Hit the Links With the Family in Baja California Sur

Golf is not everyone’s thing. But at TPC Danzante Bay, which overlooks the Sea of Cortez in Baja California Sur, golf can be anyone’s thing. Even if it’s only to race around the course in a golf cart, cheering for the golfer, sipping cocktails filled with pink and yellow frilly things, golf can become a beautiful thing when you spot a blue whale jumping out of the topaz ocean below the 17th hole.

If the golfer in your life must go and have a golfing vacation, a good option for families is the family-friendly Villa del Palmar Loreto Beach Resort & Spa tucked into a cove between the Islands of Loreto. Children can walk hundreds of feet into the water toward Danzante Island and still be immersed only hip high in sea water. The resort is surrounded by desert sand and cacti that seem to spill suddenly into the docile, translucent water. Jacques Cousteau called the sea “the world’s aquarium.” To maintain that integrity, the area became a protected reserve called the Bahia de Loreto National Marine Park. Its unique volcanic rock formations and the surrounding Sierra Giganta Mountain Range protect the ecosystem from hurricanes and create a perfect habitat for a variety of sea life to flourish. This complex marine sanctuary attracts more than 900 species of fish to shelter and eat a wide diversity of food only able to flourish there. It’s also a spot for migrating dolphins, whales and sea lions to breed safely. If you come between the months of January to March, you will see many whales doing their thing. That’s why UNESCO also named it a World Heritage site and conservation groups worldwide volunteer to maintain it.

We came in the summer and our guides from Danzante Tours zipped us around in a speed boat through the five islands that make up the island chain. The driver pointed out sacred spots and shared history and folklore. We even stopped to admire some migrating blue-footed boobies on vacation from the Galapagos Islands. Tip: If you go on one of these tours, sit close to the driver because you never know when he’ll suddenly be moved to share something you want to know. Also, there are tours that take you to Magdalena Island, a favorite spot for gray whales to breed. There you’ll be able to pet the friendly whales as they pop out to say hi. Seriously.

Desert landscape surrounding the resort © Rina Nehdar

Desert landscape surrounding the resort © Rina Nehdar

When our guide pulled our panga boat into a cove on Danzante Island, short, rocky cliffs surrounding powdered blue, glass-like water, we jumped in with snorkel gear to explore what locals call Honeymoon Beach. Swarms of technicolor fish swam around our bodies. They seemed fearless, failing to move even as we almost touched them. I yelped when our guide handed me a puffer fish whose sharp scales poked at my hands. Everyone appreciated the abundance of crimson starfish that wrapped themselves around our palms before we released them back to their homes. Even with all this surrounding splendor, the population of Loreto is only 18,000. “It’s like Cabo, 20 years ago,” I kept overhearing locals and vacationers remark.

With no other resorts to compete for the land across from Danzante Island, each room at Villa del Palmar Loreto is able to stretch its arms and offer guests a spacious living area spilling out onto a generous balcony. As you sit in your lounge chair overlooking the pool and cove, you can think loving thoughts about your golfer for bringing your family to this private paradise. A whirlpool bathtub, washer and dryer and a stocked kitchen make the experience even better after a quick run to the resort market to fill the cabinets and refrigerator with snacks and meals.

Authentic cuisine © Rina Nehdar

Authentic cuisine © Rina Nehdar

If mommy insists on being on vacation too, and doesn’t want to cook, there are three on-site restaurants. The day can start with a bountiful breakfast at the Market Restaurant. Located by the swimming pools, at the heart of the resort, you can enjoy the sun and salt air on the patio, or cool off inside, while you eat breakfast or lunch. Set the little ones loose on the buffet or order off the menu. Options include American, Mediterranean and Mexican fare. For lunch, or a casual dinner, try Casa Mia. While the kids munch on gourmet pizzas or quesadillas, be sure to enjoy the freshly caught sea bass ceviche served in a half avocado. Also amazing is the sea bass in caramelized pineapple with semi-burnt strips of corn tortillas over avocado and black beans. Be sure to pack your little black dress and snappy fedora because, in the evening, Danzante Restaurant offers a night that will make you remember how you first fell in love with your golfer. Seafood and steak prepared in a creative fusion of Mexican and international flavors combine with sassy cocktails designed to make you swoon. For dessert, we had a cloud of cotton candy suspended on two white straws above a red velvet cupcake. Then, the flaming Mexican coffee presentation makes the ensuing calories absolutely worth it! After dinner, you can dance off those calories in the resort’s disco yurt, a five-minute shuttle ride into the patchwork of new homes being constructed in a planned community above the main part of the resort. Tours of these Mexico-affordable beach homes are available.

The kids will love the array of activities offered by Villa del Palmar Loreto’s Kid’s Club. From kite making to sand castle building to golf lessons, there is something to please every personality. A special perk is the in-room camping kit where the littles can have all the fun of the outdoors inside your cozy room. Campfire tales and s’mores not included but certainly available with parental participation.

Father and son in the resort pool © Rina Nehdar

Father and son in the resort pool © Rina Nehdar

While the kids are being entertained and enriched with cultural activities at the Kid’s Club and the golfer is putting around on the sea-framed course, you can visit the 39,000-square-foot Sabilla Spa, named by SpaFinder one of Mexico’s top spas. After your one-hour massage, explore the variety of plunge pools and saunas to discover why. Large windows fill the space with rocky mountain views and octopus-armed cacti poking up to reach for cotton ball clouds. Drops of falling water echo across the spacious relaxation chamber. Staff is ready with cool cucumber slices to place over your eyes. It’s the perfect reward after a workout in the attached fitness room or your sunrise yoga class in the outdoor palapa often visited by the area’s exotic birds.

Once everyone has had their “me” time, the family can reconvene at the Thursday night beach party where an expansive grilled buffet beckons exploration of local fare. During dinner, staffers put on wacky performances and lead guests in games and dances fun for participants and the audience. Each night is different and during the day, these same energetic staffers can be spotted in the pool leading volleyball games and fitness classes. Once the sun makes its dramatic exit, guests can release candle-powered paper lanterns to fill the night with drifting balls of fire. Also available is LED paddleboarding, where your board lights up a nocturnal underworld while you cruise around Danzante Bay.

Desert landscape surrounding the resort © Rina Nehdar

Desert landscape surrounding the resort © Rina Nehdar

There are also three well-maintained and -marked hiking trails that showcase dramatic island views and offer insight into existing cave paintings and the history of the land.

More history and culture can be found in downtown Loreto, a 20-minute, $10 shuttle ride from the resort. Founded by Spanish missionaries in 1697, their church, the Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó, still stands and is available to visit. Travelers we met while we explored the colorful shops and cobblestone streets remarked the food in Loreto is incredible. Mike Schoeneman from Texas said they come every year and recommended Juan Carlos Restaurant and George’s Tacos. “But you cannot get a bad meal,” he said. With a relaxed vibe, crispy tortilla chips and a complex array of homemade salsas, we tried Mi Loreto Cucina Mexicana and found he was right.

Even if you come to Loreto for the golf, it’s easy to get distracted when you visit Villa del Palmar Loreto’s Danzante Bay. As the resort’s head golf professional, Danny Garcia put it, “The hardest thing about the course isn’t the level of difficulty, it’s the views.” The great thing about views is they change depending on who’s looking and where.

Getting there: Alaska Airlines has non-stop flights to Loreto International Airport from Los Angeles (LAX) Tuesdays and Sundays. The resort is a 40-minute shuttle ride from there.