If you’ve ever visited San Juan Capistrano in southern California, and marveled at its mission dating from 1775 as being the oldest of California, that’s true. It’s the oldest mission site in the state of California—but not the oldest of all the Californias! That title belongs to Loreto, Baja Sur. Jesuits began their mission work here nearly 80 years earlier, in 1697, and Loreto was the original capital city of both Alta and Baja California.
Today, the Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó serves as Loreto’s historic and spiritual center. Hans, Ursula, and I spent a few days exploring this town and its historic missions just before Christmas.
Loreto was the first town in in our 700 miles of driving the Baja that seemed to finally have it all—a full-service RV park with great WiFi (Rivera del Mar), a decent-sized grocery store (Lay’s), nice restaurants, a historic town center, a new malecon along the Sea of Cortez, pristine islands protected as a national marine park, and lush green mountains as a backdrop.
On our first day of exploring, we walked the few blocks from our RV park to the city plaza and to see the historic mission.
The streets surrounding the city plaza have wonderful arched canopies of Indian Laurel trees. These are what we had to drive our Winnies under when we originally made a wrong turn coming to the RV park!
We also had to take a look at a few souvenir shops to admire the pottery and “day of the dead” figurines. Mexicans seem to love all things “Día de Muertos.”
By early afternoon, we were getting hungry. We had heard about El Rey de Taco, but when we got there they were closed. So where to go next? World-traveler Hans suggested we fire up our TripAdvisor apps, so we quickly thumb-tapped our phones to find other potential good eats.
The next most-popular restaurant was Orlando’s, and it just so happened to be the closest restaurant to the RV park. Perfecto! I had some delicious shrimp enchiladas with a chipotle sauce, along with my favorite Mazatlán cerveza, Pacifico Light. Mucho Perfectisimo!
The mountain road up to the mission technically didn’t require 4-wheel-drive, but I’m glad we had it as we had to make several stream crossings
Driving along one stretch, I drove over what I thought was a stick in the road. Turns out, looking in the rearview mirror, I gave a rather large sunbathing snake one heck of a scare as we watched him flail up into the air and quickly skedaddle off the roadway!
We arrived into the small village of San Javier right around noontime—the absolute worst time of day to try and photograph a dark gray stone church against a hillside facing into the sun!
But here are the photos of San Javier anyway. It’s full name is the Misión de San Francisco Javier Viggé Biaundó and it was completed in 1758, the second oldest mission of the Californias.
It had taken us 30 minutes to drive up the paved mountain road. I can’t imagine what a struggle it must have been for workers to haul so much stone up that same route 260 years ago to build this!
On our last evening in Loreto, we went back to the city plaza to see the Christmas fiesta being given to all the children in town.
Shiny new bicycles with silver streamers lined the stage for the luckiest girls and boys.
But to be sure that ever child left with at least something, there was also a long line to get a bag full of sweet goodies that the kids all seemed to be quite excited about!
Santa Claus is not as big a deal in Mexico as in the U.S., but that didn’t stop the benefactors putting on this event from including a photo area with Santa. A few brave kids went to get their picture taken with Jolly Old Saint Ric-ardo!
Some moms had gone all out to dress their kids up to celebrate the season. Ursula got a great shot of twin sisters dressed up to the nines in their Christmas outfits!
A fun, festive evening that got us in the holiday spirit (despite the warm weather and palm trees!).