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2023-12-19 00:00:00 Avenue Magazine Finding Adventure and Romance in Mexico

Finding Adventure and Romance in Mexico

Baja Aventura
THE MAIN EVENT Poolside dining and sunbathing are de rigueur at Las Ventanas al Paraíso, a Rosewood resort
Photo courtesy of Las Ventanas al Paraíso, a Rosewood Resort

It’s fall in New York, and Manhattan is a messy monsoon of torrential rain. Madison Avenue has become the Hudson River. It’s the ideal time for a quick escape — a long weekend of sun, salsa, and spicy margaritas on the Baja California peninsula, to be precise.

Baja is to LA what Florida is to NYC: a two-and-a-half-hour plane ride to an easy beach getaway. Las Ventanas al Paraíso, a Rosewood resort, is only a 20-minute drive from the airport, but without directions you would have no clue it’s even there. There is no sign outside. The driveway up to the nondescript security booth is unimpressive — another way to throw people off track. Las Ventanas, like Greta Garbo, wants to be left alone. No wonder the resort is a favorite with Jennifer Lopez, George Clooney, and Angelina Jolie.

When my fiancé, Ted, and I pull up to the open-air lobby of the resort, its exterior entirely white, it’s like entering a billionaire buddy’s mega-mansion. There is no front desk. Instead, we are met by a line-up of uniformed staff led by Waldo, a handsome man with a big smile sporting a white shirt embroidered with an Incan design. Waldo gives us a quick rundown of the property, as we are handed cold towels and spritzy citrus drinks. Next, we are introduced to Juan, our private butler who, like all the staff, seems to have a perma-smile. Juan arranges for our bags to be brought to our villa where he will check us in.

Home while at Las Ventanas is villa number six. The ginormous front door, paned with colorful stained-glass squares, feels like a Mexican Mondrian painting. Inside, a glass wall overlooks an infinity pool and the bright white sand and azure blue water of the Sea of Cortez. The main bedroom occupies a corner with floor-to-ceiling windows and the same pretty-as-a-postcard view. Under an ornate scalloped headboard inlayed with small stones, the staff has embroidered our initials in sky blue onto crisp white pillowcases. The bathroom across the hall is the same size as the bedroom. A marble tub is framed by a tree sculpture, each branch holding a colored vessel where a votive candle can be lit. There are two large sinks, an indoor rain shower with a view of the sea, and an enclosed stone terrace engulfed in flora with a lounge chair and outdoor shower.

CASTLE IN THE SAND The villas at Las Ventanas al Paraíso are all beachfront
Photo courtesy of Las Ventanas al Paraíso, a Rosewood Resort

On the other side of the villa is a guest bedroom and the living and dining areas. A major spread has been laid out on the kitchen counter, a welcome feast of tuna ceviche, guacamole, homemade tortilla chips, and fresh juices. Instead of a minibar there is a well-stocked, fully functioning chef’s kitchen. Too bad we don’t have any pals down in Cabo — the villa could easily host a fabulous dinner party.

We step outside and, just beyond the deck, firepit, pool, and Jacuzzi, “WELCOME PETER & TED” has been etched in huge letters on the beach.

That night we have dinner at Alebrije, the resort’s culinary homage to Oaxaca, Mexico’s gastronomical capital famed for its moles. We sit under a circular thatched roof by one of the eight lagoon-like pools that weave through the property. Dishes are served family style and begin with our waiter smashing up guacamole in a basalt rock pestle at our table. The extensive menu is an authentic, historical journey through Mexican cuisine, with local family recipes culled from the staff. We munch on hamachi ceviche with pumpkin flower, a trio of tacos (shrimp, suckling pig, beef tenderloin), the free-range chicken with coloradito mole, and the molcajete (rib-eye, lobster, chistorra sausage, cheese) served in a volcanic stone bowl with various spices and sauces. For dessert a baked Alaska is torched tableside using tequila. ¡Caliente!

The next day we explore the arid Los Cabos desert on a tricked-out tandem ATV. I let Ted take the wheel as my license expired pre-Covid and I prefer to be chauffeured everywhere anyway. We are fetched at the hotel by Wild Canyon Adventures and slip on Mad Max-looking helmets and balaclavas (it gets super dusty flying around the canyons). With our tattooed guide, Miguel, we race through trails and over a steep canyon on a suspension bridge, the longest wooden hanging bridge in North America. An hour later, we end up at El Tule beach, snap some pics with the crashing waves behind us, and then head back to the hotel — it’s lunchtime and we are famished. We meet a young chef in the lush, fragrant herb garden which is centered around an altar with grinning Día de los Muertos skeleton figurines and offerings to the gods of food, like avocados and chiles. Our cook demonstrates his culinary prowess, grilling up octopus and chicken while a woman expertly cooks fresh tortillas — something she has been doing for decades.

LET THEM ENTERTAIN YOU An al fresco feast
Photo courtesy of Las Ventanas al Paraíso, a Rosewood Resort

That night we horseback ride on the beach. After the speed rush of the ATV, trotting slowly on the sand is a bit boring, so after an hour we amble back to get ready for dinner at Arbol, the resort’s Indian-Asian fusion eatery. To get to our table, we walk over a footbridge, as it’s literally in the middle of an oval pool. Birdcage lanterns glow from branches overhead. Under a blanket of stars, the cavern-like restaurant is truly magical and the booths in the water are definitely the unofficial VIP section. A waiter explains that the curries, wok dishes, and seafood raw bar are influenced by India and the Far East but prepared by Chef Anand (who is from Mumbai) with locally sourced ingredients and made with a Mexican touch. We try the spicy tuna tartare, the tandoori lobster, and stir-fried Wagyu beef. For dessert, we order the banana and tapioca brûlée and an Indian dish called jalebi, a funnel cake-type treat of piping spirals of fermented batter soaked in warm sugar syrup that’s often served at weddings and street festivals.

