Explore the San Javier Mission
Our San Javier Mission & Rock Art day tour makes the perfect addition to our Baja kayak and whale watching tours. It's the perfect complement for better understanding the culture and history of the Baja peninsula, taking you from your water activities into the towering mountains that make the coastline here so dramatic. From Loreto, we travel a short distance into the Sierra de la Giganta mountain range, and as the road climbs from the sea, it seems a world apart from the azure waters of the Gulf of California. We visit the old mission of San Javier and the small village of 130 people where it is located, have lunch with a local family and then take a short hike to see an ancient cave filled with Indigenous rock art.
The trip starts when we leave Loreto mid-morning and drive about an hour to 1400’ (420 meters) above sea level. Crossing arroyos and rugged canyons, we soon arrive at the palm-fringed town of San Javier. We walk around the town and visit the magnificent church that dates from 1744. The history of the place is intriguing and we visit with the locals that live here, including local artists. We continue another 30-40 minutes by car to a nearby ranch where we pick up another local guide to visit an inspiring cave art site which is one of Mexico's registered archeological treasures. It's about a 30-minute hike up a rocky trail to the cave and another 20-30 minutes down. From the cave the panoramic views over the valley of cactus and rock, with distant mountains, is spectacular. We return to the ranch for a homemade and simple lunch, with a chance to learn about the life of our hosts. Then we return to Loreto in the late afternoon.
History and Background
At the time of the first contact with the Spanish, it’s thought that there were as many as 60,000 indigenous people living in Baja California. From 1535 to 1762, their numbers had fallen to 21,000 and by 1800 to only 5,900. Because the Spanish missionaries encouraged the local populations to live near their missions, disease spread rapidly. Smallpox, measles, and typhus took a huge toll and by the early 19th century, the tribes of Baja California were culturally extinct, except for the Kumeyaay, Pai Pai, and Cocopah. We acknowledge that our tours take place on the lands of these people and honor their legacy.
As mentioned above, Loreto was the first settlement by the Spanish in all of California, and from here, small missions were created along the entire peninsula. The story of the California missions is one many of us in the United States are familiar with. Between 1769 and 1823, the Jesuits established 21 missions from San Diego to San Francisco.
Before this, however, they had been busy in Mexico and the Baja peninsula. The Christian history of Baja starts when Fortún Jiménez de Bertadoña arrived in early 1534 and in 1535, Hernán Cortés named the peninsula the "Island of California." It wasn’t until 1683 however, that the Spanish government organized an expedition to the southern tip of Baja California. Four years later, in 1697, the first permanent Spanish settlement was established as the Misión Nuestra Senora de Loreto Conchó in present-day Loreto. It became the religious and administrative capital of the Californias. From 1697 until 1767, the Jesuits founded 17 missions throughout the lower two-thirds of the peninsula.
Fifty-six Jesuits were permitted to work among the natives of California for the next sixty years. As time went on, a rumor started that the Jesuit priests had amassed a fortune and were becoming very powerful so, in 1768, the King of Spain ordered the Jesuits forcibly expelled from the Americas and replaced them with Franciscan priests.
The name many people know is that of Junipero Serra. He was the Franciscan brother who took charge of the missions after the Jesuit were expelled and, spent the next five years along with 38 other monks, working in Baja. Junipero Serra left in 1773 as part of an expedition sent north to establish new settlements at San Diego and Monterey.
Next up came the Dominican order and from 1772 to 1800, they established nine more missions in northern Baja, while also administering the former Jesuit missions. Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821 and, In 1833, Baja California was designated as a federal territory. At that time the governor formally put an end to the mission system by converting the missions into parish churches.
On our San Javier Mission tour, you travel to the historic San Javier Mission that stands in its original form since 1744. In fact, the first mission in this area was established in the town of Loreto in 1697 and was called the Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó. However, there was too little water to support agriculture near the mission, so another site was suggested by the native Cochimi. Just twelve miles (20km) the new Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó was founded in 1699. The word Viggé was the Cochimí word for "mountain."
In 1701 the mission was abandoned due to a threatened Indian revolt but then was reestablished a year later. The location still lacked enough water for irrigation, so the mission was moved a few miles south where there was a dependable source of water from a spring. Soon aqueducts and small dams were constructed and, from 1744 and 1758, the church that we visit today, known as the jewel of the Baja California mission churches, was built. Some sixty years later the mission was deserted. Today, the church has been restored and Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History maintains the structure.
We hope you will join us for a great day of learning and discovery!
Images & Videos
Below is a general outline of our San Javier Mission day tour itinerary. Please note that this is our ideal schedule; however it may be adjusted due to weather or other items outside our control. Your adventure consultants and guides will brief you with any updates prior to your departure.
8:00am Meet in Hotel Lobby & Depart
Meet your local Sea Kayak Adventures guide in the lobby of our designated hotel. Please have breakfast on your own before meeting the group as it is not included in your itinerary.
We leave Loreto and drive about an hour from sea level to 1400’ (420 meters) above sea level. The change in scenery is dramatic as we drive through canyons and arrive at the palm-fringed town.
9:00am Arrive to San Javier, Walking Tour
Once in San Javier we explore on foot, visiting the church with one of the local clergy. We also visit the small museum in the back of the church and learn about the history of the mission and local Indians. The town is a small oasis with year round water, palm trees and a few local farms. After our exploration of the town we continue into the mountains by car or van.
Our next stop is at a backcountry ranch where we meet a local guide who joins us for a short 10-minute drive to start our hike to see cave art. We climb over large rocks on a path that climbs rapidly to the base of a cliff where the cave is located. We find a 10-15' panel of pictographs here depicting various figures. There are also some stone implements used by people of old.
We climb back down to our van and return to the ranch for a visit with the owners and a simple but delicious home made lunch in true Baja style.
We leave the ranch and return to Loreto sometime between 4:00-5:00 pm
What to Bring:
- Water bottle
- Appropriate and comfortable clothing for the weather
- Good walking or hiking shoes
- Day pack or small hip pack with personal items
- Sunglasses and hat
Dates & Rates
Please note: $95 per person price is for groups of 4+. For groups of 2-3 a $50 per person surcharge applies.
- Full service of our bilingual Sea Kayak Adventures guides
- Transportation to and from San Javier
- Authentic Mexican lunch