Leaving Guerrero Negro, the highway heads 142km inland for the hottest, driest stage of the journey, across the Desierto Vizcaíno. In the midst of this landscape, San Ignacio’s appeal is immediate even from a distance. Gone are the dust and concrete that define the peninsula, replaced by green palms and a cool breeze; it’s an oasis any desert traveller would hope for, and another excellent base for whale-watching and cave-painting tours.
The settlement was founded by the Jesuits in 1728, but the area had long been populated by the indigenous Cochimí, attracted by the tiny stream, the only fresh water for hundreds of miles. Underneath the surfaced road between the highway and town is the small dam that the settlers built to form the lagoon that still sustains the town’s agricultural economy, mostly based on the Mediterranean staples of dates, figs, grapes, olives, limes and oranges. Early missionaries were responsible, too, for the attractive palm trees that give the town its character.
In town, the central Plaza Ecoturismo, shaded by six huge Indian laurel trees, plays hosts to concerts, festivals and children’s soccer games, and is dominated by Misión San Ignacio de Kadakaamán (usually open during services only) a gorgeous church constructed of lava-block walls – carved out of the output from Volcan las Tres Virgenes to the east – over one metre thick. Completed in 1786, it’s probably the best example of colonial architecture in the whole of Baja California. The left wing of the mission now houses the exquisite Museo de Pinturas Rupestres de San Ignacio, which contains photos and cave art exhibits, with a focus on the nearby Sierra de San Francisco (Spanish-only captions).