Five Incredible Days in Loreto Baja California Sur

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An incredible Loreto Baja California Sur sunset.
An incredible Baja California sunset. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

The writer was hosted.

“The chocolate clams baked in the beach sand!” That’s the first thing cited by Camryn Jun, from Orange County, California, when asked about her jaunt in Loreto Baja California Sur, Mexico. There’s more to those clams.

“I thought it was sweet about the legend that a woman serves chocolate clams to a man,” she says. “And they serve the clams to catch their man.”

Chocolate clams in Loreta Baja California Sur
At Hotel Oasis, the chocolate clams are baked in a sand pit on the beach under a wood and brush fire. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

Chocolate clams

Camryn wasn’t the only one who liked the chocolate clams baked by Ana in the sand pit at the oceanfront, well, gulf-front, Hotel Oasis restaurant. The hotel hosted a team of writers on this B.C.S. excursion.

“The setting, the sunset,” says Colleen Lanin, editor and founder of TravelMamas in Scottsdale, Arizona. “It was one of the best experiences of the trip.”

Our group sat on the volcanic sand beach looking into Bahía de Loreto, Loreto Bay. The sun painted pastel colors on the distant volcanic ranges of Isla del Carmen and Isla Coronados. Chocolate clams, corn on the cobb, local vegetables and tortillas were piled up on our plates.

More about chocolate clams

Chocolate clams don’t taste like cacao. Rather, the brownish chocolate tint to the shells gives the name. However, they do taste different than other clams. They’re meatier, tastier and maybe have just a hint of romance, giving credence to the local marriage legend.

Chef Ana cleared out a deep pit in the dark beach sand and started a fire using dead branches from local brush. When the coals were ready, she placed dozens of fresh chocolate clams onto the coals, covering them with more dry brush.

“How long do you bake the clams?” she was asked.

“You just know when they are ready,” says Ana. “You want them to bake, but you don’t want them to open. They taste perfect this way.”

It took about 40 minutes from the time we gathered around the fire pit and listened to chocolate clam legends before we ate. Finally, we were ready for the big beachside meal.

Read More: Where to Find the Best Restaurants in Loreto Mexico

Dolphins along the wake of a boat in Loreto Baja California Sur.
While motoring across the strait between Isla Danzante and Isla del Carmen, bottlenose dolphins played in the boat’s wake. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

Hopping islands on Bahía de Loreto: Parque Nacional Bahía de Loreto

It had been a long day for our group. We started that morning at Marina Puerto Escondido, one of the many marinas dotting the shore of the Gulf of California in B.C.S. From there, we set sail on a powerful fishing boat from Outpost Charters into the blue waters of Golfo de California towards Isla Danzante.

The waters of Danzante Bay were smooth and glistening like pebbled glass in the Baja sun. Capt. Juan Antonio Romero Salgado let us climb to the top level of the boat, three layers up. From there, we could see far towards the horizon and the islands of the Parque Nacional Bahía de Loreto, one of Mexico’s “santuario marinos.” These are within the gulf that Jacques Cousteau called “the aquarium of the world.” In 2005, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, collectively with other protected areas in the Gulf of California.

Joining us was Ivette Granados, our host from Visit Baja California Sur. The tourism bureau represents the Baja California state where Loreto was once the capital. She pointed out the craggy volcanic peaks that line inland B.C.S. and the islands in the national park.

A marine geologist, certified diver and long-time resident of Ciudad Loreto, Granados shared many of her experiences in the parque nacional.

Honeymoon Cove in Loreta Baja California Sur
Honeymoon Cove is accessible by charter boat or kayaking across the straits from Puertro Escondido, a marina about 45 minutes south of Loreto. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

Loreto Baja California Sur, Mexico: Honeymoon Cove

“This is Playa Luna de Mie,” he said. “Honeymoon Cove and it has that name because couples come here for the privacy and the water.”

The calm inset from Bahía de Danzante, Danzante Bay, was sparkling clear and warm in the morning light. Several of the group dove into the water to paddle around the boat. It was so clear that we could see schools and solo fish swimming below us.

