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Travel agents recommending Loreto for their clients’ next Mexico getaway might just find themselves the recipient of a puzzled look before being asked just what the heck Texas has to do with Mexico. It seems the city of Loreto, Mexico — located in the middle of Baja California — is frequently confused with Laredo, the Texas metropolis located along the Rio Grande.
The confusion isn’t really that surprising.
Although millions of Americans visit Mexico each year, Loreto, a small town of about 10,000 inhabitants, has never been one of the country’s “it” destinations.
Until recently the city’s only international service was via a five-times-a-week flight from Los Angeles on an 80-seat Alaska Airlines jet. In late March, AeroMexico added a daily flight also connecting LAX with Loreto, with continuing service to other points in Mexico.
Located almost midway between border town Tijuana and party spot Cabo San Lucas, and fronting the Sea of Cortez, Loreto’s biggest claim to fame is its excellent sport fishing.
The charming destination, which retains a feel of “authentic” Mexico, has lot to crow about, however. It is the oldest permanent settlement in Baja California, and the downtown area is the start of the El Camino Real, the route traveled by Jesuit priests, which today connects California’s missions.
The Loreto Bay is home to a number of volcanic islands, which are all part of the larger Loreto Bay National Park, a nearly 800-square-mile stretch of islands, wetlands and lagoons that house more than 80 percent of all aquatic animals found in the Pacific Ocean.
During my trip, a three-hour boat ride netted us a view of local dolphins who played in the water around our powerboat. Thanks to the quick eye of our boat captain Sergio, we also spotted several heron and the Blue-footed Booby, as well as a mother sea lion aggressively protecting her new born baby. And that was all before we started snorkeling.
Although Loreto’s volcanic islands and abundant aquatic life make it a popular destination with snorkelers and divers, the area has nowhere near the traffic of some of Mexico’s other better-known snorkeling sites. It was refreshing to enjoy an afternoon splashing around in the water without having to compete with throngs of nature lovers.
Villa del Palmar Loreto
Remote, unspoiled beauty tends to be Loreto’s unofficial catch phrase.
It’s a phrase that even Villa del Palmar, the area’s largest resort, seems to live by. The resort is remote indeed. It is located some 40 minutes outside of downtown, and the drive to the entrance is along two-kilometers of gravel road. It is so remote, the resort calls itself “Baja California’s first million-star resort,” and the lack of any neighboring developments or traffic indeed make this a great location for star gazing.
In the case of Villa del Palmar, remote also translates to scenic. The resort is tucked into a private cove, Ensenada Blanca, and every room, all of which feature massive balconies, overlooks the Sea of Cortez and the area’s majestic mountainous, desert scenery.
Although the resort is quiet — its sole nightclub is a shuttle ride away — there’s plenty to do here. There are a number of on-site activities such as kayak rentals, handicraft-making programs, Spanish classes and nightly activities. Regularly scheduled, free shuttles also take guests into town several times a day.
On-site tour operator Wild Loreto can also organize a number of sightseeing activities and excursions, including a trip to nearby Mission San Javier, a restored mission founded in 1699, as well as sport fishing, snorkeling and diving trips.
Mostly, though, this is a place to chill out. There’s a beach, a number of pools, a giant Jacuzzi and every location on the property takes maximum advantage of the fabulous views of the Sea of Cortez. While the energetic activities director can occasionally be heard shouting his signature “I love you” from whatever program he happens to be leading, the noise level is intentionally kept to a minimum — no poolside DJs here — so people can really soak up the natural setting.
When travelers face so much downtime, food because an integral component of the experience and, in this case, Villa del Palmar does not disappoint.
Although this isn’t an all-inclusive in the traditional style, there are food plans available for $89 per person, per day. Don’t let the term “food plan” scare you, however, the dining here is of the highest caliber and foodie clients would be well advised to try the resort for the eats alone.
Executive Chef Robert Cardazzo, the once-owner of Los Cabos’ successful Casanova Ristorante Veneziano, has brought his considerable culinary talents to Loreto, much to the delight of Villa del Palmar’s guests.
One of the resort highlights are the “chocolate clams.” Chocolate lovers, don’t celebrate quite yet — these clams are named for the dark color of their shell and are generally eaten raw, although Chef Roberto can also cook them to order. Guests can also make a special request to join Chef Roberto on a kayaking excursion where they find and dig up their own clams.
Although absolutely worth the investment, meal plans are optional, and guests who elect to go the alternate route can whip up their own meals in the nearly full-size kitchens included in each of the resort’s one-bedroom suites. Even the deluxe suites — one room class below the one-bedroom suite, and the lowest room class available at the resort — come equipped with a fully serviceable kitchenette.
For clients who love the people and culture of Mexico — without all the noise of the party scene — Villa del Palmar might just be the perfect destination.
Most of the guests I spoke with learned about the resort by reading about it in the Alaska Airlines in-flight magazine, while traveling somewhere else in Mexico, usually Los Cabos. The peaceful resort, and its scenic beauty, seems to have converted them all into die-hard fans, as everyone I spoke with emphatically stated once they’d been to Loreto, Los Cabos had lost its appeal.
Villa del Palmar officials are so convinced that once guests have visited their resort, they will become emphatic converts. So, the resort is sweetening the pot.
Until May 19, any client who books the resort — and references this article at TravelAge West — will receive free airfare for two passengers. Travel must be completed by May 19 to be eligible for this offer, which is subject to availability. Rooms at Villa del Palmar start from $150 per night.
Special room and airline rates are also available for travel agents — with rooms and flights typically starting at $99 — but full details had not been finalized as of press time.