An Off-Road Exploration of San Juanico, San José Comondú, and La Purísima

By Carla King

Travelers who visit us in Posada Concepción study our atlas trying to find a good route across the peninsula to San Juanico, San José Comondú, and La Purísima. All the roads look a little iffy, and they are. Weather and lack of maintenance can make it slow going and practically impassable even for 4x4s and adventure motorcycles and many who try, turn back. Several recent visitors on big adventure bikes made it to La Purísima and San Juanico only after unloading their gear but still found the San José Comondú detour too difficult. Other visitors riding small adventure bikes reported it challenging but passable and even enjoyable. I met an off-road bicyclist in Loreto traveling from California to South America who told me she loved this area.

One of the many water crossings

My neighbor Rick had a great time on the back roads to San Juanico from Santispac Beach on his KTM 500 last December. You can see that ranchers and 4x4s pass by here, too, but obviously much more slowly. See the post. (Photo courtesy of LostRider.)

I have not made the trip, so when my neighbor John Derby, a newspaperman from Sacramento, sent a trip report to our list, I asked if I could share it and he generously accepted. Find out more about John’s interesting career at the end of this post.


Destination: Misión San José de Comondú

John Derby

Far off the beaten path, Misión San José de Comondú is fairly difficult to get to, and so we had never attempted the trip in our past 18 years in Mexico. In March 2017, three couples from Posada Concepción set out in four-wheel drive vehicles on an adventure to see the mission. It would be a three-day trip from the comfort of our homes in Posada, and we had no idea what to expect.

Mission San Jose de Comondu, Baja, BCS, Mulege, Loreto

And this is what they found…  Photo by John Derby.

First Stop, San Juanico (Scorpion Bay)

Our first night would be in San Juanico, a coastal town known as one of the best surfing beaches in all of Baja (at Scorpion Bay). It took almost the entire first day just to get to San Juanico as it is located on the west coast of Baja and there are only a few roads crossing the Baja peninsula. We took Mex Hwy 1 to Ciudad Insurgentes and then headed north to San Juanico where we stayed at the Scorpion Bay Hotel. The price was $125.

[From Mulegé head south on Highway 1 and at km 59 turn west at the graded road for San Isidro. The road deteriorates into a well-traveled ranch road heading south, and the stretch west to San Isidro and La Purísima is very rough. You can also get to Scorpion Bay on the straighter, flatter dirt roads on the coast from San Ignacio.]

Map: The easy road from La Purisma and Scorpion Bay to Loreto and Mulege

From Mulegé head to Loreto and then Ciudad Insurgentes where you’ll turn north onto Highway 53. Drive north towards La Purísima to the Las Barrancas turn-off. Follow the signs to San Juanico. This is the easiest but the longest route (in distance), and optimal if you’re towing anything or do not have 4-wheel drive. John told me that the road north from Insurgentes has severe potholes in places, however, the road from there to Comondú is paved without potholes to the newer mission (Misión San Miguel). From Misión San Miguel to Misión San José de Comondú the two-kilometer road is dirt and in fairly good shape. Map notations by Carla King.

San Juanico is an active town with several nice restaurants and hotels. It also has a co-op for lobster fishermen and their pangas line the beach. We were tired when we arrived, and the cold winds were coming from the ocean, so we tucked in early after dinner.

The Scorpion Bay Hotel was $125 a night and included a marvelous breakfast the following morning. (See San Juanico Scorpion Bay Accommodations. Discover Baja members receive a 15% discount at Scorpion Bay Hotel.)

Map La Purisma, San Jose Comondu, Mulege, Loreto

San Juanico, La Purísima, Mulegé, Loreto – the easy way or the hard way. Map notations by Carla King.

From San Juanico to La Purísima

Up at the crack of dawn, the group was ready to take on the new day and, after exploring the town of San Juanico and the beautiful beach, we headed on to La Purísima, which was the jump-off place where the paved road stopped, and the dirt road started.

scorpion-bay

Find more info on what to do in Scorpion Bay

There would be 28 miles of paved road and 30 miles of dirt road to Misión San José de Comondú from San Juanico. We expected to cover the distance by lunch time and head on to Misión San Francisco Javier, another one of the original missions on the trail that starts with the first mission in Loreto, built in 1697.

La Purísima

La Purísima had not changed much in the past ten years since we were last there. It’s a sleepy little town off the tourist trail which had not grown in population and just seemed to carry on with the families who lived and worked in the sugar cane business, and also the rare maker of patate (woven cane mats used in construction in this area of Mexico).

La Purisma, Baja, BCS, Mulege, Loreto

River and El Pilón in La Purísima

La Purísima is probably one of the most beautiful settings in Southern Baja with a nice river and majestic mountain adding to the scenic beauty. But we were on a mission, and it was time to move on as we were burning daylight. We still had no idea how rough the road would be from La Purísima to Comondú.

The road started out as a six on a scale of ten. Before long it was down to a four and eventually would be a two in places where a grader had rebuilt the road since the last rain storm.

xxxx

I’ve been told that the road between La Purísima and San Jose Comondú is challenging for 4x4s and big adventure bikes but can be big fun for riders of small dirt bikes. My friends on KTM 500s said they had a blast here last December. Map notations by Carla King.

