Loreto is an official Pueblo Magico -- Magic Town -- surrounded by a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But it remains the hidden gem of the Sea of Cortez.
Its Baja California Sur counterparts are better known. Los Cabos attracts celebrities. La Paz and Todos Santos are boho icons. Loreto has never quite established itself in the same way.
The Villa Group is working to change that.
The company opened Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto in 2011. It’s part of their 4,400-acre Danzante Bay development. At the moment, it’s a largely untouched. The hotel itself is set on a secluded bay facing the islands of the Loreto Bay National Marine Park. The Sierra de la Giganta’s jagged volcanic peaks (and four hiking trails) surround the property.
But the Sea of Cortez is the main attraction. Ernest Hemingway extolled its virtues in two books. Jacques Cousteau dubbed it “the world’s aquarium.”
The setting has helped Villa del Palmar attract a steadily-growing clientele.
“We have guests who are on their sixth or seventh visit. They come for the location and of course the service. We are like a family here,” General Manager Sixto Navarro tells Travel Agent.
Guests can snorkel in warm, still waters that are waist-deep for hundreds of yards off shore. Schools of bonefish come practically to the water’s edge. And brightly-colored species inhabit reefs at the edge of the bay.
Villa del Palmar staff is available from dawn to dusk to provide kayaks (some glass-bottomed) and standup paddleboards for guests. Scuba diving around the nearby islands is especially popular. Eco-tours can be arranged to take visitors ashore by inflatables to some of the islands. They’re inhabited by wildlife that includes the rare blue-footed booby.
Pangas, or small fishing boats, take guests on fishing excursions directly from the hotel. The more avid fishermen can venture to nearby Puerto Escondido for all-day charters.
“The sports fishing is some of the best you will find anywhere. We have dorado, sailfish, marlin, yellowtail and more in these waters,” Danzante Tours Manager Carlos Velasco tells Travel Agent.
Whale watching in the Sea of Cortez is some of the best on earth. Yearly visitors include blue whales, humpback, sperm and California greys. Winter and spring are peak viewing months. But orca and fin whales are visible in late summer as well.
In addition to natural wonders, Villa del Palmar is attracting a following with its 39,000 square-foot spa.
“Our spa offers more than 75 treatments. We are focusing on meditation and relaxation. We’ve been offering healthy weeks with spa treatments combined with yoga and stretching on the beach,” said Navarro.
Golf will soon be another big draw.
At the moment, the Loreto Bay Golf Resort & Spa has the only golf course in Loreto. That will change in January, when the Rees Jones-designed golf course opens at Villa del Palmar. The course layout winds up mountains and desert cliffs, with holes by the sea as well.
“What we’re doing now is to focus on golf course. A second phase of the hotel is planned, with another 200 rooms in front of the bay. We might have a little marina at the beach in the near future as well,” said Navarro.
But don’t expect noisy motor sports.
“Our guests love the tranquility of this hotel. The average age is from 40-60. They are the ones that need to disconnect. If you want to party you can go to Cabo. I don’t have beach vendors or loud music, and people like that,” said Navarro.
Increased airlift is good news for those looking to disconnect.
Alaska Airlines plans to bump up its service from Los Angeles by 50 percent beginning November 1. Flights will be operated Thursday through Sunday on Boeing 737 jets rather than the current Bombardier Q400 in use.
“As secretary of tourism, I had opportunity to open the direct flight to Loreto from Calgary. It gives Loreto access to the Canadian market, which is good news,” Ruben Reachi tells Travel Agent.
Reachi is the former secretary of tourism for Baja California Sur and the current managing director of the Los Cabos Tourism Board.
WestJet has announced additional weekly service from Calgary to Loreto starting in February 2016.