61km (38 miles) N of Mulegé
Located in an arroyo (dry riverbed) north of Mulegé, Santa Rosalía looks more like an old Colorado ghost town than a Mexican port city. In fact, this was a mining town, built way back in 1855. Founded by the French, Santa Rosalía has a decidedly European architectural bent, although culturally, it's Mexican through and through. Beat-up pastel clapboard houses surrounded by picket fences line the streets, giving the town its nickname, ciudad de madera (city of wood) -- for Mexicans, the wood structures are rather exotic and much remarked-upon, although for North American visitors they're likely to look like home. Santa Rosalía's large harbor and the rusted relic of its copper-smelting facility dominate the central part of town bordering the waterfront, and the highlight of downtown Santa Rosalía is, without a doubt, the old El Boleo bakery .
The town served as the center for copper mining in Mexico for years; a French company, Compañía de Boleo (part of the Rothschild family holdings), obtained a 99-year lease in the 1800s. Mexican President Porfirio Díaz originally granted the lease to the German shipping company Casa Moeller, which sold the mining operation rights to the Rothschild family but retained exclusive rights to transport ore from the mine. The agreement was that in exchange for access to the rich deposits of copper the company would build a town, the harbor, and public buildings, and establish a maritime route between Santa Rosalía and Guaymas, creating employment for Mexican workers. Operations began in 1885 and continued until 1954, when the Mexicans regained the use of the land through legislation. The French operation built more than 644km (399 miles) of tunnels in the surrounding hills, primarily by Indian and Chinese laborers. Following the reversion of the mining operations to the Mexican government, the facility was plagued with problems, including the alleged leakage of arsenic into the local water supply, so the plant was permanently closed in 1985.
Today, Santa Rosalía, with a population of 14,000, is notable for its man-made harbor -- the recently constructed Marina Santa Rosalía, complete with concrete piers, floating docks, and full docking accommodations for a dozen ocean cruisers. Santa Rosalía is the main seaport of Northern Baja, directly across from Guaymas on the mainland. A ferry link established during the mining days still operates between the two ports. Because this is the prime entry point of manufactured goods into Baja, the town abounds with auto-parts and electronic appliance stores, along with shops selling Nikes and sunglasses.
The town has no real beach to speak of, and fewer recreational attractions. The rusted, dilapidated smelting foundry, railroad, and pier all border the docks and give the waterfront an abandoned, neglected atmosphere.