San Ignacio, An Unassuming Town
Founded in the early 18th century by Jesuit missionaries, San Ignacio was and still is an earthy, unassuming small town in the middle of (almost) nowhere. The missionaries planted orange and fig trees as well as the date palms that still flourish beside the steep banks of the adjacent river. The main part of town is just a few streets deep, surrounding the main plaza.
The town's church, Iglesia de San Ignacio de Loyola, was finished by Dominicans after the Pope ordered the expulsion of their Jesuit brethren. Very concerned with the physical appearance and grandeur of their churches and monasteries, the Dominicans created in San Ignacio one of Baja's loveliest churches. The design is a Latin cross motif, and the exterior impressive with its volcanic rock façade. Pop into the town museum (closed Sunday and Monday), adjacent to the church, to see reproductions of cave paintings done thousands of years ago by unknown artists.
A trip into the Sierra San Francisco to look at these wonderful, colorful cave and rock paintings is one of the main reasons visitors come to San Ignacio. North of town in the mountains is La Cueva Pintada ("painted cave"), where artists painted walls 150 meters (about 500 feet) high, and cave ceilings, with depictions of birds, fish, and other animals, including humans male and female. Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993, the Sierra San Francisco has other rock paintings as well, accessible to adventurous, curious travelers on foot or burro, or sometimes by jeep. The best season to visit is November through February, when nights are chilly to cold but days are not too hot.
Apart from its drowsy desert appeal and proximity to prehistoric rock paintings, people also visit San Ignacio is to see the gray whales which tarry during the winter months in nearby San Ignacio Lagoon (note that San Ignacio itself is not on the Pacific). Along with Mag Bag (Bahía de Magdalena) and Scammon's Lagoon (Laguna Ojo de Liebre), Laguna San Ignacio is one of the best places in the world to admire up close---and even caress---these gargantuan aquatic creatures. Their annual migration, the longest of any mammal, brings them from the Bering Sea/Arctic Circle to mate or give birth to young. After regaining their strength and nurturing their young, the whales usually begin returning to their northern feeding grounds around March.
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