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.
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
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.
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.]
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.)
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Carla King is a longtime adventure travel journalist, author, and motorcyclist who spends much of the winter in the Mulegé area on the Sea of Cortez. Her next book is the Baja Adventure Guide.
4 thoughts on “An Off-Road Exploration of San Juanico, San José Comondú, and La Purísima”
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.
David K is very knowledgeable about Baja and is always welcome in my house. (I always count my books after he leaves.) :-) :-) :-)
September, 1962 – two of us, on Honda 50 Trail Bikes, which were something new in those days, had rode from Tijuana to Santispac Beach. From there the road to Loretto looked too tame for us, so we decided to try the San Jose Comondu road. Wow, that was a bad decision. We made it maybe halfway before my brake pedal was sheared off. Two or three miles per hour was about it, until we spotted a flat-bed truck pulling onto the road ahead of us. It cost a few pesos to load our rigs and gear on the truck, and ride the rest of the way to San Jose, where they put us up in the school house, sleeping on the floor, for the night. That was a day to remember.
Wow! Honda 50s, huh? Clearance is too low. Really a dual-sport motorcycle is bestm with long suspension, and plenty of off-roaders have fun on that trip. But, as you have learned, it is easy to get help on the backroads of Baja. So often it’s the delays and the help you get that make the best memories. Thanks for sharing!