The French Connection in Santa Rosalia

Narrow highway on Baja California PeninsulaThe road from El Marasal/Vizcaino/Villa Alberto Andres Alvarado Arámburo to Santa Rosalía on the Gulf Coast climbs up and down through the mountains, and accidents are common on the narrow and winding stretches. Many people drive recklessly, often going twice the speed limit and passing uphill or on dangerous curves where signs prohibit passing. It was no surprise that traffic slowed in two separate places to route around tractor trailers that had flipped over onto their sides.

San Ignacio Mission in San Ignacio, MexicoA welcome stop breaking up the journey is the lush date palm oasis town of San Ignacio, where Jesuits founded a mission in 1728 near the Río San Ignacio. In 1786 Dominican missionaries completed the present church on the original mission site.

Remnants of old mining structures in Santa Rosalía, MexicoContinuing on, the sea came into view as we descended through the mountains, and the town of Santa Rosalía appeared. Rusty, hulking skeletons of old mining buildings line Highway 1 that hugs the coastline through town. The French mining firm Compagnie du Boleo founded Santa Rosalía in 1884 and operated copper mines in the area until 1954, although some mining still occurs in the area.

Christi in downtown Santa Rosalía, MexicoThe ferry crossing the Gulf of California from Guaymas on Mexico’s mainland arrives in Santa Rosalía, making this a bigger, more transited town than Bahía de los Ángeles. In fact, the ferry must have just arrived because traffic was heavily congested in town, so we set off on foot to see some of the colorful wooden buildings characteristic of Santa Rosalía.

Wooden home in Santa Rosalía, MexicoThe French left their mark on the architecture of Santa Rosalía’s homes and commercial buildings. Wooden, plantation-style construction here looks very different from architectural styles elsewhere in Mexico — from Colonial and Renaissance to boxy or Baroque — but awash in the Mexican pastel color palette.

Wooden building in Santa Rosalía, MexicoThe town definitely had a decayed charm and great potential as one of Mexico’s Pueblos Mágicos — 111 towns declared by the country’s Tourism Secretariat as special places that receive funding to help preserve their charm as tourist destinations — if it underwent some rehabilitation.

Iglesia Santa Barbara in Santa RosalíaPerhaps the town’s biggest architectural claim to fame, the Santa Barbara church, is not built out of wood but rather iron. Gustav Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame) designed the church in France in 1887. It was constructed and displayed in Paris along with the Eiffel Tower, then dismantled and shipped to Mexico for reassembly in Santa Rosalía in 1896.

Hector at the Hotel El Morro in Santa Rosalía, Mexico, overlooking the Gulf of CaliforniaWe ended the day at the El Morro Hotel, perched on a cliff at the southern edge of town overlooking the Gulf of California. We relaxed on the patio by the pool overlooking the sea below us and watched the antics of turkey vultures roosting in the palm trees above us. This was a lovely place to stay away from the crowded and noisy downtown area. The next morning dawned clear and bright, perfect for moving onward to our next destination, Loreto, which is deservedly one of Mexico’s Pueblos Mágicos.


4 thoughts on “The French Connection in Santa Rosalia

  1. Maxine Ferris

    At first glance, I thought it was some form of metal sculpture in Santa Rosalia. That is a very nice picture of Hector with the blue waters behind him and you above the colorful red roofed buildings. I don’t think I have ever seen a pink sidewalk ?!

    Interesting facts about the Santa Barbara church.


  2. Roland SALVATO

    Looks like the French mining company pulled out right when France started consummating many problems…impoverished by WWII, crisis of leadership, former colonies starting to throw them off…or maybe they just sucked the mine dry.

    1. Christi Post author

      It was probably a combination of all the factors you mention. Some copper, as well as cobalt, zinc and manganese, is still left and being mined.

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