Before Hernan Cortes and the Spanish arrived in Los Cabos, it was home to the Pericus, Amerindian hunter-gatherers. Evidence of their existence remains in the region’s cave paintings.
Cortes arrived in 1535 to establish a colony, but the harsh conditions made colonization a very slow process until 1730 when Father José Echeverría and Father Nicolás Tamaral founded a mission in what is now San José del Cabo. This date is considered the founding of the town, although a second ceremonial founding took place in 1822 when San José del Cabo was officially recognized as a town of the Baja California territory. By 1768, more missionaries arrived, but by that time diseases brought by the Europeans had devastated many of the indigenous people.
The Los Cabos area also was an important stop for Spanish ships, but the riches brought from Spain’s trade with Asia soon attracted pirates that plied the local waters.
After Mexico’s war for independence from Spain, the Baja Peninsula was the southern territory of the California province and Cabo San Lucas became the seat of government for the Los Cabos municipality. The area’s remoteness kept it out of active participation in most of Mexico’s 19th and early 20th century rebellions and wars. One exception was the Mexican American War in the mid-19th century when resistance to U.S. forces was organized in the small community of Santa Anita, near San José del Cabo. José Matías Moreno, Vicente Mejia and José Antonio Mijares, who was in charge of the marina at Cabo San Lucas, led the fighting. One of the main streets in Cabo San Lucas is named after Mijares, who died defending the town.
A U.S. company began tuna fishing operations in the Los Cabos area in 1917, which included a floating processing plant. By 1927, the Compañía de Productos Marinas based its operations in Cabo San Lucas and helped develop the port, which aided the area’s transition to tourism later.
With the exception of some fishermen from California who discovered the teeming waters off Los Cabos for deep sea sport fishing just after World War II, the area remained rural and undeveloped until the latter part of the 20th century when the area’s international airport was built about 10 miles north of San José del Cabo and Mexico’s National Tourism Fund FONATUR began to develop the area’s tourism potential. Cabo San Lucas quickly became an international tourism and cruise destination. Later, San José del Cabo was promoted for its art galleries and traditional Mexican character.
The current municipality of Los Cabos was separated from the municipality of La Paz in 1981, with the seat of government established at San José del Cabo.
Today, the small fishing villages of the Los Cabos area have grown to an estimated more than 300,000 people. The region now attracts more than 1 million visitors each year and employs nearly 40 percent of its population at local hotels and restaurants.