First, to answer the palm-tree question, with a metaphorical nod to Francis Scott Key: I saw by the dawn’s early light Tuesday that plenty of tropical-green fronds continue to wave over Los Cabos. Hurricane Odile didn’t blow them all to Phoenix.
But along the roughly 8- or 9-mile stretch of beach where Odile did her damndest, neither is it tough to spot forlorn palm stumps, as well as a bunch of hotels that remain in a heap of trouble. “Heap” being the operable term. Some are still a mess.
That said, it’s also true that storm recovery is well along in this crowded, rapidly developing tourist zone at the tip of the Baja peninsula. Most hotels either never closed or have reopened since the September storm rampaged ashore with winds up to 125 mph. Of the roughly 14,000 hotel rooms in the area stretching from Cabo San Lucas to San Jose del Cabo (collectively known as Los Cabos), about 10,000 are taking guests now, with a bang-up pace of bookings, I learned in a visit with Julieta Hernandez Vargas, commercial director of the Los Cabos Tourism Board.
But I was surprised to discover that the sprawling Holiday Inn Resort where I stayed Monday night, which reopened about three weeks ago, was only half repaired (most hotel websites are very vague about damages, if they share such information at all). As I explored the grounds, the beach’s booming surf and the honking of waterfowl from an adjacent estuary competed with the nearby whine of power drills and the chug of heavy equipment. A mountain of broken palm trunks and trashed bits of building fronted the construction zone, some of it veiled by a fence of canvas and burlap.
The optimistic picture painted by some Los Cabos-backers didn’t prepare me for the devastation I saw as I spent the day tramping beaches and driving from resort to resort, ranging from the Grand Mayan, once an elegant showplace on the beach and now mostly a windowless hulk, to the boldly modern Westin Resort & Spa Los Cabos, situated near the epicenter of the hurricane’s fury (the eye is believed to have passed over El Tule, a surfing beach a few miles west of the Westin, putting the hotel in the storm’s most dangerous quadrant).
“It breaks my heart to see the very bad damages there,” said Hernandez Vargas, who came to the cape 20 years ago to help open the Westin.
TripAdvisor’s No. 1-rated lodging in Los Cabos, the high-end Las Ventanas al Paraiso, is on the same stretch of seafront. Rosewood Hotels, the parent company, turned down my request for a tour to see how repairs are coming. The best guess: It can’t be pretty.
The economic bright spot is that Los Cabos hotels that are open are registering a 15 to 20 percent increase in occupancy over this time last year, Hernandez Vargas said.
“The services, the restaurants, the golf courses are open,” she said, including two courses that debuted in December: a Jack Nicklaus Signature course built within Quivira, a 1,850-acre residential community along the Pacific coastline, and Mexico’s first Tiger Woods-designed course, at Diamante, another oceanfront development. She also noted that Los Cabos International Airport set a record with more than 70 flights arriving in one day in December.
For the robust numbers Los Cabos has to thank people like Chris and Sahra, from Salmon Arm, B.C., two first-time visitors I met at the Holiday Inn who didn’t let the hurricane damage keep them home.
“We researched this place carefully and we knew what had happened,” Sahra said. “I was eager to come soon. They need visitors here to survive.”
More from Los Cabos:
- For visitors, there’s rough side and smooth after Los Cabos hurricane
- Has Los Cabos recovered from its hurricane? We’re on the way to find out
- More Baja blog entries.