visit the islands of loreto

Islands of Loreto: A Guide to Baja California Sur’s Beach And Wildlife Paradise

They almost sound too good to be true: pristine, protected islands that hide golden beaches and world-class diving destinations, nestled off the coast of one of Mexico’s richest marine areas. While they look beautiful from the shores of beachy Loreto on the Baja California peninsula, they’re even better when experienced close up.

The islands of Loreto blew us away with all they had to offer, both as a day trip destination and for an extended stay. Read on for the inside tips on the best beaches, most spectacular snorkeling sites, and the easiest ways to enjoy the best of Baja California Sur’s breathtaking and beautiful islands of Loreto.

the islands of loreto
Courtesy of Visit Baja Sur

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Islands of Loreto

The five pristine islands of Loreto constitute one of the highlights of a visit to this region of Mexico. Known as the islands of Loreto due to their proximity to the laid-back beach town of Loreto on the eastern coast of Baja California Sur, these islands have always protected a rich marine environment home to an incredible diversity of species ranging from massive whales to tiny tropical fish.

Their untouched allure is even more evident now that they are protected. A large swath of marine area in the Sea of Cortez, including the five islands of Loreto, was first protected in 1996 when the government of Mexico established the Loreto Bay National Park (Parque Nacional Bahía de Loreto). In 2005, the area received even further protection when it was included in a larger UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.

Visiting the Islands of Loreto

These are the five islands that comprise the islands of Loreto, each island offers something a bit different for visitors:

  • Coronado Island
  • Danzante Island
  • Carmen Island
  • Catalina Island
  • Montserrate Island

Located closest to the shoreline in Loreto, Coronado Island, Danzante Island, and Carmen Island tend to receive the most visitors. Golden beaches, spectacular dive sites, and spots for encounters with marine wildlife abound at each. Catalina and Montserrate islands, located further south away from Loreto, are no less impressive and invite visitors to get even further off the beaten path when exploring these untouched islands.

Read on for more about each of these incredible islands, including the main highlights of each island and how to plan a visit to the islands of Loreto.

islands of loreto
Courtesy of Visit Baja Sur

Coronado Island

Coronado Island is, for many visitors, the most enchanting of the islands of Loreto. The island’s proximity to Loreto and its stunning beaches mean that it’s one of the most frequently visited destinations for day trippers headed to the islands of Loreto for a sail and a picnic lunch. Don’t expect the overrun beaches of Los Cabos by any means, but don’t expect to find a deserted shoreline, either!

While there’s plenty to enjoy offshore at Coronado Island – like sport fishing, snorkeling, and diving – Coronado also has some great hiking trails across the island and popular kayaking excursions along more dramatic sections of shoreline.

Coronado Island Beaches

Coronado Island is home to arguably the best beaches in the islands of Loreto – though we thought Honeymoon Beach on Danzante Island would be hard to beat!

The largest and most popular beach on Coronado Island is simply known as Playa Isla Coronado and stretches dramatically along the center of the island’s eastern coast, offering just enough protection to create bathtub-calm, crystal-clear waters that make it the perfect place for a relaxing swim. Even the shallow sandy areas of the shoreline are teeming with life, and a colony of sea lions is often found on the beach’s rocky edges.

Just north of Playa Isla Coronado, within the same protected bay, is a beachfront known as Playa Contrastes, just as stunningly beautiful with piercingly blue water. Two other smaller beaches can be found south of Playa Isla Coronado and tend to be less busy!

Reviews and Bookings: Sailing Excursion to Coronado Island with Beach Picnic + Snorkeling

isla danzante

Danzante Island

The smallest of the islands of Loreto, Danzante Island – Isla Danzante – is one of the most popular and frequently visited of the islands in this area of the Sea of Cortez. The island’s long, skinny shape and dramatic crags make it impressive and hide numerous stunning beaches and advantageous anchorage spots.

The island is known for its kayaking trails that draw plenty of adventurous explorers, but it’s particularly beloved as one of the area’s prime snorkeling and diving destinations. Larger marine wildlife like sea lions, turtles, and rays abound along the island’s shores year-round.

