Another popular escape for fishing and diving enthusiasts, LORETO was the site of the earliest permanent settlement in the Californias. Founded in 1697 by Juan María Salvatierra as the first Jesuit mission to the region, Loreto served as the administrative capital of the entire California territory until a devastating hurricane struck in 1829 and La Paz took on the role. Today Loreto is booming again; much of the centre is given over to craft shops and galleries, many selling silver, while the seafront malecón and central Plaza Cívica have been spruced up in recent years.
Some 8km south of town lies the largely expat community of Nopoló (aka Villages at Loreto Bay), one of the most ambitious residential developments in Mexico, and the posh Villa del Palmar resort. Construction has provided a massive economic boost to the entire region, but critics claim that the project threatens to overwhelm the already limited water supply and Loreto’s delicate natural assets: Mexico’s largest marine park, Parque Nacional Bahía de Loreto, lies just offshore, while the weathered landscapes of the Sierra de la Giganta provide a stunning backdrop.