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History, beaches, and chocolate clams. Escape to this small Mexican town for tranquility, without crowds.

Loreto is tiny, but still offers a lot of charm, and plenty of sea lions.

The Mission of Our Lady of Loreto is the centerpiece of the town of Loreto, Mexico.Christopher Muther/Globe Staff

LORETO, Mexico — Under the watchful eyes of the Blue-footed Boobies, I stuck a finger in the water. Then two. The ocean temperature was chillier than I had hoped, but the captain of the tiny fishing boat was losing patience. I had paid him to bring me out into the Sea of Cortez so I could snorkel with the sea lions. Now I was having second thoughts — about all of it.

“A life lived in fear is a life half lived,” I chanted under my breath. It’s a mantra that I cling to during moments when I’m about to do something ridiculous. Like, say, go snorkeling alongside 600-pound mammals in the ocean.


I put one finned foot over the side of the boat, then the other. The boobies continued to watch, I continued to chant, and finally, the captain yelled, “Muévate!” I didn’t know what he meant at the time, but I suspected it roughly translated to, “Get the hell off my boat.”

I pulled on my mask and jumped. The cold water felt like an icy slap to my coin purse, but the bigger shock was that suddenly I was snorkeling alongside large creatures that were incredibly graceful in the water. Not entirely unlike Shelley Winters in “The Poseidon Adventure.” On the rocks above, the sea lions lazily flopped about and barked, but in the ocean, they darted and bobbed with purpose. Jacques Cousteau once called this part of the ocean “the world’s aquarium,” so despite the cold, I continued to swim and explore.

A sea lion swims in the Sea of Cortez off the coast of Loreto, Mexico.Christopher Muther/Globe Staff

The other shock during my Mexican adventure was that I discovered I have an affinity for slow-paced travel. Loreto, which is on the lower half of the Baja California Sur Peninsula of Mexico, is often and unjustly overlooked. When most tourists come to this corner of Mexico, they head to the flashy Cabo San Lucas or, sometimes La Paz. Loreto is on the Eastern side of the peninsula, on the Sea of Cortez. It’s an under-the-radar town of 20,000 that doesn’t swell and burst with tourists. For that, I was grateful. More than one local apologized for the tranquility. No apologies necessary.


It’s famous-ish among whale watchers. More than 20,000 whales visit the waters off Baja, so technically there are as many whales as residents during their peak migration season. Humpbacks, fin whales, and minkes come through, but the highlights are blue whales and gray whales. The bay is both a national marine park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I’ve done plenty of whale watching in New England, but never in the Pacific. I don’t think Jacques Cousteau ever called Boston Harbor “the world’s aquarium.”

Prime season for whale watching is January through March, so I was excited at the prospect of whale action. Unfortunately, the whales hadn’t arrived yet, at least in Loreto. I’m not sure if they lost their day planners, but I was left with the sea lions and boobies. The whales, I was told, would arrive later in the month, or perhaps February. For the first time in my life, I was actually early for an event.

Boats are anchored off the beach on Coronado island ready to shuttle tourists between the island and the town.Christopher Muther/Globe Staff

Before I complain more about the tardy, irresponsible whales, let me give you some practical advice. There are direct flights from Los Angeles to the tiny airport in Loreto on Alaska Air. Don’t try looking for a flight from Boston. Book a flight to Loreto directly from LA. Along with being low-key, Loreto is also very safe. The biggest nuisance are the dogs.


The whales and their devil-may-care schedule left me time for other pursuits, and first on the list was a quick boat ride to an island called Coronado. There are five uninhabited islands not far from the coast of Loreto, and the beach on Coronado is the most popular destination of the bunch. Unlike the pebble beaches and darker waves on the mainland, the sand on Coronado is soft and white and the water is a sparkling shade of turquoise. You can book a trip out to the island for about $100 per person, or swing by the marina in the morning and see if there’s room on any of the smaller boats, which makes it easier to negotiate a price.

A blue-footed booby on the rocky outcroppings near Loreto, Mexico.Christopher Muther/Globe Staff

The island is a protected nature reserve (it’s part of the Loreto Bay National Marine Park) with wooden walkways for hiking. Every tourist I met was from the West Coast, and all were repeat visitors. This was helpful because they could tip me off to the best restaurants and explain a local delicacy called the chocolate clam.

The clam is named for the color of its shell, not the taste. The Sea of Cortez is the only place they’re harvested, so it’s required eating. They’re called “Baja’s seafood candy,” but again, they’re not actually chocolate. They’re meaty and often served raw with lemon or lime juice. I had them baked on the shell with garlic. Look for them at the Giggling Dolphin Restaurant for the fresh variety and at Domingo’s Place Steak House if you prefer the baked version.


A sculpture of sea lions at sunset near the Malecon in Loreto, Mexico.Christopher Muther/Globe Staff

I highly recommend renting a car, but if you do, think about getting a sturdy vehicle. Some of the roads outside the center of town are more like sandy, rocky paths than paved streets. I rattled along a treacherous route in a basic compact car to La Picazón, a beach club and restaurant about 30 minutes outside of town. It took three navigational apps on my phone to find it and I’m pretty sure a filling shook loose from one of my teeth as a result of the bumpy nonroads. But, once I was finally there it was a wonderful way to spend a boozy afternoon at the beach.

You’ll also need a car to get around the spectacular Sierra de la Giganta mountain range that frames the town. Getting into these craggy mountains is as important as visiting the islands. Drive about an hour to see Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó. It was constructed in 1699, and then moved to its current location. The church is lovely, but the drive there is even better, and the tiny, sun-baked village where it’s located, called San Javier, is a great place to linger if you’re taking the lazy approach to this trip. Remember, there’s no shame in lazy travel. At least that’s what I constantly tell myself.


The 18th-century interior of Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó near Loreto, Mexico.Christopher Muther/Globe Staff

What’s that, you crave more history? Loreto proper is built around Mission of Our Lady of Loreto, an 18th-century church, which also houses a small museum. I saw more people lingering at cafes in the town square and shopping in the souvenir shops than at the museum, but who am I to judge? I befriended a group of partying locals (whom I referred to as Los Bros) at a bar called Zapata and spent more time playing paintball with them than exploring the church.

Getting bombarded by Los Bros at paintball was not the dumbest thing I did (shocking!), it was staying at a hotel called Hacienda Suites. Dogs on the dirt road behind the hotel barked incessantly. Also, no matter how many times I asked, I couldn’t get housekeeping to clean my room. It was a $100-a-night headache. I used it as an excuse to change lodging and booked myself into the town’s most luxurious hotel, Villa del Palmar, which I nabbed for a last-minute bargain rate of $200 a night.

The Sierra de la Giganta provide impressive views throughout Loreto, Mexico.Christopher Muther/Globe Staff

The best middle ground (and the hotel where I should have stayed for the duration of my trip) was Hotel La Misión de Loreto. It’s directly across the street from the ocean and the beautiful Malecón de Loreto. Learn from my mistakes people. Rent a sturdy car and avoid hotels that are surrounded by dogs.

On my last full day in Loreto I wanted to get back into the water, this time without the Shelley Winters-esque sea lions. I opted for dolphin watching from an ocean kayak. But when I arrived, the instructor told me we need to practice capsizing first.

“Will I capsize?” I asked, officially scared out of my wits.

He told me the practice was required. I bravely strapped myself into the kayak, grabbed an oar, and once again began the silent, familiar chant, “A life lived in fear is a life half lived.”

Christopher Muther can be reached at Follow him @Chris_Muther and Instagram @chris_muther.