The Magic of Loreto, Mexico
By Jon Bailey - September 29, 2019
I’m almost reluctant to write this post. The magic of Loreto, Mexico is deeply connected to its lack of tourists and crowds. Visiting Loreto a couple of weeks ago, I was struck by the simple, easy way the locals and visitors move together through this sleepy fishing village on the Sea of Cortez. “It’s the way Mexico used to be”, I told a colleague. Authentically, there are so many things to enjoy in Loreto, Mexico.
Loreto is located on the coast of Baja California Sur, facing East towards mainland Mexico. The terrain is high desert, with saguaro-like cactus dotting the landscape. Very close by, rocky mountains known as the Sierra de la Giganta rise from the desert floor. There are no mega-resorts in Loreto. No nightclubs throbbing with music. No hen parties celebrating girls’ night out or staggering young college dudes drunk with Spring Break fever. Loreto is very simply a nice place to visit for its history and culture, food, ocean activities. And most of all, its people.
Things to Enjoy in Loreto, Mexico
I fell in love with this city, and I can’t wait to visit again soon to show my family the many things to enjoy in Loreto, Mexico. If you are an LGBTQ family, this is a safe and relaxing place to visit – I experienced zero side eye or any issues during my trip.
The Way Mexico Used to Be
My first real visit to Mexico was at the tender age of 19 (previous forays into Tijuana notwithstanding). This was the 1980s, and Cabo San Lucas consisted of three hotels and a shack or two serving tacos and beans. I loved that visit! No one spoke English and everything was unadulterated by American tastes. The memory of that trip came flooding back as we deplaned onto the tarmac in Loreto. We had taken an easy, 1.75-hour flight on Volaris Airlines out of Tijuana International Airport.
The Loreto airport consists of a glorified Quonset hut with a surprisingly modern interior. Tiny in comparison to Mexico’s more traveled airports, this has one room for arrivals and one room for departures. There’s a bar (of course), a snack and trinkets shop, and that’s it.
Driving through downtown Loreto, the same level of quaint authenticity is present throughout. Perhaps some visitors who have known the Loreto secret for years will say it’s already changed so much. I found it refreshing in so many ways.
Loreto Has a Walkable Downtown
It’s not very big, downtown Loreto. No building looks to be more than four or five stories tall, and most are single-story tiendas and restaurants serving both locals and visitors. We spent time exploring some of the streets of the old city, finding all sorts of things to enjoy in Loreto, Mexico.
With so many things to enjoy in Loreto, most notable is the Mission of Our Lady of Loreto (Misíon de Nuestra Señora de Loreto). Founded in 1697, this is the very first mission created by Father Junipero Serra. After its completion, he continued up from Baja California Sur building missions all the way to Sonoma, California.
The mission sits in the center of town, near their town square and city hall. Colorfully decorated with bunting and flags, the town square looks perpetually ready for a homegrown festival. Good thing too, since locals informed us of a very heavy calendar of festivals and celebrations that bring the city back to its roots. Visiting in September, we had just missed one festival and there was another planned for the following week.
Loreto Sits on a Global Marine Treasure
Among the things to enjoy in Loreto, Mexico, the Sea of Cortez is rich with marine life in Loreto. A huge population of underwater creatures make their home here. In fact, Jacques Cousteau called it paradise and named the area one of his favorite places in the world. The area is host to many species, such as the humpback whale, California gray whale, killer whale, manta ray and leatherback sea turtle. Seasonally the world’s largest animal, the blue whale, is also a visitor to these waters.
Known for centuries as a fishing village, Loreto is still a place where fishermen visit to drop their lines into the deep sea. We watched several groups coming in from an early morning trip, unloading their catches to clean and prepare.
In the central marina, boat captains offer sightseeing day trips from Loreto to explore the local waters. Our group was astounded by the sea life we viewed while tooling out to one of the many islands positioned offshore from Loreto. On the way to Isla Coronado we encountered a gigantic pod of bottlenose dolphins. Excited by the waves from our boat, they leaped and jumped in our wake. It was really quite a show. In another area, we sidled up to a large grouping of sea lions sunning on the rocks. Some did not seem happy to greet us, judging from their very loud barking and baying. Others lolled in the waves or swam by, looking for dinner.
