Looking for an adventurous and possibly spiritual daytrip near Loreto? You may find what you seek if you travel one mile south of Loreto, where you will come across a 22 mile mountain road – only part of which is paved. Drive slowly since the road is not graded all the way, but rest assured that the road has proved passable for most cars. You should be prepared for a variety of bumps and arroyo crossings, however, that’s all part of the fun!
You are heading for the tiny mountain village of San Javier, nestled in the Sierra de la Giganta. Along your journey you will pass through a wonderful canyon where citrus, dates, figs and olives are grown, and possibly even a swimming hole or two! Take care not to drink the water, though. It has been contaminated throughout the years by local livestock and could make you very ill if consumed untreated.
The road trip itself should take you about 90 minutes, at the end of which you will find yourself surprised to be gazing upon what many call the “jewel” of all Baja California Misións. You have reached the stunning Misión San Francisco Javier Viggé Biaundó!
The modern Misión church that you will see as you slowly drive up the unpaved mountain road is not the same building first erected in 1699 by Jesuit missionary Francisco María Piccolo, nor is it located in the precise site where Piccolo and Juan de Ugarte served the Cochimí population until 1703. That site was 8 km away in Rancho Viejo near a spring called Biaundó.
This newer location was selected in 1720 for its close proximity to excellent sources of water. The Jesuit priests made good use of the water, creating dams and aqueducts that still exist! In fact, the Jesuits’ nearly 300 year old irrigation canals continue to provide water to local fields. The impressive edifice that you admire here, however, was constructed somewhat later (1744-1758) by Miguel de Barco. Its chiseled blocks of volcanic stone stand in stark contrast to the surrounding landscape.
Inside the Misión itself there are many treats for visitors. Despite ultimate desertion (1817) after a slow extinction of the native Cochimí population and forced expulsion of its Jesuit priests, the original walls, floors and religious artwork of this gorgeous structure remain intact making this one of the best preserved Misión churches in Mexico. Although now maintained by Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, the Misión continues to fulfill an important religious role, serving as parish church to the 150 residents of San Javier and drawing worshippers annually on December 3rd for the festa of its saint.
Your morning journey will be richly rewarded by the views, scents, and tranquility of this uniquely beautiful retreat. Unless you will be staying overnight in San Javier, however, remember to allow yourself at least 90 minutes before the sun sets to make the scenic drive back to Loreto. Roads in Baja are not well lit at night, and can be difficult to traverse safely in the dark.
Wikipedia.Org, Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó, Author Unknown, Cited on March 15, 2007.