A change of plan

The 30 miles seemed to take forever and any suggestion that we would make it to San Javier Mission by the day’s end was forgotten. All we wanted to see was the Misión San José de Comondú, and we would be happy.

“Do you think there is a place to stay at the Mission San José?” one of the group asked.  We had been told there was but had no idea what it was like because the person had not stayed overnight. Our group was not prepared for camping out.

It was almost 3 p.m. by the time we reached Misión San José de Comondú, and that was after driving through part of the river bed. Lucky we had four-wheel drive. The mission town was not big, and half the buildings were crumbling down. However, the mission itself was very well maintained.

Misión San José de Comondú

Nestled in this valley among the date palms is one of the first of the missions built on the Mission Trail which starts in Baja and continues all the way up the coast of California. The Misión San José de Comondú was built in 1707 and located 650 miles south of the border. At one time it was being considered for the capital of Baja Sur.

Comondú Baja

The mission town is in an oasis of date palms in a mountainous desert. (Google Earth)

We walked inside, and it was like drawing back the curtain of ages past. Walls were four feet thick made of local stone, and the high arched ceiling looked down on a beautiful altar with Christ on the crucifix.

Inside chapel, 2001. Photo by Jack Swords

Unadorned interior of the mission. Get details on the history of this mission and more photos in the post, Spanish Missions Post #5, by David Kier. Photo by Jack Swords.

 

Mission San Jose de Comondu, Mulege, Loreto, Baja, BCS

The group admires the interior of the mission, recently adorned for a celebration. Photo by John Derby.

For some reason, a second mission was constructed only two kilometers away, and we were told that the only hotel in the area was located there. We pressed on and found the bigger town of San Miguel de Comondú with the newer Misión San Miguel and, on the same street, Hacienda Don Mario Hotel and Museo. We rented three of the six rooms it had available and were the only guests. It cost $60 a night, and the rooms were new and had all the modern conveniences such as air conditioning and television.

Contact them

Contact Hacienda Don Mario Hotel Museo via their website or browse their Facebook page. Jen Kramer of Discover Baja visited this year and reports that, “Don Mario is literally the only hotel/restaurant option in a very small and economically depressed town. There’s not even a taco stand. But the hotel offers nice accommodations and is run well so it’s a great option (and only option) for anyone who wants to visit the area.”

The manager told us that if we wished to have dinner that evening, it should be ordered now. This seemed to mean that the food would have to be bought specially for us and it would take some time for preparation. After the previous night, we were ready to order ahead of time. The meal was excellent, and the atmosphere was surreal. We slept well and headed home having achieved our mission.

Home again to Posada

To our surprise, the map showed a dotted line road which turned out to be a perfectly paved road that bypassed La Purísima. It headed southwest to Ciudad Insurgentes and took less than half an hour to make the 30 miles which had taken three hours the day before.

Thanks, John!

 


 

Book: Baja California, Land of Missions, David Keir

More info on the Baja Missions

Find more information on the Baja missions on this site and in David Kier’s book, Baja California, Land of Missions, available from Discover Baja.

About John Derby

John Derby has been a journalist for 57 years starting as a military correspondent during the Korean Conflict writing for the Army Times and Stars and Stripes.

When he was discharged, he worked for two California dailies for four years but felt better suited for community journalism, so he started his first newspaper in 1964. Within five years he was publishing four newspapers for different communities in Merced County California, which had their own printing presses and did everything in-house.

At one time he was publishing nine newspapers of his own, one of which was in Spanish, and also printed a half dozen other community newspapers for other publishers in the area.

The printing plant burned to the ground in 1998 the day before he and his wife Kathy were to leave for Baja. Instead, they decided to buy a sailboat and sail around the world while the plant was being rebuilt. They started from San Francisco in October 1999 and, after sailing for 32 days, ended up in Bahía Concepión and fell in love with it. They tried to sail to Panama three times, but the boat would not go. One problem after another kept happening, and they decided it was not meant to be, and meanwhile bought their place in Posada. After five years of sailing the Sea of Cortez, they sailed their boat back to Alameda where it is still docked.

John has turned the publishing firm over to the employees who now run it with some help from him. He continues to write a weekly column called Ship to Shore which you can find at MercedCountytTimes.net.

 

 

2 Responses to “An Off-Road Exploration of San Juanico, San José Comondú, and La Purísima”

  1. David Kier

    Very nice article Carla.
    I was over the roads in the area in February. The road between Comondú and San Isidro/ La Purísima is now very good and mostly fast driving for a dirt road.
    There is some controversy about San Miguel (Comondú) having any unique mission status. It was an important visita of San Javier mission and some Jesuits trained there before being assigned to their own mission, performing baptisms, etc. When the 1708 Comondú mission moved to just 2 miles from San Miguel (in 1736), it transferred jurisdiction to itself from San Javier over the visita of San Miguel. One author writes that the San José de Comondú mission operated from the visita of San Miguel for a year while its new site was prepared.

    Reply
  2. Neal Johns

    David K is very knowledgeable about Baja and is always welcome in my house. (I always count my books after he leaves.) :-) :-) :-)

    Reply

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