Loreto (or Conchó) was the first Spanish settlement on the Baja California Peninsula. It served as the capital of Las Californias from 1697 to 1777, and is the current seat of the municipality of Loreto in the Mexican state of Baja California Sur. The city of 14,724 people (2010 census) is located on the coast of the Sea of Cortés, about 350 km (220 mi) north of the state capital, La Paz. The town was founded in 1697 by Jesuit missionaries, who found a steady spring of fresh water on this site. The Misión Nuestra Señora de Loreto was founded in the town in 1752. The town served as the capital of the province of Las Californias from its founding until the capital was moved to Monterey on February 3, 1777. The town then became the headquarters for the Lieutenant Governor of California Viejo (later the province of Baja California). The city is now a tourist resort, catering mostly to U.S. travelers, with daily flights from the U.S. state of California to Loreto International Airport. Many American tourists enjoy fishing in "pangas" for "dorado" (Mahi-mahi or Dolphin Fish). Local restaurants will willingly prepare the daily catch of the tourists. Loreto has an excellent museum that coexists alongside the historic, but still active, parish. Loreto has active sister city relationships with Hermosa Beach and Cerritos, California, USA.
Loreto is located on the east coast of the Baja California Peninsula, at 26º00'46" N 111º20'36" W. It is bordered on the east by the Gulf of California, on the west by the Transpeninsular Highway, and on the south by the Arroyo Loreto, a dry creek bed that only fills with water after a heavy rainfall. The city is built on relatively flat land with an average elevation is 10 meters (33 ft) above sea level. “La Giganta” Mountain Range (“Sierra de la Giganta”) lies to the west, extending along the center of the state of Baja California Sur, parallel to the gulf coast. The geology and topography of the Loreto region, extending from Bahía Concepción to Agua Verde, is a coastal belt consisting "mainly of a narrow belt of ridges, valleys, and pediments adjacent to the escarpment, low- to moderate-elevation ranges transverse to the coast, and narrow coastal plains”.
Loreto’s climate is hot and humid, with abundant sunshine (desert with some rainfalls in summer). The median temperature is 24.4 °C (76 °F). The temperatures are hot from June through October. These summer days have highs around 34 °C (93 °F) and high humidity. According to the National Meteorological Service (Servicio Metereológico Nacional) Loreto's highest official temperature reading of 39 °C (102 °F) was recorded on August 1965; the lowest temperature ever recorded was 5.4 °C (42 °F) in January 1971. In spring season, the temperatures are moderate and temperate. Autumn and winter months are usually windy. In spring season, the temperatures are moderate and temperate. Autumn and winter months are usually windy.
From January to March, winds blow from the NW (night hours) and the North (day hours), the rest of the year, the winds blow usually from the West. Loreto's yearly precipitation is low; averages about 11.89 centimeters (4.68 in). The wettest months are August and September, when there are occasional short-lived rainfalls. One concern for Loreto is the Pacific hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30, and some times causes heavy rainfall and floods in the area. The last time the town area was hit by a hurricane was on September 2 and 3, 2006, when the hurricane John hit the Baja California Peninsula.
There are seven buildings in Loreto from the 18th to the 20th century that are considered historical monuments by the federal government; the most important is the Mission of our Lady of Loreto, which is at the start of "the royal road" (“el camino real”), an historic corridor that follows north along the ancient route of the Spanish missions, to its ending in Sonoma, California, USA. In the neighboring town of San Javier are five historical buildings, most importantly the Mission of Saint Francis Xavier (Misión de San Francisco Javier), the best preserved mission in the peninsula. The ruins of Mission of San Bruno, the first mission of Baja California, founded in 1683 but abandoned a mere two years later, are twenty kilometers north of Loreto. The Jesuit Missions Museum (“Museo de las Misiones Jesuíticas”) is located beside the Mission of our Lady of Loreto. It has a collection of religious art, weapons and tools from the 17th and 18th centuries that were used in the Spanish missions in Baja California. In the “La Giganta” Mountain Range (“Sierra de la Giganta”), there are cave paintings in canyons and rock shelters. The nearest sites to Loreto are “Cuevas Pintas” (15 km to the west) and "La Pingüica" (60 km to the North). The cave paintings from the indigenous groups of Baja California are world famous and some of them have been added to UNESCO's list of world heritage sites.
Loreto has a reputation as an excellent sport fishing location. This is its main tourist attraction, as well as the main source of employment in the area, thus linking Loreto’s economy closely to fishing. There are two well-defined fishing seasons: summer features “dorado” and species like marlin (black marlin, Atlantic blue marlin, striped marlin) and sailfish, which are ideal for the fly fishing; winter fishing features “yellow tail” (jurel) and other species that usually are deep in the sea rocks. In addition to these seasonal species, Loreto's waters are home to other species like snapper and seabass, which are found all year long. Thanks to this abundance, Loreto has been home of several IGFA records. The two “foundations” of Loreto’s sport fishing are the “dorado” and the “yellow tail” (Seriola lalandi dorsalis). The dorado is the emblematic species of Loreto's warm waters, its season beginning in late May, peaking from July to September, and ending in November, with two important tournaments, in July and September. The yellow tail is one of the strongest species; its season begins in November, peaks from March to April, and comes to an end in late May.