Baja Calfironia Sur is one of the world’s best destinations for whale watching
Discover the best places to see whales during the winter migration
All participants of our trip were tested for CoVid-19 prior to flying and had negative results for the virus. We did this to ensure the safety of the locals we were visiting. At the time of writing this, it is not enforced, but it is highly encouraged.
“Do you feel that?” captain Samuel said with a smirk. “That’s the whale moving our boat!”. I never dreamed I would be so close to a whale that it would literally rock the boat I was in, with the gentle scratching of its barnacles on the hull. That’s commonplace in the breathtaking bays surrounding the Baja California Sur peninsula of north-western Mexico, where whales migrate to breed every winter. It was something out of a movie!
I’ve travelled through Baja Sur before, but this trip was completely different! Baja Sur as a whole is one of those special spots in the world. Adventures lay around every corner. On my last journey there, we explored some of the off-the-beaten-path hideaways, though this journey was focused on finding whales’ favourite winter destination.
I decided to fly into La Paz BCS again, due to its familiarity from my last trip there, to see a few extra sites I missed on my last trip. It’s also possible to fly into Loreto, with its growing number of international arrival cities, as well as being able to drive straight down from California!
The main attraction I had missed on my last trip to La Paz which I was eager to see is a UNESCO recognized beach called Las Balandras. Las Balandras is a beautiful beach, with the most famous icon being a vertical rock formation that has been intricately carved by the waves, vaguely resembling a sloping mushroom.
What makes the beach even more special is the limitations placed on entry. Strict guidelines are placed upon guests as they enter, regarding their zero-waste policy (take only photos, leave only footsteps), as well as daily entry limits. Only 200 people may enter, twice per day. The first allowance is from 8 am – 11 am, and the second is from 12 noon to 3 pm. Once the 200 person limit is reached for each time slot, no one else may enter during that time, even if some people leave. It helps keep the beach clean and limits human impact. It is a gorgeous beach, and worth getting to a bit early to ensure you’re able to get in and visit!
After a quick overnight stop in Loreto, we made our first – and longest – drive of the trip to the far northern tip of Baja California Sur: Guerrero Negro. This would be our first stop on our whale-watching expedition.
Early the next day, we woke up to make our way to Mario’s Tours – a local operator which has excelled in offering Whale Watching tours for the past few decades and is focused on sustainability and protection of the magnificent giants of the sea. After an introductory talk about responsible whale watching practices at Mario’s Tours whale centre, we made our way to Ojo de Liebre Lagoon, where we would be on the lookout for grey whales – the most common sightings in this bay.
This is where the magic happened. Almost immediately we started seeing whales popping their heads and tails out of the water! It was incredible. The water was teeming with whales almost everywhere you looked. They estimated there were around 700 whales in the bay at this time – and only a handful of other boats out on the waters with us. If we saw a whale in the distance, we would move in their direction, and then cut the motors as we approached, to see if they would surface again.
To my surprise – grey whales aren’t shy at all! In fact, many are quite curious! Their heads would not only pop up… several decided to come in for a closer look! And when I say close, I mean REALLY close! Some would come to the edge of the boat and pop their head up to the point that our eyes would lock. There was no sense of fear from either party – more fascination and inquisition. The captain said they are very social, similar to dolphins, but infinitely larger! He said we could touch them if we want, and that they seemed to like the physical contact of getting a little head scratch (but not to touch their fins or blow holes – sensitive parts of the whale). And boy did they ever.. some would get a head rub, and then roll over to scratch their neck! They would hang out for about 30-40 minutes, before getting their fill of head rubs and deciding to move on. This had to be one of the most special experiences of my life. Even as I write this, I still get goosebumps!
I should note – there was no chumming or feeding at all. This interaction was all on the whales’ own accord, with no baiting or luring them to us.
Following our morning and afternoon of whale watching, we got to see some of the other wonders around Guerrero Negro, including ESSA, which is a massive sea salt mining operation with vast salt flats similar to those in Bolivia, and Las Dunas de Soledad which are a vast stretch of sand dunes. We finished our perfect day at Los Amargos, another sea salt flats region – absolutely stunning for sunset!
