Recently, I sat across from Chucky Van Wormer, the youngest of the three sons of Bobby Van Wormer, Sr. and his wife, Cha Cha. I was impressed with this generation of Van Wormers. Since their father’s death in 2010, sons, Bobby, Jr., Eddie and Chucky have flawlessly taken over the operation of the East Cape empire their parents had built and have continued to run the successful operation with the blessing of their mother, “Cha Cha.”
Robert (Bobby) Van Wormer, Sr., one of the true 1950s-era pioneers of Baja, first visited East Cape in 1956 with a group of inquisitive fishermen. He found the people warm and friendly, the Sea of Cortez shimmering blue and teeming with marine life, and the bird hunting, all exceeded his expectations. He soon found himself living and working in what he viewed as paradise.
Over the next two years of twists and turns, he ended up working with Tico Ruiz Gonzalez, helping him to open a sportsman’s camp, Palmas, which ultimately became Hotel Palmas de Cortez, the crown jewel of the Van Wormer Resorts. For that story, click on A Flatlander’s Vision Becomes a Family’s Legacy
Tico’s family roots reached back to the 19th century when Los Barriles was a settlement of only five ranches. When Bobby was introduced to Tico’s sister, Rosa Maria “Cha Cha” Ruiz Gonzalez, sparks flew; their courtship grew into a love affair. Bobby and “Cha Cha” were married at the nearby village of Santiago. This formidable husband and wife team would be the foundation of a family dynasty that is still altering East Cape.
So here I sat, once again chatting with the very amiable, handsome son who reminded me a lot of his father as he was describing what had happened next – explaining that fate once again intervened. “When they first opened up Punta Colorado . . . let me show you,” he said as he reached for a sheet of paper and began sketching the layout of the hotel.
“The first things they built were the bar, the dining room area and patio. My mom had a camper where she cooked all the meals for the guests who stayed in the four rooms. Eventually, they added more rooms here and there … our family lived in one. This took place back in 1965.”
Bobby and Cha Cha built their business slowly on a bedrock of sportfishing while raising their family. First Bobby, Jr. was born, then Eddie, followed by Chucky who all joined in the business as it grew — and then grew some more.
It was there at Punta Colorada, the small four-room hotel on a bluff overlooking the shimmering Sea of Cortez that the Van Wormer family dynasty was spawned and ultimately the Van Wormer Resorts was born.
Today, Van Wormer Resorts offers an impressive array of accommodations to satisfy the simplest to the more sophisticated taste and budget: Hotels Palmas de Cortez, Playa del Sol, Punta Colorada (closed) and Villas de Cortez sprawled along the shores of Baja’s world-renowned Sea of Cortez in Los Barriles.
Next to the Hotel are the Villas de Cortez Resort Hotel and Condominiums, featuring two one-bedroom luxury suites and two two-bedroom luxury suites as well as a three-bedroom penthouse. All offer spectacular views of the Sea of Cortez stretching as far as the eye can see, plus a large rooftop deck for large events or gatherings.
Just a five-minute walk north from Hotel Palmas de Cortez is Playa del Sol with its unique authentic Mexican charm. It satisfies their guests who are seeking an intimate setting without the feel of a “mega resort” found in other areas of Baja. With only 26 rooms, Playa del Sol is able to provide a more personal touch for guests … along with magnificent views.
The Van Wormers have never forgotten their roots are in sportfishing and they have the largest sportfishing fleet in Mexico.
Today the resorts host an unparalleled list of 30+ sportfishing tournaments and events.
Many of these have been held over several decades every year with the granddaddy of them all, the “Annual Roosterfish Tournament,” which just celebrated its 50th anniversary!
The brothers are constantly searching for and finding amenities, services and activities to offer their ever-growing list of clients who have become friends. Now, both longtime guests as well as newcomers enjoy an extensive list of activities and services that would have been unheard of in the early days:
- Spa de Cortez and Salon de Cortez offer a tropical spa experience with a range of therapeutic and beauty-enhancing treatments. Licensed, experienced professionals furnish an inviting and relaxing atmosphere.
- A wedding planner was added who specializes in making nuptial dreams come true, creating a memory couples will cherish forever. For more information on planning your East Cape wedding, please contact [email protected].
- Pilates, Yoga, and Zumba classes are available with nearby local instructors.
- There is a fully equipped gym.
- A 9-hole par 3 Executive Golf Course and Driving Range is available, the only one in the area – a welcome alternative for those taking the day off from fishing.
- ATV rentals, horseback riding, eco-tours, tennis, and shopping excursions to Cabo San Lucas or La Paz can be provided.
- Kayaks and paddleboards are for rent on the beach.
