Islands of Loreto
Sleepy Loreto's first luxury lodging is a grand hotel on a hidden bay, with six pools, a wealth of activities, and the option to dine in restaurants or cook in a suite kitchen.
With a history dating back to 1697, Loreto is considered to be the oldest human settlement on the peninsula of Baja California, Mexico. A day exploring cave paintings and visiting an ancient Jesuit mission hidden deep in mountains makes you feel light years away from the typical Baja experience of partying in beautiful but bustling Cabo San Lucas 250 miles to the south. While eco–tourism has evolved in the Loreto area, much still remains the same as it did when the area was first settled. An inclusion in 2012 as one of Mexico's "magical towns" ensures that Loreto will thankfully now have to stay much the same for years to come.
Until recently, those who came to Loreto did not have any choice for luxury accommodations. Loreto is first and foremost a sleepy, humble fishing village nestled between the Sea of Cortez and the rugged Sierra de la Giganta mountains. In 2011 the Villa del Palmar (which operates other luxury resorts in Cabo, Cancun, and Puerto Vallarta) opened, but took great care to not change the uniquely quiet vibe of Loreto. The resort itself was built about a 25–30 minute ride from the Loreto airport (direct flights come into Loreto daily from Los Angeles through Alaska Air). Villa del Palmar sits on its own private bay, well away from town. It should be noted that another phase is in development to add more guest rooms; construction on that will begin in 2013.
Once you arrive, the warm staff goes out of its way to help you erase any stress you may still be holding from travel. Check–in is relaxed (and all hotel employees have strong English skills), drinks are quickly offered, and the staff guides you through a hotel tradition of a hand–washing ritual, in which all of your burdens and tensions get symbolically washed away so you can be more fully present during your stay.
The hotel is comprised of four separate buildings housing the guest rooms. Rooms can range from the most basic Deluxe Suites (which include a private balcony and kitchenette) to the 4 bedroom, 3 bath Presidential Suite with 12 person occupancy. It is well worth the upgrade from the Deluxe Suite to the One Bedroom Suite, which doubles your space from 645 square feet to 1300, and includes such amenities as an in-room washer and dryer and large Jacuzzi tub.
Housekeeping service is thorough, and the rooms are left impeccable. The kitchenettes are more like full kitchens, with a blender, toaster, dishes, full refrigerator, and a stove. You have a choice at Villa del Palmar to go with an all–inclusive package or not (add $89 per person per day for all–inclusive). On–site there is a market which functions as a mini grocery store. For those who prefer to stay in and cook their own meal (a great option for families or for those who just prefer home–cooked food), access to supplies is readily available.
Others will want to take advantage of the three on–site restaurants which showcase much fresh seafood, including the famous chocolate clams of the area which are caught daily right in front of the hotel. Wi–Fi access was strong in the lobby and many other common areas, but from the room could only be accessed out on the balcony.
While the grounds of Villa del Palmar are gorgeous, what attracts people to Loreto is the natural beauty of the landscape. Loreto Bay, which includes Coronado, Del Carmen, Danzante, Montserrate and Santa Catalina islands, has been protected as a National Maritime Park since 2000. It provides refuge for mother–of–pearl, starfish, sea urchins, fan coral, killer whales, blue whales, dolphins and sea lions. None other than Jacques Cousteau called this area 'The World's Aquarium,' and named it as one of his favorite places to explore.
Activities to get your blood pumping include sea kayaking the Sea of Cortez right from the beach at Villa del Palmar, scuba diving and snorkeling in the transparent turquoise waters of Coronado Island, or trekking up the mountains and canyons to explore cave paintings. Less active choices include sailing Nopoló Bay, fishing off the pier of Puerto Escondido, and whale watching in panga boats in Magdalena Bay. You can also take land excursions on historic tours to San Javier or shopping the markets in nearby Loreto — known for its silver and turquoise jewelry. Other guests are happy to lounge in a hammock by the sea or enjoy one of the six pools, which when seen from the guest rooms come together to create the shape of a large turtle.
The resort also puts on nightly shows. These are nowhere near Vegas-style, so go in with lower expectations, but the shows definitely have heart and are worth seeing. The actors pour themselves into their work which aims to teach about Mexican culture, dance, and folklore.
If you stay at the Villa del Palmar, a trip to the Sabila Spa is in order. Over 39,000 square feet with 17 treatment rooms, the spa staff takes much pride in pampering. The men's area is separate from the women's area, although each has the exact same amenities: a dry sauna, large steam room, hot tub, warm tub, cold plunge pool, Scottish shower, and individual Jacuzzi baths set up with water infused with aloe vera (perfect for after a long day at the beach), or epsom salts (to ease muscles after hiking or kayaking). Massages, facials, wraps and scrubs are available, in addition to manicures, pedicures, and haircuts. Noteworthy are the services offered specifically for kids, including short massages and child–appropriate facials.
The resort is incredibly family–friendly, but it also works well for a quiet, relaxed honeymoon destination or an indulgent girl's getaway. While the accommodations are luxurious, the ambiance is as tranquil as can be. The resort and staff could not be less pretentious. If you are a nature lover looking for the anti–Cabo experience while still wanting to experience Baja, a stay at Villa del Palmar is a must.
Web Address: villadelpalmarloreto.com
Total Number of Rooms: 181
Published rates: $204 to $2,547 per night, all inclusive package $89 additional per person, per day.
Review by Cathy Brown, photos courtesy of hotel.