Raise the Flag – LCM #45 Winter 2017

Raise the Flag

Why three Los Cabos beaches are a cut above the rest

By Chris Sands • Photos by Joseph A. Tyson


Raise the Flag - LCM #45 Winter 2017
Chileno Bay

Los Cabos is paradise for beach lovers, with dozens of gorgeous, golden-sand-covered shoreline stretches featuring spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortés, as well as world-class conditions for water-based activities like swimming, snorkeling, and surfing.

Only three of these beautiful beaches, however, are permitted to fly a blue flag.

The Blue Flag program was the brainchild of the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), a nonprofit organization that began in Europe in the 1980s but now consists of more than 60 member countries around the world. The list of Blue Flag beaches is updated each year, with prospective playas required to meet and maintain stringent environmental standards for cleanliness, water quality, safety, services, and sustainability.

There are now 26 Blue Flag beaches in México, but only four on the Baja California Peninsula: the recently certified El Coromuel in La Paz; and Chileno, Palmilla, and Santa María beaches in the 20-mile Tourist Corridor that connects cape cities Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo. The three Los Cabos beaches share several convenient and Blue Flag–mandated features, including palapa-shaded beach areas, paved parking lots, public toilets, recycling containers, handicap access, informative signs, and—a rarity in México—lifeguards.

But a checklist of Blue Flag amenities only hints at the experience of visiting one of these elite seaside destinations. Here’s a brief overview of the highlights at all three.

Playa Santa María (Santa María Beach)


Raise the Flag - LCM #45 Winter 2017
Santa María Beach

Where: km 12.5 on the Tourist Corridor

FEE has no aesthetic guidelines, but visitors to any of the local Blue Flag beaches will encounter scenes of breathtaking natural beauty. That’s certainly true at Playa Santa María, a horseshoe-shaped stunner bounded by elevated outcroppings that protect the enclosed bay (in reality, little more than a cove). The crystalline waters within are home to a marine sanctuary teeming with colorful tropical fish, and Bahia Santa María is a popular anchor-dropping destination for local snorkel tours. A construction project is currently in progress on the Cabo San Lucas side of the bay, and a 39-acre property called Montage Los Cabos is expected to open in 2018.

Bahía Chileno (Chileno Bay)


Where: km 14.5 on the Tourist Corridor

Chileno has always been a favorite of locals, as much for its enormous expanse of immaculate golden sand as its picturesque bay, in which small clustered rock formations provide a vivid visual counterpoint to a dozen shades of dazzling blue water. Large crowds bask en masse every weekend, but Chileno also gets busy during weekday afternoons, when families drop by after work. As at neighboring Santa María, swimming and snorkeling are extremely safe (this, too, is a favorite of tour boats), although beachgoers will need to bring their own masks and fins. Construction is also under way at Playa Chileno, with the new Chileno Bay Resort and Residences development scheduled to be completed by the end of 2016.

Raise the Flag - LCM #45 Winter 2017
The water conditions at Playa Palmilla are absolutely perfect.

Playa Palmilla (Palmilla Beach)


Where:  km 27.5 (at the Palmilla exit) on the Tourist Corridor

There’s a reason the 2.4-mile swim portion of the annual Ironman Los Cabos triathlon is held in the waters off Playa Palmilla. The water conditions are absolutely perfect. That’s why local fishermen still launch here, and why in the old days, area ranchers would load their cattle from Punta Palmilla, swimming them out tied to pangasto hoist on to transport ships lying just offshore. The scenery is magnificent: sea and sky seeming to merge beyond the rocky point in a vast canvas composed of every hue and tint of blue imaginable. Palmilla Beach is open to the public (as all Mexican beaches are by law), but is most conveniently accessible for guests at One&OnlyPalmilla, long considered one of the region’s benchmark ultra-luxury resorts.

It should be noted that the safety and service standards required of Blue Flag beaches necessarily translates to rather numerous regulations: no camping, no bonfires, and no pets except guide dogs, to name but a few. There are also no boisterous seaside restaurants and cantinas, although those seeking buckets of ice-cold cervezas and dog-friendly frisbee spots can always head to Mango Deck (www.mangodeckcabo.com) and the “anything goes” atmosphere of Médano Beach in Cabo San Lucas.