Loreto is one of the oldest towns on the Baja Peninsula. The indigenous people thrived in this area for thousands of years – the Loreto area is considered to be the oldest human settlement on Baja. Spanish missionaries and Jesuits arrived in the late 1600s and established the first mission of the Californias here. Not many years later, they realized they needed a better water supply and agricultural capabilities, so the mission was moved into the hills about 20 miles away.
Loreto served as the capital of the Baja region until there was a major storm in 1829 and the capitol was moved to La Paz. There is a very small marina in the town that handles pangas and other small fishing boats but is not equipped for larger size vessels, which is why Puerto Escondido has become the focal marina in the region.
In the 20th century this town was refashioned into a tourist haven, and is very popular with American and Canadian tourists and ex-pats. We rented a car for two days from the marina in order to hit the grocery stores and farmer’s market for provisions and to do an excursion into the hills to see the Misión San Francisco Javier.
We drove the 14 miles along the well-paved highway passing a few resort communities and a lot of land marked private for a ranch. Once we entered town we got the lay of the land and scoped out where the grocery stores were before parking and walking to the town square area. There are obviously a lot of restaurants and shops with tourist goods. We were struck by how few people were around in the middle of Saturday morning. It is clear the pandemic has almost completely closed down the tourist business here. Unfortunately, most of the few tourists we did see were maskless, despite the Baja-wide mandate to wear masks.
The street in front of the Misión Nuestra Señora de Loreto in the middle of town was all torn up, so we weren’t getting close to it. There is a Malecon on the water which is reportedly good for strolling, but each day we passed by it, we were struck by a strong odor of waste so it wasn’t very appealing. This must be unusual.
The town square has many shaded benches for relaxing. We got fish tacos from the King of Tacos and took them to the square to eat. They were absolutely fantastic!
We hit both of the grocery stores and a small delicatessen styled store with gringo favorites like cheddar cheese and real crackers. I had a nice conversation with the owner. She asked if I had left my husband in the car and I said yes, we were minimizing how much we went into stores if not needed because of COVID. This led her to thank me for being so careful, and to talk about how scary it was for them because they (Mexican citizens) have to take care of themselves, they cannot rely on the healthcare system, and it is a very scary time. She wanted to know if I was going to get the vaccine (yes, for sure). She had heard that possibly by May she might be able to get one but wasn’t confident in how the government was rolling out the vaccine.
The next day our plan was to stop by the Sunday farmer’s market in the town square and then head to the hills. Unfortunately, it was clear as we approached the square that morning that there was nothing going on. An attendant in front of the town offices explained that because of the pandemic the market was only held every few weeks.
So, while disappointed and knowing we had to make a future grocery run to stock up on produce, we continued on the drive up into the hills to the Misión San Francisco Javier. The drive is stunning – winding roads, parts of which have some guardrails, other times not. There are beautiful canyons with lush greenery in the arroyo beds, and some lookouts with views out to the Sea.
On the way into the little town of the Misión, we passed what we believed to be a pilgrim fast-walking his way toward town, followed very slowly by a woman in a car. They appeared at the church a little while after we arrived. As happened in many areas where the Spanish settled missions, most of the population died from disease, so both the town and the Misión were abandoned. Both have since been restored and rejuvenated as a destination site. Services are held at the Misión but it appears it is not otherwise open to the public currently.
Behind the church are the grounds where the monks raised crops and built aqueducts to manage water which comes from a spring. They made wine, and there was a guy on site with locally made wine to try. Larry wanted to support and buy some, but we just found it not at all to our taste. We believe it was his son who served as our “tour” guide to the 300-year-old olive tree, so I tipped him an enormous amount instead.
There were a smattering of other people visiting the area too, but overall it was very quiet. We were able to have lunch at an outdoor table before heading back down the twisty highway for another round of provisioning before returning to Marina Puerto Escondido.