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Baja California: San Ignacio and the Viscaino Desert Reserve

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San Ignacio and the Viscaino Desert Reserve

The parched, sun-scored landscape of the Viscaino Desert Reserve in Baja California’s mountainous interior may seem relentless as you travel the solitary road which winds through the canyons, with only cacti as silent witnesses to your journey. But then you arrive at San Ignacio, set in a spring-fed oasis bursting with fertility: mangoes, figs, grapes and oranges are cultivated here, while the pretty colonial town is shaded by date palms built by the Jesuits who founded the settlement in 1728.

Their mission church, built from volcanic stone and caressed by bougainvillea, sits on the laurel-shaded square is still an active pace of worship. With its ornate wooden doors it is one of the most elegant colonial buildings in Baja. Indigenous people thrived here long before the arrival of the Spanish however and visiting the 5,000 year-old cave paintings of the Cochimi Indians nearby is a highlight of a visit, though most of the town’s economy is now dependent on the supply of whale and bird watching expeditions for visitors in the calm waters of the adjacent lagoon. Grey whale watching is very laid back here. There are only 16 permits so guides and boatmen plan accordingly: there are not too many boats out at any one time.

What our experts say

San Ignacio is an unexpected little oasis in the desert with a small shady plaza providing the perfect setting for an afternoon of doing nothing more than sip a cold beer. Although small it has an interesting history and is well worth staying for a couple of days to explore the surrounding cacti-filled desert, ancient painted caves and grey and russet canyons.

Rafe Stone

Rafe Stone

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