Loreto (or Conchó) was the first Spanish settlement on the Baja California Peninsula. It served as the capital of Las Californias from 1697 to 1777, and is the current seat of the municipality of Loreto in the Mexican state of Baja California Sur.
The city of 14,724 people (2010 census) is located on the coast of the Gulf of California, about 350 km (220 mi) north of the state capital, La Paz.
The town was founded in 1697 by Jesuit missionaries, who found a steady spring of fresh water on this site, as the Misión Nuestra Señora de Loreto. The Jesuits were expelled in 1767, and control of the Baja California missions was given to the Franciscans. In 1769, the Franciscans were ordered to turn over the Baja missions to the Dominican order and accompany the expedition of Gaspar de Portola to establish new missions in the unexplored northern frontier that became Alta California. The expedition departed from Loreto on March 24, 1769.
The town served as the capital of the province of Las Californias from its founding until the capital was moved to Monterey on February 3, 1777. In 1768, the province had been split into Alta California (today's U.S. state of California) and Baja California. At first, the two provinces continued with a single governor. Later, the town became the headquarters for the Lieutenant Governor of California Viejo (the province of Baja California).
The city is now a tourist resort, catering mostly to U.S. travelers, with daily flights from the U.S. state of California to Loreto International Airport. Many American tourists enjoy fishing in "pangas" for "dorado" (Mahi-mahi or Dolphin Fish). Local restaurants will willingly prepare the daily catch of the tourists. Loreto has a museum that coexists alongside the historic, but still active, parish. Loreto has active sister city relationships with Hermosa Beach and Cerritos, California, USA.Culture
Mission of Our Lady of Loreto
There are seven buildings in Loreto from the 18th to the 20th century that are considered historical monuments by the federal government; the most important is the Mission of our Lady of Loreto, which is at the start of El Camino Real ("The Royal Road"), an historic corridor that follows north along the ancient route of the Spanish missions, to its ending in Sonoma, California, USA.
In the neighboring town of San Javier are five historical buildings, most importantly the Mission of Saint Francis Xavier (Misión de San Francisco Javier), the best preserved mission in the peninsula. The ruins of Mission of San Bruno, the first mission of Baja California, founded in 1683 by Jesuit missionary explorer Padre Eusebio Kino. It was ordered abandoned by the Spanish Crown a mere two years later. It is located twenty kilometers north of Loreto.
The Jesuit Missions Museum (“Museo de las Misiones Jesuíticas”) is located beside the Mission of our Lady of Loreto. It has a collection of religious art, weapons and tools from the 17th and 18th centuries that were used in the Spanish missions in Baja California.
In the "La Giganta" Mountain Range ("Sierra de la Giganta"), there are cave paintings in canyons and rock shelters. The nearest sites to Loreto are "Cuevas Pintas" (15 km to the west) and "La Pingüica" (60 km to the North). The cave paintings from the indigenous groups of Baja California are world famous and some of them have been added to UNESCO's list of world heritage sites.Fishing
Loreto has a reputation as an excellent sport fishing location. This is its main tourist attraction, as well as the main source of employment in the area, thus linking Loreto’s economy closely to fishing.