The Lure of the Sea
9 Top Activities To Do in Loreto, Mexico
Two of the most beautiful and non-touristy destinations in Mexico’s Baja California Sur are Loreto and Todos Santos. Both have been named Pueblos Magicos (Magic Towns). Both are rich in culture, traditions, and hospitality, one difference is that Loreto has an international airport. I love both!
Loreto is quaint, authentic, and quiet. Nestled right on the Sea of Cortez with its warm, swimmable waters, Loreto offers endless ways to enjoy what Jacques Cousteau dubbed “the Aquarium of the World.” With six offshore islands in the Sea of Cortez, and 800 miles of pristine sea waters comprising the Bay of Loreto National Park, this destination offers a remarkable variety and abundance of marine life.
Loreto is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the first Spanish colonial community on the Baja Peninsula. Untarnished by noise, crowds, and big resorts like those found in Cabo, this seaside village offers a wide array of outdoor activities, dazzling landscapes, and some of the most breath-taking sunrises. If you are a traveler who likes culture, food, water, and nature, then Loreto needs to be on your trip list.
I have been to Loreto three times and plan to visit again. Here are my 9 top activities to do, suggestions on where to stay, and an overview of how to get there.
1. Spend time in the quaint historic town center which takes you back in time with cobblestone streets surrounded by colonial architecture, single story tiendas (shops) and restaurants frequented by both locals and visitors. At the center of it all is the mission, Nuestra Señora de Loreto, founded in 1697 by Jesuit priests. When you are done visiting the mission wander next door to the museum where you will find three centuries of history showcased through art, ancient documents, weapons, tools, and other artifacts. Then take a peaceful stroll along the Malecón while you take in sweeping water vistas.
2. Enjoy dining in one of the many locally owned restaurants and cafes. Whether you want a quick bite, breakfast, or a leisurely dinner with killer views of the Sea of Cortez, you will find an option.
3. No trip to Loreto is complete without getting in the water. The tropical warm turquoise sea is teaming with an array of colorful fish. Like scenes out of a National Geographic show, I’ve experienced a school of fish leap from the sea just a few feet from me, tiny brightly colored fish swarm around me and pelicans that dove just a couple feet away making sure I don’t swim too close to their next meal. The joy of snorkeling in Loreto is you can take tours out to the nearby islands or you can done your mask, fins and snorkel and simply jump at one of the many sandy beaches and enjoy swimming with a large variety of warm weather fish.
4. For truly a once in a lifetime experience, visit Loreto during the first three months of the year. That is when whales make their annual 6,000-mile journey from the icy waters around Alaska to the warm waters of the Sea of Cortez. You can spot humpback, orca, grey and even blue whales. This location is where these gentle giants give birth to their calves, where the whale babies learn to swim, and where you can get up close and personal with these majestic creatures.
5. Abundant water sport opportunities will make your visit filled with adventure experiences. You can snorkel, scuba dive, stand-up paddle board, kayak, sail, swim, and go sportfishing. The water is warm year-round, but in my opinion the best time to visit Loreto is between late September through May. The summer months get very hot and humid, although from what I understand summer is a great time for sportfishing.
6. One of the most unexpected pleasures traveling in Baja is the terrain. The juxtapose between the vibrant azure sea and the jagged rock formations that jut out of the sea makes hiking and exploring this rugged landscape one Instagram moment after the other. Pro-tip, make sure to bring sunscreen, water, sunglasses, a hat, close toed shoes, and a camera. And equally important, stay on the winding footpaths and trails, there are snakes and wildlife that you want to respect and avoid.
7. If you enjoy partaking in activities on your travels, Loreto offers many options from ATV Desert Tours where you snake your way on paths between the Sierra de la Giganta Mountains and the Sea of Cortez, sportfishing in a panga (skiff) and reel in the “catch” of the day that you can enjoy for dinner, whale watching (from Jan. through March), snorkel and scuba diving tours to horseback riding adventures, stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking.
8. For you golfers out there, Loreto has gorgeous courses that are artfully designed to wind through the rocks and natural water hazards while simultaneously serving up stunning vistas. Two notable courses are the Loreto Bay Baja Golf Club and Danzante Bay Golf Course connected with the Villa del Palmar Resort.
9. The abundance of ecotourism in Loreto is complemented by the richness of cultural heritage and history experiences you can enjoy while visiting. Beyond taking in the culture and quiet of Loreto, you can learn and experience its colonial past by visiting the Mission of San Javier located in the remote mountain village of the same name. The mission, built by Jesuits around 1699, is about an hour’s drive from Loreto and its resort hotels. The drive is scenic through the Sierra de la Giganta mountains on a windy road that takes a bit of caution to maneuver. There are tours you can book if you don’t want to take the drive on your own. Perfect if you love learning while you visit and going beyond the typical excursions.
Where to stay:
There are many options of accommodations in Loreto from the 5-star all-inclusive luxury resort Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto to vacation rental homes. Your choice of where to stay will be guided by budget and what type of experience you want to have.
