History and Highlights
Visitors who overcome the challenges of traveling to the region of San Borja are rewarded with a destination that contains as many attractions as residents – although the few friendly residents may themselves be the star attraction.
Originally settled as a visita for nearby Misión Santa Gertrudis de Cadacamán in 1759 at the place then called Adác, Misión San Francisco de Borja came into its own as a mission just three years later with the arrival of Father Wenceslaus Linck. The mission’s heyday was almost immediate as, like so many other missions, it struggled with the realities of the rapid succession from the Jesuits to the Franciscans and then the Dominicans within its first 15 years. Nonetheless, these early years produced most of the adobe structures still visible – at least in part – at the site today.
A later addition, and the main attraction for most, is the stone church. A long, simple rectangular building, the church is in surprisingly fine condition. It’s even possible to climb the narrow, spiraling steps that lead up to the choir loft and roof. Some of the most striking features of the otherwise simple church are found on its exterior, where the doorways merit close examination for their intricate stone carving.
The church wasn’t completed until 1801, by which time disease had already begun to take its toll on the population. Just 17 years later, the mission was deserted as the head count dwindled to nearly nil.
The same fertile ground and springs that fostered a thriving agricultural operation in mission times are still sustaining the family that works the land and watches over the mission complex today. Don José Angel Gerardo Monteón – better known as Chepe – his wife, Ana Alicia Gaxiola García, and their five children welcome visitors to the site of which they are such proud stewards. The children can helpfully point out the highlights of not only the mission church and ruins, but also of the surrounding geography. Different members of Chepe’s clan lead visitors by foot to the nearby hot springs, or accompany them on four wheels to the spectacular rock art sites of the Sierra San Borja.
This sequence of attractions both historic and natural, together with the unique interactions resulting from the family’s stewardship of the site and surrounding lands, make an outing to this lonely corner of the state of Baja California an unforgettable experience.
Who founded it?
The Jesuits, led by Father Wenceslaus Linck.
What should I expect to see?
Foremost amongst San Borja’s many worthwhile sights is the stone church, still in fantastic structural shape. The ruins of the older adobe buildings to the church’s rear are in varying condition and are worth exploring. In addition to nearby hot springs, San Borja is also the jumping-off point for excursions to view the rock art in the nearby Sierra San Borja.
When should I go?
The mission site is open year-round. Chepe and his family typically welcome visitors daily from 8am to 6pm. The mission can be visited on a day trip from Guerrero Negro but if you’re heading to the hot springs and/or rock art, you may want to consider spending the night in one of the family’s inexpensive camping palapas.
Where is it and how do I get there?
Set your GPS coordinates to N 28° 44.40’ W 113° 45.14’. Misión San Francisco de Borja can be accessed from the Transpeninsular Highway at (Nuevo) Rosarito, 48 miles (77 km) north of Guerrero Negro, or from the road to Bahía de los Angeles, 13 miles (21 km) west of Bahía de los Angeles. The latter access is best attempted by sturdy vehicles with high clearance, and both routes require a lot of time and patience. Inquire locally for details before setting out. Also, check your fuel. The nearest Pemex stations are at Jesús María to the southwest and Bahía de los Angeles to the northeast, but heading northwest toward Ensenada, it’s at least 186 miles (300 km) to the next Pemex at El Rosario on the Pacific coast.
Why should I go?
This is the only place in Baja where you can visit a well-preserved mission site, swim in hot springs and view historic rock art all in the same day. It’s also the northernmost Baja mission with buildings still in tact.