Not every day in Cabo San Lucas has to be spent fishing, golfing, shopping, or lounging on the local beaches. San Lucas can't match the colonial heritage of San Jose del Cabo, but the town does boast a rich history that encompasses more than 10,000 years of human habitation. Turns out there is more to Cabo than margaritas on Medano Beach. No need to worry, though. History is never boring when pirates are involved, and visiting some of the town's historical places of interest can be both a fun and rewarding way to spend a day here.
The original inhabitants of Los Cabos were the Pericu Indians. Culturally extinct for about 250 years now, the Pericues, like many North American tribes, faired poorly in their contacts with European colonizers. Although Baja had been sighted and explored by the Spanish in the 1530s, permanent settlements weren't founded until the Jesuits arrived on the peninsula in 1697. Nicolas Tamaral was the most important early figure among the Jesuits in Los Cabos, a priest dedicated to converting the Pericues and developing local missions.
The Iglesia de San Lucas is one of Cabo's most important historical structures — Photo courtesy of Chris Sands
There are several spots in Cabo San Lucas that recall the distant days of priests and Pericues. The Iglesia Catolica de San Lucas is the oldest building in town, and is among the few structures of any architectural or historical importance. Bilingual masses are held Sundays at noon, and for visiting Catholics, attending mass here provides an excellent introduction to local culture.
Across the town square from the old church there is a museum of natural history, Museo Cabo San Lucas. The museum charges no admission fees, and is a wonderful source for information about the area, from paleontology and marine biology to cultural anthropology. Visitors may even find out about Nicolas Tamaral's untimely end, and why it was ultimately an unsatisfying victory for the Pericues. The museum is a nice place to take the kids, and a good activities option on one of Cabo's rare rainy days.
Much of Los Cabos' importance during the Spanish colonial period was as a waypoint in the lucrative Manila Galleon Trade. This trade route was an economic mainstay of Spanish imperialism, and stretched from Manila to Acapulco, important ports in two of Spain's most valuable colonies. Ships bound for Acapulco used the Lands End rock formation in Cabo San Lucas as a navigational aid, taking on fresh water at San Jose del Cabo before proceeding down the Mexican coast. These galleons carried immense wealth, from precious gold and silver to exotic silks and spices. To attack and plunder these ships was seen as both profitable and patriotic by English privateers like Sir Francis Drake and Thomas Cavendish.
It's hard to miss the natural history museum; just look for the whale skeleton out front — Photo courtesy of Chris Sands
There is no better place to learn about the piratical history of Cabo San Lucas than aboard the topsail schooner Sunderland. Built in 1885, Sunderland is the oldest ship in Mexico, and one of the last of the legendary tall ships. The salty crew of this seagoing museum piece ensures that guests get their money's worth, with plenty of food, cocktails and sailing in the brisk winds outside the bay. The tour also offers a ton of interesting information about local landmarks and piratical history in the area, such as the time Cavendish and crew sacked the treasure-laden galleon Santa Ana.