Small resort town on Sea of Cortez coast boasts authenticity as it distinguishes itself from La Paz and Los Cabos.
LORETO, Baja California Sur — Traveling to Mexico’s resort destinations generally might evoke thoughts of Spring Break parties or an ideal vacation spot for honeymooners and young adults. Loreto, a small coastal city on the east coast of Baja California Sur, hopes to penetrate the rotation of Mexico destinations with household appeal in the United States and Canada while separating itself from Los Cabos, Cancun and Puerto Vallarta as an ideal vacation spot for anglers, families, nature lovers, outdoorsy types and anyone seeking quiet getaways.
The Loreto municipality is a sleepy little town on the eastern edge of Baja California Sur but has a lot to offer in terms of scenic beauty, historic relevance, cultural diversity and modern resort amenities.
While Los Cabos or La Paz might be the state’s household names among Mexico’s top tourist destinations Loreto has much to offer for boaters who seek a quite place to hunker down and relax. Just the same anglers have a diverse range of species to fish for just off the Loreto coast, including marlin, dorado, tuna, seabass, grouper and sailfish.
A handful of resorts just south of town complement Loreto’s small town charm filled with plenty of character and personality.
Below we highlight the boating, fishing and other on-water opportunities available to visitors of the area that The Log’s reporter discovered while visiting Loreto.
Loreto hopes to be synonymous with fishing the same way Bisbee’s has built up Los Cabos as an angling tournament destination. The city just hosted a dorado fishing tournament out of Marina Puerto Escondido, June 30 – July 2. Fishing For The Mission, a charity tournament, was also held this month in the Loreto area.
As with any fishing destination the species of fish in local waters largely depends upon what time of year you visit Loreto.
The bites were scarce during The Log’s recent visit to Loreto but anglers participating in the recent dorado tournament caught (and often released) amberjacks, skipjacks, rooster fish, sailfish and hammerhead sharks. Dorado, marlin, sailfish and tuna are common bites during the warmer months of May through October. As the weather cools down between November and April anglers are likely to find bites of yellowtail, roosterfish and sierra.
Seabass and snapper are generally biting all year long in the Loreto region, while anglers can fish for grouper during the spring months.
While there are many places to drop anchor along the Loreto coast (and neighboring islands) The Log recommends launching out of Puerto Escondido or Marina Bahia Loreto.
Also be sure to either have the proper charts with you or fish with someone who knows the local waters. There is so much territory to cover and the ecosystem so diverse it is easy for an angler not familiar with the area to become frustrated by a lack of bites. There are, however, some areas where water depths and temperatures make for ideal fishing conditions – but you have to know where to look.
Boating, Kayaking and Other Water Activities
There are plenty of opportunities to get out on the water in Loreto. The weather ranges from the mid-70s in winter months to the high 90s and low 100s during the summer, meaning boating, kayaking and standup paddleboarding can be enjoyed year-round.
Many anglers participate in kayak fishing in the region’s many coves and near-shore locales.
The Loreto Bay area is also home to five islands – Carmen, Coronado, Danzante, Monserrate and Santa Catalan – and Parque Nacional Bahia de Loreto (Loreto Bay National Park), a marine reserve.
Anchorages are aplenty up and down Loreto Bay, meaning there are ample opportunities to pull into a cove, drop anchor and go ashore, enjoy your surroundings or take a dive.
Likewise the waters are calm enough to navigate the Sea of Cortez at full speed and enjoy wind blowing in your face.
Other activities include snorkeling and diving and organized boat tours to the local islands. Whale-watching excursions take place every winter.
One of the newest resorts in the Loreto area is Villa Del Palmar. The hotel resort opened in 2011 on a sprawling campus just off Federal Highway 1. A dirt road from the highway leads to the resort. As you approach security quarters at the front gate you can spot a narrow dirt road off to the side and meandering through the area’s adjacent mountain – this is the old dirt road connecting Loreto to La Paz and was regularly used before Federal Highway 1 became operational.
It takes between 5 to 15 minutes – depending upon the vehicle you are in – to navigate from the front gate to the hotel’s doors. The entire path is a dirt road, making quick navigation between the highway and the hotel a chore – but this is actually part of the charm of the property, as Villa Del Palmar is a remote resort.
The hotel itself is quite expansive. As you approach the hotel you can see the property’s gold course. There are 11 holes already up and running – the developer said the remaining seven holes would be completed soon.
Four buildings house the hotel rooms, which range from studio-style rooms with a bed and bathroom to three-room suites with living rooms, kitchens and Jacuzzis. If you end up with a room facing the property’s interior you will have a view of the pools and restaurants. Some will be able to see the cove at the other end of the property.
There are seven room types, ranging from a deluxe suite (the smallest room option) to the presidential penthouse.
