One&Only Palmilla is a never-get-bored luxury resort at the sharp end of the Baja California peninsula, right where the desert meets the deep blue sea. It’s a fine fit for families, with all-day activities from kids' club to kayaking, but it’s a grown-up getaway too, with tequila tastings at the bar and top-grade wagyu on the menu at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s celebrated restaurant, Seared. The whitewashed casitas are plushly kitted out in contemporary Mexican style, but with infinity pools, spa cabanas, and a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course on your doorstep, you might be about to become a whole lot more outdoorsy.
Get this when you book through us:
Two $50 USD spa certificates to be redeemed for any 80-minute ESPA Signature Experience Service
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 1pm.
Double rooms from £974.68 ($1,341), including tax at 34 per cent.
Rates include daily breakfast for two at Agua or Breeze, butler service, movement classes and non-motorised watersports.
The resort has had more than a sprinkling of celebrity stardust over the years. The original 1950s hotel played host to Ernest Hemingway, John Wayne and President Eisenhower. Since the refurb and relaunch in 2004, Tom Cruise has been here to befriend the local whales, and John Travolta has thrown his one and only 50th birthday bash within. Book in for a tequila-tasting session and get to know your añejo from your reposado. Some tequilas are sippers rather than shooters, would you believe?
At the hotel
Four restaurants, two bars, two swimming pools, private beach, spa and gym, golf course, tennis courts, free WiFi throughout, laundry service, butler service, valet parking. In rooms: private terrace with a daybed, TV and DVD player, minibar, free bottled water, tea- and coffee-making facilities, air-conditioning, Lady Primrose bath products. Suites and villas include daily fresh fruit and snacks, and a welcome tequila on arrival.
Our favourite rooms
For a secluded swim, go for an Ocean Front Junior Suite with Plunge Pool, and dry off (and doze off) on the ocean-facing terrace day-bed. Or supersize that, with a Pool Casita Suite: your private infinity pool has a panorama over Turtle Beach and the breakers beyond, and you get a private butler thrown in (to the deal, not the pool).
‘Agua’ is an elegantly sculpted infinity pool looking over the azure blue sea; there’s a children’s splash pool to one side of the main family zone. ‘Vista’ is a tranquil oasis for grown-ups only, and there’s a swim-up bar for good measures.
Private spa villas are nestled into secluded tropical gardens, along with a sauna, steam room and gym. The tantalising treatment menu runs the gamut from shaman-led ancient healing rituals to Bastien Gonzales pedicures and Barber and Blade grooming treatments for men. The outdoor relaxation areas include a tranquil yoga garden; personal training and a range of fitness classes are also available.
A waterproof video camera, for capturing surfing thrills and skills.
Unfortunately the resort is not well-suited to wheelchair users.
Any pets under 18kg (40lbs) are very welcome; there’s a charge of $50 a night and beds, bowls and toys can be provided. Pet-sitting and dog-walking can be arranged by your butler; toys, life-vests and cabanas are available on request. See more pet-friendly hotels in Los Cabos.
All ages are welcome, and extra beds and cots (both free for under-12s, $75 a night for those 12-and-over) can be added to all rooms.
Up to tweens, but there’s stacks to do for all ages.
The Grand and Premier suites can be buddied up with others to make a large, interconnected family base. For the ultimate in space and seclusion, go for Villa Cortez, a four-bedroom retreat behind a private gate.
Kids club HQ is the mock treehouse and playground, but many of the activity sessions take place in the pool. 4-11 year olds can enlist in KidsOnly; there’s a separate programme for 12-16 year olds. Aside from the main pool, there’s a paddling pool for even littler’uns, generous lawns for garden games, and indoor play rooms with art materials, toys and Xbox video games.
The main pool ‘Agua’ has an integrated waterfall and river separating the children’s pool from the one with all the pesky adults.
All the restaurants give children a warm welcome, and a hot dinner if they ask nicely; there are separate children’s menus at each, and highchairs, boosters and bibs can be borrowed if required.
Vetted babysitters are $25 an hour; in peak holiday season the rate is $40 an hour for one child and $50 an hour for two children. Book with at least a day’s notice if possible.