The newest and most luxurious place to stay is Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto. I have stayed there twice and if you enjoy beautiful vistas, well-appointed rooms and suites with large balconies, six dining choices, from the Beach Bar with fresh coconuts and an array of specialty drinks to Casa Mia where you can indulge in Italian cuisine and Mexican favorites with sea views in an all-inclusive setting, then this is the place. Located about 30 minutes south of town, the resort is located on a private bay with calm shallow waters teaming with fish. The resort is a perfect place to unplug and unwind, enjoy nature, and relax. There are 5 pools, golf, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, walking paths and a pristine beach. The water off the beach is shallow and calm making it perfect for little ones.
One thing to be aware of is when you check in you will be approached by timeshare sales staff as the resort is part of the Villa Group Timeshares and Universal Vacation Club International.
Closer to town and located in a development enclave is Loreto Bay Golf Resort & Spa. This quiet hotel is simpler than Villa del Palmar, only ten minutes from the airport and fifteen from the center of town on the bay of Nopoló, and offers direct beach access, two pools, a spa and golf onsite. The architecture is what I call Baja rustic with clean lines, bold colors, and wood accents. The staff is friendly, the resort feels more like a retreat than a hotel and besides the restaurants onsite, there are locally owned restaurants in walking distance from the hotel within the gated area of homes that are also part of Loreto Bay Development in Nopoló.
Which brings me to additional choices you have for staying and enjoying the area of Nopoló, vacation homes. Adjacent to the resort is a development of homes and townhomes forming a walkable village with Spanish Colonial styling, the homes are solid and simple with plaster walls, terra cotta floors and Bolivian Cedar doors and moldings. The Villages of Loreto Bay are filled with retirees and snowbirds from the U.S. and Canada and tourists seeking to have more of a home stay experience than a hotel stay experience. You can search for homes to rent in this development on VRBO, ABnB, and other vacation home rental sites.
If staying in town is more your scene, then check out three options:
Posada de las Flores This boutique hotel makes you feel as if you are staying in a private estate. Each room and space throughout the property is designed with authentic, custom Mexican-Colonial touches. The hotel offers breakfast included and has a rooftop deck and pool with commanding views. Excellent location adjacent to the plaza and just a couple blocks to the Malecón (beach promenade).
Posada del Cortes Hotel The hotel’s ambiance blends the comfort expected today with the luxury and tradition of an antique Mexican home. The architecture and interior design have been carefully curated with elements from Colonial-Mexican décor including Talavera, wood, and iron. Each piece of furniture has been designed according to the colonial style of the 18th century. Located in a convenient location in Loreto Historic Center, surrounded by restaurants, coffee shops and shopping area, and a walkable distance to the main attractions such as Loreto Bay National Marine Park, Museum of the Missions, Main Square, and the Church of Nuestra Sra. de Loreto.
Hotel La Misión de Loreto Overlooking the Sea of Cortez and the Malecón, Hotel La Misiόn is a renovated historical resort. Well appointed, this resort in the heart of Loreto offers two restaurants, a cantina known for its margaritas, spacious suites that serve up breathtaking views of the sea, islands, bell tower and mountains. Complete with a resort-styled pool, spa and concierge services, this is a delightful is a luxury option for your Loreto getaway.
Loreto Mexico lies along the eastern coast of the Baja Peninsula where the sea is turquoise, the breeze is cool, and the streets are cobblestone. The airport is basically a well-designed Quonset hut with one room for arrivals and one for departures, a bar and some trinket and food shops. That’s it, small, simple and efficient.
It’s easy to catch a taxi to take you to your hotel or rent a car. Flights are limited so you need to plan around that.
My husband and I are fortunate to live in San Diego, so for us getting to Loreto is easy. We use the Cross Border Xpress (CBX). CBX is an international bridge connecting the Tijuana airport with the city of San Diego. Using the bridge allows us to enter Mexico then catch a direct domestic Mexican flight from the Tijuana Airport to Loreto. To expedite crossing, when we purchase our airline tickets, we also purchase and complete the immigration form (FMM) and purchase the CBX crossing pass. When we arrive at the CBX terminal, we present our passports, completed immigration forms, our boarding passes and purchased CBX tickets. The ticket has a southbound and northbound pass allowing us to pass south through the bridge to leave and north when we return to pass through the U.S. border check. You can only cross within 24 hours of your flight and the staff at CBX are there to assist making the passing seamless.
If you are flying from other areas of the U.S., Alaska Airlines flies from L.A. and San Francisco to Loreto. American Airlines from Phoenix and Dallas to Loreto. WestJet flies from Calgary, Canada to Loreto.
Flights are not daily on any airline, so you need to plan the length of your stay based on the flight schedules. Remember, Loreto is a small town in the middle of the eastern side of Baja. When you land, you will deplane onto a tarmac, pass through security and bag check and enter the Quonset hut styled terminal. This isn’t Cabo, plan accordingly, it is worth it!
There is so much to see and do in Loreto, whether you try all the things I’ve mentioned, or you blaze your own trail, this Pueblo Magico will provide an unforgettable trip rich in culture, nature and is perhaps the closest experience you can get to viewing a wide range of wildlife next to visiting the Galapagos Islands.