Whale Watching in Baja Mexico
A couple weeks ago I posted an article with a bunch of information on how to drive the Baja peninsula and back. With the help of my friend, Jamie, who had driven down the peninsula and back during January and February of this year, I gave up-to-date information on the drive to Los Cabos via Mexican Federal Highway 5, along the Sea of Cortez.
This week I am continuing my coverage of Jamie’s trip, and this time we’re talking about the mad whale watching tour he did, where he saw several types of whales at numerous ports along his way to the tip of Baja. Jamie’s tips, videos, and photos are sure to get you itching to see one up close for yourself.
Below is the continuation of my interview with Jamie regarding his Baja trip and the whale watching he did.
Why did you travel the Baja peninsula this January through March?
“I am a surfer and kite surfer. I was going down to check out some breaks. I’d been to several of them a few years ago and wanted to return to some and do some more exploring.”
And what turned out to be the highlight of that trip?
“I mean, the surfing was great, but I’d have to say the opportunity to witness and even pet many kinds of whales at numerous lagoons throughout the peninsula was by far the most spectacular and exciting part of the trip.
It’s a little addictive to head down what’s called the ‘whale trail,’ interacting with various species along the way for only $40-$50 per person per trip.”
When is the best time to go whale watching in the Baja?
“Several species of whales start to migrate south down the Pacific coast to the warmer waters of Baja (and other parts of Mexico) in December. Though you can see them other times of the year, you’re most likely to see them between January and March.”
Hanging With the Grey Whales
“It is worth your time to do the grey whale tours in February and March in lagoons along the Pacific coast. There are four to five major grey whale sites where you can take a boat out and get face to face with grey whales. It is one of the most magical experiences you can have.”
The (Eastern North Pacific) grey whales migrate annually from the Artic to lagoons along the Baja California coast, where they were born, to breed and give birth in the winter months. They nurture their young for a few months and then swim back up to the Artic for the summer feeding months.
“These whales have been going to that same lagoon their entire lives. All the whales you see there were born there.
They’ve not been hunted in there for maybe 50 years or more, and they feel safe. So, they are not afraid of the humans who come to visit them.
Whale watching is highly regulated by the Mexican government, as these are national sanctuaries. I was expecting a bunch of rogue fishermen and millions of boats but instead was highly impressed by how well-managed and professional the experience was. The lagoons were not overrun, making for a peaceful experience.
To see the grey whales, we hired a boat, right on the beach. The fishermen took us out and just stopped the boat and then the whales started showing up. We stayed out for 3 or 4 hours, which was plenty because we were getting mobbed (by whales) the entire time. I’ll let the videos do the talking.”
Where are the best places or which lagoons did you visit, to see the grey whales?
“The whales can be found in plenty in Guerrero Negro, Laguna San Ignacio, and Magdalena Bays.”
The Blue Whales
“Blue whales are famously the largest animal on the planet! So, seeing them was next on our own personal ‘whale tour.’ Yes, we were addicted.”
Loreto is a small town located 125 miles north of La Paz. It sits on one of the largest National Oceanic parks in the world. The Parque Nacional Bahía de Loreto is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that encompasses 800 square miles of the Sea of Cortez. Jacques Cousteau called it the “The Aquarium of the World.”
“The bigger tour operators have large, very nice boats, with English-speaking captains and guides, and amenities. You can google ‘blue whale tour operators in Loreto’ to find a tour operator.
We decided to try our luck at getting a private, last-minute, small boat from a local fisherman (they also must be vetted by the government to provide tours). We went to the marina early in the morning, around 7 a.m.
There is a kiosk at the entrance to the marina and you must pay a fee (around $5 U.S.) to enter the marine park. You will get a bracelet to show you’ve paid.
When we arrived at the marina, we found a man with a clipboard checking boats in and out of the marina. We told him we wanted to get a boat to go whale watching. Within 10 minutes he had a private boat for us, and we were heading out into the marine park to see the whales. The nice thing about having a private boat is that you are not on anyone else’s schedule and there will be fewer people in the boat.
Our trip was three hours long and we saw four different whale species while we were out. And we saw the elusive and endangered Blue-Footed Booby, several species of dolphins, and numerous fish—the water clarity was incredible!”
“We rounded out our ‘whale tour’ in La Paz in search of a whale shark. Swimming with the whale sharks is popular in the La Paz/Los Cabos areas and it sounded great to us.
We showed up at the La Paz Malecon early, again around 7 a.m. There are a lot of people there trying to sell tours, but they aren’t all whale shark tours, so be sure you are getting the right one.
Before you book a tour ahead of time (like before you leave the U.S.), it’s important to know that the whale sharks are not always in the bay. Sometimes they are there feeding and sometimes not. The tour operators cannot go out unless there are a certain number of whale sharks in the bay. As a matter of fact, a few days after our tour, the trips were stopped until further notice. I’m not sure when they moved back into the bay or if they did.
A whale shark tour is usually 3-4 hours long, like the others. The tour operator will give you a snorkel and fins to make it easier to swim, but you better be a good swimmer if you want to get up next to them. They are more likely to swim past you. Don’t expect to float around with them, hanging out, shooting the breeze—they move around quickly.
Please note: It is ILLEGAL to touch the whale sharks.”
Any whale watching tips we should know?
“Check the weather before you go. You want to go when the water is smooth. On that note, you also want to go in the morning, because all places get windy by 11 a.m. So, it will not only be warmer, but the water will be calmer in the mornings, making the whole experience much more enjoyable.”
Thanks again, Jamie, for giving us all some great tips for whale watching in Baja California Sur. It sounds like a fabulous time. I’m not sure how you found time for surfing, but we can go into that another time. This trip is now in permanent marker on my bucket list and I’m sure the same goes for many of our customers.