Explore the 5 Main Islands of The Loreto Bay National Marine Park
Encompassing around 800 square miles in the Sea of Cortez, Loreto Bay National Park is one of Mexico’s greatest natural treasures. It’s home to five uninhabited islands and their surrounding islets, as well as submarine canyons, marine terraces, and an abundance of wildlife.
After being created in 1996, Parque Nacional Bahía de Loreto (as it’s known in Spanish) joined the Ramsar list of Wetlands of International Importance in 2004 before being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site the following year. Today, it has become a must-visit destination for wildlife lovers and those who crave adventure, with spectacular backdrops around every corner.
Loreto Bay National Park lies just off the coast of Loreto, between Baja California Sur and the Mexican states of Sinaloa and Sonora. It is surrounded by the Sea of Cortez, which was described by the legendary oceanographer Jacques Cousteau as “The Aquarium of the World”.
While the town of Loreto isn’t included in the park, it serves as a gateway for exploring this natural wonderland and directly impacts the area’s ecology. It’s home to the 17th-century Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto and is backed by the ruggedly beautiful mountains of the Sierra de la Giganta.
Within the boundaries of Loreto Bay National Park are five main islands: Danzante, Carmen, Coronado, Montserrat, and Santa Catalina. They are famed for their sandy beaches, soaring sea cliffs, and cacti-studded landscapes, which support a diversity of bird and reptile species. In the surrounding waters, you’ll find everything from sea turtles and sea lions to tropical fish, not to mention humpback, grey and blue whales that migrate through the area in the winter months.
Loreto Bay National Park is the ideal destination to explore by kayak, allowing you to get up close to wildlife, without the noise of an engine scaring them away. Under your own steam, you can slowly paddle into hidden coves, gaze up at soaring cliff faces, and glide into pristine beaches with not another soul in sight.
In this article, we’ll introduce each of the main islands of Loreto Bay National Park and the experiences they offer, both above and below the water’s surface. We’ll cover everything from the volcanic landscapes of Coronado to the underwater wonders of Danzante and the endemic species of Santa Catalina.
1. Coronado Island
Rising 928 feet from the water, Coronado is an uninhabited island that’s located just seven miles northeast of Loreto. It was created following a volcanic eruption and is ringed by lava-formed cliffs and dramatic rock formations that provide a habitat for colonies of sea lions. Surrounding the island are gorgeous, white sandy beaches lapped by the pale blue waters of the Sea of Cortez.
Coronado Island is a breathtakingly beautiful place to watch dolphins frolicking and birds soaring above as you kayak between hidden caves and beaches. Under the water’s surface, you’ll find black coral forests frequented by groupers, barracudas, and an abundance of reef fish.
2. Carmen Island
The biggest island in Loreto Bay National Park is Carmen, which encompasses 37,000 acres of private reserve. It is managed by Organización Vida Silvestre A.C. and the Salinas del Pacifico Company, who are committed to conserving the native flora and fauna of the island for future generations.
In the ghost town of Bahia Salinas, you can still see the salt deposits that were harvested until the 1980s. All that remains today of the island’s salt-mining operation are a former school, a church, and a handful of houses.
While circumnavigating Carmen Island, you’ll discover secluded bays and hidden caverns, as well as a sunken ship that’s full of life. Keep your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep, which can often be seen scrambling along the island’s cliffs.
3. Danzante Island
Despite its small size (just 1.5 square miles), Danzante is one of the most popular islands to visit in Loreto Bay National Park. Aside from its stunning beaches, such as aptly-named Honeymoon Cove, you’ll find spectacular rocky formations such as the famous arch of “La Ventana”.
Steep cliffs plunge into the surrounding waters, which harbor an abundance of marine life that can be observed while snorkeling and scuba diving. Highlights include the 180-foot wreck of the “Agustin Melgar” and the black coral banks of “Punta Eleonor”. On land, you’ll find immense cardon cacti and a diverse array of birdlife, including endearing blue-footed boobies.
4. Montserrat Island
One of Loreto Bay’s most picturesque islands is Montserrat, which lies nestled between Santa Catalina Island and mainland Baja California. It’s renowned for its magnificent views and scenic backdrops, making it particularly popular with photographers.
As it’s not always visited by cruisers, Montserrat is also a great place to escape the crowds and enjoy a moment of serenity in Loreto Bay National Park. At the northern end of the island, you’ll find Yellowstone, which offers almost a mile of pristine white sand where you can soak up the majestic surroundings.
5. Santa Catalina Island
Due to its remote location as the furthest island from Loreto, Santa Catalina has an off-the-beaten-track feel about it. It’s a place where the natural world has evolved on its own terms, resulting in completely unique flora and faunal species.
Santa Catalina is home to some of the largest specimens of Ferocactus diguetii, a variety of cactus that is endemic to the Sea of Cortez islands. Additionally, it’s home to seven species of reptiles that are found nowhere else in the world, including its own rattlesnake, desert iguana and leaf-toed gecko.
Not only is Santa Catalina Island a playground for embarking on nature hikes and discovering unique wildlife but the surrounding waters are a wonderland for scuba diving, snorkeling, and kayaking.