I LOVE outdoor adventure travel. But logistics can be a pain. If I am planning a trip with limited vacation time, and just getting to the activity from my hotel is going to take longer than the activity itself, I’ll bag the whole deal. On the other hand, some of my favorite trip activities — like hiking, kayaking, and scuba diving –generally involve advanced coordination and transport time. (Sigh). What’s a girl to do? Well, you can travel to Loreto, Mexico — this week’s #WhereToGoWednesday destination. You can fly directly there in under two hours from Los Angeles, and once you’ve arrived, Loreto provides some of the most accessible adventure travel options anywhere.
Last week my husband Bryan and I stole away to Loreto for the long Memorial Day weekend. Loreto is a picturesque colonial town tucked between the rugged Sierra Gigante Mountains and the placid, cobalt Sea of Cortez, about two-thirds of the way down Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Although the town itself is quite appealing — with a well-preserved, centuries-old Jesuit mission and leafy square — the Bay of Loreto National Marine Park is the real draw.
Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002, the marine park covers over 500,000 acres and includes a number of uninhabited islands easily reachable from shore. It’s North America’s version of the Galapagos Islands, with some 695 plant species, 891 fish species, and 39% of the world’s total species of marine mammals. This makes it a Mecca for ocean activities like scuba diving, kayaking, and sport-fishing. The calm waters of the Sea of Cortez are the perfect place to paddle around to quiet, isolated beaches. But what amazed us was how easy it was to experience these off-shore delights.
Our resort, Villa del Palmar, is perfectly situated south of town and directly in front of the islands of Loreto. Sitting on our balcony the first morning, we were transfixed by expansive views that included layers of corduroy mountains, a calm, blue bay with a few anchored sloops, and multiple craggy desert (and deserted) islands just off shore. We couldn’t wait to get out there — and luckily, we didn’t have to. After a quick stop by the activities desk, we walked down to the beach where we were outfitting with snorkeling gear and a two-person kayak. Total time investment—about ten minutes. How easy was that?
We took off down the coast. After about a half hour of paddling – pausing to watch gliding pelicans, diving cormorants, and soaring frigate birds, we pulled the boat onto a rocky beach and traded our paddles for swim fins. The clear waters revealed an aquarium of life that included multiple species of sea stars as well as colorful parrot and angelfish.
The snorkeling adventure whetted our appetite for more underwater activity, so we arranged to go scuba diving the next day. That morning all we had to do was walk to the beach, where our dive boat was waiting. After a 20-minute boat ride across the glassiest ocean I have even seen, we arrived to a picturesque cove on Danzante Island and were welcomed by a school of some twenty bottlenose dolphins! Had it been winter, we might also have seen some of the nine species of whales that call the area home from December through March.
Again, we were mesmerized by the variety of sea life. Our dive master pointed out a scorpion fish, perfectly camouflaged against the rock, and warned us to steer clear. Schools of puffer fish piled onto each other on the seafloor like litters of puppies, while colorful wrasses and damselfish darted about. We also spotted numerous stingrays and sea cucumbers.
All in all, it was an incredible amount of adventure for such a low time investment. Everything we wanted to do was literally just outside our door the entire trip. Hiking? No problemo – there was trail leading into the mountains just steps from our room. Biking? Muy bien – bikes are parked just outside the lobby. It was laughably easy.
On our last morning, we had an hour to kill before our airport shuttle arrived — the perfect amount of time to paddleboard around the bay. It turned out to be one of our best outings of the trip. The water so clear that we could see all sorts of fish and rays even while standing up on the boards and it was calm enough that the going was easy. We also spotted some of the delicious clams we’d eaten over the past few days (and were relieved to see we hadn’t put a dent in their numbers).
As we paddled to shore, we knew that we’d return someday soon for another weekend of easy-to-access adventures. Want to find your own active beach escape? Just tune it!