Whatever you do, don't drive past Loreto! You will want to plan at least a few days in this magic town designated by Mexico’s Secretariat of Tourism as a Pueblo Mágico. Besides the magic and feeling transported into another time and space, Loreto is rich in Baja California history with beautiful gulf waters, desert mountains, sea adventures and wonderful food.
Pick up your GotBaja? map that is good as gold. It guides the explorer in discovering the abundant offering of this delightful town. In just a few blocks you could be anywhere in the world - fashion boutiques, Italian sidewalk cafes, delicious Mexican food and coffee house bistros with a touch of the Bohemia. All this tucked between the Gulf of California and Sierra de la Giganta.
It is written that Cortes landed near La Paz and claimed the land that was inhabited by 50,000 people for the King of Spain. This would be like a foreign stranger marching into National City, California, trying to lay claim to it, just because he thought he had the right. With good humor the natives welcomed the intruders. They were quickly put to work. Loreto became the first Spanish settlement on the Baja California Peninsula and served as the capital of Las Californias until 1771. I have to admit I am just a bit biased about how history portrays the Indians who lived here for thousands of years. Often they are portrayed in history as ignorant, disheartened and hungry, while it was over looked how intelligent they had to have been in order to survive without making a mark on the land except for their beautiful cave paintings.
The Guaycura and Cochimi Indians shared a common boundary and it was their hands that built Misión de Nuestra Señora. The locals will tell you that the mission has been ruined by countless hurricanes and has not retained it original beauty. Part of the inner courtyard of the church houses a museum, Museo de las Misiones Jesuitas. Here there are many icons of religious significance dating back to the 17th and 18th century. A small display houses the Indigenous artifacts. Included is a thoughtful honoring of the Mexican Vaqueros. Today the church bell no longer chimes, sounding more like a clang, but when it rings out the faithful fill the church to overflowing. The voices of the congregation in song touch an ancient chord in the heart. The children run wild in the courtyard surrounded by gray stone walls chiseled by the natives hands. It is as if the stone holds the history of love for the Divine. While I was here, the Moon was nearing its fullness and created a true sense of magic.
Like most towns along the peninsula's shores, all were at one time fishing villages. Tourism built up around this life. Mexico has been carving out protected biospheres and here in Loreto there is a very important Parque Nacional Bahía de Loreto, a national marine park that has been classified as a World Heritage Site and EcoTourism is a growing industry. The park is a natural aquarium, made up of five islands. Protected from the fishing cooperatives it will preserve the pristine waters for generations to come. Of course, there are adventurous boat tours to the islands as well as rich diving and snorkeling areas. Take a close look as some of the pangueros who look suspiciously like their Cochimi ancestors.
Visiting the marina is a great afternoon stroll. The city has created a park for the children and have an impressive way to handle the trash that tends to collect on heavily used beaches. All along the walkway are fanciful sea creatures positioned as lids for the trash cans. Heck, it has been a long time since I was a kid, I wanted to feed these creatures, but I couldn't find any trash! I particularly liked the sea turtle with an attitude. What a marvelous way to teach the children where trash goes and I suspect it might also awaken some adults as well.
The Sierra de la Giganta mountain range is like a great ragged backbone that rises from the gulf shoreline. If the mountains intrigue you, take an hour's drive to the Mission in San Javier. Several hardy cyclists made it a day's outing and there are also burro rides offered from many EcoFriendly tour companies. It gave me pause to think that the padres actually carted all of their gold and religious icons deep into this formidable terrain, finally reaching tranquil meadows and running water to serve their mission.
You won't know where to eat first, so you will just have to plan several days to have some fun and eat your way through town. Follow the Loreto map, talk with the locals to find out where the best of the best is. Often they are not found on the map. But it is a gastronomic delight to sit and watch your Strombolis puff up over the glowing coals of the wood fired oven of Pepegrina's. Pan Que Pan in the center of town will start your day with freshly baked bread and rich creamy cappuccinos. Off the map is Mexico Lindo with Pancho and Martina. I had to stop, just because of the names. Try the best chili rellenos in town. Discover more of Loreto's magic by asking your waiter to tell you about the 10 foot great shark completely covered in tiny bright colored seed beads in the Huichol's famous century old art form. It took a year and a half to complete and is looking for a home. Mezzaluna restaurant on the corner was such a surprise. Homemade fettuccine smothered in an Uruguayan cracked pepper cream sauce, accompanied with a very good Argentinian Malbec from Las Moras. OK, but wait, I missed one. For Mexican food that all the locals recommend try Super Burro. It is on the map, but you will need directions to its hidden location.
Loreto is filled with diversity, opportunity for new experiences, music is everywhere, friendly people and there is no doubt that Loreto is waiting to welcome the most adventurous of travelers. It has earned its name as the city of magic.