Loreto Mexico: Baja Bargain

Its serenity is untouched by the insistent demands of beach vendors and time-share hucksters

"Lady, you want to play dominos with me?" The soft voice of Miriam, a staff member of the Loreto Desert Sun Resort roused me from my doze in the warmth of the mid-morning sun. The Sea of Cortez rippled at my feet. "No, not today, Miriam. I plan to do absolutely nothing."

Well, almost nothing. There are pelicans to watch bomb-dive for their dinner, swaying palms to contemplate, pages of my adventure novel to turn and cold Mexican libations to sample. But, I am relieved to note, I can do all this from my chaise lounge by the water's edge. Such is life on the Baja Peninsula.

Baja Peninsula, Mexico My husband and I are happily holed up at the adult-only resort, 10 minutes from the fishing village of Loreto, about 800 kilometers south of Tijuana. The jagged peaks of the Sierra de la Giganta Mountains, the desert of Baja California and the Sea of Cortez surround the resort. Its serenity is untouched by the insistent demands of beach vendors, time-share hucksters and beggars.

Clear, unpolluted water bubbles under the desert sands to surface through artesian wells. The food is safe, the grounds and buildings are spotless and the staff helpful but not intrusive. The vacation package is excellent value and includes everything we need - drinks, meals, activities, even tips. We won't need our wallets until we venture in Loreto. Can this really be Mexico? You betcha.

Loreto, a former Jesuit mission town, is just a fly-past for the thousands headed for Los Cabos, the higher-profile vacation Mecca at the peninsula's southern tip. And herein lies Loreto's charm. The 15,000 townsfolk are welcoming and proud of their history. The beaches, free of monstrous hotel complexes, rowdy bars and luxury yachts are quiet and laid-back.

Yet Baja is a forbidding land. It is sparsely populated today even as it was in the past. European pirates, in search of the region's famous pearls, faced a daunting combination of arid land, limited water, and hostile natives. In 1697, the Jesuits chose Loreto for their first mission. Over the next 100 years, they established 34 others. While most fortune-seekers and missionaries eventually left or died, they are remembered through green-eyed, fair-skinned descendents that still such bear names as Fischer, Davies and Cunningham.

A visit to the town's museum and mission is worth the time, especially to see the 17th-century paintings that grace the walls. After viewing these, we high-tailed it past taco stands and souvenir shops to Chili Willies, a seaside restaurant renowned for its excellent seafood. We gorged on plump shrimps, washed down by lime-garnished beer as the setting sun turned the mountains dusty pink and the Sea of Cortez a cobalt blue.

The Loreto Desert Sun is the area's only resort. Western and Mexican menu items are varied and well prepared. Fish is plentiful and vegetarians also feel at home. In addition to a casual, nightly buffet, guests can dine in restaurants featuring Mexican and Italian menus.

Vacationers come here to veg-out, or challenge the 18-hole golf course that brings the ocean into play. Tennis buffs seek out the ten, hard-surfaced courts designed by John McEnroe. The site is punctuated by Mayan-inspired sculptures, a warm-water swimming pool and terrace lounge.

Snorkeling, windsurfing, kayaking, golf green fees and tennis are also included in the package. A fully-equipped gym, beach volleyball area and bicycles are at the ready. In the evenings, Miriam joins other staff members on the stage to perform songs and dance shows with Caribbean, Mexican or Las Vegas themes. Then, we all head off to the disco to rock until the early morning.

This resort is one of the few with a "clothing optional" area which is discreetly situated at the south end of the property. Folks can stretch out along the private beach or lounge in the hot tub au naturel.

Loreto is an exceptional bargain. Packages are exclusive to Sunquest Tours and are available through most Canadian travel agents. Prices, from $1099, include air and inclusive resort accommodation departing Vancouver and Toronto. Flights via Aero California from Los Angeles.

Author: Katherine Gibson

TravelWise