The Window Rock in Loreto Baja California Sur
The window rock was formed by pounding seas, driving winds, rising and falling sea levels over millennia. The turquoise waters were too inviting to ignore for a brief swim before heading for Isla del Carmen. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

Window Rock

Powering up, we headed around the island to the Window Rock, a unique volcanic geology that formed an opening in the outcrops of the island. The Window Rock, formed over time by crashing seas, pounding storms and relentless wind, opened a direct view from our cove into the next. There, two other pleasure craft were anchored.

“I didn’t think I’d like it, but the deep sea fishing experience was so much fun,” said Fanny Zylstra. She caught a dorado on one of the charters she and Steve made into the Gulf south of Parque Nacional. “We find ourselves whale watching, boating with dolphins and just love Loreto.”

The Zylstras brought their dorado back to shore, and at Danzante restaurant, the chef prepared fish dinners for them from their catch. The fine dining experience is in Villa del Palmar.

Sidewalk vendors in Centro, Loreto Baja California Sur
On the plaza in Centro, sidewalk vendors hawk their cold, sweet and tasty treats from food bikes. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

Ciudad Loreto, Baja California Sur

“Loreto (Mexico) is an authentic town,” says Fanny. She, and her husband, Steven, own a leasehold in an enclave of ex-pats and periodic visitors from the U.S. and Canada. “It’s a pristine town and not over-commercialized.”

Not surprisingly, Loreto is a lesser-known destination in the tourist-oriented B.C.S. state. Although best known for the popular tourist areas of La Paz and Cabo San Lucas, Loreto has the flavor of Spanish Colonial Mexico. This visage had us looking for Zorro swinging from a chandelier later in our visit. It’s about halfway between the Alta California-B.C.S. state line and Cabo.

A local band at Asadero Super Burro in Loreto Baja California Sur
A local band walked in, set up, played wonderful mariachi music and passed the hat while we sat at Asadero Super Burro. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

Loreto Baja California Sur Restaurants

Eating is part of the Loreto Mexico experience, and there are many options. For example, on our first night, we dined at Los Olivos, the first floor upscale restaurant at Le Misión hotel. It faces el Malecón, the Loreto waterfront promenade.

As the night gently swept across Gulfo de California, it was easy to understand why Loreto is called el pueblo mágico, the magical village. Although no sport fishing is permitted in the marinos sanctuaro, the fish servicio served there comes from local fishermen. They ply the bahía and gulfo outside the sanctuary.

While we enjoyed fine dining during our long weekend in and around Loreto Bay, dinner in a local restaurant was a highlight.

At Asadero Super Burro, we were sprawled along a long table in the dimly lit open-air cocina off the main drag in Centro Loreto.

Colleen says the corn tortillas were the best she’d ever eaten. They were made fresh by the restaurant. The super burros were just that, a super-sized meal of fresh meats, seafood and vegetables. The guacamole was extraordinary.

Then there was the music

We were halfway into the first round of beers when a local band walked in the door and started playing mariachi music for diners (and passed a hat for tips, of course). It made the experience so fun and so local. We were the only Americans dining in Super Burro at that time. Granados says it is one of her favorite local restaurants all the time.

Loreto is a Cruise Port

 A luxury cruise ship entered Bahía de Loreto the following day while we finished our buffet breakfast at Hotel Oasis’s terrace.

The area is starting to see cruise ships coming to Loreto, Granados says. Even a small high-end cruise ship, like the one that docked the day we were in Loreto, means “a lot of people coming into town. They’ll have a bus to San Javier, the same place we’re going to today.”

The cobblestone streets of San Javier in Loreto Baja California Sur
The cobblestone streets of San Javier lead from the mountains to the Iglesias. Built of native stone, it’s nearly invisible in the foreground of the towering mesa. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

San Javier Spanish Colonial Village

This historic mission, Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó, one of the first Spanish missions built on península de Baja California, established in 1710, but opened in its present form in 1758.

Navigating switchbacks and dips, washes and canyons, we went deep into the countryside west of Loreto. By mid-morning, we pulled into a canyon for a hike. As we started to gear up for the hike, we all decided to go to San Javier first to beat the cruise buses.

It was a good thing we did.

The quaint mountain town, penned into a small valley by towering mesas and mountains, has cobblestone streets dating to the Spanish colonial days. It is a farming community, irrigating its crops on the gravity system built in the 17th century.