- Snorkeling and diving excursions to nearby locales are guided by in-house staff, where the marine life viewing is beyond comparison.
- Kite boarding is available mid-Nov. through March.
Want more? Other recreation alternatives include an adrenalin-packed adventure exploring the desert canyons. This Zip Line Tour is guaranteed fun for those who enjoy new experiences and outdoor adventures; a visit to a biosphere reserve – Sierra de la Laguna – which stores water from the Baja California Sur peninsula and is a natural nursery for plants and incredible wildlife. Between its rivers, waterfalls, hot springs, and all the tranquility that prevails in this magical place, it’s one of a kind; and Grupo Tortuguero is dedicated to the conservation of endangered sea turtles. Omar and Noe Araiza founded the non-profit organization in Los Barriles in 2009 and every September through December, there is a turtle release almost daily and hotel guests are welcome to participate.
While Chucky and I were talking, he mentioned the brothers were constantly on the lookout for new features and improvements for their properties. He asked if I was aware of all of the organic farming that was taking place surrounding nearby Santiago and Miraflores, adding that more and more of the produce needed for the restaurants was being provided by local growers.
“If you have a chance I’d like to take you to the back country where our produce is grown so you know what is available locally,” Chucky offered. “You can take pictures and include the farm in your story along with the kind of food we are serving here.”
He went on to say, “You will be surprised at the quality of the food that we serve. I will send some fish out for Tiky to prepare for our lunch tomorrow if that works for you.”
“This is what’s happening at the Sheraton and Hilton; they are bringing their chefs to the farm to experience the fresh vegetables. We plan to offer the opportunity to our guests to have the same experience if they would like.”
The following morning, we sped down Mex 1, past the Santiago turnoff, with Chucky’s friend, Ramón Meza at the wheel. Chucky explained, “My friend Gilberto “Tiky” Verdugo lives in Miraflores and has a small farm named “San Pedro” a few miles out of town, east toward the 4,174-foot Miraflores peak in the Sierra de la Laguna mountain ridge.”
Turning right off the highway and heading toward the village, time seemed to slow and memories of past visits rushed in.
A boarded-up adobe building came into view – the same building where Yvonne and I had ordered a custom, hand-hewn, “chino” wood (hundred-year wood we were told) dining room table for our home, “Rancho Deluxe,” more than two decades ago. It had been an anniversary present, and came complete with ten chairs. The man and his sons were artisans and I wondered where they were now.
Meza turned into a small driveway; clenching a half-filled mason jar with a vinegar and oil salad dressing concoction he had prepared, “Tiky” slid into the back seat with me. He explained the jar’s contents after we were introduced.
Soon, we were bumping down a dusty dirt road as he proudly described his farm. We rolled to a stop in front of a canopy-covered, rough wooden table and chairs, surrounded by rows of vegetables and herb plants of various descriptions, with the beautiful purple mountains serving as a backdrop.
Clearly, this was Tiky’s stage in the middle of his carefully cultivated fields of San Pedro. Smiling, he began mixing the micro-organic salad with Mizuna (water greens), radish and arugula, carefully adding his special dressing before serving it to the three of us. Had we been royalty, we couldn’t have had better service.
“I cook with my heart,” Tiky confided as he served the entree – a simple plate of fresh grilled yellowfin tuna that had been marinated for 12 hours in a special sauce with herbs grown at San Pedro, with a side of butternut squash, butter/onion and garlic, all combined with zucchini and blended into a puree.
During lunch, Tiky identified many of the plants and trees in the fields surrounding our table as he slowly spun 360-degrees: Citrus and fig trees, herbs, ten different varieties of squash, greens, a number of different lettuce plants.
With a very satisfied smile, Chucky murmured, “I could eat this every day.”
Tiky and his son host meals in the field at San Pedro for as many as 30 people for breakfast, lunch or even in the evening. Both Chucky and Tiky agreed that dinner in the field was spectacular as the darkness envelopes the field before the moon rises, and the only lights are small solar ones that allow diners to enjoy the Baja star-filled night without distraction.
Chucky said it best. “It’s so dark that when the moon finally rises it becomes a guest at the table.”
We gathered up our leftovers to take with us, though we all seemed to share a sense of reluctance to leave the tranquility provided by San Pedro. Even the notion of returning to Los Barriles, not exactly a metropolitan hub, demanded an adjustment after the several hours of stillness and quiet we had just experienced.
Once again, the brothers – this time following Chucky’s lead – have discovered an improvement for the Van Wormer Resorts. Farm-to-table dining, using local growers to provide produce for their restaurants, is a win-win for them, their guests and the community.
Ever changing and improving their heritage, the next generation of Van Wormers has stepped up to the plate and moved forward successfully, exactly as Bobby, Sr. would have wanted.