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Berlitz Summer Camp
The Villa Del Palmar resort boasts five on-site pools -- in the shape of a turtle!
by Jim Graves
Since my children, Claire and Shelby, are 5 and 6 now and past the baby stage, my wife and I decided to celebrate our newfound travel freedom with a family trip to Loreto, Mexico, in southern Baja California.
Loreto is a historic town, located on the Sea of Cortez on the eastern side of the peninsula. It is several hours’ drive north of Cabo San Lucas, and although it caters to American tourists, is somewhat remote with a small-town feel. European culture first came to Baja in 1697, when Jesuit priests established Mission Loreto, which is still a place of worship for the townspeople today.
Loreto is a two-hour flight from LAX. Alaska and Cal Jet currently fly there four times weekly from Los Angeles. Book early, and you might be able to pick up a roundtrip flight in the $500 range. The airport is clean, new and quite small.
Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto
We were fortunate to stay at the most upscale resort in the area, Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto. It opened its doors in 2011, and offers terrific rooms of varying sizes with great views of the ocean. My kids were particularly enamored with its six pools (although one is technically a large Jacuzzi) shaped like a turtle and modeled after the sea turtles in the area. The resort’s poolside food service included outstanding pizzas and burgers, so my kids didn’t want to leave. My wife’s into salads and healthy food choices, and there was plenty for her to choose from.
Included in our hotel package was free babysitting, which, in fact, was creative arts-and-crafts with Jasmine, a hotel staffer. While my wife and I enjoyed dinner together, a visit to the beautiful spa (we both loved the massage; my wife took a salt bath) or some time alone in our room, this young woman had an amazing knack of connecting with my kids and keeping them entertained. They came home with a variety of new treasures they’d created, including balloon maracas, piñatas and decorated sea shells.
Villa del Palmar is remote, about a 30-minute drive from Loreto. Since it was far from city lights, my kids noticed at night that the sky was filled with stars (Villa del Palmar, in fact, bills itself as a “Million Star Resort”). But if you’re looking for a cheaper option you might try Hotel Santa Fe in town. We made a quick visit there while looking for a place to eat; it was clean and quaint but lacked the amenities of the resort.
Downtown Loreto is friendly, safe and quiet. It was in the low 90s the afternoon we visited, and many of the townspeople take siestas mid-day. If you want cooler weather, October through April is going to be your best time. The locals love it when it rains, but, according to one of our tour guides, it hadn’t rained in three years.
We started at Mission Loreto, a stone structure with a tall bell tower that is a centerpiece of downtown. If you’re Catholic, they have Sunday Masses; if you’re into history, they have a museum that adjoins the mission.
Walk down the streets and you’ll find vendors offering tourist trinkets. My kids talked me into buying wooden flutes for a few dollars. American dollars are welcomed by vendors and taxi drivers, although expect to get any change back in pesos. I’d recommend bringing plenty of singles with you, as they’re great for tips and small purchases. And, I enjoyed using my high school Spanish to talk with the locals, but many speak English.
We had dinner at Domingo’s Restaurant. As with every restaurant I visited in Loreto, they were friendly and ready to put a Corona or margarita in your hand. It was a great place for fish, but as usual, my kids opted for burgers.
Loreto is known for the five islands off its coastline, the best known being Danzante. There are many charter boats that offer a variety of fishing and sightseeing cruises, but we opted to stay at the beach to enjoy kayaking, paddleboarding and snorkeling back at the resort.
The beaches are a mix of sand and rock. The sand gets hot and the rocks can cut your feet, so wear shoes. My daughter Shelby took off one and howled in pain as she cut her foot on a rock. They also have a lot of stingrays in the area, so don’t forget to do the “stingray shuffle” when you go into the water.
San Javier Mission
I’m into history, and I love the California missions, so I opted to take a side trip to San Javier Mission on my own (thank you, Kids Club!). This is a 22-mile drive from Loreto, and as part of the road is still unpaved, it takes about two hours to get there. San Javier is located in a valley in the Sierra de La Giganta (a mountain range) and is home to about 200. The area surrounding it is desert—hot, rocky, dry and wide open—but there is a small aqueduct at the entrance to the town that captures enough water to sustain the community. The townspeople farm and raise livestock, and also cater to the tourists who make their way up to see the mission and town.
Its centerpiece is the San Javier Mission, which was established a few years after Mission Loreto. The church is built of stone brought in from the surrounding areas. Walls are as much as seven feet thick, keeping the interior of the church cool during the hot summers. The insides are decorated with Spanish and Italian oil paintings and statues older than the mission itself (completed in 1759). The church also has glass windows, not often found in early mission churches. The church is an architectural gem, one of the best preserved in the region, and still draws many tourists. Crews were at work paving the road up to the town as I came and went, which should improve its accessibility.
Along the road to San Javier you can also stop and see original cave paintings, which our guide claimed dated back thousands of years.
I’m glad I didn’t take my kids, as they wouldn’t have liked the long drive or the heat. But I’m looking forward to returning there with them when they’re older.
My girls love dresses and dancing, so we were fortunate to catch two live shows at Villa del Palmar put on by the hotel staff. They performed a variety of traditional Mexican dances in costumes—loud, vivacious, colorful and full of movement. My girls loved the female dancers’ dresses and were excited to meet them after the show ended.
It was a quick, four-day trip, but a wonderful experience for my family. I’m already thinking of when we can go back, and new things we can do.
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