Misión Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó
Several days after landing at Conchó, Padre Salvatierra and his team erected a tent next to a wooden cross on the mesa above the arroyo where they had landed and placed the Virgen de Loreto inside. This became the first place of worship for the expedition and its converts.
The settlers began to build their first permanent church in 1699, outside the walls of the presidio compound, and completed it in 1704. The building was enlarged in the 1740s to accommodate a growing population. The church survived the 1829 hurricane as well as a devastating earthquake in 1877.
After several restorations and the addition of a bell tower in the 20th century, the church hosts regular worship services today. An inscription over the front doors to the church reads “The Head and Mother of the Missions of Baja and Alta California,” with the mission founding date of October 25, 1697. The original Virgen de Loreto sits in a side room and is dressed in a new gown each year. The church also features a gilded altar restored from the mission era.
Next to the church, the Museo de los Misiónes (tel. 613/135-0441, 9 A.M.–1 P.M. and 1:45–6 P.M. Tues.–Sun., US$3) has a few interesting exhibits on life before and after the Spanish conquest. View historic maps, iron-forged scissors and other tools, and large copper kettles used for making pozole.
Though not as busy or picturesque as its counterpart in La Paz, Loreto sports a pleasant, tree-lined waterfront promenade that runs the length of Boulevard López Mateos, connecting about 10 blocks between the marina and Hotel Oasis, with beaches to explore at either end. This is the place for a sunrise stroll or to catch a breeze on a hot and sticky afternoon. The west side of the street is lined with a handful of restaurants, inns, and private residences.
Parque Marítimo Nacional Bahía de Loreto
More than 2,000 square kilometers of waters offshore from Loreto comprise Mexico’s largest marine preserve, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005. Extending 60 kilometers from Isla Coronado in the north to Isla Catalana in the south, the Parque Marítimo Nacional Bahía de Loreto (Loreto Bay National Marine Park) is part of the federal Sistema Nacional de Areas Protegidas (SINAP), which prohibits trawling and commercial netting for 35–47 kilometers offshore along the length of the park.
Five islands within the park are accessible by boat from Loreto: Coronado, Carmen, Danzante, Monserrate, and Santa Catalina. There is a park fee of about US$2 per day.
Paseo Salvatierra, Plaza Salvatierra, and Palacio Municipal
The cobblestone plaza that extends southwest of the church is named for Padre Salvatierra, and a bronze bust of him sits in the center of the plaza, facing the front doors of the church.
A shaded pedestrian walkway, Paseo Salvatierra, begins where Avenida Salvatierra meets Calle Independencia and connects to the small plaza in front of the church. It’s lined with a few casual eateries and shops selling all sorts of souvenirs and handicrafts. The activity center here is run by the Villa Group and may include a timeshare pitch. Continue along Salvatierra past the church another two blocks, and you will reach the palacio municipal, or city hall, and a beautifully restored plaza—dedicated in April 2010—where local kids like to take their new Rollerblades for a test ride.
On the west side of this plaza, past the BBVA Bancomer bank and historic Posada Las Flores hotel, the walkway continues all the way to the sea. Several upscale restaurants have opened on the west side of the plaza, including 1697, Mita Gourmet, and El Papagayo.
Nopoló and Puerto Escondido
Loreto counts itself among Cancún, Huatulco, Ixtapa, and Los Cabos as a coastal region designated by the Mexican government for development as a tourist corridor. To date, most of the development activity has focused on Nopoló, located eight kilometers south of Loreto, which has a hotel, tennis center, golf course, and residential area—all connected by a network of wide, palm-lined boulevards with curbs (an unusual sight in much of Baja).
Over the years, various commercial entities have partnered with Fonatur in attempting to profit from Loreto’s real estate opportunity. The latest of these is Homex, based in Monterrey, Mexico, which came in when the previous investor, Loreto Bay Company, collapsed.
The same streetlamps and curbs that are found in Nopoló line the road to Puerto Escondido, where yachts can take shelter in a protected harbor. Here, as in La Paz, Fonatur has completed a three-story grayish-green building to house the marina operations. It has a classy restaurant on the second level, Porto Bello, which serves good lunch fare in a contemporary space if you happen to stop by when it’s open. Wi-Fi is available here as well.
© Nikki Goth Itoi from Moon Baja, 9th Edition