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Mexico’s Best-Kept Secret Destination

by Team Fathom
All photos courtesy of Visit Baja California Sur.

Produced in partnership with Visit Baja California Sur.

Looking for a refreshingly untouristed destination to visit this summer? Then you’ll want to make your way to Baja California Sur on the southern end of Mexico’s western peninsula. This is where you’ll find natural beauty in the form of turquoise waters with coral forests, lava cliffs with desert flora, breathtaking hiking and mountain biking trails, and warm weather all year long.

Dive into the sparkling waters of the Gulf of California, the Pacific Ocean inlet between mainland Mexico and the eastern coast of the Baja Peninsula. Around here, you’re more likely to bump into sea lions and sea turtles than American tourists.

Take a moment to catch your breath: Baja California Sur’s eastern coast is a stunning region full of secrets. Like El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve, a distinct, protected environment of plains, mountains, and coastal lagoons teeming with unique plants and animals but sparsely populated by humans. And the town of Loreto, a designated Pueblo Mágico (Magic Town). And the 10,000-year-old cave art of the nomadic Cochimi tribe.

The coastline and islets around Loreto are a sanctuary for migrating gray whales, osprey, herons, and gulls — Jacques Cousteau called the Gulf of California the world’s aquarium. Inland, adventurers will cross paths with desert bighorn sheep and the last populations of pronghorns. Hikers up for the challenge can wind their way through the Sierra de La Giganta mountains and be rewarded with up-close views of cave paintings made by indigenous nomads thousands of years ago. Mountain bike trails running through the neighboring small towns and ranchos offer great views, family-run inns, and boatloads of charm.

A bird's-eye view of the area.
The uninhabited Isla Catalana.
The serene Bahía Concepción, one of the largest bays in the peninsula.

Lay of the Land

Hint: It’s unspoiled and jaw-droppingly beautiful.

Loreto, situated along the tranquil Gulf of California on the east coast of Baja California Sur (the state encompasses the southern half of the Baja Peninsula) is an unexpected paradise.

A charming town, rich with history, local warmth, and culture, Loreto is home to an endless array of land and sea adventures. The unique landscape is a striking blend of desert and sea with turquoise waters and deep-hued mountain ranges. About 300 miles north of Cabo San Lucas, the city itself is located on one of Mexico’s most important reserves, the Loreto National Marine Park, home to an unmatched diversity of marine life, including over 800 species of fish unique to the Gulf of California. Just off the shores of the city, the Islands of Loreto — with their wetlands, quiet beaches, and various lagoons for prime snorkeling — can be reached by boat.

The Vibe: Magical

The area around Loreto’s sparsely populated, wide-open terrain and waters make for a chill commune with nature.

Fun in the sun.
Freedom on the water.

Bighorn sheep.

Outdoor Adventures

Snorkeling + Diving
Tons of diverse fish, marine mammals, and coral call the Gulf of California home. Don scuba or snorkel gear to explore the deep shelf of Loreto Bay. If you’re lucky, you’ll meet a crew of dolphins or the local sea lion colony. Guided tours can introduce swimmers to the calmest waters and the underwater rock formations and solidified lava flows below.

Daytrippers looking to whet (and wet!) their paddles can push off from the shores of Loreto National Marine Park, home to five deserted islands. Glide around the coves and bays looking for gentle rays and sea turtles. More adventurous paddlers can team up with outfitters for multi-day trips along the coastline and overnights camping in pristine nature under the stars. 

Sailing + Fishing
Summer and fall make for warm water and great sport fishing. Summer catches feature dorado, blue marlin, and sailfish, while the fall reels in snapper, sea bass, and yellowtail.

Hiking + Camping
Loreto is next to the Sierra La Giganta mountain range. Further north, the town of Mulegé has easy to intermediate hiking trails overlooking the peninsula’s beaches. Picturesque towns and well-preserved Jesuit missions — the Mission of Santa Rosalía de Mulegé and La Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto — can be explored on foot. With a local expert guide, hikers can experience the historical ancient cave paintings in the Sierra de Guadalupe.

For a challenging hike in Loreto, travelers can climb Pilón Lolita (Sharks-tooth Peak) and be rewarded with incredible views of the Gulf of California, Coronado Island, and the Sierra La Giganta. The majestic sand dunes landscape of Comondú also makes for a unique adventure that works best as a guided trek (see tour operator links at the end of the article).

Kayaking the Oasis Mulegé.
Surfing San Juanico.
Post-surf camping van. Photo by Ian Ord.
Misión San Ignacio, Mulegé.

Whether you’re a beginner rider or advanced cyclist, there are a variety of trails in and around Loreto. Take a scenic route along the charming seaside Malecon right in the heart of town or cross the highway to zig-zag down dirt roads and through the desert landscape.

Exploring History
Remarkable ancient cave paintings can be found in the Sierra de San Francisco and Sierra de Guadalupe, part of the nationally protected El Vizcaino reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Two particular highlights are the famous Cueva del Ratón en la Sierra de San Francisco and the Palmarito cave. (To reach either or both, you’ll need a specialized guide.) Remnants of the area’s colonial times are also still standing: La Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto was the first mission founded by Jesuits in 1697. (The mission of San Francisco Javier Viggé Biaundó, the mission of Santa Rosalía de Mulegé and the mission of San José de Comondú can be visited as well.)

Baja-Sierra Giganta and Bay of Loreto.
The cave paintings of San Borgitas.
Sierra la Gigannta.

How To Get There

Have your bags packed yet? Travelers can take non-stop flights to Loreto International (LTO) from Los Angeles (LAX) with Alaska Airlines, from San Diego/Tijuana Cross Border Xpress on Volaris, and from Phoenix and Dallas with American Airlines.

Local Tour Operators

Experience cave paintings, hiking trails, and camping with an expert guide at Baja Experience, Peninsula Incognita Tours, and Desert & Sea Expeditions.

Try ocean tours with Wild Loreto, Vive Loreto, Blue Nation Baja, and Dolphin Dive Baja.

Book sailing and sport fishing excursions with ABT (Anything But Typical) Sailing, and Loreto Sea and Land Tours.

Learn More

Make this trip happen! Check out visitbajasur.travel for greater detail about the destination.

We make every effort to ensure the information in our articles is accurate at the time of publication. But the world moves fast, and even we double-check important details before hitting the road.