If you visit only one mission along the entire Baja Peninsula, choose this one for the quality of its restoration, accessibility, and the important role it played in Jesuit history.
The story of the Misión Nuestra Señor San Ignacio de Kadakaamán (1728–1840) begins with a visit to the arroyo in 1716 by Padre Francisco María Piccolo, who was stationed at the Misión Santa Rosalía de Mulegé. His soldiers built a hut of sticks and leaves to serve as a chapel, and he and Padre Sistiaga returned periodically to visit the indigenous people there over the next 12 years.
In 1728 Padre Juan Bautista de Luyando came to establish a mission. He funded the effort with his own money and lived in San Ignacio for seven years, during which the original chapel became a large adobe church. All that remains of the original structure is a line of foundation stones near the base of the mesa southwest of present-day San Ignacio .
Padre Sebastián de Sistiaga became head of the mission after Luyando and was joined by Padre Consag, who began construction of the stone building that is used today. The project was left incomplete upon his death in 1759, and Padre José Mariano Rotea became the new head of the mission until the Jesuits were expelled in 1768. With 2,000 baptisms recorded as of 1758, the Misión San Ignacio served as a base of Jesuit expansion into Central Baja.
In 1773 the mission passed from the Jesuits to the Franciscans and soon after to the Dominicans, and it was Dominican friar Juan Crisóstomo Gómez who completed the church in 1786, following the original plans of Padre Consag.
With walls more than a meter thick made of local volcanic stone, beams of lumber from the high sierra, and six-meter-high carved doors from mainland Mexico, the church is an impressive sight to see. Decorative stonework frames windows and doors. Inside is an altarpiece made of carved wood and covered with gold leaf.
The church was restored beautifully in 1976, and the present-day community holds worship services inside.
Next to the church, the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e História (INAH) runs a museum (no tel., 8 A.M.–6 P.M. Mon.–Sat., free). Exhibits depict local history, including the rock art of the nearby Sierra de San Francisco . Although the exhibits have Spanish captions, a translated booklet is now available in English. The museum is open on Sundays during high season.
If you’re planning a trip to the Sierra de San Francisco to view the cave paintings, stop by the Unidad de Información y Manejo (tel. 615/154-0222) next door to get the required permit.