Wildlife Holiday News

Baja California - Friendly Whales & Big Blues!

Operations Manager Paul Stanbury describes the wildlife highlights of a cruise down Mexico’s Baja Peninsula and into the Sea of Cortez.

I am often asked the question: ‘I’m interested in a whale-watching holiday, where should I go?’ The answer is simple: ‘Join a Naturetrek cruise around Baja California and the Sea of Cortez’! Although there are now many cetacean-watching hotspots dotted across our blue planet – Vancouver Island for Orcas and Cape Town for Southern Right Whales, to name just a couple – in my opinion, Baja is unbeatable for the sheer abundance and diversity of whale and dolphin species it offers. Here you can enjoy eye-to-eye encounters with the ‘friendly’ Grey Whales of San Ignacio Lagoon, witness the vast bulk of a Blue Whale (the largest animal thought to have ever inhabited the Earth) glide silently under one’s boat, and watch the sea appear to boil as pod after pod of Long-beaked Common Dolphins speeds past. Baja’s co-stars are equally exciting and include huge Northern Elephant Seals, playful California Sea Lions, spectacular night skies, numerous seabirds and an abundance of other marine-life, both above and below the surface – all this to a backdrop of impressive desert scenery onshore and blessed with warm winter sunshine. No wonder other countries find it difficult to compete!

Our cruise starts in San Diego, where we board either the MV Searcher or the MV Spirit of Adventure, two comfortable motor vessels that carry a maximum of just 26 passengers and operate the very best whale-watching cruises in the region. From here we head south into Mexican waters and, after a couple of leg-stretching stops on San Benitos and Todos Santos Islands, anchor in the sheltered waters of San Ignacio Lagoon. For many, this will be the highlight of the holiday – the chance of seemingly impossibly close encounters with Grey Whales. Each year the Greys migrate south, from their summer feeding grounds in the cold polar seas between Alaska and Russia to the warm waters of Baja’s sheltered lagoons, to mate and give birth. The most important of these lagoons is San Ignacio, the winter home of Baja’s so-called ‘friendly whales!’ Although the term ‘friendly’ risks anthropomorphising these impressive creatures, you’d be hard pressed to put any other interpretation on their behaviour here as they freely engage with the delighted people in the pangas. There is no need to go looking for the whales in San Ignacio, the females will physically push their calves to the boats for the occupants to rub and pat their noses, chins and baleen. The calves take turns spy-hopping in front of each person, sometimes refusing to move on to the next until they’ve had a scratch or rub! The whole experience is very emotional for everyone who comes in contact with these gentle giants and it’s the talking point for the rest of the cruise.

Although it is always a wrench to leave San Ignacio, there’s still a lot to see further south and round in the adjacent Sea of Cortez. We’re now in the realm of the Blue Whale, a mammal so vast that its heart is a big as a small car and its tongue alone can weigh as much as a bull elephant. We have never missed seeing Blue Whales in over 10 years of operating Baja cruises and very much hope that this success continues. Fin Whales are a small step down from the Blues in size, but equally impressive, whilst smaller still are the Bryde’s and Sei Whales which we often see later in the holiday (‘smaller’ being a relative term here as an adult Bryde’s Whale can still measure 15 metres in length and weigh up to 20 tonnes!). Large pods of dolphins (some of which frequently bow-ride in front of our boat), playful Humpback Whales and the occasional group of Orcas or Sperm Whales add further variety and there’s even a chance of something rarer such as False Killer Whale or Pygmy Sperm Whale. When the whales are not on show, there are always plenty of birds to enjoy – both out at sea and on land – such as Red-billed Tropicbird, Laysan Albatross, Guadalupe Murrelet, Greater Roadrunner and the endemic Xantu’s Hummingbird. As with the cetaceans, there’s also a chance of identifying something rarer too ... although it would need to be an impressive find to beat the White-necked Petrel (spotted by tour leader Peter Dunn on our February 2014 cruise) which has recently been confirmed as a first record for North America!

So, if you’re looking for the ultimate whale-watching and wildlife cruise, and an escape from the British winter, then I’d strongly recommend considering joining Naturetrek in Baja California and the Sea of Cortez.

Baja California & Sea of Cortez cruise – 2018 dates & prices
A 14-day whale-watching and wildlife holiday, including an 11-night cruise down the western coast of Mexico's Baja Peninsula and round into the Sea of Cortez.

Dates: Wed 21st Feb - Tue 6th Mar & Thu 8th - Wed 21st Mar 2018 
Cost: £5,895 For further details about this holiday please call Paul Stanbury on 01962 733051 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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