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There's not too much going on between La Paz and Loreto. Once you've passed through Ciudad Constitución and Ciudad Insurgentes, north of La Paz, the highway becomes much quieter. It is well marked and easy to navigate as it veers west through Ciudad Constitución and Ciudad Insurgentes (which really don't merit any exploration, other than a stop for gas), and then east again through the flat, dusty desert up to Loreto.
Loreto's setting on the Sea of Cortez is spectacular: the gold and green hills of the Sierra de la Giganta seem to tumble into cobalt water. The desert climate harbors few bothersome insects, and according to local promoters, the skies are clear 360 days of the year.
The indigenous Kikiwa, Cochimí, Cucapa, and Kumiai peoples first inhabited the barren lands of Baja. Jesuit priest Juan María Salvatierra founded the first California mission at Loreto in 1697 and, not long after, the indigenous populations were nearly obliterated by disease and war. Seventy-two years later, a Franciscan monk from Mallorca, Spain—Father Junípero Serra—set out from here to establish a chain of missions from San Diego to San Francisco, in the land then known as Alta California.
In 1821 Mexico achieved independence from Spain, which ordered all missionaries home. Loreto's mission was abandoned and fell into disrepair. Then in 1829 a hurricane virtually destroyed the settlement, capital of the Californias at the time. The capital was moved to La Paz, and Loreto languished for a century. In the late 1970s, when oil revenue filled government coffers, the area was tapped for development. An international airport was built and a luxury hotel and tennis center opened, followed a few years later by a seaside 18-hole golf course. The infrastructure for a resort area south of town at Nopoló was set up. But the pace of development has slowed as the money has dried up in the worldwide economic turndown. Visions of Loreto becoming another Los Cabos are in "stay tuned" mode right now, and some here say that's a good thing.
Loreto has a population of around 13,000 full-time residents and an increasing number of part-timers who winter at hotels, homes, and trailer parks. It's still a good place to escape the crowds, relax, and go fishing or whale-watching. The Parque Maritímo Nacional Bahía de Loreto protects much of the Sea of Cortez in this area, but there are a few cruise ships that use Loreto as a port of call, and the marina at Puerto Escondido is central to the government's plans for a series of marinas.
Loreto at a Glance
Elsewhere in Baja Peninsula
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