After disembarking National Geographic Venture, step ashore for an expedition into the past on a visit to the stunning colonial mission of San Javier. The mission was established by the Jesuits after they realized their Loreto mission had too little water to sustain agriculture. Crossing the Sierra de la Giganta mountains with Cochimi guides and Spanish soldiers in 1699, they found this site 12 miles inland from the Gulf of California and returned later that year to establish the mission that ultimately included dams, aqueducts and stone buildings. Between 1744 and 1758, they built the Mission of San Javier that has been called "the jewel of Baja California," but by 1817 the mission was deserted. The church has been restored and is now maintained by Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History. After a picnic lunch and a short nature hike, continue to Loreto, the vibrant colonial town founded by Jesuit missionaries in 1697. The gracious Hotel La Mision opposite the boat harbor will be our base for our exploration for the next two nights. This evening, we'll dine together at one of Loreto’s local eateries, where the day's fresh catch is often on the menu.
Day 2: Bahia Loreto National Marine Park—Blue & Fin Whale Excursion
After breakfast at our hotel, transfer to the nearby pier to board local boats for our excursion into the wildlife-rich waters of Loreto Bay National Marine Park. This protected natural area includes the Bay of Loreto, a portion of the Sea of Cortez and part of Baja California Sur. Its wide variety of marine environments attracts more marine mammals than any other area of coastal Mexico. Loreto Bay National Marine Park is home to 891 fish species, including 90 endemic fishes, and a third of the world’s cetacean species. In 2005 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We head out into the bay in search of magnificent blue whales, Earth's largest animal, along with fin whales, the second largest. Return to shore after lunch to wander at your leisure, enjoying the sights and sounds of Loreto's charming streets and lively main plaza, with dinner on your own at one of the small town's many open-air restaurants.
Day 3: Loreto—Morning Hike / Depart
Following breakfast at the hotel, depart for a morning hiking tour into the fascinating desert and canyon ecosystems of the Sierra de la Giganta. This mountain range extends along the southeastern Baja California Peninsula, parallel and close to the coast of the Sea of Cortez. The 3,858-foot summit of Cerro de la Giganta is its highest point, located near Loreto. Learn about the geology of this rugged landscape while keeping your eyes peeled for desert wildlife including roadrunners, gila woodpeckers, lizards and small mammals. Here at the northern end of the desert mountains' range, we have a chance to encounter a Baja endemic, Xantus’s hummingbird, which can be seen darting about and hovering at nectar sources. Return to the hotel for lunch, with time to regroup before departing for the Loreto Airport to meet onward flights.