Isles of Loreto

Exploring Baja’s final frontier

By: Renée Huang

When it comes to Baja California there aren’t many unexplored resort areas on this 1,000-mile finger of land between two stunning bodies of water. But a visit to Loreto, a fishing village that has received a stamp of approval from Mexico’s tourism development agency, FONATUR, proves there are plenty of sights unseen particularly when one takes to the ocean to explore some of the region’s many islands.

Here, arid hillsides, filled with more than 100 varieties of cactus, still hold mysterious cave paintings from indigenous tribes long gone. And water adventures are full of unexpected encounters with wild sea creatures that call this part of the Sea of Cortez home.

Touring the Islands

One sunny afternoon in June, our tin panga boat skimmed the surface of the clear water heading out toward the largest of five islands surrounding Loreto.

Loreto was the first of 82 mission towns established by Jesuit priests in the Californias in 1697, and the region flourished under Spanish influences. A seashell-and-sand mission with a domed bell tower rises above low adobe brick buildings and the swaying palms near the town square.

But the true heart of Loreto, which means “place of laurels,” lies in the sea: fishing for tuna, billfish, dorado and sea bass have sustained families for generations. The coves, lagoons and clear waters surrounding the five islands Coronado, Del Carmen, Danzante, Montserrat and Santa Catalina form a protective shelter for the mainland and are part of Mexico’s largest marine park.

Loreto Bay National Marine Park was officially established in 1996, and spans 38 miles of coastline nearly 22 miles offshore. Large commercial fishing boats are prohibited to allow local fishermen to earn a living.

Moving along in our panga, we passed each distinctly different island. In front of us, clouds of flying fish leaped out of the water in shimmering arcs as the mainland retreated behind our plume of frothing white water. One island we passed featured smooth escarpments of slate gray, another seemed rounded by the wind and a third had a colony of glistening sea lions lazing blissfully about in the sun.

Closer to cactus-covered Coronado Island, with its white-sand beach, we spied a pod of dolphins as they changed direction and headed straight for us. Playing in front of a neighboring boat for a few moments, they seemed to delight in leaping out of the water, teasing a small boy who stretched out his hand to touch their smooth skin.

We finally dropped anchor on Coronado’s El Atracadero Blanco and spent the next few hours relaxing on the powdery sand and under a primitive thatched palapa. The beach fronted a crescent bay with black coral in the shallows, and a craggy island covered in giant cactus and red rocks in the distance.

On the beach, our boat captain deftly cooked us a delicious lunch of fresh fish fillets wrapped in tin foil and thrown on glowing coals served with fresh Mexican salsa, piping-hot corn tortillas and ice-cold beer.

Clambering up an embankment to the highest point on the island, I was greeted with a fantastic site: pale blue water ringing ivory sands that merged into dark cobalt sea and a larger land mass in the distance.

After lunch, snorkeling the frigid, aquamarine waters proved to be a wonderful adventure with a surprising array of colorful fish. In deeper water, groups of large yellow fish swirled slowly with the gentle current, and a reddish octopus the size of a basketball glided from crevice to crevice on its own magical journey.

By the time several hours had passed, our group had lapsed into a comfortable silence, simply lounging in the crystalline shallows, dozing in the shade or strolling on the sands.

We bid the island farewell in the late afternoon and let the hum of the panga motor lull us into a tranquil slumber as the sun dipped low on the horizon, and we skimmed the waters heading for home.


Inn at Loreto Bay (formerly Camino Real)
Blvd. Mision de Loreto s/n
Fracc. Nopolo
C.P. 23880, Loreto. B.C.S. Mexico
Accommodations: 155 rooms and suites

Posada de las Flores
Salvatierra esq. Madero Col. Centro
C.P. 23880, Loreto. B.C.S. Mexico
Accommodations: 15 rooms and suites

The Whales Inn
Blvd Mision de Loreto s/n
(formerly Diamond Eden)
C.P. 23880, Loreto. B.C.S. Mexico