In a glorious setting between the glittering Sea of Cortez and the rugged Sierra de la Giganta mountain range on the east coast of the Baja Peninsula, the small mission-era town of Loreto retains the timeless feel of a sleepy fishing village, offering a peaceful location for whale-watching, watersports, mountain hikes and beachside relaxation.
Lured by a steady stream of fresh running water, Loreto was founded by Jesuit missionaries in 1697 with the building of the Mision Nuestra Senora de Loreto, the first permanent mission in Baja. The mission is well-preserved and open to visitors and those interested in the history of the area can visit the adjacent museum, Museo de las Misiones, to learn more about the settlement of Baja California. As the first Spanish colony on the peninsula, Loreto has a quaint historic centre of tree-lined pedestrianised streets, with a lovely plaza and church surrounded by cafes, bars and restaurants. The streets lead down to the small port and the ever-popular malecon (seafront) and safe swimming beaches mark both ends of the promenade.
But the big draw for visitors is a chance to discover the Sea of Cortez, one of the world’s richest marine environments, where dolphins, turtles and tropical fish play all year-round and grey whale visit from December to March. The Parque Nacional Bahia de Loreto allows visitors to explore these pristine waters by boat, kayak and paddle-board. The reefs around the offshore islands make for some great snorkelling and diving and the islands themselves make a fantastic day excursion, with Isla del Carmen and Isla Colorado enjoying some of the most unspoilt beaches in Baja.
Inland, the Sierra de la Giganta mountains offer much scope for hiking and we’d also suggest visiting Mision San Francisco Javier de Vigge-Biaundo set in a spectacular mountain valley up a winding road that passes several streams before reaching the mission. Built in 1699, from volcanic stone, the building is beautifully restored, and visitors can also see the 300-year old olive tree that grows in the garden.
Relaxed and mellow, we think Loreto will appeal to those who prefer a quiet resort away from the crowds, but with plenty to offer in terms of aquatic pleasures, natural beauty, historical and marine attractions. Loreto is around a five-hour drive from La Paz. There is a small airport with direct flights from Los Angeles and Tijuana, but no direct flights to Mexico City.