At the entrance to the low-slung, beachside Montage Los Cabos, a thick-trunked Torote tree brandishes its anthropomorphic limbs in robust swirls, as if it were a shaman, frozen in motion, while performing the gestures to accompany an age-old incantation. When I enter the hotel for the first time, transfixed, I can almost hear the tree speak to me.
Apparently, the designers of the Spa at Montage Los Cabos felt the same. Inspired by the tree, known to be sacred and medicinal to native people, the new resort’s visionaries let it lead their concept for their state-of-the-art wellness center—one of the biggest on the peninsula. They also drew ideology from the Mexican Tree of Life, an icon that dates back to the old mythologies of the Mesoamerican people, as well as playing a significant role in other ancient cultures around the world. In Mexico, later used by the Catholics during colonization to teach Bible stories, the Tree of Life initially was considered part of the axis mundi—that is, the mythical passageway between heaven and earth; or, the meeting place where four compass points, or cardinal directions, connect. As a metaphor for a spa, that idea suggests a sanctum, a place to shed the unneeded, in order to renew—a place for reflection, prayer, and affirmation.
Perhaps a spa’s greatest gift is the proffering of a choice—simple relaxation or the possibility of something more—that is, a shove down the path to self-realization.
During a rainy afternoon in the partially alfresco spa compound (a 40,000 square-foot expanse that manages to feel unexpectedly intimate), I gaze up from a lounge chair through the open roof and am treated to views of angry, dark clouds in motion. Like the clearing of a universal throat, the sky sends forth thunder. Spidery webs of electric light feather the firmament. In a real sense, I feel I’m seated in the axis mundi. As I wait for my spa treatment to begin, I have the sensation of pausing at a spiritual wait station before embarking on a personal journey to dig deeper into my within.
Created with Mexican folklore as its guide, the spa digs deeply into local traditions, from plants to rituals. Paying homage to its location in Baja California’s desert, it cleverly utilizes local customs, and indigenous herbs and plants, such as agave and sage, for its treatments. A Mezcal Massage uses an oil, infused on property with mezcal for a curative muscle unwinder; while a Baja Desert Cocoon treatment soothes sun-soaked skin with terrain-grown healers, such as lavender. Possibly, the most magical moment is when I watch a sunrise on the resort’s ample lawn with a shaman, the Sea of Cortez a collage of colors before us. In a long-established ritual, complete with chanting, burning copal (the smoky incense derived from tree sap, which early people considered sacred), flowers, and the sounds of breaking waves, I receive a blessing that feels fortifying and true.
While swanky, lording over one of the area’s only swimmable beaches (known for its snorkeling), Montage Los Cabos keeps things earthy in spirit across its 39 acres. Its minimalist design both melds into the desert and enhances it as a flower on a cactus adorns a succulent. Neither gauche nor overdone, as some five-star hotels can be, this one feels honest and truthful—as close to nature as a resort can be—and, at the same time, as home-like as your wealthy college roommate’s parent’s casual beachside compound. Three pools, set in tiers, channel something labyrinthine as if they appear to connect in swirls, descending down a hill which leads to the sea. Two restaurants, one a fancy waterside cabana, offer views of pounding waves. Behind, a mountainous desert landscape wraps around the hotel, which is girded on two sides by unearthly promontories. Spacious suites, stately villas, stellar service, water sports, and a key location along Los Cabos’ Golden Corridor stand out as added benefits.
Perhaps a spa’s greatest gift is the proffering of a choice—simple relaxation or the possibility of something more—that is, a shove down the path to self-realization. At Montage Los Cabo’s Spa, an open door subtly invites you to dig deeper both into Mexico’s healing culture and to yourself. No matter how you choose to spend your time at Montage’s first retreat across the border, you’ll return home renewed. — montagehotels.com/loscabos
Becca Hensley is Editor at Large for Insider's Guide to Spas. Based in Austin, she writes regularly about travel and spas. She believes a good story draws you in like laughter in a crowded room, and challenges you to do it justice. Her work appears regularly in Austin Monthly, Travel Channel, Toronto Star and National Geographic Traveler.