In keeping with the resort’s remote location Villa Del Palmar offers many services in-house. There is a shuttle service connecting the hotel resort to Loreto Airport, for example. Rooms with kitchens come complete with a stove, utensils, full-sized refrigerator and other items of daily use. A market is open near the lobby for residents who stay more than a few days and want to stock up on food, toiletries and other daily goods.
Villa Del Palmar is home to three restaurants. The Market Restaurant is one of two casual dining venues on the property and offers breakfast buffets. This casual dining option, which is ideal for families, is closest to the pool area and offers American and Mediterranean cuisines.
Casa Mia, an airy outdoor dining venue catering to adults and offering a simple menu of tacos, pizzas and sandwiches, is closest to the resort’s cove and beach. Guests most frequently ordered Beer Battered Fish Tacos. The portions are quite generous here so come hungry and enjoy the view.
A more upscale dining experience can be enjoyed at Danzante, which features high-end dishes sourced with local seafood, such as a seafood casserole, lobster tail, filet mignon or shrimp served with tamarind chutney.
When you are not eating or unwinding in your spacious room, the coastal edge of the resort features two hammocks, upscale fire pits for large groups, and oversized wooden beach chairs near water’s edge for guests to relax and enjoy sunrises, sunshine, sunsets, and the stars.
Meander a little farther from the fire pits, beach chairs and hammocks and you will find a pathway to the property’s beach, where you can sunbathe, kayak, standup paddleboard, wade in the water or go diving.
The resort also offers a spa for guests to be pampered.
Villa Del Palmar pretty much shuts down by 10:30 p.m. as the resort aims to be as family-friendly as possible. Accordingly there is no nightlife on the property, meaning you could either take a shuttle to a nightclub nearby or order a taxi to Loreto.
City of Loreto
Loreto is a small town by all accounts. There is only one traffic light in the entire city. Local roads are made of bricks (and a few outside of town are still made of dirt). You can walk from one end of the international airport to the other within 5 minutes. Good luck finding a McDonald’s or WalMart anywhere (you won’t).
What you will find in town are a handful of local nightlife destinations (Mike’s Bar, Vic’s Bar, Ruta 1 Sports Bar), many local eateries, boutique shops and historical landmarks.
Perhaps the most significant historical landmark is Mission of Our Lady of Loreto, which is the southern end of El Camino Real – yes, the same El Camino Real that traverses through California.
Loreto, originally a settlement of Colonial Spain’s rule in Mexico, is one of the oldest cities on the Baja California peninsula and is rich with history. It served as the first official capitol of California from 1697 to 1777.
Several artifacts and religious art are on display at the Jesuit Missions Museum. The town square is also a great spot to pass time and people watch. At the edge of the town square is a long row of arc-shaped ficus trees, creating a pleasant walking experience.
On many nights locals cruise the length of Paseo A. Lopez Mateos (the main drag where Marina de Bahia Loreto is located), hang out at the local beaches and stroll around the neighborhood, providing a buzz and electricity not found anywhere else in town.
If you want to get away from city life – which is not too crazy since Loreto is home to about 14,000 residents – then visit the local mountain range, where you will find cave painting in nearby canyons and rock shelters. Sierra La Giganta – about 9 miles away from Loreto – is where you will find these cave paintings. Head north of the city toward the La Pigüica archeological site then make your way up to the cliff top at La Pintada Cave.
What ultimately separates Loreto from Mexico’s more-advertised destinations (Los Cabos, Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Ensenada, etc.) is the city’s authenticity. Loreto’s personality is casual and laid-back. The people are friendly and can live it up at a local bar, enjoy quality time with friends over a tasty meal, take in a live musical performance on the sidewalk or mingle with residents and visitors at the beach.
Spending time in within Loreto city limits provides visitors with a slice of Mexico. The region offers visitor-serving amenities amidst a city with real flavor and personality.
Throughout the year are festivals, exhibitions and traditional dance events celebrating local, regional and national culture, all adding to Loreto’s charm and character.
If you stay at any of the local resorts – such as Villa Del Palmar – you will certainly have a selection of modern cuisine crafted by executive chefs. Other flavors can be found in Loreto, ranging from local fare to international cuisine.
Mi Loreto offers local Mexican fare and offers a wide range of seafood dishes. The mango margaritas are apparently a hot item. The restaurant’s overall décor gives Mi Loreto a lot of character and personality, what with colorful and homely tables filling up a casual and relaxing patio. Loreto’s simple lifestyle and easygoing ways are really on display here.
Orlando’s Mexican Cocina is probably one of the most iconic restaurants in Loreto. The restaurant is known for its coconut shrimp, tostadas, combination plates, and breakfast. Similar to Mi Loreto, Orlando’s features a colorful table clothes, plastic chairs and a casual atmosphere.