We meandered through the town and on the paths into the gardens. Awaiting us was North America’s oldest olive tree—still producing olives.

The oldest olive tree in North America in Loreto Baja California Sur
The oldest olive tree in North America. Still producing fruit, it stands in a grove in San Javier, where it was planted in the late 1600s. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

The tiny homes, the town market and the stunning stone mission are steeped in history. For example, the Iglesia (church)was built with local stone. And in a photo of the building with Mesa El Potrero de San Javier in the background, the source of rocks quarried for its construction is readily visible.

Mountain source of the Misíon San Javier San Francisco in Loreto Baja California Sur
The stones in the mountainside show clearly that this was the source of the stones that built the Misíon San Javier San Francisco. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

We spent nearly an hour wandering through the town looking at offerings in the street market.

As we stopped by a cantina for a cold agua before returning to Loreto, a massive tour bus pulled into the town square. Then, as we walked toward our SUV, a second bus crawled around the steep curve into town and headed for the town square. Next, a third bus pulled into town when we loaded up and pulled onto the road back to Gulfo de California.

Everyone agreed. Skipping the hike and getting to our destino (destination)was a smart move to beat the buses.

Statue at the plaza heading to the museo in Loreto Baja California Sur
At the head of the plaza heading to the museo, there is a statue dedicated to Nuestra Señora de Loreto. This brass sculpture depicts Juan Maria de Salvatierra, a Spanish missionary who attempted to convert and gain the trust of the local Indian colony, the Monqui. The area was named in honor of the Virgin Mary, known for this mission as the “Lady of Loreto.” Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

Centro y La Plaza

This is the land where Europeans first settled in western North America. The second mission built in North America still stands and holds services in Loreto Centro. Opened in 1697, the active misión and its adjoining Museo de las Misiones de Baja California sit at one end of an arbored Centro promenade. The promenade connects la Plaza with el misión.

The Mexican government has recreated canyon paintings in the canyons west of Loreto in the museum. This full-size display of a canyon wall was fortuitous because major storms and flash floods caused the canyon wall to collapse and cover the petrographs.

The museum has representations of the colonial rancheros and the remains of a colonial-era boat recovered from the Gulfo de California. Pushed out at closing time, we wandered towards Centro and the historic Loreto City Hall.

Petrographs on a canyon wall outside of Loreto Baja California Sur
Guide Rafael Murillo talks about the petrographs found on a canyon wall outside of Loreto. Thousands of years old, the museo has a reproduction of the cliff face with the rock art. Shortly after the museum staff recreated the wall, a landslide following a major storm completely buried the actual site. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

Golf and 19th Hole Dining at the “Fore”Front

Steven Zylstra, president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council in Phoenix, says one thing he likes about Loreta is the “excellent golf courses,” including Loreto Bay Golf Resort and Spa.

The Loreto setting is picture-perfect. The modern airport is located near the Sierra de la Giganta, a volcanic range of mountains that tower to the west of the valley in which the town sits. Of volcanic origin, the mountains are craggy, steep and filled with canyons to explore.

One of our guides, Rafael Murillo, took Eugene, Oregon visitor Arthur McMahon on a hike to see the petrographs in situ on canyon walls.

A canyon with petrographs in Loreto Baja California Sur
A canyon with no name is home to dozens of petrographs dating back more than 5,000 years. Photo credit: Arthur McMahon

McMahon said the ride to the canyon had him clinging to his seat as Rafa sped down a desert road about 40 minutes north of Loreto.

“The road took us to the canyon mouth,” he said. McMahon is a trail runner and backpacker, but his eyes opened at the feeling of being completely lost in the canyon. “This excursion wasn’t too strenuous but genuinely required an experienced guide. I would never in a lifetime have found this place and the incredible rock paintings dating back so many years.

Años and años (years and years) ago, ancestral people painted stories and messages on canyon walls, in volcanic caves and throughout the region. No descendants of those early persons know what the symbols and colors mean.

More activities

Meanwhile, Lanin took a side trip to ride horses across the desert and Gulfo de California while the rest of us were on the bahía (bay).