Areas along the island’s northern shores can be better suited to beginners, while pinnacles along the south are more challenging but even more impressive dives. The wreck of the Agustin Melga is also accessible from Danzante Island.

Honeymoon Beach

Located on the northeastern side of Danzante Island is Honeymoon Beach (Playa Luna de Miel), considered one of the nicest beaches in Mexico. Honeymoon Beach is a golden sand beach with ultra-clear turquoise waters teeming with sea life and is one of three beaches in a protected cove, making it the perfect stop for mooring or picnic lunches during sailing excursions to Danzante Island.

While visiting the beach, make sure to hike up the easy trail to the lookout over the cove; the view over Danzante Island to surrounding beaches and even to the mainland is impressive.

Reviews and Bookings: Danzante and Carmen Island Boat Tour with Snorkeling

Best Places To Stay in Loreto, Mexico

isla del carmen loreto
Courtesy of Visit Baja Sur

Carmen Island

Also known as Isla del Carmen, Carmen Island is the largest and one of the most frequently visited of the islands of Loreto. It rises dramatically from the seas directly in front of the waterfront in Loreto and has plenty of beaches and hiking trails, with numerous anchorages, to explore along its rocky, hilly 17-mile length.

Salt deposits on the northern side of the island at Bahia Salinas were previously mined, meaning that there are a number of buildings and relics – even a cemetery – still located on the island, making it unique from the rest of the islands of Loreto.

Today, most visitors spend time exploring the island’s numerous beaches, hiking, and snorkeling or diving along the island’s coast.

Puerto Ballandra

One of the most frequently visited areas on the island is Puerto Ballandra, located on the east coast of the island facing Loreto. This tiny but dramatic bay makes for a protected anchorage. While the beach is nothing special, it’s a soft crescent of sand with some cool water-filled caves worth exploring. Hiking trails leading up the hillside offer stunning panoramas of the beach below.

isla montserrate
Alex M Foster / Shutterstock

Montserrat Island

Tiny Montserrat Island is a haven for divers, hikers, kayakers, and beachgoers. The island’s northern beach, known as Yellowstone, is a particularly popular spot for visitors, with incredibly shallow, clear turquoise waters lapping onto a dreamy stretch of near-white sand.

Located south of Ensenada Blanca, though closest to the Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto resort, it’s perhaps the least visited of the islands of Loreto. Its lower, less dramatic profile makes for a less visually impressive arrival, as well as less protected anchorages for sailing. However, if you’re looking for a near guarantee of abandoned beaches, this is the island to choose.

isla del carmen
Alex M Foster / Shutterstock

Santa Catalina Island

Also known as Isla Catalina or Isla Santa Catalana, Santa Catalina Island is one of the larger, if most geographically isolated of the islands of Loreto. Despite its incredible natural beauty, with dramatic rocky outcroppings jutting into crystal clear waters, it’s one of the lesser-visited islands of the islands of Loreto.

Despite having some great snorkeling and diving sites around its shores, the beaches at Santa Catalina Island are less impressive, and anchorages for ships tend to be more challenging to maneuver. Technically, the regulations within the Loreto Bay National Park forbid visitors for going ashore for recreation, though people often do.

sea of cortez whales
Courtesy of Visit Baja Sur

Things To Do at the Islands of Loreto

The islands of Loreto are more than just an impressive backdrop for sailing or a destination for a beach day. There is plenty to see and do here that makes visiting this destination one of the best things to do in Baja California Sur. These are some of the most popular things to do at the islands of Loreto:

Whale Watching at the Islands of Loreto

As whales travel to the warmer, sheltered waters of the Sea of Cortez to give feed and give birth to their babies, Baja California Sur transforms into one of the most reliable and impressive destinations for whale watching in North America.

Whale-watching season starts in December, but would-be whale watchers should travel to Loreto from mid-January through March to enjoy the height of the whale-watching season and for the best chances to enjoy the experience. 