In the local town square are a handful of cafes and small eateries. Azure is a café open late night. There is also a sushi restaurant and late night pizzeria nearby. About a block away is Covacha, which serves burgers and casual Mexican food. An in-house pool table gives diners a chance to enjoy some casual competition among friends afterwards after having a meal.
Offering Italian flavors and tapas-style items is Mezzaluna on Avenida Miguel Hidalgo. Mezzaluna is only open for dinner but its café-style atmosphere in the heart of town makes this an ideal place to enjoy a good meal while taking in the town. The menu fits any budget, as well.
There are also a handful of dining outposts along Federal Highway 1 between Loreto and Villa Del Palmar. If you ever get a chance to venture out for a beautiful drive – just pay attention to meandering cows, burros and roadrunners.
Traveling to Loreto
Getting to Loreto is as easy as A-B-C (Air-Boat-Car).
Los Angeles area boaters who wish to approach Loreto by air instead of sea or land can fly on Alaska Airlines.
Alaska services Loreto from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) with one flight to and from the small Baja California Sur town. Check Alaska Airlines to find out what days the one flight heads south of the border.
The airport is quite small. Odds are you will not see another commercial airliner when you arrive. The airport seems to be large enough to handle just one commercial aircraft at a time. Only a handful of other planes fly in and out of Loreto Airport: WestJet for Canadian travelers and Aero Califia for domestic flights.
WestJet services Calgary on a seasonal basis while Aero Calafia flies to Tijuana, Guaymas, La Paz and Hermosillo. San Diego boaters would probably find it easier to fly to Loreto from Tijuana.
Naturally you will need a current passport. During your flight you will be handed two pieces of papers to fill out and hand to immigration officials once on the ground at Loreto Airport. As soon as you step off the plane you enter into Mexican immigration.
Once you clear customs and exit the security area you are in the airport’s lobby, where you will find taxi drivers angling for your business. There is a car rental area next to the airport’s exit.
Flying might be efficient but navigating to Loreto by sea is certainly a worthwhile endeavor if you are a boat owner.
Boaters docked in or launching from marinas along the Southern California coast should head south toward Los Cabos, round Baja California’s southern tip, then head north into the Sea of Cortez and toward Loreto.
It is not uncommon to find boats freely anchored in portions of Loreto Bay. A few boats were anchored off the beach attached to Villas Del Palmar.
If you are looking to dock at an actual marina the two best places to go are Puerto Escondido – about halfway between the city of Loreto and Villa Del Palmar resort – and Marina Bahia Loreto.
Puerto Escondido – literally “Hidden Harbor” – is actually part of two anchorages in what is considered by locals as the most protected area for anglers and boaters along Baja California Sur’s east coast.
The first anchorage boaters approaching Puerto Escondido will find is The Waiting Room, which has some exposure to the elements associated with open water (such as hurricanes, which are frequent in the area) but is perfect for anyone making a quick stop while navigating up and down the Sea of Cortez. The Waiting Room is also an ideal anchorage for people who either want to be close to open waters or during low tide at the marina. (Puerto Escondido is best accessed from The Waiting Room during high tide.)
There are a few basic services at Puerto Escondido, such as a handful of slips, bathrooms and a large parking area. The marina is connected to Federal Highway 1, meaning anyone with access to a car can access Loreto and the area’s many resorts. Villa Del Palmar is about a 15-minute drive from Puerto Escondido.
A private company recently purchased the marina at Puerto Escondido from the Mexican government.
The company currently has plans to accommodate boats up to 150 feet long within the marina while developing the land surrounding Puerto Escondido with residences and hotels.
Puerto Escondido is currently home to 40 slips, 100 buoy mooring positions and can accommodate 100-foot vessels. Boaters also have access to a fuel dock and dry storage.
Marina Bahia Loreto is about 117 nautical miles north of La Paz, 10 nautical miles away from Loreto and a 1,273-nautical-mile journey from San Diego. The marina offers 50 slips, dressing rooms and a boat launch ramp. Adjacent to the marina is the cultural and social heart of Loreto – the city’s top hotels, restaurants and visitor-serving businesses are all within a 10-minute walk from the marina.
Driving to Loreto is also an option, especially if you have a boat on a trailer.
Mexico’s Federal Highway 1 basically connects Tijuana to Los Cabos. Driving from Los Angeles to Loreto is similar, in distance, as the drive from Los Angeles to Seattle – although much of your travel will be along a curvy and hilly two-lane highway, especially south of Ensenada.
Alternatively drivers with boat trailers can head to San Felipe or Puerto Peñasco and then navigate south to Loreto.