Loreto Takes the Leap

It’s not Cancun or Cabo it’s a kinder, gentler paradise

By: Arline Inge

The sleepy fishing village of Loreto, 700 miles down the east coast of the Baja Peninsula, just woke up with a jolt. The tourists are coming! Since the ’60s, Loreto has been the private playground of sport-fishermen, who flew down to mine the rich blue waters of the Sea of Cortez for marlin, tuna and dorado. Today, the town and the vast cactus garden desert around it are about to become Mexico’s newest mega-resort but with a refreshing difference.

Mexico’s tourism development agency, Fonatur, which engineered the rise of Cancun, Los Cabos and Ixtapa, has had its share of false starts here. But in 2003, the government gave the green light to eco-friendly building developers, Scottsdale-based Loreto Bay Company, for a long-term project of 6,000 low-profile homes and condos.

The first two-story model home is up and ready for inspection. It stands near the luxurious Camino Real resort hotel at Loreto Bay (the new name for Nopolo Bay), at the southern end of the development’s 8,000 acres. The hotel is one of two major resorts from an earlier project.

In mid-February, Alaska Airlines began twice-weekly flights from LAX to Loreto’s Fonatur-built international airport and has been bringing down planeloads of prospective buyers. Home prices range from $250,000 for two bedrooms to $2 million for custom mansions. All owners will be entitled to optional maid and concierge service, beach club and tennis, and golf memberships in a soon-to-be-redesigned course by champion David Duval.

“All these amenities can be offered along with homes in the commissionable rental pool,” said the Loreto Bay Company’s vice president for tourism marketing Don Weintraub, who expects that up to 75 percent of the owners, many part-time residents, will participate in the pool. Some 60 houses should be ready for occupancy by July.

Excited new buyers, stepped-up air service and cruise-ship port stops such as Holland America’s 13 calls on the town of Loreto this year, are spreading the buzz. And the town, which is only three miles from the new development, is already beefing up its own hotel inventory. Up to now lodgings have been mostly small fishermen’s havens, with the exception of the locals’ pride and joy, the rose-colored 22-room boutique hotel, Posada de las Flores, on Loreto’s flower-decked plaza.

Loreto tourism official Renato Arias Sazorio reported that the abandoned 46-room Mision Hotel, with its arcaded facade along the malacon (the seaside promenade), is about to be sold and refurbished. The newer Hacienda Suites hotel at the edge of downtown is currently building meeting space and doubling its room count to 50.

As for the picturesque cobble-stoned downtown, with its 300-year-old mission church, low-key tourist shops and stalls, its outdoor cafes, intimate watering holes and family-run restaurants, Sazorio assured us, “Our little town has only a population of about 15,000 now, and we know we are in for a boom. But we will never let Loreto lose its charm.”

Nor will the ever-fascinating desert that surrounds it. We signed up for a guided tour in 5,000 acres of pristine desert that the Loreto Bay Company has dedicated as a nature preserve, ideal for hiking, riding and organic farming. In recent years this desert, with early cave paintings and remote villages and ranches to be explored, has begun to attract backcountry adventurers, snorkelers, divers and kayakers, along with many more sport-fishermen. The bountiful Sea of Cortez, now protected from commercial fishing, is alive with wily game fish, playful dolphins and grouchy sea lions. In winter, humpbacks, orcas and blue whales and dolphins roam among the islands.

To watch the giant grays that swim down from the Bering Sea to breed and give birth in warm waters, a two-hour drive across the narrow peninsula takes you to Magdalena Bay. We motored out in the calm waters of this famous whale nursery in a fleet of 26-foot skiffs called pangas. Curious babies, followed by watchful mamas, swam right up to our boat, while cameras clicked. We reached out to pat a mother the size of a small submarine; a friend bent down and sneaked the baby a kiss.

But wait, something is still strangely missing from Fonatur’s newest paradise. Where is the dance-on-the tables nightlife? And when will we see that swank row of high-rise hotels along the beach?

“That’s just not us,” Weintraub said with a shrug and a glance at the sun setting behind the mountains. “But look what we have to offer.”


NEW from Alaska Airlines
LAX-Loreto: Thursday and Sunday
Loreto-LAX: Thursday and Sunday


In Town:

Posada de las Flores: In an old Colonial building beautifully decorated with Mexican art. Great service. Fine restaurants. On the Plaza.
Bay of Loreto

Camino Real: Handsome luxury beach resort with all amenities. Adjoining golf course. Choice of restaurants. Concierge arranges for all sports and tours.


El Canipole: Authentic moles and more traditional dishes cooked over wood fire in giant earthenware cazuelas. In heart of town. Pino Suarez and Magdalena de Kino.

La Terraza: Steaks, seafood and Mexican dishes in charming upstairs dining room steps from the plaza. Madero 16.


Budget and Hertz serve Loreto. Taxis are plentiful.


Loreto Bay Company

Loreto Tourist Office