The heart beat of San Ignacio is found in the central plaza. The magnificent Indian Laurel trees provide thick shade from the summer sun. The historic town began at the steps of Misión San Ignacio; the very ground of ancient times when the Cochimi Indian cave painters lived in this Gulf region. Date palms introduced by the padres line the lazy river. In the morning a solitary traveler comes early for a cup of rich Mexican coffee to watch the town slowly come to life. All is quiet except for the excited birds. Almost everyone will visit here at least once a day. Men sit on the benches and meet one another with a hardy, "¿Qué onda?" Or, "What's up?" As the heat takes over, the town observes siesta and the plaza sleeps for awhile in the afternoon. In the evenings as the temperature begins to cool, the plaza is aglow with lights. Youth fill the benches, texting or listening to their iPods and the old ones listen to the birds or chat with a compañero. The taco stands reopen and hotdog carts roll out into the street for a gooey treat.
The first chance you get, stop at Casa Lereé just off the plaza. Jane Ames, San Ignacio's historian, has free maps of town and hiking trails of the area. She has the best Baja book collection found anywhere. "Juanita" will be happy to introduce you to the unique paintings of Clemente Arce and the hand tooled leather work by the award winning Juan Gabriel Arce. You can also pick up a hotel listing. One of my favorites is Ignacio Springs Bed and Breakfast. The breakfasts are fabulous, everything homemade including the sausage. Or try newly built, Hotel La Huerta. It has nine completed rooms that are well furnished, including flat screen TV, Wifi and AC. They do not accept pets. It has no website, but is part of a local families business. Check in at the Huerta Market just past the mission.
Kayaking in the spring-fed river gives one a beautiful view of Cerro Colorado. This mountain has been studied and found to have the most diverse plant life of the whole Sonoran Desert region. Hiking is an option from town, start out early and take plenty of water. Carlotte's tea and coffee house, Cafe el Cortijo, is a seasonal delight with lovely gardens and "wild life.” A giraffe with long eyelashes peers over a fence bursting with bougainvillaea colors, a rhino charges out from a bush and one wonders how the camel found its way here. It's life size construction of metal was created by the artisans of Rosarito Beach and transported over 500 miles to find its home in Carlotte's garden. Just across the side street is the museum depicting the Cochimi Indians way of life. It houses many artifacts thousands of years old and there is a life size reproduction of the Sierra San Francisco cave painting. For many travelers with time constraints or folks that might be physically challenged and unable to take a guided tour, this is an option. Going into the quiet interior, looking up at the “cliffs" painted with the fanciful drawings, one can almost feel it was real. In the May fire of 2014 the museum's outer wall was damaged and is now under restoration.
Places to eat are somewhat limited. But the taco stands in the plaza are great. Don't miss Tootsie's for a unique gourmet menu and fresh pizza; one block off the plaza. Upon request a special treat is offered by Terry Marcer at Ignacio Springs. You are always welcomed to an amazing breakfast that she and Gary cook up. Holiday travelers can find a special dinner menu for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
For all its peace and tranquility, there are certain times of the year when the town is full to overflowing. Beginning in February and continuing on into March and April is the gray whale migration. People from all over the world come to meet the giants up close, March being the most popular time to see the mothers with their babies. Reservations for lodging and tours are suggested. At the corner of the plaza you will find the Kuyima tour center with books, pictures and a staff who can answer all your questions. There are a number of other tour companies doing a fine job as well. Transportation to the Laguna San Ignacio is available and a good idea if you do not have 4-wheel drive. However, they are paving the road all the way out to the lagoon. One day it will be a breeze.
In the last week of July, when heat is extreme, the traditional Fiesta of San Ignacio is held. The people commemorate the life and death of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order who died July 31st. The festival begins with a parade of vaqueros on horseback coming in from all the surrounding ranchos. The plaza is the center of all the activities with music, dancing all night, food and local artists. It is a fiesta never ending. No lodging is available and campgrounds are full. On the last day, two young dancers dressed in deer costume enter the mission to escort the saint out of the church, leading the procession around the pueblo. They return into the church and dance in front of the altar. Juanita says, "This is not dancing as in a performance, but dancing in a devotional way."
September 16th is the celebration of the struggle for independence from Spain and every other November, the Baja 1000 roars through the plaza, making a dramatic left turn at the mission. All of San Ignacio brings their chairs and from this special vantage point stay up all night cheering on the racers. As the year ends all is quiet in December. The plaza is alight with a traditional Christmas tree and creche, while from inside the historic mission voices are raised, celebrating the birth of Christ. San Ignacio, an oasis with a huge heart.