About Loreto, Baja California Sur
What can you do in a 300 year old fishing village besides fish?
The discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus brought rumors and speculation about the undiscovered land even further to the west called California. European imaginations ran wild with visions of unlimited wealth in gold, pearls and land. Numerous attempts to explore the west coast failed, even those by renowned explorer Herman Cortés who conquered the mainland of Mexico. Another 162 years would pass before a young Jesuit would employ his passion and religious conviction to gain a foothold on the peninsula we know as Baja California.
As a young Italian Jesuit, Juan Maria de Salvatierra venerated the Virgin of Loreto. His assignment by the Jesuit order to colonize the unknown Western coast of Mexico inspired him to bring an icon of the Virgin with him on this arduous journey. When the padre landed on the shores of this tranquil bay, he placed her image there and christened the Mission of Loreto. Thus, the Town of Loreto was founded on this extraordinary bay of islands on October 25, 1697.
The Mission of Our Lady of Loreto, named for Our Lady of Loreto in Italy, is the first of the California missions and the 300-year-old jewel of Loreto. From this original settlement, the Mission system spread throughout the peninsula and up the western coast of North America as far north as San Francisco, bringing with it art, culture and religion, whose influences can still be found in life throughout Baja and California today.
The art and culture of Loreto touches all aspects of life here. A wonderful introduction to local culture and history is found in the Museum of the Missions, but my favorite way to discover Loreto’s artistic and cultural side is to put on a comfortable pair of walking shoes and go exploring.
You’ll see beautiful architecture throughout Loreto. The old stone walls of the mission in the center of town set the tone. Keep an eye out for the details – the graceful arch of a doorway, the sun-drenched colors of Baja, the detailed iron-scrollwork – all reflect the Spanish colonial origins of Loreto’s inspired architectural style.
Walk the tree-lined lanes that branch out from the town square and you’ll find the work of Mexican artisans. Traditional and modern sculpture, ceramics, tile, leather and silver from the region’s most talented artists and craftspeople fill local shops. Many shopkeepers speak English and are open and friendly to everyone they meet.
As you continue to explore Loreto, you’ll find art and culture in unexpected places and sometimes you’ll find the sound of local musicians gathering in the town square on a warm night. The smells from the kitchen of a family-owned restaurant float out into the streets and tempt you to wander inside. And, the food! The freshest seafood, tender beef and real Mexican food make up the cuisine of Loreto. Suffice it to say that some of the Baja’s most talented artists choose fresh seafood, and those in unexpected places as well. (Tell Lulu that I said “Hi” when you have just had the best fish tacos on Planet Earth)
Tacos, tacos, tacos!!!
Just 23 miles west of Loreto sits the Mission of San Javier, which was established in 1699 and is considered one of Baja’s most spectacular missions because it is so well preserved. Founded in 1699 by Sicilian priest Francesco Piccolo, this beautiful church stands in the heart of the Sierra de la Giganta mountains, set high in a lush mountain valley beneath towering volcanic walls. A day trip to San Javier provides a treasured memory for those who take the time to seek it out.
Facing Loreto are the wonderful islands such as the Coronado's with its turquoise waters and sea lion colonies; Isla Carmen with its beautiful beaches and coves; the Danzantes with its rocky edges and small coves, a paradise for scuba diving; and Catalina, a favorite of the ecologist with its unique flora and fauna.
The surroundings of islands offer the great sport-fishing with an abundance of fish like yellowtail, sailfish, dorado, marlin, wahoo and roosterfish. Sport-fishing has made Loreto famous and is one of its main tourist activities. Likewise, great schools of frolicking dolphins can be observed and with any luck, one might see the blue whale, the biggest animal on the planet. Recently a wide area of the Sea of Cortez in front of Loreto was declared a Nation Marine Park by the Mexican government thus attempting to preserve the pristine waters here.