No need to pack
The potty, beach bags, books, or soft toys (except their favourite ones, of course). Pushchairs are available to wheel princes and princesses around the grounds, and toddler backpacks if it’s about time they carried their fair share, godammit.
There’s a lifeguard to keep an eye on Pelican Beach.
No matter which restaurant, you can’t beat a seaview. Go along earlier in the day and bagsy a seat for dinner.
Dress up for Seared and Suviche, dress down everywhere else.
There’s a quartet to choose from, each with their own appetising appeal. Michelin-starred Jean-Georges Vongerichten and executive chef Eric Scianimanico are the masterminds behind Seared, where 15 cuts of top-grade wagyu and Kobe tomahawk steak stand out in an all-star cast of the finest food and wine. Suviche is a sushi and seafood spectacular; consult the sake sommelier for recommended pairings. Agua by Larbi is an open-air alternative, serving field-to-fork Mexican dishes with a side of spectacular sea views; consider yourself warned, the guacamole bar is about to be raised. For lazy lunchtimes by the pool, bright and beachside Breeze is the go-to for salads, sandwiches and gloriously gooey quesadillas; the organic herbs used in dishes are picked straight from the kitchen garden.
Agua Bar is in a large, open-walled palapa hut overlooking the sea and the glassy infinity pools. Kids are welcome at all times, and it serves up cocktails, bar snacks, and a damn good sunset. By night, live musicians play Mexican melodies in the warm glow of candle-lantern light. The One&Only Lounge is the top spot for a pre- or post- dinner cocktail, and you can wave-watch in the shelter of arched floor-to-ceiling windows. For a gulp of sea air, head out to the One&Only Terrace, where lanterns and fire pits are dotted among the plump patterned armchairs.
All-day dining can be brought to your room round the clock. Customised private dining experiences are also available on request.
One&Only Palmilla is wedged between the desert and the Sea of Cortez, right at the tip of the Baja California peninsula. It’s a ten-minute drive to the colonial town of San José del Cabo.
From Europe, you’ll need to stop at a North American hub before continuing on to Los Cabos airport (www.sjdloscabosairport.com). From there it’s 20 minutes by car to the hotel; take a cab, airport shuttle, or ask the hotel to arrange a transfer for up to four people by luxury SUV ($160 each way).
It’s a serious road trip from the US border at Tijuana; the 20-hour journey down Route 1 crosses two national parks and a whole lot of desert, but it’s not recommended unless you’re a fluent Spanish speaker and confident on Mexican roads. If you want the freedom to explore once you arrive, your best bet is to hire a car at the airport; there’s valet parking at the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
Pelican Beach is a white-sand strip below the hotel, with calm waters (unusual in Baja California); kayaks, paddleboards and snorkels are provided for exploring the bay. To hit the waves for real, dude, sign up to an excursion with hotel partner TropicSurf – there are trips to the nearby reef-break hotspot of Costa Azul, and farther-flung full-day trips to the East Cape; all the kit is provided and the surf is swell no matter your level. Back on dry land, book in for lessons or a friendly (or fierce) family match-up on the tennis courts, or play the trio of Jack Nicklaus-designed nine-hole golf courses. If all that sounds too much like hard work, try the Los Tamarindos organic farm tour, or join the artist in residence for family-friendly classes in collage, watercolour and sculpture.
Away from the resort, take a 10-minute drive up the coast to San José del Cabo and explore this centuries-old colonial town. The main square is a hive of activity on market days, with singers and street entertainers performing amid the stalls. The back streets are filled with laid-back restaurants, many with live bands at dinner time. For a daytrip, drive two hours north to the state capital La Paz and take a boat trip out to Isla Espíritu Santo; there are usually whales basking off the coast, and if you’re lucky the sea lions will invite you in for a dip.
At a lush oasis inland from San José, Flora Farm is the region’s most celebrated eatery. All kinds of organic produce are sown, grown, and rustled up into dishes for the Field Kitchen restaurant, including ricotta pancakes or huevos rancheros for brunch and thick-cut cauliflower steak or a herby wood-oven-roasted chicken for dinner. Sit outside on the garden patio, and at the Farm Bar don’t miss the heirloom carrot Farmarita or the Farm Julep, made with fresh-as-can-be watermelon juice. For a refined, fish-focused dinner with unrivalled views of the sweeping Monuments surf beach, head to Manta at The Cape. El Farallon at The Resort at Pedregal is the romantic pick; the tables are so close to the ocean you can feel the refreshing sea spray in the air.
