Los Cabos History

Los Cabos Mexico HistoryBaja Sur Indian Tribes

The early Spanish conquerors encountered three tribal groups, the Pericues, the Guaycuras and the Cochimies. The original Cape locals who inhabited the region as nomadic hunter-gatherers, who also fished extensively in the rich waters of the Sea of Cortez.

There are many places along Baja’s highways where you will see signs reading “pinturas rupestres” referring to prehistoric rock art or cave paintings. Baja is famous for its cave paintings, found throughout the entire length of the peninsula. Baja’s caves are similar to those hosting the “cliff dwellings” of the Pueblo Indians in the southwestern United States. Some are truly spectacular and depict human figures and animals. Some are as big as 30 feet in height and hundreds of feet in length. The most famous are found at Bahia de Los Angeles, San Ignacio, Mulege, and San Francisco de La Sierra.


In the 15th century, after 700 years of conflict with the Moors over conquest of the Iberian peninsula, Spain emerged as the most powerful nation in Europe. A succession of Spanish expeditions through the Caribbean region and into the Gulf of Mexico achieved the conquest of both Mexico and Central America. At first it was said that Spanish explorers concluded that Baja California was an enormous island and that the Sea of Cortez led to the Atlantic Ocean. There was extreme competition among the conquistadors.

Most famous of the conquistadors was Hernan Cortez, who himself directed four voyages from the mainland to “La California.” Angered by the failure of the first two expeditions he had dispatched, due to the tyrannical and mutineering nature of his competition, Cortez chose to lead the next effort himself. This was to be the only serious attempt to conquer and colonize the new land until 162 years later. In May 1535 Cortez landed at Bahia de La Paz and named it Santa Cruz. There he found evidence of the Jimenez mutineers and the pearls they had reported to have found. After a year of failure to successfully colonize the area, making no effort to raise crops – sadly, many of the colonists died of starvation. Cortez returned to Mexico and shortly thereafter ordered the others to follow. The Baja peninsula was not to be settled by Europeans for more than 150 years after the era of Cortez.


The Spanish Jesuit missionaries who came to spread religion to the indigenous peoples of Baja California did so with various levels of brutality and success. A number of  missions were established along the Baja Peninsula, among them: Misión Santa Rosalía de Mulegé (1705), Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó (1697), Nuestra Señora del Pilar de la Paz (1733) and Misión Estero de las Palmas de San José del Cabo Añuití (1730). In 1734, the Pericú Revolt at San José del Cabo resulted in the death of missionary Nicolás Tamaral. This event is depicted in a tile mural in the facade of the lovely old church that anchors the traditional town square in San José del Cabo.


Thomas Cavendish was one of the early buccaneers to base his operations in the Cabo San Lucas area. In 1587 he attacked the Spanish galleon Santa Ana, which was loaded with silk and gold, right off the Cape. This infuriated the Spaniards who were fed up with the pirates who had been roaming the waters. At this point, King Philip of Spain decided to establish a small fortress at the very end of the Cape, also functioning as a strategic base. He hoped this would rid the seas of English pirates. This increased the Spanish interest in Baja and exploration of the entire area began to take place. Settlements were established all along the coast, and pearls were discovered in the Sea of Cortez. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, however, Cabo San Lucas remained largely undeveloped.


In the mid-twentieth century, Cabo San Lucas was still a quiet and sleepy fishing village. The area became known by a small group of fishermen from the United States for its amazing marlin fishing. Prior to the construction of the Transpeninsular Highway and the availability of international flights, a few hardy (and wealthy) visitors would make their way to Baja Sur in private airplanes and yachts. Word soon got out about the incredible weather, pristine beaches and legendary fishing. The last quarter of the twentieth century saw a boom in development in Los Cabos which continues today. Now, Cabo is know for its luxury resorts, hot nightlife, gourmet dining, and palatial vacation homes in addition to its natural beauty.