Fantastic Snorkeling and White Sand Beaches of Loreto
As we approached Isla Coronado, our group became visibly excited at the beauty of the water and beaches. Some remarked that it looked like the Caribbean with its clear turquoise waters and white sands. Looking down from the boat, we could see schools of colorful fish swimming among the rocks. It really is gorgeous.
Beaching the boat, we jumped off for a swim and snorkel in the shallow waters. Scores of fish in all different colors and shapes swam around us, unafraid. It seemed like an episode of some National Geographic special. I tried to speak with a French accent like Jacques Cousteau, but failed miserably.
Loreto is a Golf Lovers Paradise
If you love the game of golf, Loreto has many options for high hacks and low handicaps alike. Both the resorts where we stayed had gorgeous courses, artfully designed to wind through the rocks and natural water hazards. At Loreto Bay Baja Golf Club the course is fairly level, spread out along the shoreline with some holes directly waterfront. Although we didn’t play while there, we walked this course and there was literally no one to be seen. If you are looking for a casual and leisurely experience of vacation golf, this is the place.
At Danzante Bay Golf Course connected to the Villa del Palmar Resort, the terrain is considerably more challenging. Danzante was designed by Rees Jones as a championship course with challenging holes. Half the course is carved into the rocky hillsides and offer considerably tilted terrain. The other half is on the flats in a more desert-like landscape of sand, rock and cactus. The 17th Hole is particularly notable – Par 3 and 170 yards, but the green is sitting on top of a rocky plateau that plunges hundreds of feet into the surf below. There are 8 tees at this hole – 4 offering a chance to hit across a huge ravine to hit the green. The other 4 are drops for when you don’t make it! This course has been rated #1 in Mexico, and the Best New Course in Latin America.
Places to Stay in Loreto
We had the chance to visit several things to enjoy in Loreto, Mexico and places to stay. I’ve got a separate blog post coming on those details, but here’s a topline list of options:
Loreto Bay Resort (4 star) – All-inclusive beachfront with 151 rooms, restaurants, golf course, ocean activities, swimming pool with swim-up bar, and more. Rooms start at $68/night USD.
Villa del Palmar (5 star) – Luxury hotel and time shares with rooms and sister property under construction next door, championship golf course, several restaurants from casual to formal, several pools, kids club, beach club and more. Rooms start at $204/night USD.
Hotel La Misíon de Loreto (4 star) – Located right in the center of downtown Loreto across from the marina, Hotel La Misíon offers an amazing Italian restaurant, wood fired pizza bar, swimming pool and a variety of suites. From $157 USD per night.
Oasis Hotel (3 star) – The Oasis Hotel is historic as one of the first built in Loreto. Still owned and run by the same family, the Oasis has a fantastic location downtown and right on the beach. Gorgeous sunset views and outdoor dining here. Rooms from $90/night USD.
Posada de Las Flores Hotel & Spa (4 stars) – This sweet little B&B is positioned right on Loreto’s main plaza. Decorated in traditional Mexican Colonial style, if features a rooftop pool, restaurant and spacious rooms with AC. Rooms from $119/night USD.
Hotel Santa Fe Loreto (2 stars) – Surprisingly affordable, the Hotel Santa Fe is well equipped and super clean. Rooms are all suites with mini kitchens that are great for families. Rooms start at $48 USD per night.
Flying into Loreto from Tijuana
It was super easy – and inexpensive – to fly into Loreto from Tijuana International Airport. We traveled on Volaris Airlines, with one-way rates as low as $70. Getting to TIJ is really easy via the Cross Border Xpress (CBX) foot bridge that links from the US side across the border and directly into the airport.
With so many things to enjoy in Loreto, Mexico, what are you waiting for???