CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico -- While the rest of Mexico is in turmoil, the good times keep on rollin' at Cabo San Lucas.

Landing at the tourist destination at the very southern tip of Baja California, it seems like you're in a parallel world. Here's an Applebee's, a downtown mall, a Home Depot and pristine beaches as far as you can see.

With only 4 percent unemployment, Cabo is safe compared to much of the rest of the country. And there are myriads of recreational activities, from snorkeling with the dolphins to zip lining over the foamy waves of the Sea of Cortez, but there also are unexplored areas to visit.

Highlights could be a jaunt to the quaint town of Todos Saltos, about 45 miles from Cabo and the location of the Eagles' song "Hotel California." Or, even better, take a back-country trip down rough river beds and dirt roads that are frequented by burros, cows, goats, chipmunks, snakes, iguanas, pigs, horses and exotic birds like the peregrine, Mexican hawk and eagle. One such trail -- the old road to La Paz -- passes the tiny village of La Calenderia, the home of 75 people who enjoy electricity only twice a day -- two hours in the morning and two hours at night. The neighborhood was offered a full-time connection but refused, reportedly arguing that it would seduce the children into watching television all day.

In this town sits an immaculate little church, profuse plumeria trees and friendly residents.

If you take one of these side trips you'll need a sturdy crossover utility vehicle like the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport or the KIA Sportage to make it through the sand traps and Mars-like terrain.

Of the 110 species of cactus on the peninsula, you'll easily spot the elephant, barrel and nopal cactus, the honey Manzanita, used for grilling, and the giant fig with its massive roots.

Cabo is famous for its party times. And you can do that until you drop from exhaustion. The "in" places to go include the Pink Kitty, Mandala, Baja Jonkie, Cabo Wabo (owned by rocker Sammy Hagar), Passion Club at the ME Cabo hotel on Medano Beach, the Office, known for its daytime beach parties, and Squid Roe. Most of these clubs don't solicit a cover charge. The places start rocking around 11 p.m.

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There's great Mexican food here, especially seafood. Not only is Cabo a popular sport fishing venue, the fish served at local restaurants is superb. For Mexican fare try the medium-priced La Fonda. For fine dining there's La Frida, and a local favorite is Mariscos Mazatlan for an inexpensive evening out. There are dozens of great golf courses (not for the beginner) that stretch along the emerald coastline. One of the favorites is Palmilla at the Palmilla Resort, 25 minutes from Cabo. (800) 637-2226.

Another less rugged trek is the trip north on Highway 1 to Buena Vista, where the sea views are beautiful and the beaches are vacant.

This road (which serves the airport) is a toll road, 28 pesos per car, and along this route you'll cross over the Tropic of Cancer.

Hotels cluster along the coastline, the closer to the southern tip of Baja (known as Land's End) the better. For top service and accommodations try the ME Cabo, right on the sea with a fabulous view of the famous granitic arch and rugged outcrops that define Land's End. Prices run from $190 to $1,800, depending on the season (me.cabo@solmelia.com). The Costa Costa Azul runs $175 to $245, the Westin Resort & Spa starts at $165. A trip to the rocky formations is recommended. Accessible by water taxi or small boats, the bay side is fine for swimming, but the water is too rough to negotiate on the Pacific side.


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