You’ll be shocked to see whales breaching right from the malecón oceanfront promenade, but a dedicated whale-watching tour will be a truly memorable experience. Loreto offers a few whale-watching tour options, including Loreto Sea and Land Tours and Loreto Blue Whales, both certified and well-respected tour companies.

Diving at the Islands of Loreto

Located much closer to Los Cabos, Cabo Pulmo tends to be a diving destination that first comes to mind for most travelers headed to Baja California Sur. However, the waters surrounding the islands of Loreto offer some of the most impressive dive sites in the region.

Loreto’s best dive sites are sprinkled around the islands of Loreto, ranging from dramatic caverns to wall dives along Danzante Island and more. The area is also known for its marine wildlife encounters, with sea lions, turtles, rays, and (of course!) whales swimming alongside divers as they explore.

Planning a dive trip to Loreto? Blue Nation Baja is a leader in diving in Baja and is based in Loreto, while Loreto Sea and Land Tours is another popular option – make sure to book in advance for experiences, especially between July and December when conditions are usually the best.

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sailing in loreto

How To Visit the Islands of Loreto

Book a Small Group Excursion

The most affordable way to book a trip to the islands of Loreto is by choosing a small group sailing excursion with a pre-planned itinerary that heads to the islands. These tend to include lunch and opportunities for snorkeling and possibly other water sports.

Well-respected companies like Viator or Get Your Guide offer direct bookings and a variety of options for sailing styles and island destinations to choose from within the islands of Loreto. These are the specific excursions that we recommend from the platforms that many local tour companies use to organize their bookings:

If your itinerary is more up in the air to allow for booking in advance, it’s always possible to find a last-minute sailing excursion to the islands of Loreto by checking in at the offices of local tour companies. We recommend Wild Loreto, a company we loved working with while in town.

Book a Private Excursion

If you’re looking for a personalized itinerary and individualized trip to the islands of Loreto, you should consider working with a local tour company to organize a private sailing excursion. While not all local companies have the capacity to provide these private excursions (we recommend booking in advance for a private experience!), it’s a great way to experience just what you’re looking for.

For a departure from the Loreto marina, we recommend ABT Sailing – they did an incredible job on our day trip to Danzante Island trip with them! Private sailing trips departing from the Villa del Palmar resort south of Loreto are quite popular, though expensive, but offer the convenience of a departure directly from the resort.

Reviews and Bookings: Danzante Island and Snorkel Tour from Villas del Palmar Resort

Book a Sailing Vacation

For a truly immersive experience in the islands of Loreto, book a multi-day sailing excursion to hop from beach to beach and bay to bay. Everything from simple catamarans to luxury yachts can be chartered from Loreto, with ABT Sailing offering multi-day charters.

Alternatively, there tend to be more independent sailing vacation options for experiences departing from La Paz, the capital of Baja California Sur located about four hours south of Loreto. Dream Yacht Worldwide, a well-respected company with decades of experience sailing around the world, is based in La Paz and offers sailing excursions around the islands.

Book as far in advance as possible for these experiences, as they require preparing crew and reserving a specific boat.

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loreto mexico view

Where To Stay Near the Islands of Loreto

Most travelers headed to the islands of Loreto stay in the town of Loreto or just outside of it. Staying in Loreto is by far the easiest (and most affordable way) to access the islands of Loreto. Not only do hotels in Loreto tend to be quite affordable, but they offer easy access to tours to the islands that depart from Loreto – or schedule their own excursions.

In Loreto, you’ll find plenty of tour companies offering these popular excursions, so if you book, you’re likely to have transport included to and from the marina, located just south of town near the airport, from the tour offices.

Alternatively, Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto is located about 45 minutes south of Loreto and arranges its own excursions to the island. If you’re looking for the amenities of a resort-like stay, this is the place to choose! The resort even makes our list of the best resorts in Mexico.

Where To Stay in Loreto

carley rojas avila

Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual New York-based travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Carley is an expert on all things Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, having lived and worked in four different countries in the region. Her writing has appeared on the Associated Press wires and in Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, MSN, Euronews, The Weather Channel, and more. When she's not writing about her travels, find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.