By The Old Gringo
In last month’s column, we began our trip from Peñasco and spent a couple of nights in San Felipe, then headed south to our next destination…San Ignacio.
After reading Lannette’s column in the April edition, I thought she was going to ‘steal my thunder’ about San Ignacio, but…no. Her recollection merely serves as the introduction to this wonderful oasis.
The village of San Ignacio sits in the center of the Baja Peninsula, just south of the Baja Norte/Baja Sur border, about an hour from Guerrero Negro on Highway 1. Nestled among rolling hills, this town is home to a mere 667 souls (according to the 2010 census). What it lacks in population, it more than makes up for in charm. Knowing that we would be traveling during 1) Whale watching Season, and 2) Semana Santa, we wisely booked our accommodations before leaving Peñasco.
We stayed in a wonderful place called Ignacio Springs Bed and Breakfast (www.ignaciosprings.com ) +52 615 154 0333, just outside of the town of San Ignacio proper. This little slice of heaven is run by Paul and Bonnie Vandervelde, two of the nicest people you will ever have the good fortune to meet, and their B&B is PERFECT! Have you ever stayed in a yurt? If you decide to stay at Ignacio Springs, you will.
These yurts are an adaptation of the central Asian variety, circular walls covered by a ‘tent’ roof, but are not portable. Spacious, clean and well-appointed these yurts are a unique accommodation. Many have two or three queen and/or King-sized beds for large or family groups, if such is your desire. The beds are very comfortable. In fact they are downright luxurious!
The location of Ignacio Springs is beautiful, charming and wonderful. Towering palms abound in and around the twelve yurts on site, with parking spaces nestled between the trees. The common buildings are easy to get to from anywhere on the property and are the hub of social gatherings for breakfasts (excellent!) and optional dinners (prepared by Bonnie…also EXCELLENT!). There is a full bar for the afternoon or evening cocktail(s) and the ambiance is superb! I don’t want to name drop…but a true Hollywood “A” lister stayed there a few days before we arrived…Hans Solo anyone?
Believe it or not, that isn’t the best part. The Ignacio river, which is fresh water and spring fed, flows past the resort. While kayaks, canoes, and even a floating doughnut, are provided by Bonnie and Paul, the real draw for me lies in merely lying in a hammock on the shore under a palm tree, bird watching. It is serene, calming and utterly fascinating to watch the water glide gently by while lounging under the shading palms as snowy Egrets, Herons, Cormorants and many other bird species go about their business.
As wonderful as it was to be at Ignacio Springs, we had come for the whale watching. Bonnie and Paul set us up with a transport van to go to Laguna San Ignacio. Having been to Laguna San Ignacio (which has a private air strip) many times over the years while flying with the Baja Bush Pilots and on private trips too, until two years ago I had never been to the village of San Ignacio, which is some 50 or so miles from the lagoon. My bad! What a charming place it is!
A typical small Mexican village, San Ignacio is anchored by the zocalo, or public square, headed by Mission San Ignacio Kadakaaman. The mission was one of the Jesuit, Padre Kino’s, initially completed in 1728. Marvel at the intricate workmanship of this still active church as you walk around the zocalo, perhaps stopping in at Victor’s cafe for a bite to eat, and to see the pet raccoon that might try to snag a bite of whatever you’re having. Or, you could take a table on the patio of El Rancho Grande, where one can watch the world go by on the town square, as well as have a bottle or two of wine and a steak and lobster dinner. Then, there is the ice cream shop next door…but that’s another story…
We were hoping to see the prehistoric cave paintings, as well as do some whale watching, but the village that maintains the drawings (and the caves themselves) was closed to outsiders, due to COVID, so we were only able to go to the lagoon for whale watching. Whale watching along the Pacific coast of Baja is an experience that very few people get to have and it is one that you will never forget. Laguna San Ignacio is one of three lagoons where whale watching, as a tourist venue, has become popular. Guerrero Negro and Bahia Magdalena are the other two. This isn’t watching through binoculars hoping to catch a glimpse of a whale tail…no, this is as ‘up close and personal’ as it gets!
Did I say “only”? When you are on the water in a 26’ panga getting up close and personal with several 40’ long, 36-ton gray whales, ‘only’ doesn’t quite fit. Many times, the mothers will let their babies come right up to the boats, to both let them (the babies) see the strange creatures (us) and to be petted by them. Every once in a while, one of the full-grown behemoths will come alongside to be scratched as well. As far as ‘one of a kind’ experiences go, this one is hard to top.
After spending three nights luxuriating in this little slice of paradise, it was time to get on with our journey. Bidding a fond, and reluctant, adieu to Paul and Bonnie, and making a private vow to return to their magical resort, we headed south. Next stop, Mulege, Bahia de Concepcion and Loreto.