Mexico / Baja California  / Breakpoints / Loreto
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Monday, April 24, 2017

Loreto

Headquarters and Mother of the Lower and Upper California Missions


The inscription over the entrance of the church makes it plain to everyone – “Cabeza y Madre de las Misiones de Baja y Alta California”. Loreto, today a town of 10,000 inhabitants, is full of history. On October 19, 1697, Jesuit Father Juan María Salvatierra landed here and founded the Misión Nuestra Señora de Loreto, the first mission in Baja California. Before long, it became the religious and secular center for the exploration of the whole of Spanish California. Until 1829, Loreto‘s year of destiny, it also was the capital of this huge area, which extended from the southern tip of Baja California to what is now the US state of Oregon. In 1829, a hurricane destroyed the town and damaged it so heavily that the decision was taken not to rebuild it, but to transfer the capital to La Paz.

Loreto thus sank into insignificance, which lasted until way into the 20th century. Only the beginning of tourism and particularly of sport fishing after WWII led to a new rise, which gathered momentum, after the transpeninsular highway MEX-1 had been completed in 1973.
Sport fishing for yellow-fin tunas, dorados, snappers, sail fishes and marlins is today the tourist sport no. 1.

The Mexican government had big plans in the 1970‘s. Following the example of the Cape region and inspired by the pleasant sunny climate, it intended to realize ample holiday projects around Loreto. Investments were made, for instance, in Nopolo, 5 miles (8 km) south of Loreto; a zone of hotels and apartments, boulevards shaded by palms, a tennis center and an 18-hole golf ground were created, but there are no attractive sand beaches, and so the large-scale project works on a pleasantly smaller scale.

So far there has been no tourist invasion as in the Cape region – luckily one is inclined to say, because this allowed Loreto to preserve its charm and character. One of the places to enjoy both is the impressive church in the center, which overlooks the town so as to be visible from afar. The massive building survived the hurricane of 1829 and was restored in 1978. The interior is adorned by a gold-plated altar from the 18th century, paintings and the statue of the Virgen de Loreto. Next to the church is the interesting Museum of the Missions, where the history of the missions and anthropological subjects are displayed. And in front of it, you‘ll see him, Juan María Salvatierra, the father of all Californian missions, sculptured as a stone bust. A bit farther, in the surroundings, you will find the municipal hall, cozy restaurants and souvenir shops.

Hidden in the mountains of the Sierra Giganta west of Loreto, there is the mission of San Xavier.

This mission, which is used as a church still today, was built in 1699 by Father Francisco Piccolo, an assistant to Salvatierra, but abandoned after raids by the Indians. Father Ugarte, who knew the language of the Cochimí and reopened the mission, succeeded in appeasing the Indians. The mission is considered to be the most beautiful building of its kind in Baja California.

Loreto is not least a starting point for visits to the offshore islands. From the small port, where you can see brown pelicans diving to catch fish, the boats depart to the Isla Coronado, a volcanic island of classic shape, which features very beautiful stone formations, bird colonies and a white beach. The islands of Del Carmen, Monserrate y Santa Catalina are a little farther away. On all three islands, you can find Ferocactus diguetii, an enormous barrel cactus, which can grow up to 13 ft (4 m) high and some 10 ft (3 m) round. Santa Catalina further offers the Santa Catalina rattlesnake, which has lost its rattle during evolution.

The whole marine area was proclaimed Parque Marítimo Nacional Bahía de Loreto in 1997 so that the preservation of these treasures of nature is ensured.