th century, the indigenous tribes had all but disappeared, wiped out by deadly European diseases, measles and smallpox.
But it took Hollywood’s influence to turn the seaside towns into luxury tourism destinations. Following World War II, big screen legends John Wayne and Bing Crosby gave Los Cabos their stamp of approval as a vacation escape, going so far as to found the region’s first resort in La Paz in 1948. Not only did human visitors find the allure of the Capes too much to resist – marine life also gravitated to the water surrounding Los Cabos as California grey whales, giant sea turtles, dolphins and hundreds of species of fish turned the area into a veritable aquatic nursery. Deep sea fishing enthusiasts coined the term “Marlin Alley” after the record-sized billfish caught in these waters. Even ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau was inspired to call the waters surrounding Los Cabos as the “Aquarium of the World.”