Mexico Beaches: 25% Off on the Shores of the Sea of Cortez

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If you want to live with world-class natural beauty without the world-class price tag, come to Mexico’s Baja California Sur. And be sure to bring a camera.

This is a desert land of sharp, clear lines. The mountain peaks in the distance gleam a delicate mauve. I drive up a hill and suddenly there is the sea; a vast expanse of blue dotted with rocky, deserted islands.

Mexico’s Baja California Sur is a land of extremes—and of a spare and splendid beauty—that occupies the southern half of the long, narrow peninsula below California. The blue water in the distance is the Sea of Cortez, an aquatic wonderland that is one of the most bio-diverse bodies of water in the world.

Just a short drive from here (and 700 miles from the U.S. border) is my destination: Loreto, a little town with big potential.

Thirty years ago FONATUR, Mexico’s tourism development agency, identified seaside Loreto as having the natural beauty to become a world-class tourist destination. (Other FONATUR picks at that time included Los Cabos, Cancún, and Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo.)

Unlike these other destinations, though, Loreto has never become a household name or a mega-resort. Instead, it remains a friendly little town that welcomes a relatively small group of in-the-know tourists and expats.

But Loreto’s days off the radar may be numbered. In the last few years the Mexican government has been investing in Loreto: building a large new terminal for its international airport, for instance, and adding Loreto prominently to tourism campaigns for the state.

I’ve come here to see if Loreto still has real estate bargains. I also checked out La Paz, four hours to the south, said to have one of the best qualities of life in Mexico.

The news from both is excellent. The living is easy and very affordable. What’s more, real estate prices are down by a quarter or more today, thanks to the recession, and there is plenty on offer.

For all the spectacular beauty around it, Loreto in many ways remains a typical, small Baja town. Only two main roads come into town, and both dead-end at the sea. Many of the side streets, especially in the residential area near the water, are simply packed sand. And if you ask directions you’ll always get a friendly answer.

It may even be in English. Traditionally a fishing village, Loreto has become used to tourism, especially from the west coasts of the U.S. and Canada. Most locals can manage a little English, and there are perhaps 400 full-time expats here, up to 1,500 (about 10% of the population) in high season.

The pace here is unhurried, though, and locals don’t rush to sell you souvenirs. The main clues to the tourist influence are the many restaurants and the well-preserved historic center, with its church and Spanish-colonial mission.

But it’s the Sea of Cortez—which Jacques Cousteau dubbed “the world’s aquarium”—that brings most people to this coast. Swimming, sailing, diving, snorkeling, kayaking, fishing, or simply observing marine life from a boat…it’s all here.

The five islands off Loreto are part of a World Heritage-protected marine park that covers nearly 1,300 square miles. In late September, when I was there, the weather was perfect for snorkeling and diving—visibility was about 65 feet and the water was in the low 80s F, warm enough to dive in a swimsuit.

In the current issue of International Living magazine, starting on page 16, I give my full report on Loreto and La Paz, including property picks and contacts. You can subscribe now to get instant access to this issue and all premium content on the IL website.

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