Santa Rosalia is a unique Baja town with a personality completely different than your average seaside town. The whole town was once dependent on the large copper mine that, even today, is a highly visible part of Santa Rosalía. Not a resort, in any sense of the word, this unique town is almost always busy and bustling with activity. Production at the ever-present mine is currently being resurrected and a large local investment is being made by the mining company.
The beaches here could not be described as really pretty. The beaches are mostly dark gray sand with a scattering of rocks and they are hardly ever used by the local residents (very hot summer days, maybe). It seems that the weather here is usually too hot in the summer and it can get a bit chilly in the winter. Santa Rosalía just does not have the qualities it takes to be, or become, a serious resort destination.
That said, Santa Rosalía is worthy of a closer look if you have a little spare time on your drive south. If you can find a parking spot, you could spend an hour or two looking around this unique town and it would not be wasted time. There are a lot of great opportunities for good photos, with all of the old mining equipment that is scattered about and the unique architecture in the downtown area.
Santa Rosalía was founded in the early 1880’s when copper was discovered. A French mining company bought the mineral rights and drilled hundreds of kilometers of tunnels, built a smelting foundry, a railroad to haul the ore and the pier from which they shipped the smelted ore to Washington state to be refined. The ships would return from Washington with loads of lumber and other supplies for the town. Very unique in Baja is the fact that most of the buildings in the downtown area are made of this wood and show, in their architecture, the French influence. Cement block is the preferred construction material in most of Baja.
A little way into town is the Iglesia Santa Barbara de Santa Rosalía church, famous for being designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel who designed and built the Eiffel Tower. The prefab iron church was shipped from Europe in sections and then rebuilt in Santa Rosalia in 1897.
Very close to the church, also downtown, is a French bakery, Panadería El Boleo, that travelers and locals alike, seem to be addicted to. The baguettes produced here are supposed to be the best in all of México and the pastries and other bakery items are equally delicious. The bakery has been in constant operation since 1901.
There is a public library in Parque Morelos, at the east end of town near the harbor, that has an exhibit of historic photos from the town’s peak mining period.
Santa Rosalía is a good place to stop after your drive from San Ignacio (the last part of the drive, through some amazing ascents and descents can really take it out of you) and relax for a while. There are several gas stations and some good seafood restaurants along the waterfront and of course, the bakery. If you need to restock your camper or motorhome, most supplies are available here, if you look around downtown. The ferry terminal (to Guaymas on mainland México) is on the waterfront just south of the entrance to town, you can’t miss it.
There are a couple of fairly nice cliff-side motels just south of town if you feel the need to stop for the night. A little harder to find is the Hotel Frances, built in 1886, restored nicely with some upstairs rooms that give you a pretty good view of the Sea of Cortez.
Remember though, Mulegé is less than an hour away and the kicked-back “oasis” atmosphere may be more to your liking.