“With Mario (Perez, her guide from Loretours), we saddled up at a working ranch and rode across the desert,” she says. “It was just like the song, ‘A Horse With No Name.’”

They rode through the tiny village of Ligui, with its dozen or so homes.

“It was so cute. Niños were jumping up and down at seeing the horses,” she says. “These tiny chihuahuas were barking to protect their turf.”

After the village, they came to a white sand beach and rode along the shore with gentle waves lapping at the horses’ hooves.

Sea Lions in a cove in Loreto Baja California Sur
A sea lion plunges into Gulfo de California off Isla Coronados while a group of snorkelers look at fish in the cove. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

Snorkeling with the Sea Lions

For McMahon and Jun, a real highlight of the trip was snorkeling with sea lions off the rocks of Isla Coronados.

Following a hike up a volcano and million-dollar yacht watching from an ancient coral dune, our group gathered on the ensenada blanca with its sparkling clear turquoise waters. We left the playa (beach) and headed north in our boat to the north edge of the Parque Nacional, home to a massive sea mammal colony.

Via boat, we motored around Coronados in a charter from Sea and Land Tours. The tour operator and others also led kayaking expeditions across Bahía de Loreto to the island. Our 20-minute trip over the smooth water would have taken a couple of hours by kayak.

Camping on the island

Many kayakers take several days exploring the Islands of Loreto, Isla Coronoados, Isla Del Carmen and Isla Danzante. In fact, they paddle from one to the next and camp on the shores.

Coming upon the sea lion colony, the mammals started barking a greeting. However, it was apparently not a warning. As we approached, several dove into the water and then floated on their backs, looking at us. The snorkelers from the group clambered into wetsuits and plunged into the clear waters of the cove.

More sea lions plopped into the water and swam up to the snorkelers.

“I’ve never been literally face-to-face with a wild animal,” said Jun. “One swam under me and stared curiously up with its big eyes and lashes. It is something I will always remember.”

 Posada del les Flores in Loreto Baja California Sur
Posada del les Flores. Photo by Eric Jay Toll

Dining al Fresco on the Plaza in Centro

Our last night in Loreto Baja California Sur came all too soon. It was lovely, featuring dinner al fresco on the plaza in Centro at the Posada de Las Flores. The breathtaking Spanish Colonial building has a multi-story lobby rising three levels to the rooftop pool. From the lobby, you you can see the water and swimmers in the glass-bottom pool above.

In addition, as you walk across the lobby, you’ll see large chandeliers with faux candles hanging from the ceiling. It’s well within Zorro’s jumping range from the balcony.

“I keep expecting to see Antonio Banderas leap to the chandelier,” I said.

The lobby of Posada de les Flores in Loreto Baja California Sur
In the Spanish colonial lobby of Posada de les Flores, the chandelier seemed to be calling for Zorro to leap from the balcony. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

Our host laughed, saying, “Many people comment that this lobby seems like the home- base for Zorro.”

At our long, candlelit table on the plaza, we enjoyed a four-course dinner that was the trip’s highlight. Especially the flan for dessert. The freshly-caught tuna comprising the meal’s centerpiece was a taste to remember.

Hotel Oasis, Loreto Baja California Sur
Hotel Oasis, Loreto, Baja California Sur, México. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

Bottom Line on Loreto Baja California Sur

Las Californias, the states of the Península de Baja California, offers a beautiful escape to a nearby foreign land. We always felt safe, as did the Zylstras and others we spoke with during the journey.

Furthermore, our local guides were very knowledgeable and experienced. Having that expertise makes touring and adventures lifetime memories.

Loreto is served with air service from Mexico, the U.S. and Canada. American and Alaska airlines fly in from Los Angeles, Phoenix or Houston. WestJet has direct service from Canada and Volaris flies from Mexican cities.

Lodging can be in a U.S.-style resort outside of town or beautiful, modern or historic locations in Loreto. Vacation rentals are also available.

A travel writer and photographer in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., Eric Jay Toll has been writing for She Buys Travel from its earliest days. Specializing in the American West and outdoor adventures, Eric also treks in Mexico and Canada, and forays into Europe. He lives with his dog, Chaco, who occasionally joins road trips and camp outs, but tends to be a Downtown Diva.
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