The Hidden Gem of Baja
Good visibility, calm and warm waters, and the biodiversity of the entire Gulf of California make Loreto the perfect place for diving and snorkeling.
It starts with a name: Loreto. This still-undiscovered dive town, found on the Sea of Cortez side of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, sees just 54,000 tourists a year—compared to the 14.6 million that travel to bigger Baja cities, like Cabo San Lucas and La Paz.
So much about this hideaway—including the white-sand beaches of its offshore islands like Coronados—comes as a surprise to first-time guests. Here, the scenery packs drama, from sheltered coves of turquoise water to the rock arch of Danzante Island.
Underwater, this place left an impression on Jacques-Yves Cousteau, who called it “The Aquarium of the World” for its abundance of marine diversity, especially macro fauna, from nudibranchs to invertebrate life. Early on, the biodiversity of these 206,000 hectares of sea was recognized and safeguarded by the creation of the Loreto Bay National Marine Park, established in 1996. This park has since been recognized, along with the entirety of the Gulf of California, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the critical role its five islands play in protecting the marine life that flourishes in these waters. It’s also home to one of Baja’s largest pods of dolphins.
Loreto dive operators, including Dolphin Dive Baja, Blue Nation Baja, and Loreto Sea and Land Tours, offer 50 named dive sites within the park. They’re a mix of canyons, ledges and coral heads where sea lions and schools of sardines gather. Much of the area’s volcanic structure is the habitat of fascinating smaller critters—everywhere you search, you’re nearly guaranteed to find juvenile tropical fish, sea hares, flatworms and a wealth of nudibranchs. Many colorful species of Tambja nudibranchs thrive here, including a variety that flaunts a gaudy display of wine purple, electric blue and moss green that will delight macro photographers. In the mix, too, are the Tambja eliora and the orange-and-navy tiger dorid.
Shipwreck aficionados love exploring the marine park’s historic C-54 minesweeper ARM Cadete Agustín Melgar, found in depths from 33 to 75 feet off Isla Danzante.
Beyond its diving, Baja is a playground for watersports and activities that even nondivers can enjoy. This outdoor wonderland offers hiking the Sierra La Giganta mountains, bird-watching and visits to caves where prehistoric paintings still remain.
The Loreto Bay National Marine Park is home to one of Baja’s largest pods of dolphins.
Loreto operators also take guests on whale-watching tours February and March when blue whales, the planet’s biggest mammal at up to 98 feet long, migrate to the area. This is also the season for gray whales, also impressive at lengths of up to 49 feet long.
Day trips and overnight expeditions allow visitors to leisurely explore the offshore islands. Desert and Sea Expeditions brings guests to Isla Coronados and Isla Danzante for kayaking, snorkeling, hiking and sunbathing. A unique local offering, hosted by Wild Loreto, is a panga trip to a nearby island for overnight camping; encounter sea lions and dolphins by day, then settle in for epic star gazing. For a more low-key experience, Loreto Coastal Expeditions takes guests on glass-bottom boat trips to comfortably view the gulf and its marine life.
To reach Loreto, divers, especially those based on the West Coast, have a handful of options. Direct flights to Loreto are available from Los Angeles and San Francisco as well as Dallas and Phoenix. Volaris and Calafia airlines offer connecting flights from San Diego. Divers can also fly to La Paz and make the scenic 4-hour drive north. Regardless of how you get to Loreto, this destination makes the journey well worth it for any diver.
Plan your Loreto getaway at loretobcstourism.com