For cultural day trips in the area other than those listed below, contact C&C Tours (tel. 613/133-0151; www.loretovacations.com). Among the guided excursions they offer are the Historic Loreto City Tour (220 pesos, morning and evening options available), a long day hiking in Tabor Canyon ($18), a beach tour of Mulegé with a restaurant lunch (220 pesos), whale-watching tours, and folkloric dance classes.
Misión Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó
The first mission in the Californias was started here in 1697. The catechization of California by Jesuit missionaries was based from this mission and lasted through the 18th century. The inscription above the entrance reads "Cabeza y Madre de las Misiones de Baja y Alta California" (Head and Mother of the Missions of Lower and Upper California). The current church, a simple building in the shape of a Greek cross, was finished in 1752 and restored in 1976. The original Virgen de Loreto, brought to shore by Padre Kino in 1667, is on display in the little chapel behind the courtyard on the right as you enter -- this is the icon that Steinbeck describes in the Log from the Sea of Cortez. The mission is on Salvatierra, across from the central square.
Misión San Francisco Javier
About 2 hours of dirt-road driving from Loreto and in a section of the old Camino Real used by Spanish missionaries and explorers, this is the best-preserved, most spectacularly set mission in Baja -- high in a mountain valley oasis, beneath volcanic walls. Founded in 1699 by the Jesuit priest Francisco María Píccolo, it was completed in 1758 and was the second mission established in California. The church was built with blocks of volcanic stone from the Sierra de la Giganta Mountains. It is very well preserved, with its original walls, floors, gilded altar, and religious artifacts, and the surrounding ranches -- filled with onion fields and olive-tree orchards -- make for a pastoral setting and a nice stroll. At research time, a marketplace for local products was also in the works.
Day tours from Loreto, organized by several local tour operators, visit the mission, with stops along the way to view aboriginal cave paintings and an oasis settlement with a small chapel. The trips can be arranged through most hotels and tour operators, including C&C Tours, for 500 pesos, Dolphin Dive Center, for $60, and Sea and Land Eco Tours, which includes visits to organic ranches and/or bird-watching on request, for $85. All tours include lunch and an English-speaking guide. If you are driving a high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle and are an experienced off-road driver, you can get there yourself by traveling south on the Carretera Transpeninsular and taking the detour marked SAN JAVIER on Km 118, 3.2km (2 miles) south of Loreto. The 40km (25-mile) drive takes about 2 hours, the first half on pavement and the second on washboard road. If you fall in love with San Javier, you won't be the first. Stay a little longer, at simple ecotourism cabanas in the fresh mountain air. Contact Hotel Oasis or Raíces Vives (tel. 505/280-4761 in the U.S., or 613/109-8583; www.livingrootsbaja.org) for reservations.
Museo de las Misiones
This museum explains the Misión Nuestra Señora de Loreto church . It has a small but complete collection of historical and anthropological exhibits, set around a charming colonial courtyard. You'll learn about the indigenous Guaycura, Pericúe, and Cochimí populations, along with the accomplishments of the Jesuit missionaries -- including their zoological studies, scientific writings, architectural sketches, and details of the role they played in the demise of indigenous cultures. Also on display are several religious paintings, original wooden beams and tools, and sculptures dating to the 18th century. The museum, located at Salvatierra 16 (tel. 613/135-0441), has a small shop where the INAH (Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia) sells books about the history of Mexico and Baja California. It's open Tuesday through Sunday from 9am to 6pm, closing for 45 minutes for lunch at 1pm. Admission is 37 pesos.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.