The city of 14,724 people is located about 350 km north of La Paz, the capital of Baja California Sur state.
Loreto was the first Spanish colonial settlement of the Viceroyalty of New Spain on the Baja California Peninsula.
The town was founded in 1697 by Jesuit missionaries, who found a steady spring of fresh water on this site, as the Misión Nuestra Señora de Loreto. The Jesuits were expelled in 1767, and control of the Baja California missions was given to the Franciscans. In 1769, the Franciscans were ordered to turn over the Baja missions to the Dominican order and accompany the expedition of Gaspar de Portolà to establish new missions in the unexplored northern frontier that became Alta California. The expedition departed from Loreto on March 24, 1769.
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. In 1768, the province had been split into Alta California (today's U.S. state of California) and Baja California. At first, the two provinces continued with a single governor. Later, the town became the headquarters for the Lieutenant Governor of California Viejo (the province of Baja California).
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”.
The city is 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 a museum that coexists alongside the historic, but still active, parish. Loreto has active sister city relationships with the California cities of Hermosa Beach, Cerritos, and Ventura.
Loreto’s climate is hot and humid, with abundant sunshine (desert with some rainfall 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, Loreto's highest official temperature reading of 44.2 °C (112 °F) was recorded on July 2, 2006; the lowest temperature ever recorded was 0.0 °C (32 °F) on December 15, 1987. 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; averaging about 160 mm (6.3 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.
According to INEGI, the 2005 city population was 10,283 people with 2565 households, with 77.67% male and 22.32% female householders. The population is young: 29.75% are from 0 to 14 years of age, 19.19% from 15 to 24, and only 6.42% are 60 years of age or older. For every 100 females there are 102.5 males, and for every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 100.5 males. The Municipality of Loreto (which includes Nopoló, Puerto Escondido, San Javier and the rest of the little villages from the coast and mountains) has a population of 11,839 people.
Due to Loreto's small population and low immigration, large families are characteristic, and residents often have the same last name, a phenomenon also found in other state localities. The two largest families are the “Davis”, predominating in the east of the city, along the beach (“Calle Davis” is a street with this last name), and the “Murillo”, predominating in the south along the Arroyo Loreto, in the neighborhood known as “barrio del Muro”, named after the retaining wall built to hold flood waters from the creek. Other large families are the Amador, the Arce, the Cota, the Higuera, the Romero and the Villalejo.
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 El Camino Real ("The Royal Road"), 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 by Jesuit missionary explorer Padre Eusebio Kino. It was ordered abandoned by the Spanish Crown a mere two years later. It is located 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 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.
The city has two public schools of superior studies:
The Catholic private school Colegio Calafia offers one associate degree in commerce.
High school students (10th to 12th grade) are served by two public schools:
Middle school students (7th to 9th grade) are served by two public schools:
Elementary school students (1st to 6th grade) are served by six public schools and one catholic private school. There are five kindergarten schools. It serves approximately sixty five students.
The city of Loreto is the seat of the Municipality of Loreto, which is governed by a City Council (Ayuntamiento), consisting of a Mayor or Municipal President (Presidente Municipal), a Syndic (Síndico), and six City Councilors (Regidores), all eight elected by direct popular vote for a mandatory single term limit of three years. The Mayor is a voting member of the council, and as head of the public municipal administration is directly responsible for actual implementation of the City Council’s decisions, somewhat analogous to a City Manager. The Mayor of Loreto is Jorge Alberto Avilés Pérez, whose term runs until April 2014.
The Syndic (or Trustee), also a voting member, is responsible for the legal representation of both the council itself and of the municipal government more generally, and monitors municipal assets and supervises public servants conduct, similar to an US Inspector General.
The other six City Councilors are voting members whose principal function is analysis and overall direction, rather than direct implementation of the council's decisions. The Mayor is represented at the community action level by seven subdelegates (Subdelegados Municipales), who are appointed by the City Council to perform certain functions: presently serving are Agua Verde, San Javier, Ligüi, Colonia Zaragoza, San Nicolás, Tembabiche, and San Juan.
The Municipality was created in 1992 and Loreto citizens elected their first Mayor (Municipal President) in 1993. The Federal Electoral Institute, as of February 3, 2008, recorded 9,073 registered voters for the Municipality of Loreto. In Loreto, the main political parties are:
Loreto politics has demonstrated two characteristics: high voter participation and differentiated voting.
Baja California Sur State has high voter participation than the rest of the country, and within the State, Loreto is the Municipality with the highest turnout. Local elections have generally had higher participation than General Elections (Elecciones Federales) for President, Senators and Deputies. Local election participation was as low as 48.2% in 1993 and as high as 83% in 1996 while participation in the last General Election was 62.42%.
Differentiated voting means that the citizens’ vote for the candidates rather than the political party, and thus often chose candidates of diverse political affiliation at the same election. Examples of differentiated voting are the 2005 State and local election, and the 2006 General Election. In the 2005 State and local elections, three different political parties won on the same election day, one for each of three offices: the winning candidates in Lareto were the PRI candidate Rodimiro Amaya for State Governor (but he lost the rest of the State), the PAN candidate Rodolfo Davis for Mayor, and the PRD candidate Antonio Olachea for State Representative (the current XII District State Representative). In 2006, Loreto voters elected Felipe Calderón, the winning PAN candidate, for President, and PRD candidates Francisco Obregón Senators and Juan Adolfo Orci Martínez Deputies. This differentiated voting pattern began in 1993, the year that the PRI was first defeated in a local election: PRI won the Governor election, but lost the Municipalities of La Paz, Comondú and Loreto, as well as the State Congress. Each election has had winners of dissimilar political affiliation. From 1999 to 2005, even though the PRD won almost all the local elections across the State, the Loreto Municipality was carried by either the PRI or the PAN, while the PRD won the Governor’s election and State Representative Election. In 2008, however, the PRD won both Mayor and State Representative offices.
The city has one local radio station, XHLBS 92.5 FM Estéreo Loreto, which plays popular music and offers local news.
Loreto was the setting for the 7th-season finale of ABC reality TV show The Bachelor, aired May 16, 2005.
The city is served by Loreto International Airport, offering domestic flights on carriers Aeromexico, AeroCalafia, and Aeroservicio Guerrero. It is also one of the few places to get aviation fuel in the Baja area. International service is currently provided by Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air to Los Angeles. Beginning in 2015, WestJet has also offered seasonal weekly direct flights to Calgary.