January through early April is peak time to experience the grandeur of the gray whale in Mexico...
Gray whales are 52 feet long and weigh 36 tons, yet are gentle enough to touch… and Baja California’s Pacific coast is the perfect place to experience the thrill!
Every year in November, more than 10 thousand gray whales trade the freezing waters of Alaska’s Bering Sea for the warmth of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. Traveling along the Pacific coastline at top speeds of five mph and with pregnant females in the lead, the whales take about four months to make the 10 thousand miles roundtrip.
Once the whales reach the Mexican coast, they mate, bask in soothing lagoons and give birth, making January through early April the peak time to whale watch. During these months, boat excursions are available all along Baja California, giving tourists the chance to observe these magnificent creatures in their natural environment, see the newborn calves and enjoy the blowhole water shows.
Gray whales are so friendly that on many occasions they swim right up to the boats and even allow human contact. In early spring, the calves and their mothers are the last to head back up north, and without the presence of the males, mothers are less protective, often allowing their young to approach tour boats more freely.
Where to watch Although a small percentage of whales, particularly those that are not giving birth, make it as far south as Cabo San Lucas and the East Cape on the southern tip of the Baja, most whale-watching takes place in three major lagoons all the coastline of the Baja Peninsula.
Laguna Ojo de Liebre: Also known as Scammon’s Lagoon, this body of water is located half-way down the peninsula on the Pacific side in Guerrero Negro, about 440 miles south of the border. It was the principal hunting lagoon used by commercial whale hunters in the 19th century. Today tourists arrive to the lagoon by car, but a national airport is also available for tourists flying in from other destinations in Mexico.
Laguna San Ignacio: Located 100 miles south of Laguna Ojo de Liebre, access to this site is mostly through charter air service from international airports such as San Diego and Tijuana.
Bahia Magdalena (Magdalena Bay): This bay in becoming increasingly popular for whale-watching due to its proximity to the La Paz and Loreto International airports.
How to get there Tourists can arrive by charter plane and/or ground to the lagoons. Loreto’s International airport is the closest international airport to the lagoons, with limited service provided by Aeromexico and Aero California. Baja California’s capital, La Paz, is located approximately halfway between Loreto and Cabo and its larger airport offers more flight options.
It takes about ten hours to make the trip north by car from Cabo San Lucas.
Whale-watching options Gray whale excursions comprise half-day or day trips, packages based out of whale-watching camps, and cruise programs that allow tourists to sleep onboard ships. There are various tour operators that specialize in whale-watching, including some major ones below.
Baja Expeditions (www.bajaex.com): Based in La Paz and one of the oldest and largest whale-watching outfitters, Baja Expeditions service both the Magdalena Bay and San Ignacio lagoons. It offers charter flights directly from San Diego to San Ignacio and five-day, all-inclusive packages, including accommodations at the camps. It also offers seven-day combined kayaking and whale-watching programs to Magdalena Bay, meeting at the La Paz International Airport. Programs run from February to end of March.
Baja Discovery Tours (www.bajadiscovery.com): Boasting more than 20 years experience, Baja Discovery Tours it offers all-inclusive service from the San Diego International airport, including ground service to Tijuana, charter service to San Ignacio and accommodations at the San Ignacio camp. Five-day programs run from February to end of March.
Lindblad’s Special Expeditions (www.expeditions.com): This provider offers nine-day cruises featuring whale-watching at Magdalena Bay along with other destinations and activities. Groups meet in Los Cabos.
Miramar Adventures (www.miramar-adventures.com): Offers three-day excursions to the Ojo de Liebre lagoon. Tourists arrive by car.
Baja Tours (www.bajatours.com): Offers whale-watching tours to Magdalena Bay, fishing, kayaking, diving and much more.
Royal Polaris (tel. 310-548-7562): offers nine-day excursions to Laguna San Ignacio aboard the 105 foot Royal Polaris. Organized by the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. Ship departs from San Diego.
Pronatur/Pro-Tours (www.rissalena.com): based out of Los Cabos, Pro-Tours provide three-hour whale-watching tours.
For those not interested in signing up for a whale-watching package, Puerto Lopez Mateos or Puerto San Carlos at Magdalena Bay are quaint sleepy villages where boats can be rented for US$50 a day, skipper included, and are located two hours by car from the Loreto International Airport.
Gray whales aren’t the only species to see while in Baja. Sea Kayak Adventures (www.seakayakadventures.com) also offers kayaking/camping adventures out of Loreto on the Sea of Cortez, located on the eastern side of the Baja Peninsula. Tourists can watch finback and blue whales, along with dolphins, sea lions and exotic fish. Apart from paddling among islands, additional activities include snorkeling and hiking up scenic canyons offering breathtaking panoramas.
More on gray whales Hunted for their oils, blubber and other valuable products, gray whales were once victims of massive slaughters in the 1800s and early 20th century. The hunting continued until the numbers were reduced to only a few hundred, and the whales were subsequently placed on the endangered species list.
Thanks to an international protection agreement made among several countries in the 1940s, the whales’ numbers have grown at an incredible rate. Today, more than 20,000 gray whales exist and although still protected, they were removed from the endangered species list in 1975. Gray whales are among the oldest species of mammals, inhabiting the Earth for about 30 million years.