Although millions of Americans visit Mexico each year, Loreto, a small town of about 10,000 inhabitants, has never been one of the country's "it" destinations.

Located almost midway between border town Tijuana and party spot Cabo San Lucas, Loreto fronts the Sea of Cortez. Its biggest claim to fame is excellent sportfishing.

This charming destination, which retains a feel of "authentic" Mexico, has lot to crow about, however. It is the oldest permanent settlement in Baja California, and the downtown area is the start of the El Camino Real, the route traveled by Jesuit priests, which today connects California's missions.

While you are in town, visit the marina, the Mission of Our Lady of Loreto and its adjacent Museum of California Missions.

The Loreto Bay is home to a number of volcanic islands, which are all part of the larger Loreto Bay National Park, a nearly 800-sq-mi/2,070-sq-km stretch of islands, wetlands and lagoons that house more than 80% of all aquatic animals found in the Pacific Ocean.

Although Loreto's volcanic islands and abundant aquatic life make it a popular destination with snorkelers and divers, the area has nowhere near the traffic of some of Mexico's other better-known snorkeling sites. Remote, unspoiled beauty tends to be Loreto's unofficial catch phrase.

Possible side trips from Loreto include visits to San Javier, the best-preserved mission in Baja California (hidden in the Sierra de la Giganta to the southwest) and Islas Coronado, an island 5 mi/8 km from shore, where sea lions bask in the sun. Loreto lies 220 mi/360 km north of La Paz.

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