There’s one daily flight from LAX to TPC Danzante Bay at the Islands of Loreto on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Everyone on board is excited and it feels like a Loreto family. The woman sitting next to me is professing her love for the area — so much so she’s a homeowner there. Of all the oceanfront places in the world, why Loreto? I’m determined to find out.
Just 300 miles/482 kilometers south of the U.S. border and 700 miles/1,127 kilometers north of Cabo, is the sublime Villa Del Palmar Spa & Resort, home of TPC’s newest addition Danzante Bay. We touch down, and the rugged, western terrain looks like we’re in an old John Wayne film. My heart is exploding with anticipation as we walk under the hot sun towards the charmingly small airport surrounded by cacti. It’s a 30-minute drive to the resort. The sleepy, desert town is untouched with only one stop light.
Arriving at Villa Del Palmar, we are greeted by smiling, excited faces and watermelon sangria. I am already over the moon with this secret escape. As you enter into the gates of heaven, your eyes are instantly drawn to the serene pool area clothed in skyscraping palm trees and tiki huts, which we will later learn are home to some of the world’s tastiest cocktails. The resort features three restaurants, five swimming pools, pristine beaches, rooftop tennis courts, hiking trails, kayaks and sport fishing.
I have explored Mexico many times before, but I can already tell Loreto is unlike anywhere else. Energy is in the air, the people are happy and the resort is buzzing because it happens to be Mexican Fest Chef Week. Our first stop is a lively Tex-Mex barbecue beach party hosted by Top Celebrity Chef Showdown winner Kevin Des Chenes. Sand in his toes, Chef Kevin is in the “beach kitchen” cooking up fresh sea bass caught earlier today.
At the party, a husband and wife having drinks there spark my interest. They seem so in their element and at home in this tranquil utopia. A few aromatic Sauvignon Blancs later, I learn they visited the unspoiled resort seven years prior and return each and every spring. But why? She explains it feels like home. The staff, the locals and the guests make it a family and once you visit, you are always part of it.
The following morning is time to hit the links at TPC Danzante Bay, a Rees Jones design. Before my tee time, I check out the practice facilities which include a range, short game area and a nine-hole putting course inspired by St. Andrew’s Himalayas. There are 11 ocean facing holes near the resort’s hotel and seven nestled into the canyon floor including the infamous 17th, a short par-three on the cliff-side of the Sea of Cortez. The diamond mow pattern on the fairways is a lovely touch. The elevated tee overlooking the sea is engaging and intimidating, yet breathtaking.
Jackrabbits hop around the outskirts of the fairway as we cruise the cactus-lined cart path scattered with prickly pears and jagged cliffs. The area resembles a dusty, tropical Arizona — throughout the course are delightful aromas from the indigenous vegetation. This course has something for everyone, it’s playable, diverse, and dramatic all at the same time. Post round, I head to the Spa at Villa Del Palmar to de-stress from all the golf balls I gracefully offered the course.
The rest of the afternoon is free, I decide to be adventurous. The beach at Villa Del Palmar offers just about anything you think of: fishing, stand up paddle boarding or kayaking the calm waters of the Sea of Loreto. On my voyage into the crystal-clear water, I can’t help but notice the prodigious cliffs lining the gulf. I’m mesmerized by the depth and vastness of the ocean. I spot a man floating in the water, bouncing up and down. I pray he’s not in trouble and as I approach the merman I discover his intentions – he’s holding a bag. Inside are dozens of chocolate clams, named for their color not relating to the taste of chocolate, I know I was hopeful for a sweet surprise too.
Together, the clam man and I get back to the beach. Our first stop is a visit with my new bartender friend David Ortiz. We shuck open a fresh clam and dress it solely with a little salt and hot sauce. The clam, still very much alive, danced before it shot down my throat.
The evening’s dinner is hosted by Top Chef’s very own, Betty Fraser who is co-owner and executive chef of the popular Hollywood hot spot, the Grub Restaurant. On the menu is, you guessed it, chocolate clams served with flavorful shrimp and spices. Also, on the menu, a light and fresh sea bass dish and beef with a tasty green mojo verde sauce. It’s a delicious end to the day.
The day begins on a boat near islands in the Sea of Cortez, the area was famously dubbed “Aquarium of the Sea” by Jacques Cousteau with 900 species of fish there. The crystal-clear waters provide easy visibility to spot stingrays, colorful parrot fish, angel fish and playful dolphins who trail the boat’s wake. Interestingly, this is called wake-riding. The dolphins take fun in body surfing with the boats.
Back at the resort, the bartender and I meet again. Today, he shares his most popular cocktail, the “Easy Go Down Drink.” How did it get this name? You can guess after hearing the ingredients. He mixes tequila, triple sec, rum, vodka, and gin then hits it with a bit of pineapple, orange juice, and grenadine topped off with an orange slice, “after this drink, you go down easy.”
The grand finale of Mexican Fest Chef Week is hosted by David Fuerte, CEO and Founder of Made for Chefs. David’s dishes are inspired by his immense travel abroad and childhood in the ranches of Mexico where he first discovered his love and appreciation for food. To start, we indulge in a scrumptious smoked panela with citrus pinot and Mexican chocolate. The second course, and my personal favorite is a divine duck confit on a bed of micro kale and fire roasted honey beets topped with a hoisin guava vinaigrette. The flavors explode and we’re all thankful for this food.
The magic continues, and we cleanse our palate with a guanabana champagne shooter. A guanabana is a delightful Spanish fruit best described as a mix between an apple and a strawberry with a touch of citrus. The fourth course is a decadent beef confit under a black bean mole with a mix of vegetables and baby arugula. A date capirotada topped with white chocolate mousse, sprinkled with banana bread dust and roasted nuts completes the menu which is worthy of a standing ovation.
As my time at Danzante Bay comes to an end, I remember the delicious food, cocktails poured with love and special new friends. I think back to the loyal guests of Danzante Bay and now understand the undeniable fixation to this untouched paradise. Danzante Bay truly boasts every element; the desert, the ocean, the mountains, and mostly, the feeling of being alive. I too am mesmerized. Remember the woman I sat next to on the flight in? Now I understand her love for the Islands of Loreto, I feel the same way.
Katie Kearney’s a St. Louis native and has the 2012 Miss Missouri crown to prove it. Her favorite person to play golf with is dad, ribs are her favorite food and tropical house music is the choice genre on the golf course. When she’s not teeing it up with her beloved set of Callaways on assignment for World’s Best Golf Destinations – she’s a model and owns and operates Strings Swimwear. Follow Katie on Instagram: here