Article and photos by David Kier
Baja California has so many attractions and they are often coupled with beautiful surroundings. Such is the case with the location of California's third Spanish mission, San Juan Bautista de Ligüí. We visited the mission site and the beautiful beach this past summer while traveling between Loreto and La Paz. The village of Ligüí is on Highway One about 21 miles south of Loreto, just before the highway climbs into the Sierra la Giganta mountains.
Turn off the highway at the town's sign and head straight for the coast, another sign is reached in a half mile showing a left turn at a fork, for Playa Ligüí beach. The right fork goes south to the village of Ensenada Blanca. In the arroyo, just past the fork, was the location of the mission. The arroyo widened and undermined the site between 1973 and 2001. Just beyond the original site, next to the beach road, a white cross and outlined area was made as a monument for the vanished mission. This is 0.6 mile from Highway One, and it too is being swallowed by the widening arroyo.
The photo above shows the mission ruin in 1975. Photo by Dr. Robert Jackson.
San Juan Bautista de Ligüí mission was founded by the Jesuit Padre Pedro de Ugarte in November of 1705 among the Monqui Indians. Ligüí was the Monqui name for the location but in time the mission was repopulated with Cochimí Indians, who called the place Malibat. A third group of Indians lived on the nearby islands, and they were the fierce Pericú tribe who often raided the mission. Ugarte's first church was made from sticks and was eventually able to get help from the neophytes to make an adobe chapel. Two boys would become Ugarte's assistants, but when he fashioned clothes for them to cover their nakedness, the other members of the tribe laughed and teased them so much that they removed their garments when they went outdoors.
The mission here was never very successful and a Jesuit was not always stationed here after ill health forced Ugarte to depart for the mainland in 1709. Another blow to the mission happened when its benefactor (Juan Bautista López) went bankrupt and funding was lost. Ugarte was replaced by Padre Francisco Peralta who served San Juan Bautista mission from 1709 to 1711. The last Jesuit assigned to the mission at Ligüí/Malibat was Padre Clemente Guillén from 1714 to 1717, and again from 1719 until the mission was closed in August of 1721.
A half mile east of the mission, the road ends on a large, sandy beach with palapas for shade. Several islands offshore add to the exotic beauty of the site where Spanish ships once offloaded supplies for a mission, some 300 years ago. Close your eyes and imagine the activity on that once took place on this beach. While the Spanish and Indians are long ago dead and gone, the beach is still there 300 years later to receive new visitors. One can wonder, will it still look the same 300 years from now?