The latter part of the 16th century was the golden age of piracy in the waters off Cabo San Lucas. But treasure tales and rare red-headed locals with English surnames aren’t the only legacy of Cabo San Lucas’ piratical past. Pirate-themed bars, restaurants and cruises are scattered around the marina, the most notable attraction being the Buccaneer Queen.
Spain, at the height of her colonial power, had established the lucrative Manila – Acapulco Galleon Trade to ferry gold, silver, spices and other valuable resources across the Pacific Ocean. Ships plying this lucrative route used the Arch at Land’s End in Cabo San Lucas as a navigational aid, taking on fresh water at nearby San José del Cabo before sailing down the coast to Acapulco.
These treasure-laden ships were prized by Dutch and English privateers, and since the granitic monuments at the southernmost point of Cabo San Lucas provided perfect cover for lurking freebooters, the bay was infested with pirate ships.
Sir Thomas Cavendish sunk the supposedly invincible galleon Santa Ana in 1578, liberating a fortune in gold and silver in the process. According to local legend, much of this booty was buried along the coast, and it remains hidden to this day in secluded coves and inlets.
98-foot pirate replica ship Buccaneer Queen offers swashbuckling sunset and snorkel sails — Photo courtesy of Buccaneer Queen
That age's legacy lives on in Los Cabos, thanks to the 98-foot replica ship Buccaneer Queen, whose salty captain and scurvy crew lead swashbuckling snorkel and sunset sails that recall Cabo’s piratical past.
The black flag-flying replica ship would have looked rather common in the days of the Spanish Main, but with her crow’s nest and elevated poop deck, she stands out in modern-day Los Cabos.
Buccaneer Queen, with its decorative yellow sails and costumed crew, boasts some of the best family-friendly tours in the area, including swashbuckling snorkel, sunset, luau and whale-watching cruises.
Buccaneer Queen’s cruises are less historical reenactment than the good-natured Pirates of the Caribbean-style camp. But the cruising route – a slow, photo-friendly pass around Land’s End that features up-close looks at local landmarks like Pelican Rock, Neptune’s Finger, Lover’s Beach, the Window to the Pacific and El Arco ("The Arch") – offers a glimpse at the backdrop for so many long-ago sea battles.
Chileno Bay, site of the ship’s snorkel tours, is another spectacular setting. As one might expect, plank walking precedes plunging into the bay’s vividly colorful, fish-rich waters. En route, guests are often treated to the sight of flying mobula rays or, seasonally, the dramatic breaching of humpback whales.
Most tours are designed to appeal to both children and adults. Kids will love the sword fights and rope swinging engaged in by the salty crew. Adults will appreciate tropical cocktails at the open bar, and the all-you-can-eat Mexican buffet.
The recently launched luau cruise combines many of Buccaneer Queen’s signature pleasures: a guided tour around Land’s End, abundant food and beverage, snorkel time in Chileno Bay and a chance to see a few of the thousands of whales that travel through the area each year on the way to their winter breeding grounds.
For sheer beauty and romance, however, it’s hard to beat the boat’s traditional sunset sail. Seeing the sky turn blood red as the sun descends beyond Land’s End is an experience that must have melted even the hardened hearts of 16th-century pirates. Young adults and spring breakers may also enjoy the ship’s after-dark weekend cruises.