High on sugar, we walk nearby to La Botica (“drugstore” in Spanish), the hotel’s 1920s-style speakeasy piano bar. We are given a special code which we punch into a vintage cash register, causing a secret door to open. As we enter, the back of the illuminated bar suddenly vanishes. The wall of booze bottles is replaced by glass apothecary canisters filled with medicinal herbs. It’s a gimmicky stunt as prohibition is long gone, but the effect is fun and every time someone enters the nightclub, guests fire up their iPhones and film the sliding walls of the bar. We grab a table by the stage and order fruit mocktails and a plate of corn palomitas dusted with chili powder. The dim, sexy lighting and dark wood-paneled walls feel like a members’ club in Manhattan, not a resort in Mexico. Normally Rosalíade Cuba, La Botica’s first artist-in-residence, performs, but, in a twist of fate, she was actually in New York doing shows at the Carlyle. Instead, an old-school Cuban band plays Latin music and raucous renditions of everything from Whitney Houston to the Talking Heads. The crowd grows by the hour, and everyone dances and sings along, creating a party vibe.

Photo by Peter Davis

The next morning, after breakfast at the Sea Grill, we decide to brave life outside Las Ventanas and hire a water taxi to El Arco de Cabo San Lucas, also known as Land’s End, where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean. We inform Juan, our butler, of our plans and he asks why we would want to ever leave the resort. After a 25-minute cab ride, we arrive at Cabo San Lucas’s busy port. I immediately see Juan’s point. The streets are lined with grungy gift shops, dubious pharmacies offering cheap generic Viagra, and a Señor Frog’s all-you-can-drink mega-bar teaming with tourists in tacky tank tops. We get mobbed by men at the pier, offering a water taxi to the iconic arch for $20. We reluctantly hand over two $10 bills to a guy with a cigarette dangling from his lips. He leads us to his boat, and we motor through the crowded port out to sea. In between deep pulls of his Marlboro, our “captain” points out a sea lion chasing a catamaran loaded with drunk college kids. En route to El Arco, we stop at Pelican Beach, which is packed with people and, of course, pelicans. A rowdy group of five local women in wet bathing suits and floppy hats jump on our boat. We are now eight passengers, so we all change seats, not wanting the dinky boat to capsize. We pass by Divorce Beach, named because its jagged rocks and crashing waves recall a feuding couple. Ironically, Divorce Beach (where swimming is a no-go due to riptides), is accessible through a gap in the rocks from Playa del Amor, or “Lover’s Beach,” on the bay side — a great spot for swimming and snorkeling. Within a few minutes we reach El Arco. We take turns as the boat wobbles in the rough sea snapping pics with the iconic arc perfectly centered in the background. “Wanna jump in for a swim?” the captain asks with a mischievous chuckle as one of the women almost falls into the sea. I breathe a sigh of relief as we pull into the port. The chaotic scene in town (in which guys in backwards baseball caps aggressively offered us Molly) seems somehow less dangerous than the boat trip.

Back at the hotel, Ted hits the spa, which has a menu of services based on the four elements and inspired by the ancient healers of Baja who tapped the powers of earth, air, fire, and water for rejuvenation. He opts for a detoxifying body polish in a private bungalow with a terrace, involving pitaya flowers followed by a 90-minute massage. While Ted is busy beautifying himself, I swing by the hotel shop and lust over a $1,000 Nick Fouquet straw hat that the hipster milliner designed exclusively for the resort. Nearby, a kid’s store is stocked with Beanie Babies. Remember when people traded and sold the pellet-filled plushies like rare coins? Las Ventanas is operated by Rosewood but owned by Ty Warner, the billionaire creator of these stuffed animals. Next door to our villa is the 28,000-square-foot “Ty Warner Mansion” which opened in 2016 and boasts interiors by Robert Couturier, a sunken in-pool living room, and an arcade game room for $35,000 a night. I wonder if the Apple+ movie The Beanie Bubble, in which Zach Galifianakis plays Warner as an obsessive, plastic surgery-obsessed mogul, is blocked from streaming services at the resort.

MEXICAN MANSE The magnificent Ty Warner Mansion, which can be rented for $35,000 a night
Photo courtesy of Las Ventanas al Paraíso, a Rosewood Resort

Back at our villa, a staff member is staging what looks like a small gala on the beach in front of our infinity pool. I shower and get dressed for dinner. Outside, a million and one votive candles have been placed everywhere, with a path of lights leading to a formal table where a straw chandelier has been rigged to hang above our heads. It’s like a romance movie where I always wondered who in their right mind would light dozens of candles everywhere and not panic about setting the house on fire. Like everything at Las Ventanas, the multi-course dinner (steak, lobster, caviar) is way, way over-the-top. But not even the fanciest meal can top the finale. A waiter casually strolls over and places a square white box with a big gold ribbon in front of Ted. He opens the box and inside is a blinking contraption that looks like it could set off a nuclear bomb. “Press the red button,” the waiter instructs and after Ted does, the night sky above the Sea of Cortez is lit up with exploding fireworks like the Fourth of July. We are left speechless.

In the bedroom, rose petals have been strewn everywhere, including the bed with a huge red heart and our initials. While this wasn’t our honeymoon, Las Ventanas al Paraíso just upped the game for when we do eventually plan the trip. On the plane ride home, I tell Ted that maybe we should just skip a honeymoon altogether, order pizza, and watch The Beanie Bubble in bed instead.

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