When it comes to travelling in Baja, Mexico, there are a few things to consider:
The gentle blue Sea of Cortez, white-sand beaches and private coves, lush green winter hillsides spiked with cardón cactus, craggy mountains aglow with rose-gold sunsets, fresh seafood, several centuries’ worth of colonial history, and a night sky so full of stars, it’ll blow your mind.
A 2-hour direct flight from Los Angeles, the Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto will show all this to you with a focus on comfort and cultural connection to Mexico — with a side of the best handmade tortilla chips you’ll ever have.
I’m not so much a resort person as an experience-plus-relaxation person, which is why I fell pretty hard for Loreto’s Villa del Palmar.
Loreto is about halfway down the spike of the Baja Peninsula, beside the Sea of Cortez. The Villa del Palmar is about 25 minutes from Loreto’s small, shiny airport, tucked into a quiet hillside cove beside a mirror-calm bay.
Intended as the anti-Cancun — with no beach vendors, luxury-brand shopping or wet t-shirt contests – the Villa’s main goal is to inspire you to slow down and delight in the surrounding natural beauty, as well as in your own traveling companion(s).
Y’ know, just like this entire blog.
I spent the bulk of my three-day trip here meeting friendly people, learning the history of the southern Baja region and a handful of Mexican traditions, ogling cool plants, fish and animals, and trying some gorgeous foods. I feel like I had a well-rounded introduction to the Loreto area, but still found time to loll on a beach chair, lounge in a huge hot tub, and even try my first piña colada…followed by my second one.
There are 181 rooms at the resort, including studios and one, two and three-bedroom villas, as well as a few swanktacular suites. My one-bedroom villa was quiet and comfortable, but also enormous; I’ve had apartments that weren’t this big. The shower, the jacuzzi tub, the king-size bed, the living room, the expansive balcony — everything was sized just right for a couple who likes their space. If there had been a second bed in the room (an option that’s certainly available), this would have been an ideal set-up for a friend getaway.
All rooms have washer/dryer combos (which could benefit from some clearer instructions for those of us without advanced engineering degrees) and fully-tricked-out kitchens. The latter means that you’re not tied to the resort’s restaurants, but can instead fashion your own meals with market provisions from Loreto, or run down to the resort’s on-site store for breakfast fixings.
If you don’t feel like cooking, though, no worries: all three of the Villa’s restaurants are pretty darn spectacular. (As a longtime resident of Los Angeles and five-time Mexico traveller, please trust that I know from good Mexican food.)
Standouts here are the fresh guacamole with thick, warm and crispy house-made tortilla chips; chicken with green mole sauce; freshly-caught sea bass baked in a rock-salt crust; locally-made cotija goat cheese; and a serrano-pepper-corn-and-cream side dish called rajas…which I’ve thought about, with great fondness, every day since I left.
In case all the eating starts to stress you out, hoof it over to the ginormous spa complex to book a massage or facial (treatments here average about $50 an hour) or simply linger in the eucalyptus steam room, the sauna, or a hot-warm-cold pool combo. The co-ed bathing and lounge space has a soothing view of the sea, blue sky, rocky red hillsides and tall cardón cacti, a ridiculously relaxing arrangement all in itself.
Should you ever make it back outside, wander off on a well-marked hillside hike or wend your way down to the uncrowded beach. The shore here is especially chilled out, offering a a palapa-covered bar, a few lounge chairs, and a simple shack where you can rent kayaks and stand-up paddle boards.
Adding to the feeling that you’ve gotten away from it all, three horses from a nearby ranch are given free, um, rein of the property.
The swimming pools back at the resort are designed to look like a giant tortoise (or tortuga, in Spanish), and offer separate areas for hanging out with your honey, your pal, your kids or your extended family.
Bonus: there’s a cocktail bar subtly arranged at the edge of the action.
There’s a bit of nightlife at the Villa, but it’s easily avoided if it’s not your thing. The resident nightclub is in a separate building, up on a hill overlooking the main resort, and shuttles can run you up and back on the half-hour. Dinner-time cultural shows are put on by multi-talented members of the Villa staff, and will introduce you to history, dance and music from all over Mexico.
If you’d rather just lounge about in the evening, sipping some Mexican wine by a firepit and gazing up at the light-pollution-free spectacle of the Milky Way, the Villa’s got that for you, too.
(And when I say “you,” what I really mean is “me.”)
I was certainly content to be swaddled in friendly comfort beside the Sea of Cortez, but thanks to the resort’s on-site tour company, Wild Loreto, I was also able to visit the surrounding towns and an island national park with a pristine beach.
My flights and resort stay were provided courtesy of
Alaska Airlines and the Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto,
but all opinions and observations are my own.