I’ve done Mexico—I’ve snorkeled through at least 10 cenotes, seen the ruins (and one-too-many iguanas) in Tulum, floated down the lazy river at Xcaret, participated in an authentic Temazcal ceremony, learned how to make tacos and corn tortillas like a local, painted ceramic skulls, and done more tequila tastings than I can remember. (A sign of good tequila, don’t you think?) Or at least, I thought I had done Mexico.
But then I visited Loreto.
Recognized as the first human settlement in Baja California Sur, today’s Loreto has a population of just under 13,000 residents. It claims to be a “tourist town,” but with no cruise ports or mega-resorts and hardly any flights to get there, it’s not obvious why. There is a colorful, quaint town center, a marine sanctuary on the UNESCO World Heritage list, locals living in simple houses they built themselves, and almost no cell service or public transportation, save for the city’s few resorts. And yet, in charming Loreto, you have everything you need and more.
Getting to Loreto
Part of what makes Loreto feel so remote is how you get there. There is only one direct flight in and out of the U.S. per day, from one airport (Los Angeles International Airport), on one airline (Alaska Airlines). Travelers in Mexico can fly to Loreto from Tijuana twice a week on Volaris, and three times a week on Calafia Airlines. Between November and May, WestJet flies to and from Calgary International Airport once a week.
Where to Stay
Baja Mexico’s first “Trip Advisor Million-Star Resort” is none other than Villa del Palmar Beach Resort & Spa at the Islands of Loreto, and there’s nowhere better to stay. An optional all-inclusive resort rooted in historic Mexico, Villa del Palmar gives visitors an authentic taste of Baja with the luxuries of 21st-century traveling. When guests first arrive, they’ll be greeted by butlers carrying trays of handcrafted margaritas, and escorted to expansive suites with spa tubs and A-list views of the sun setting over the Sea of Cortez and Sierra de la Giganta mountains. From then on, guests can spend their days in the 39,000-sq.-ft. spa and fitness center, on a pool lounge, taking salsa dance lessons, eating good food, going to beach parties, attending family-friendly movie nights, and so much more.
Its dreamy amenities aside, there are two things that really make Villa del Palmar a gem. First, through the Amazing Program, the resort team will surprise guests with personalized gifts based on what they know they like. Second, the Rees Jones-designed TPC Danzante Bay is one of the most impressive golf courses ever created, and it’s in the hotel’s backyard. Golfers who play a round there will see how it effortlessly flows from mountains and valleys to dunes and desert land. Personally, I think the magical view from the 17th hole is reason enough to stay.
Where to Eat
Lucky for travelers, Loreto is packed with tasty eateries and restaurants. Right across from the mission, travelers can get a taste of authentic Mexican cuisine at Mi Loreto. For a fun drink on a hot day, The Giggling Dolphin Restaurant & Boat Bar lets patrons blend their own margarita by pedaling a stationary bike. El Zopilote Brewery and Cocina is the only brewery in town, and travelers craving fish tacos should look no further than El Rey del Taco. Danzante, the fine-dining steakhouse and seafood restaurant at Villa del Palmar, puts a delicious Mexican spin on familiar fare. For a real treat, dinner there should always end with churros and spiked Mexican coffee. When I say it’s fiery-good, I mean it.
Where to Play
Surrounded by the 797-sq.-mile Loreto Bay National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, Loreto is a water lover’s paradise. More than 900 types of sea life live under those deep-blue waters, and visitors to the region can kayak, paddleboard, sail, dive, and even snorkel right through it. If your clients want to rent a boat, consider a boat tour of one of the five islands of Loreto Bay—Coronado, Danzante, Del Carmen, Catalana, and Montserrat Island—instead. (They’re home to some of the oldest cacti in the area.) World-class fishing is available year-round, and if visitors are there between January and March, a whale-watching tour is a must. On the mainland, they can hike to the shimmering waterfalls of Tabor Canyon, go horseback riding, hop on an ATV tour, lounge on the beach or go mountain biking.
For a dose of culture, the Jesuit-born town of Loreto is home to the Museum of Baja California Missions, weekly farmers’ markets, and Baja’s first mission, which was built in 1697 and still stands today. The definition of a sleepy town, it’s here that visitors will find a taste of daily living in Loreto. Quaint cobblestone streets are lined by mom-and-pop restaurants and brightly colored shops where locals sell handicrafts. Its charming ambiance juxtaposed with its desert-island feel has earned it a nod on the list of Mexico’s pueblos magicos, or “magic towns.”
But that’s not all. From the remote village of San Javier to 7,000-year-old cave paintings in the Sierra de San Francisco mountains, the magic of Loreto extends far beyond its geographical border. One visit may not be enough to see it all, so your clients might just have to plan another trip back.