If you make only one excursion into the mountains on a drive along the Transpeninsular Highway, let timeless San Javier in the rugged Sierra de la Giganta be the one.
Located 36 kilometers southwest of Loreto at an elevation of 425 meters and along the deep Arroyo San Javier, this agricultural village of thatched-roof stone and adobe houses holds one of the best-preserved Spanish mission churches anywhere in Baja. Onions are San Javier’s major crop, but local farmers also grow citrus, guavas, figs, papayas, grapes, corn, chilies, and dates.
December 3 is San Javier’s patron saint day, and the week before this date is an especially festive time to visit.
Misión San Francisco Xavier de Viggé-Biaundó
Italian Padre Francisco María Píccolo founded the Mission San Javier (1699–1817) along the Arroyo San Javier in 1699, just two years after Padre Salvatierra established Baja’s first permanent mission in Loreto. Little remains of the structures that were built on the first San Javier site, which Píccolo abandoned a few years later due to a threatened revolt. But Padre Juan de Ugarte revived the mission in 1702, choosing a new location a few kilometers downstream. He planted seeds brought from the mainland to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables and also introduced cotton and sheep, from which the indigenous people learned to weave fabrics.
The church that survives today was constructed 1744–1758, under the guidance of Padre Miguel del Barco. It features detailed stonework around its doors and windows and a gilded altarpiece with a statue of San Javier. A glass cabinet in the sacristy displays precious vestments worn by the resident padres.
On Thursdays a priest from Loreto holds mass. Caretaker Francisca Arce de Bastida gives informal tours of the church (7 A.M.–6 P.M. daily, by donation).
Hotels and Restaurants
Most visitors spend only a day in San Javier, but if you want to stay overnight, there are a couple of options. The family that lives in the farmhouse behind the church rents a very rustic cabin for US$40. Casa de Ana (tel. 613/135-0112, fax 613/135-0795, US$35), at the east end of the cobblestone road that leads to the church entrance, rents several palapa-roofed cabanas with private baths. For more information, contact Ana Gloria at Hotel Oasis (tel. 613/135-0112, loretooasis [at] prodigy [dot] net [dot] mx) in Loreto.
La Palapa San Javier (no tel., 8 A.M.–8 P.M. daily, mains US$5) has a limited menu of Mexican staples and homegrown olives. A couple of small tiendas sell basic supplies.
Getting to San Javier
The road to San Javier begins at Km. 118 on the highway and follows part of the original Spanish Camino Real. It takes about an hour to traverse the narrow road from the highway to the village. The first few kilometers are now paved, and after that, the road is suitable for just about any vehicle in dry weather, as long as you don’t mind the steep grades.
If you don’t have your own car, you can either rent one in Loreto or join a guided tour.
© Nikki Goth Itoi from Moon Baja, 9th Edition