Loreto, Baja California Sur

Population: 11,000

Time Zone: Mountain Standard Time

Airport: Loreto International Airport (LTO)

Elevation: Sea Level

It’s hard to believe that this tiny, laid-back town was the first capital of Spanish California, and the site of the first mission established by the Jesuits in 1697. When a hurricane nearly destroyed the town in 1829, the capital was moved to La Paz and Loreto languished in obscurity until the mid-19th century, when immigrants started to arrive from mainland Mexico and abroad. In fact, it’s not uncommon to encounter blond-haired Mexicans with European surnames.

Today’s visitors will find one of Mexico’s best-kept secrets: a town with a rich history surrounded by a perfect mix of desert, mountains, and a protected marine park in the Sea of Cortez. Although it was designated to be major development project by the Mexican government in the 1970’s, it never really took off as did Cancun and Los Cabos. The result is a town little-changed, where the local fishermen still motor out into the sea every day in their pangas, and the tourists that find their way here spend their days strolling the streets, enjoying a siesta, and fishing or kayaking in the sea.

A development project may change the scenery somewhat over the coming years five miles south of town at the Loreto Bay Company. The ambitious 8,000 acre seaside project is designed to eventually contain 6,000 homes with a focus on sustainable development. FONATUR, Mexico’s tourism development agency, is a partner in the project.