Those familiar with Southern Baja will know the mission town of San Javier is small. Very small. Most visitors spend one hour here. Enough time for a selfie in from of the mission, a cold jicama juice from across the street, and a short walk along the cobblestoned Main Street. We spent three days and would have gladly stayed longer. There’s plenty to do in San Javier.
From Scorpion Bay to San Javier
From San Juanico there are two primary routes to San Javier. You can travel on pavement to Loreto, then head west into the hills of San Javier. Or, head south on pavement until just north of Ciudad Insurgentes, where you’ll take a left onto a dirt road headed east to the mission. This second route is notorious for washouts after rain and other no-go zones, so be sure to ask several locals about road conditions before heading this way. You’ll most certainly need 4-wheel drive and a high clearance vehicle.
Where to Stay In San Javier
As mentioned earlier, San Javier is a small town. The locals told us the population is approximately 200. There are, however, a few places to stay. At one end of the main road you’ll find a small hotel with 3 cabins for rent. Unfortunately, we were unable to find any evidence of this place online, making it difficult to reserve in advance. No matter, because there’s no match in town for the quaint Cabaña Taly.
This one-room home was built in the 1800’s and largely presents as it would have back then. The bed is far more comfortable than it may have been over 200 years ago, and there’s now a small bathroom with modern amenities such as a toilet and shower. The outdoor kitchen was lovely, and surprisingly, far less buggy than some of the indoor kitchens we’ve experienced on our travels.
The best part about Cabaña Taly is the outdoor space. Not only the kitchen, but the fenced yard surrounding the cabin. There’s a comfortable fire pit surrounded by benches, a cozy nook underneath grape leaves surrounded by hummingbirds, and plenty of lounge chairs for relaxing.
We imagined ourselves hanging out by the fire at night by the fire and stargazing. The first part we did every evening. The second part was a no. A street light adjacent to the yard kept the night sky well lit and the stars out of sight.
Where to Eat in San Javier
There are two main restaurants in town as well as a few household taquerias. Keep in mind these places cater primarily to mission visitors. With few accommodations in town and limited evening visitors they all close at 5pm. Or as we found out on day one, they close at 3 or 4pm if it’s kind of a slow day.
Thankfully, the kind owner at Restaurante La Palapa took pity on us and offered to make us some machaca burritos and quesadillas for supper. After this, we made sure to arrive at the restaurants early in the day. With a ‘reservation’ they are happy to stay open.
Before we left town we purchased a small tub of the local cajeta. This is a caramel sauce made by local ranchers. We were stoked to try it out atop some ice cream, but alas, there’s no ice cream in town. Instead, I brought it home to San Juanico where I made the best salted caramel cookies I’ve ever had. This stuff is gold and I’ll definitely seek it out next time we’re in town.
What to Do in San Javier
Mission San Javier
The mission is the biggest draw to this little Baja town. Like the other Baja missions, it’s built adjacent to a freshwater oasis. The combination of mission and river makes San Javier among the most picturesque pueblos of Baja Sur. This Jesuit mission was founded in 1699, 2 years after the Loreto mission was deemed unsustainable due to lack of fresh water for farming. The current church was constructed between 1744 and 1758.
The mission was abandoned in 1817, at which point the native Cochimi population had been decimated by European disease. The site is now maintained by INAH, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia. Services are offered every Sunday and you can still do a baptism, first communion or wedding here by contacting the Catholic diocese in Loreto.
Inside, the mission has some well preserved altarpieces and paintings. The stonework is gorgeously detailed both inside and out. A pile of old pews stacked in a corner just added to the casual charm.
We took a ‘tour’ from a local caretaker, Francisco Javier, who spoke rapidly in Spanish so most of the detailed history was lost on us. We did learn that he was born and raised in town, as was his father who still lives in San Javier at 80 years old.
Mornings were all about dog walking and exploring. Dog walking in Baja can be a challenge with our notoriously misbehaved, unfriendly Beagle, but we ran into no problems in this sleepy little town. On day 1, we headed toward the town “dam” to seek out some trails alongside the river. The local policia stopped to say good morning, and kindly reminded us to keep an eye open for local goat herds, so that they wouldn’t be scared off by our dogs.
San Javier and its surroundings are home to several ranches. The land is private, and for serious hiking, you’ll need to get permission from the landowners. The easiest way to do this is to hike with a guide. Our casual stroll alongside the river didn’t warrant permission to trespass, but we look forward to hiking the area more at a cooler time of year.
The Americas’ Oldest Olive Tree
Behind the mission you’ll find what’s allegedly the oldest olive tree in America, at 300 years old. We walked to this small olive tree grove with the dogs early one morning and it was total paradise. A small creek bubbled past the oldest tree, but it seemed to us his neighbors were just as ancient. A group of hummingbirds bathed in the cool, early morning water and it felt like we had walked into a magical fairy tale.
One benefit of three nights in San Javier? You can visit the touristy spots like this alone at the coolest part of the day.
Relaxing and Doing Nothing
The best part about three nights in San Javier? There’s plenty of time to nap, relax, and do nothing at all. The boarded windows of our old adobe cabin created a cozy dark sleep cave that was perfect for slow mornings. The comfortable grounds and hot days invited lazy lounging. Bring hot chocolate for the fire place, a really good book, and a healthy portion of gratitude. If you’re lucky enough to spend three nights in San Javier, you’re lucky enough.