Mexico’s sand and sun destinations are perennial superstars. But they aren’t the only attention-getters on the tourism front.
Take San José del Cabo, for example. It’s used to taking a back seat to its glitzier counterpart, Cabo San Lucas and the hotel corridor that lies between them.
Not anymore. San José recently snagged the number one spot on the TripAdvisor “Travelers’ Choice Destinations on the Rise Awards” for 2017.
“The Travelers' Choice Destinations on the Rise lists are great options for travelers seeking inspiration for fresh, trending places to book in the new year," Barbara Messing, chief marketing officer for TripAdvisor, tells Travel Agent.
Founded as a Jesuit mission in the early 1700’s, San José del Cabo once served as a supply point for Spanish galleons. Today, the colonial vibe endures in its main plaza and historic church. Natural attractions include a freshwater coastal lagoon that serves as a refuge for birds and other wildlife.
The weekly Art Walk through San José del Cabo’s Gallery District attracts a growing number of visitors to studios, wine bars and restaurants. It takes place from November to June. In March, a week-long celebration honors the town’s patron, St. Joseph.
The triumvirate of San José del Cabo, Cabo San Lucas and the hotel corridor make up the Los Cabos municipality of Baja California Sur. The state famously borders the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Ocean.
Baja California — the other state on the Baja Peninsula — borders the U.S. at Tijuana. Though largely shunned by U.S. visitors in the past decade or so, Tijuana bears another look. That’s the advice of Stephanie Schneiderman, founder of the boutique operator Tia Stephanie Tours.
Schneiderman was named a Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist: Cultural Immersion, Mexico in the December 2016 issue. In 2015, her “Day of the Dead in Michoacán” tour was selected as a National Geographic “Trip of a Lifetime.”
For 2017, Tia Stephanie Tours is offering “The Big Three” Culinary Journeys. Focusing on the Yucatan and Oaxaca as well as Baja California, the tours spotlight the distinctive landscapes, influences and tastes of each region.
The “Flavors and Landscapes of Baja California” tour begins in Tijuana, where a surprising urban renewal has taken place.
“What happened with Tijuana is that when the Americans abandoned it, the Mexicans claimed it as their own. They made it in their own image and it’s become a dynamic and culturally-relevant destination,” said Schneiderman.
The city that gave the world the Caesar salad is now home to an important culinary school and the burgeoning Baja Med-style cuisine. Foodies in-the-know make pilgrimages there for trendy restaurants, craft brews and even ultra-hip gastro parks lined with food trucks.
Additional attractions include the Museum of the Americas, which traces the history of the region.
Tia Stephanie’s tour continues to Tecate and Mexico’s famous wine region. Also on the itinerary are Ensenada and Rosarito, renown for lobster and the original Margarita.
“One of the things this tour does is to educate travelers that Baja is a big land mass comprised of two different states. We go into the epicenter of Mexico’s wine producing region and people are amazed. Most of the time people think of the green hills of Sonoma or Europe when they thing of wine country. This isn’t like that at all. It’s ocean and rugged mountains, filled with fantastic wineries and al fresco restaurants,” Schneiderman tells Travel Agent.
The “Culture and Cuisine of The Yucatan” tour begins in Merida and continues to Campeche City. In addition to sampling unique “Yucatecan cuisine,” the tour visits local markets, cenotes and renowned Maya sites.
“Maize, Molé & Mezcal: Traditions and Flavors of Oaxaca” is one of Tia Stephanie’s newest tours.
“We find the best mezcálerias and hole-in-the- wall places known for having the best molés. We try to go to the less obvious places and find the hidden gems,” said Schneiderman.
“There’s a very specific reason we focus on culinary travel with these three tours. We felt that all of them speak to the great diversity of Mexico as reflected by its geographic differences. Mexico is one of those destinations that never fails to surprise.”