Loreto, a land of legends, is a picturesque town where history blooms alongside the cacti. Considered by anthropologists as the site of the first human settlement on the Baja peninsula, Loreto also became the site of the first colonial establishment with the construction of the peninsula’s first mission in 1697. From its cave paintings to its prized Church of Our Lady of Loreto, Loreto will capture your imagination with its stunning and artistic testimony of its past.

The mountain range Sierra de la Giganta stands sentinel over Loreto and much of the region’s natural allure and many of its pre-historic secrets can be found in the mountains’ folds. Here, abstract figures depicted with yellow and white tones trimming the more common black and ochre relay a compelling past and a mysterious message. Only 9 miles out of Loreto lies Cuevas Pintas, whose more surreal paintings hint at the ideologies of the peninsula’s ancient cultures. Although Cuevas Pintas is now buried after a 2013 flood and is now in the process of being excavated, you can find La Pingüica north of Loreto as well.

At La Pingüica, the canyons and bedrock served as a vast canvas for the aboriginal cave paintings. Nearby, Cueva La Pintada is situated upon a cliff and houses some of the world’s best cave paintings that depict humanoid figures interacting with animals. Although European cave painting sites such as Altamira and Lascaux are more internationally renowned, the cave paintings in Baja are larger and more numerous. If you visit Loreto, you have many opportunities to step into a cave and step into a fascinating story that took place 1,000-1,5000 years ago.

Of course, the natural world surrounding Loreto not only houses works of art; rather, many consider the stunning landscape surrounding Loreto a work of art of the highest order. The Parque Nacional Bahía de Loreto was established as a nature reserve in 1996, and Loreto is home to stretches of coastal dunes, scrubland, and swamps. The balmy azure waters of the Sea of Cortez contrast with its desert landscape in sharp relief, and its diverse landscapes offer a variety of outdoor activities.

Just off Loreto’s coast lies the Coronado Islands complex, five desert islands where adventure abounds. The Coronado Islands complex is comprised of the Coronado, Del Carmen, Danzante, Montserrat and Santa Catalina islands. With the islands as a guard and their many caves and lakes, the islands serve as a shelter for many marine animals. In fact, over 160 species of marine animals, algae, clams, snails, and octopus seek refuge in the mild waters of Bahia de Loreto. Its brilliantly colored walls of coral serve as a breathing backdrop to this world under the sea.

In town, visitors can find the Misión Nuestra Señora de Loreto established in 1697 by  Juan María de Salvatierra. Remodeled several times, the Misión Nuestra Señora now maintains a Baroque stone façade with a frieze that reads “Head and Mother of the Missions in Baja and Alta California” near a sculpture of the Lady of Loreto, the town’s saint. Neighboring the mission, the Museo de las Misiones depicts Baja’s colonial history and the role of missions in its settlement. As Loreto is in many ways the “head” of colonial settlement and the home of its Mother, these sites illustrate the city’s devotion to its past in its present.