“Where are you staying?” Ivana, the owner of Chula Vegan Café in San José del Cabo, asks as I rabbit my way through a colorful bowl of crunchy vegetables and locally made sauerkraut. I tell her Hotel El Ganzo, to which she responds excitedly, “Oh, I’m going there tonight for the ASL concert!” I was drawn to El Ganzo for their environmental conservation efforts but began to wonder if I had the hotel all wrong. I’d soon find out that a focus on art and sustainability go hand-in-hand.
I would have spent that evening soaking in my room’s standalone bathtub – it had been calling my name ever since I checked in – but after witnessing several locals get excited about that night’s concert, I decided my self-care date could wait. The sleek, glass doors of El Ganzo’s elevator opened to an intimately lit rooftop bar overlooking the harbor and Sierra de la Laguna mountains. The Los Angeles-based collective ASL (short for Age.Sex.Location), one of many international groups to grace the stage as part of El Ganzo’s monthly concert series, grooved with the audience in the warm desert air – it was the most connected to the locals I’d felt since I’d arrived.
“He would be very happy,” El Ganzo manager Ronald Cruz tells me the next day. He’s referring to the owner, Pablo Sanchez Navarro, who passed away suddenly two years ago at the age of 33. Navarro built the hotel in 2014 as a space for his artistic friends to collaborate with international artists from around the world. Today, the boutique hotel remains true to his vision as a hub for both local and international creatives.
Navarro’s greatest priority was to support the local community, and so he decided to take an eco-friendly approach to promote respect for the Los Cabos environment. Instead of your standard hotel catalog, a QR code is provided for you to scan on your phone, making rooms entirely paperless. Guests are provided with a BPA-free, reusable water bottle to fill at various filtered water stations throughout the property. The restaurant uses biodegradable containers and reusable straws, and in two months, the property aims to be entirely plastic-free.
While typical eco-hotel design draws inspiration from the natural environment, at El Ganzo, natural materials are used as accents to a sleek, all-white aesthetic – much more fitting given the hotel’s urban location. Rooms are adorned with barn doors and exude a modern-meets-rustic feel with wooden canopy bed frames and wood-paneled bathtubs. The rooftop, however, is the pinnacle of the clean, minimalist vibe with rows of white cabanas overlooking the solar powered, heated infinity pool. You think you’ve seen this rooftop before until you notice the clear-glass whirlpool built atop the infinity pool and a giant storm trooper painted on the wall behind. No part of the hotel is left untouched by an artist.
Well that’s not entirely true, 40 of the 72 total rooms are yet to be physically marked by an artist. El Ganzo’s “Artist in Residence” program brings in international artists for a minimum of five days to decorate their room based on their impression of Los Cabos. Mexican painter Lourdes Villagomez explored death with his colorful pop murals while Scarlett Bailey painted a life-sized gold cacti on her room’s wall inspired by the Baja terrain. Many artists have also picked up on El Ganzo’s commitment to sustainability, leaving behind recycling-themed media and in one case, an installation of plastic bottles constructed outside their bedroom door.
Downstairs, I savored fresh lettuce from the neighboring farm, Los Tamarindos, and local ahi tuna on El Ganzo’s restaurant patio. The real highlight though came after lunch when I discovered a trap door in the restaurant floor that led me down a tight ladder to El Ganzo’s underground recording studio. Built into a metal cage floating on three inches of fiberglass to prevent any sound leakage, you would never know that jam sessions were taking place below your feet. But I wouldn’t mind if I did – I later found out, through the “El Ganzo Sessions” Youtube channel that played repeatedly on my room’s television, that many of my beloved artists – Damien Rice, Rachael Yamagata and Brett Dennen – had recorded here.
The community-focused mindset continues across the street with the El Ganzo Centro Comunitario Project: a community center built in 2016 where children learn art, music, and organic farming practices from locals, travelers, and visiting artists. For the students, these free classes nurture their creativity, while also promoting better nutrition and environmental preservation for generations to come. For the visitor, the collaboration offers cultural immersion and stimulates an awareness of their impact on the local community and environment.
“I think this hotel is the only one in Mexico with this concept,” Cruz tells me. “When artists and art-savvy guests hear that we’re trying to be sustainable, they’re overjoyed.” El Ganzo demonstrates that a hotel doesn’t have to build their brand around one type of traveler, but rather that differing traveling motivations may in fact lend themselves to each other – the environmentally-conscious traveler and artistic traveler share a mutual interest of cultural immersion. Here, art serves as a bridge between the visitor and local; the music and artwork created in this space encourages a deeper sense of understanding and empathy for one another’s story and the environments from which they’ve come. I’m not sure Navarro realized it then, but by merging art and sustainability under the same roof, he may have discovered the best recipe for conscious travel.
Photography by: Anna Haines