Deep in the Sierra de San Francisco of Baja California is a concentration of some of the world’s most extraordinary rock art sites. The so-called Great Mural paintings, made by hunters and gatherers before the arrival here of Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century. What makes the depictions of humans and animals on the walls and ceilings of rock shelters here so extraordinary is their size. In many instances they are larger than life. A group of these sites, in the Zona Arqueológica de la Sierra de San Francisco, were placed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1993, and are open to the public. But these are not the only rock art sites in Mexico, and certainly not the only sites that are accessible to the public. Others may be easier to get to, but are in equally spectacular settings. The petroglyphs on the beach in La Meseta de Cacaxtla Protected Natural Area are one example. Crashing waves on the outcrop of volcanic basalt rock present a unique locale for viewing some 600 individual engraved images thought to be around 1,000 years old.
The Sierra de San Francisco has one of the world’s most spectacular rock art traditions. A cluster of sites were added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Depictions of humans and animals painted on the walls and ceilings of rock shelters are often larger than life. They date to 100 BC and 1300 AD. Although the sites are remote, requiring at least a day’s hike just to get to them, for those that are able it is an extraordinary adventure.
Las Labradas has an estimated 600 individual petroglyphs carved on basalt boulders on the beach. Archaeologists believe that some of the engravings may be as old as 3,000 years, although most were probably produced between 750 and 1250 AD, during the Aztatlán Period. Depictions include representations of humans and animals, but the most are geometric shapes, such as spirals and crosses. Photo © Gzzz
Also known as Altavista, this petroglyph site is still an important ceremonial site for Huicholes. Covering an area of some 80 hectares over 2,000 engraved rocks have been recorded. A set of signs in both Spanish and English guide the visitors along the path, giving information and historical context. It is thought these engravings were made by Tecoxquin people who lived here around 4,000 years ago. Unattributed photograph on Wikipedia.
The ‘Museo de las Pinturas Rupestres de San Ignacio’ is housed in the early mission buildings of San Ignacio in Baja California Sur. A small permanent exhibition is devoted to the UNESCO listed rock art of the Sierra de San Francisco. On display are a variety of artefacts found during the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia’s archaeological research in the Sierra de San Francisco, as well as the partial recreation of a cave.
The ‘Museo Nacional de Antropología’ is a national museum located in Mexico City’s Chapultepec Park. The museum has extensive displays of artefacts from various periods of Mexico’s pre-Columbian history. Perhaps one of the most high profile object is the Stone of the Sun (Aztec calendar). Partial replicas of Great Mural rock painting sites can be found in the Northern Mexico Cultures. Photo © Ovedc
Take a 3.5 hour guided tour from the seaside town of Loreto into Sierra La Giganta, part of the Sierra de San Francisco mountain range that runs down the length of Baja California. The walk to a group of rock art sites, both paintings and petroglyphs (engravings) takes about 45 minutes. The tour is arranged by Wild Loreto Tours and available to book online through GetYourGuide, with full guarantees.