A trip to Loreto isn’t complete without taking a day trip to explore the small town and mission of San Javier. Located southwest of Loreto, the town is nestled into the lush and craggy Sierra de la Giganta. From Mexico 1 (turn off at kilometer 118), it’s a beautiful drive through scenic valleys and lava flows that are covered in lush green vegetation after rains. Glimpses of the Sea of Cortez can be caught in the distance between the mountains. The sleepy village of San Javier is a small agricultural town, with one of the most well-preserved missions on the entire Baja peninsula.
In 1699, Padre Francisco María Piccolo founded Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó. During a drought in 1710, the original headquarters were moved to a visiting mission site, which is where the mission remains today. The stone church you can go to now was built 1744-1758 and is considered the crown jewel of the Baja missions because of its excellent state of preservation and the beauty of the structure. The mission features the first stained-glass windows on the peninsula and three gold-leaf altars that were shipped from mainland Mexico and reassembled on-site. The mission reportedly cost nearly a million pesos to build and was financed by profits from pearl fisheries on the Sea of Cortez.
Today, a priest comes into town to give mass for the residents every Thursday. There’s a caretaker who is around 7am-6pm daily to answer any questions that visitors may have. Don’t visit the mission at San Javier without taking some time to walk around the back to explore the old gardens and stop to see the large, gnarled olive tree that’s over 315 years old.
Food and Services
There’s an even older olive tree in town behind a row of buildings on the main street that leads up to the mission. Ask on the main street leading to the mission at the artisan shop Vigeé Biandó Arts & Crafts to have them point you in the right direction of the olive tree While you’re at the shop, don’t forget to pick up a bottle of damiana, a sweet herbal liqueur from Mexico that’s believed to be an aphrodisiac.
Also on the main street and right near the mission is the casual La Palapa restaurant (open 8am-5pm daily). It’s the only restaurant in San Javier and has been serving breakfast, lunch, and cold beer to visitors since 1981. The food is all homemade Mexican dishes (tostadas, enchiladas, burritos, etc.) and really delicious.
How to Get There
The scenic road through the lush Sierra de la Giganta mountains out to San Javier is half the reason for the journey. The turnoff for San Javier is on Mexico 1 at kilometer 118 on the west side of the highway (look for the Del Borracho cowboy sign). The 34-kilometer (21-mile) road is currently paved all the way to San Javier except for a segment between kilometers 14 and 15 where you’ll find a graded dirt road. The condition is usually good, but the road goes through about a dozen arroyos that can be filled with water that can get quite high, especially after rains. A high-clearance vehicle is recommended. It takes about an hour to drive from Loreto to San Javier. Ask in Loreto about road conditions or about joining a guided tour if you don’t want to drive yourself.