Bahia de Loreto National Park is on the eastern shore of Baja California Sur in Mexico's Sea of Cortez. It is one of the most species-rich environments on Earth and is especially valued as a habitat for marine mammals.
The park comprises five large islands in the bay, the beaches of a long stretch of Baja California, and more than 2,000 km² of sea surface, protecting the entire marine ecosystem. It is a valuable habitat, and a recreational resource offering reefs and subsurface cliffs and canyons for scuba divers and snorklers to explore. The park is a popular destination for sea kayakers who enjoy paddling among schools of dolphins and being able to approach surfaced whales closer than they've ever been before.
Parque Nacional Bahia de Loreto was designated as a Mexico national park in 1996. It is part of a larger area designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also a designated Ramsar Wetland.
Jacques Cousteau called Bahia de Loreto "the aquarium of the world".
Parque Nacional Bahia de Loreto joined the Mexican national park system on July 19, 1996.
This is an ocean environment with beaches, rocky islands, and endless blue seas.
Flora and fauna
Bahia de Loreto has the greatest diversity of marine mammals in Mexico with frequent sightings of many species of whales including the mammoth blue whale, as well as fin whales, humpback whales, and gray whales. Orcas and dolphins are regular navigators of the bay's warm waters. Several kinds of shellfish including snails and mussels are found in the park, including several protected species. Jumbo squid come to lay their eggs in the Bay of Loreto. Several species of mammals and reptiles are endemic to the islands in the park. The wetlands along the Baja shore and the inlets of the islands host several types of seaweeds.
Loreto is a desert climate with little rainfall and very hot temperatures in summer. The hottest month of the year is August with an average afternoon high of 95°F. The coolest month is January with an average afternoon high of 58°F. The coolest and most pleasant time to visit Loreto is December through February.
- 1 Loreto International Airport (LTO IATA) (15 minutes from downtown Loreto). It is served by carriers such as Alaska Airlines, providing international flights from Los Angeles. Domestic services are provided by Aeroméxico Connect, Aéreo Calafia and Aéreo Servicio Guerrero, regional airlines that operate flights within the state, and from Tijuana, Sinaloa and Sonora.
Some visitors may find it easier to fly to La Paz and then take a bus to Loreto. La Paz International Airport LAP IATA could be has very few flights, but American Airlines flies a daily direct flight from Phoenix. None of the major Mexican airlines serve La Paz as of Jan 2023. From La Paz, you can take a bus or rent a car to Loreto.
Aguila buses leave the La Paz bus terminal every 4 hours for Loreto. The trip takes 5½ hours and a ticket costs M$460 (or more, depending on bus class and time of day) as of January 2023.
Fees and permits
To enter the national park, you must have either a one-day biosphere bracelet or a one-year national park passport. The biosphere bracelet costs M$90 and is purchased on site at the snack bar in the Loreto marina before you board a boat going into the park.
The annual passport is good for admission at all Mexico national parks for one year. The pass costs M$1500 (about US̩$75). It can be purchased online through CONANP (the federal agency that manages parks and natural areas).
Boats can be hired at the Loreto marina.
Several outfitters in Loreto rent sea kayaks and camping equipment and they can provide experienced guides to take you to the islands; they know where to find the most wildlife and can provide invaluable local knowledge.
Five major islandsː
- Coronados Island - dominated by an inactive volcano, popular for its bright white soft sandy beaches. Two hiking trails are on the island, the north trail is steep cliffs and unique lava formations, the south trail goes along those sandy beaches and offers myriad spots for swimming or sunbathing.
- Carmen Island - reefs around island are good for snorkling; Isla Carmen is the biggest of the islands and has the highest peaks of any of the 5 islands (it's actually considered part of the Sierra de la Giganta mountains). There's a ghost town on the east side of the island.
- Danzante Island - small island, close to Baja coast, but noted for its dramatic cliffs and steep terrain.
- Montserrat Island - good fishing near shore on east side and deep water north of the island
- Catalana Island (boats are not permitted to stop here), furthest from the Baja coast and the least visited historically, making it a more pristine habitat for birds and sea mammals.
The town of Loreto has an excellent range of support services for all types of outdoor adventures. Dive masters can take scuba divers out to the reefs where the most colorful and exotic sea creatures can be found. A number of guides lead kayak trips out to the island, some for as little as a day, others for multiple days with camping on the uninhabited islands of the park. Closer to shore, stand-up paddleboards are available for rent. Sightseers and whale watchers can take tour boats from Loreto for half-day or full-day tours. Several species of whales are found in the waters of Loreto Bay including humpback, orca, blue, and gray whales. If you're hoping to catch sight of a whale giving birth, the best time to visit would be February and the first two weeks of March. Nobody can guarantee what a visitor will see on any particular day, but very few visitors come back ashore without seeing several (or several hundred) whales, porpoises, dolphins, sea lions and more.
Fishing has been drawing sportsmen to Loreto since long before the environmentalists moved in and the park was established. The park does impose rules for fishermen regarding protected species and designated fishing areas. Generally, fishing in Loreto Bay is very good. Snapper, grouper, and seabass are caught year-round. During summer and fall, marlin and sailfish are popular, as are tuna and dorado. In winter and spring, yellowtail and roosterfish are often caught.
Shops are in the town of Loreto.
Restaurants are in the town of Loreto.
Bars are in the town of Loreto.
A wide range of hotels, hostels, and posadas are available in the town of Loreto.
Camping is allowed on some of the Baja beaches and offshore islands in Loreto Bay. Always practice Leave No Trace principles in sensitive environments like this. Guides in Loreto can provide more information.
Baja California is a desert environment that is very hot in the summer months and dry all the time. Bring plenty of water to stay hydrated, and wear a hat and proper protection from the sun. Note that sunblock is prohibited in most of Mexico's marine biospheres. Chemicals in the sunblock damage reefs and endanger sea life.