Yesterday, I returned home from Mexico, but probably not a part you’ve visited. I spent time in Loreto, on the Baja California Sur peninsula, and I discovered a town that is quintessential Mexico without the tourists, the party atmosphere, and the hidden dangers found in places like Cabo or Cancun.
Beautiful Loreto sits about a 4-hour drive south of the capital city of La Paz. The flight in is breathtaking as you watch the water turn to turquoise blue and mountains rise up from the narrow peninsula that juts out between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California (romantically known as the Sea of Cortez). About 20,000 people live here full time, and ex-pats from the U.S. and Canada frequently stay through the winter months, arriving during September and leaving again in April.
It doesn’t take long to figure out why they come. Brightly colored buildings, the main street lined with a crayon box of colored peace flags, historic churches whose bells ring every three hours, the smell of fresh corn tortillas and beans permeating the air, uneven cobblestone streets, and friendly Spanish chatter all create a town where everything feels at once quaint, authentic, homey, and safe.
A block away, waves meet the stacked rocks that line the shore. Runners, dog walkers, strollers pushing strollers, all make their way along the malecon, a waterfront esplanade that occasionally rises to a viewing platform. There, you’ll spot egrets, herons, pelicans, and gulls, watch fish jump from the water, and take in a sunrise you’ll never forget.
A short drive to the mountain side of Loreto is a study in contrasts. The desert displays its arid vegetation here – cardon cactuses reach up to the sky, burros and horses lazily cross the road, a horned lizard speeds so quickly across a basaltic rock that you question if you really saw it, and a tarantula pokes a leg out of a hole just enough to make you jump back.
This is the place to chase a sunset you’ll never forget, to hike a canyon where an arroyo lined with palm trees and cactus flowers will have you stopping frequently to get a better look.
To have all of this – desert, town, mountains and sea – all within just a few miles is a treat for the eyes and the soul. To have it without hordes of people, without lines at restaurants, and with the freedom to walk around town, day and night, safely – well, that is what makes Loreto my new favorite town in Mexico.
From Houston, you can catch a morning flight, connect through Phoenix, and with the time change, arrive just in time for lunch. Accommodations vary according to your taste. I stayed in a boutique hotel with a beautiful courtyard where my breakfast was delivered promptly at 7:30 every day. I sat outside among the bougainvillea and Spanish arches, drank my coffee, and anticipated the day ahead.
My days included real Mexican food (the break from Tex-Mex was much appreciated) and a variety of activities so that every day was different. One day I explored the town and learned about its history, a fascinating story about the influence of the Jesuit missionaries that led to missions you can visit during your stay. Did you know the first cowboy came from Loreto? You can argue with your guide about that one, who will insist that the Buckaroos were the first cowboys.
On my second day, I hiked the Canyon of the Vines, or Canyon de las Parras, part of the Sonoran Desert. The physical activity felt great after filling my belly with fresh caught seabass, the local chocolate clams, and Pattaya flan. As I descended into the canyon, I marveled at the lush center fed by the rushing water and its contrast with the soaring desert canyon, towering cacti, and dry climate.
I spent my third day on the sea, lazing on a net in the bow of a catamaran. I saw an enormous whale (is there any other kind?) splashing in the water ahead and took picture after picture of the unusual rock formations rising out of the crystal clear water. I stopped to snorkel at a reef teeming with parrotfish, pufferfish, angelfish, and hogfish. I spotted starfish, moray eels, and sea anemones. Then I had one of the most peaceful, prayerful moments I’ve ever had. I SUP’d (stand up paddle boarded) in a cove of turquoise water, not another human in sight. The only sound I heard was my paddle in the water, the cry of gulls, and the gentle lapping of waves. As I paddled, I prayed, thanking God for this beautiful paradise and the opportunity to experience it.
Vacations – if you choose them well – can do that for you. They can remind you of the beauty of God’s creation and the gifts He gives us every single day. I’m thankful for Loreto, for the kindness of the hardworking people there, and for God’s gift of nature that leaves us in awe.