LORETO, Mexico — Efforts to turn the seaside village of Loreto into a major destination have been going on for years. So far, though, the results have been limited, and that in itself makes it worth visiting.
Loreto is already a gem — a historic town nestled between gold-hued mountains and the blue Sea of Cortez. It’s known mainly to whale watchers (late winter), sport fishermen (year-round) and snowbirds who drive down from British Columbia, Canada.
Loreto was earmarked for tourism development 30 years ago, part of an initiative that also included Cancun, Ixtapa, parts of Oaxaca and Los Cabos. While the others flourished, the development of Loreto faltered.
In a renewed effort two years ago, Mexico’s tourism agency gave Loreto its “Magic Town” moniker, a label to promote places notable for natural beauty, cultural riches or historical relevance. Still, the international airport there welcomed only about 40,000 tourists last year, compared with the million or so who flew to Los Cabos, 300 miles to the south.
And there are no cruise ships. Instead, there is the Loreto Bay National Marine Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site made up of five islands accessible only by boat.
I heard about Loreto by chance, and visited for a week this winter. After a 90-minute flight from Los Angeles, — the only U.S. gateway at present — we found a town seemingly frozen by the economic downturn, with half-built hotels and empty storefronts. We also found a bit of “old” Mexico. There are a fair number of people who speak no English, friendly ex-pats happy to offer suggestions a scattering of small festivals, a soccer stadium with spirited games, and a local mariachi band that plays in khakis, not costumes.