What’s there to do in San Juanico when there’s no surf? This short day trip from Scorpion Bay incorporates a little off-road adventure as well as one of Baja’s oldest Missions. If you’re ready to tackle this as we did, we recommend a high-clearance vehicle, and yes – we did use the 4×4 once. Of course, skipping the dirt roads and staying on pavement is an option as well. Get out and see these places!
San Jaunico >> Comondu
Departing San Juanico we began the journey on pavement south to Comondu along Baja’s Route 53. At the tiny Francisco Villa, you head north again on a very nice, newly paved road. As we approached San Miguel de Comondu (the town just before the Mission) we noticed these lovely little roadside shrines on the hills overlooking the Comondu River. Not just painted, but built into the rocks with great care.
San Miguel de Comondu was old, lovely, charming, and everyone we saw there couldn’t have been more friendly. We should have driven around town and looked for a meal, but we were mission hungry and drove right through to the church. Big mistake! Next time, we’ll explore this town more, and check out the newly opened Hacienda Don Mario, which apparently has a cool little museum inside.
The mission itself is located two miles further north. Following the main road takes you alongside the Comondu River on a well-packed and well-traveled dirt road. Gorgeous palm trees line the river bed, and you’re transported through an oasis which reminded us of San Ignacio. Baja never ceases to amaze.
Approximately 1 mile between San Miguel de Comondu and the Mision San Jose de Comondu, we stopped to peek in the windows of this little public library. It’s like everything we love is in this one small town.
The Mission couldn’t possibly be surrounded by a more picturesque landscape. All the buildings were well cared for, the locals were friendly, and the flowers were in full bloom.
We’ve traveled to so many places, especially in Baja, where the locals approach right away, want to know where you’re from, want to tell you what you should see, where to go next. Just want to talk. I’m always humbled and struck by that experience as I imagine running up to a tourist in the United States to ask where they’re from and offer a friendly welcome. Maybe one of these days I’ll try it, motivated by a friendly Baja encounter.
And here she is: Mision San Jose de Comondu. Actually, this is not quite the original as it stood in the early 1700’s, but it’s what’s there today and it’s beautiful. Local lore has it that the original church was ordered to be destroyed in the 1930’s by a cleric who desired to sell the historic stone for personal gain, while some stone was used to build a school. What stands today is a refurbished version of the mission’s side chapel. The gilded altar and arched stone ceilings are highlights. Ruins of additional structures are located on the grounds behind and adjacent to the Mission.
After a brief discussion with a local, we decided to take the back route via ‘unimproved’ roads to La Purisima. No problem, he said. You’re in a Jeep, he said. It’ll be an adventure, I said. One of us was right. We made it, but it was gnarly. (sorry, Fox rent-a-car!) I wouldn’t recommend this road unless you’re in a vehicle with considerable clearance. And yes, we did use the 4×4 once to get out of a sticky situation. Due to recent rains, the road was covered with loose rocks in many places, and was washed out in several spots.
Comondu >> La Purisima
If you’ve chosen the dirt road adventure, head south again from Mision San Jose de Comondu, but instead of going back to San Miguel de Comondu, you’ll see a sign pointing west towards San Isidro, take this small road. (It’ll feel like you’re starting off the journey down a dirt back alley) At the first fork in the road, bear right up the hill and you’re on it.
And look at these views! We may have averaged under 20 miles per hour, but the benefit to going slow is getting a good look at the landscape. And the road may have been in terrible shape in some spots, but the benefit of rain is all this GREEN. Cactuses were in bloom. Wildflowers everywhere. Expansive hill-top views.
It appears to us the road we were following overlaps the original Camino Real. Would love if someone who knows more than we do to comment on that, and would really love if anyone knows what this bridge is/was to also help identify!
The thing about driving in Baja is….once you get out of the car for a pit stop, you’ll see something cool. It’s just a rule. We would have driven right past this old stone bridge and not seen it at all, as it was deep in the valley below the road. Lucky us that nature called at that exact moment.
^^ The other thing about driving in Baja is…be prepared! This was actually the simplest challenge out of all the challenges with this drive. Again, we recommend 4×4 and high clearance.
As we got closer to La Purisima, we began to drive past more ranches, more livestock. Goats everywhere, cows, donkeys, a few horses. These animals are living the good life. This time of year everything was green, there was plenty of shade and water and some ranches had huge man-made ponds which were full.
Coming down the hill towards La Purisima, you’ll first pass San Isidro, which looked to us to be the more active, larger of the two neighboring towns, although from other blogs we’ve read, this wasn’t always the case.
The downhill approach to La Purisima was spectacular. The Baja1000 was pre-running the day we drove through and we caught a few of the early motorbikes testing out the 2017 course. With Cerro El Pilon off in the distance, the road from San Isidro to La Purisima follows alongside an old aqueduct. The aqueduct was originally built by missionaries, and is still in use today.
Unlike Comundu, the Mission in La Purisima is nowhere to be seen. Seems this little site is all that’s left. In fact, there’s not much left of Purisima at all. It looked like a ghost town to us, although we did see a few signs of activity, farming, small houses. Someone was using the grounds of an old abandoned school house as a garden, and had neatly planted rows of crops in areas where the floor was no longer.
The lesson still on the chalkboard? “Creer.” To believe. Appropriate, perhaps, for this mission village which has cycled through hundreds of years of thrive and decline.
As we headed back to the highway (we chose pavement!) and back to San Juanico, this mural was the last thing we saw on the way out of town. It tells a story. The Europeans came, the Europeans built the missions, they built the aqueduct. What was that last panel? Was it blank? Not quite finished? Or does the abandoned building across the street continue the story?
We’re grateful for the adventure, for 4×4 and for this beautiful Baja peninsula which is full of stories and surprises at every turn. We’d do this little day trip again in a heart beat. Next time, we’ll definitely stop for food.
Sara-Mai Conway is a writer, yoga and meditation instructor who splits her time between Austin, Texas and San Juanico, Baja Sur. You can follow her adventures on Instagram, or adventure with her on a retreat via Baja Surf Yoga. Want to do this day trip yourself? Make Baja Surf Casa your home base while in Scorpion Bay.