The first thing thousands of international delegates headed to the G-20 summit will likely see as they land in Los Cabos, Mexico, this week will be the spiny bush-clad hills and azure waters that typify southern Baja California.
But the site will be fleeting. Government ministers and heads of state will likely disappear as soon as they arrive, locked behind windowless meeting rooms in the crisp, air-conditioned rooms of Los Cabos' megaresorts and the region's new $180 million conference center.
Those of us on the outside, however, will catch a glimpse of how most international visitors spend their time in Los Cabos.
Nestled at the very tip of Baja California, Cabo San Lucas has a curious charm. Sure, it's known as a party town where you can toss inhibitions aside and down shots of tequila. Sure, there are more banana boats, parasailors and kite surfers in the water than can fit. But all the glitz and glam can be intoxicating, and tourism officials hope that the likes of U.S. President Barack Obama and China's Hu Jintao can give the party-hard town a more sophisticated appeal.
The coastal town of Cabo San Lucas and her milder sister, San Jose del Cabo, are connected via a 20-mile expanse of megaresorts and gated all-inclusives known as the Corridor.
Fifty years ago, you'd be hard-pressed to find a place to stay on what was then an isolated tip of rocky desert separating the Pacific Ocean from the Sea of Cortes. Now, it's Mexico's most upscale resort, surpassing rival destinations like Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta and Cancun.
Many visitors frequent Southern Baja for its world-class golf courses such as Cabo del Sol and prestigious fishing tournaments such as Bisbee's Black and Blue.
The Sea of Cortes -- a quarter of which recently became a UNESCO world heritage site -- is teaming with ocean life. Ruben Reachi, Southern Baja California's tourism minister, calls sport fishing the first pillar of tourism in the region. He says it was the most important catalyst for Los Cabos' development as a tourist destination back in the 1950s.
Ahead of the G-20 summit, millions of dollars went into infrastructure development, from a new convention center and airport terminal to road repairs and landscaping improvements. Regional developers hope to put the Mexican getaway on the map as a premier destination for business leaders and families alike.
The G-20 conference adds a sense of importance and sophistication to a location thought of in many circles as a sleepy beach vacation town, explained Ron Hatfield, a long-time resident and president of the Los Cabos-based Del Mar Development. In truth, it's a dynamic destination with some of the world's most expensive and desirable homes -- and now, new, improved meeting, business and travel facilities.
Los Cabos joins a prestigious list of other popular destinations such as Seoul and Cannes in hosting world leaders for the G-20 summit. Hatfield hopes Los Cabos' selection will prove to the world that the isolated Mexican resort is a safe and secure destination for tourists, far away from the drug wars plaguing the mainland.
Local tourism ministers, meanwhile, think exposure from the G-20 summit will help expand Los Cabos' appeal beyond North America to a more international market.