If hearing the word ‘Cabo’ sends Señor Frog-inspired shivers down your spine, prepare yourself for a revelation – a stay at Mexican luxury hotel One&Only Palmilla is the opposite of a spring break foam party. Instead of yards of cocktails, there’s a seemingly endless private beach. And in place of hordes of 19-year-olds, there are well-behaved groups of, well, all varieties but that one: young families, retired lovebirds, girl groups, thirty-something couples. (My husband and I fall into the latter category.) Everyone seems to have one thing in common: a wholehearted embrace of their destination’s high-end, low-pressure attitude – as embodied by the hotel mascot, a slow-moving, serene-looking tortoise named Priscilla. Here, the only pressing matter is relaxation.
We fall lazily into line almost immediately after arrival. We turn up at the hotel before our room is ready — well, we did catch a 6am flight — and are whisked off to a restaurant (one of many at the property) where we’re served fresh, jet lag-beating fish tacos while we admire the view of the pool, swim-up bar and the ocean just beyond. Yes, we could get used to this – and we do, in less than six minutes.
We’re then shown to our room, and it immediately becomes clear that this place will be hard to leave. The inviting whitewashed space includes a palatial bathroom with a stone rain shower and a deep bath tub, rugs that are at once cosy and not too heavy for the warm weather, and ceramics aplenty; but it’s the balcony that elicits a sharp intake of breath from both of us. The view: palm trees, crashing waves, a hammock on the lawn below. The set-up: a café table – yes, we’ll take our breakfast here, thank you very much – and a day-bed, plenty big for two, that serves as a good excuse for me to escape from the sun for a few hours, in the shade with a book.
Our butler conducts our introductory tour; he’s eager to help us make the most of our two-night stay: he drops off a running map after I enquire about jogging paths; he gives us a comprehensive run-down on the cocktail-hour snacks (dried hibiscus and rosemary pistachios)… Giddy with expectation, we crack open the free tequila left in the room to toast what’s shaping up to be an epic long weekend. Then we walk the three minutes to Pelican Beach, securing a decked-out cabana, with bottles of water and a cooling facial mist at the ready.
A few hours later, it becomes clear that we won’t be departing the grounds for dinner, so I place a call to Agua by Larbi, an open-air restaurant a stone’s throw from our casita that charms us with its beet-and-tomatillo salad and A+ service. When we return – full and happy – to our room, we hunt for constellations in the night sky along the way. We find our bathroom lit with candles, and there’s an aromatherapy menu on a nightstand suggesting we pick a scent for the following evening – a lovely touch, even if we had already reached maximum tranquility.
The next morning, we vow to take full advantage of the One&Only experience: we eat huevos rancheros and chilaquiles on our terrace for breakfast and head to the sand where I – admittedly not much of an ocean junkie – embrace the ultra-clear water (and the cushy sunloungers with extra pillows to rest your legs on) for some serious sun-and-sand time. We borrow one of the gratis kayaks for what I tell myself is an arm workout, to excuse the rest of the day’s laziness. When the heat of the afternoon hits, we make our way to the spa for 150 minutes of uninterrupted dreaminess: a couple’s massage followed by tea and chocolate-dipped apricots and a soak in a bath nestled in a lush, private courtyard.
After all that calm, I want to continue the trend and snuggle up with a book in that day-bed of ours while my husband hits the property’s second swimming-hole, a family pool so sprawling that he never feels hindered by a game of Marco Polo. We reconvene at awe-inspiring, ‘is this real’ Acre restaurant for dinner. It’s hidden away, along winding dirt roads – my only regret is not accepting the One&Only staff’s offer of directions.
The next day is our last, so we wake up early to make the most of it; we take coffee and our morning meal outside again while we can and laugh at the bright-yellow birds looking for their share of omelettes and pats of butter. My husband heads to a surf lesson – his first and definitely not his last – and I go for a run (thanks again for that map!) and then laze on a beach chair until it’s time to say goodbye to this gloriousness, and my new life-coach tortoise Priscilla.