Loreto is a coastal village on the Sea of Cortez, and it takes great pride in many claims to fame. The town is probably most proud of “La Mision Nuestra Senora de Loreto” (Our Lady of Loreto Mission), which is the first and oldest mission built in either upper or lower California. The early mission became the center for exploration into the deserts and mountains of Baja, and also for the expansion of the mission system. Loreto is surrounded by the Gigantes mountains on three sides, and the Sea of Cortez on the fourth, and offers year-round postcard natural beauty to visitors and tourists.
Loreto also boasts the largest marine preserve in Mexico, the Parque Maritimo National Bahia de Loreto. The park encompasses five protected islands and offers some of the most exciting underwater experiences to be found on the Baja peninsula.
South of Loreto, Nopolo is a large-scale tourism initiative funded initially by the Mexican government and now going through a period of transition as developers change hands and projects are stalled. It has condos, a beachfront hotel, golf course, shops, tennis courts, and more. Further south the Puerto Escondido marina has a sheltered harbor, marine services, a restaurant, showers, and accommodations nearby.
Loreto’s story begins in 1697, when Padre Salvatierra sailed from the mainland to begin a Jesuit settlement. It was the first in all of Baja California to become a permanent mission site. Baja’s first capital was located in Loreto, and remained there for almost 100 years, until the hurricane of 1828 tore its way up the Sea of Cortez, flooding arroyos and destroying buildings, and also doing huge damage to the mission. The capital was moved then to La Paz, which is still the capital of Baja California Sur.
Hard times, droughts, hurricanes, and even an earthquake or two does not destroy Loreto’s spirit or the wonderful stubbornness of the people who live here. Many of the old Loreto families are proud descendants of Guaycuras and Chochimis who married Spanish soldiers or European sailor/adventurers.
From its cobblestone plaza and shady paseo to the restored mission church and bell tower, an unmistakable colonial influence defines the town. Some of its historic homes have been turned into boutique inns, gift shops, restaurants, and private residences. Since the middle of the 19th century, the main draw for visitors has been the fishing—and more recently, the diving, whale watching, and kayaking—in the Sea of Cortez.