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San Ignacio and the Viscaino Desert Reserve

San Ignacio

Visit the pretty colonial lagoon-side town San Ignacio, set in a desert oasis, base for whale-watching.

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. Gray 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.

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