The next day we left Guerrero Negro to make our way to San Ignacio with Kuyima Tour – another operator focused on sustainability and responsible tourism encompassing not only whales but also the preservation and education of some Prehistoric Cave Paintings found in the region. Our day with San Ignacio was fantastic. Another day of grey whale watching made my heart melt. Though we didn’t have as much close-up contact with the whales on this day, it has less to do with the region, and more to do with the whales and their personalities that we encountered this day!
The next stop on our whale watching expedition would happen in Conception Bay, a few hours south of Mulegé. We had travelled from the pacific facing the west coast of the peninsula to the warmer waters on the eastern coastline of the Sea of Cortez. La Burra Tours would be our host for today’s adventures. They had a variety of boats to cruise across the glassy waters. Given our group size, we ended up on two different boats – a pontoon and a glass-bottom – both of which were ideal for some spectacular viewing. Though we didn’t see whales close up, we did see many native species of birds, including Blue Footed Boobies (a rare bird also found in the Galapagos Islands), an island filled with nesting Pelicans, and several pods of dolphins that raced the boats and played alongside us as we cruised over the sea’s clear waters.
It should be noted: Wildlife viewing rarely guarantees specific wildlife will be seen (unless they are as densely populated, such as the grey whales in our last destinations). The animals are wild, and so they are off doing their own things. It is always an added treat if you get to see the animals you are specifically looking for, such as a blue whale, which does not have the same density of population. This is why it is important to go in the right season, and to perhaps plan several days of viewing if your dream is to see a specific animal that may be rare.
The next leg of our journey would take us back to the point we had started this expedition – the historic fishing town of Loreto. Our sleeping arrangements tonight would be quite special too. We would spend the night onboard a massive catamaran sailboat, with private rooms, beds and washrooms – the majestic Catamarán Belgato.
Waking up to the sunrise, we sat in awe on the docks, as the colourful lights of sunrise played along the ridges of the mountains that surround the pier. After a hearty breakfast, we set sail aboard the Belgato around Loreto Bay Marine Park – a massive protected area where a variety of whales and other sea life both inhabit or come to breed and spend winters.
We spent the day sailing, feeling the wind in our hair, and enjoying the open waters. The air was chilly, but the sun was shining the whole day, making for great viewing ability. We had hoped to see a blue whale or two, though they somehow had managed to evade us yet again. We did have a gorgeous day out on the water and saw several Fin Whales from a distance, which was a wonderful treat. Fin whales are lesser-known than the famous Blue Whales, and yet are the second largest mammals on Earth. In fact, the Fin Whale is the second-largest animal to ever live, in the entire history of Earth. Reaching lengths of at least 85 feet (26 m) and weights of 80 tons! They seemed to be in greater numbers, as we saw several, and are worthy of their own highlight for our trip!
That night we drove back into town to stay back at the Rosarito Loreto Hotel, where our epic whale-filled journey had begun a week earlier. We had one more day ahead of us to try and spot the elusive Blue Whales – the world’s largest mammal! We joined a local operator and took a smaller motorboat (still quite large), back into the ecological paradise of Loreto Bay Marine Park. This is the region in which boats are allowed to look for whales. There are some regions that are off-limits, which also gives the whales some refuge from humans.
We skimmed across the water for a few hours spotting many gams of Fin Whales once again, but no blue whales in sight. We were beginning to come to terms that they may just be too shy for us to find them with only a couple of days on the water. Just as we were getting ready to head back, the distinctly small, triangular-shaped dorsal fin of a Blue Whale dramatically emerged only a hundred meters from our boat! We all screamed in joy! We spent the next hour or so cruising along from a very safe distance as the blue whale emerged multiple times. It was something truly magical. Blue whales are so big, they are twice as long as the grey whales we saw earlier, and can weigh more than four times as much!
Thrilled about our sightings, we made our way back to Loreto for a final feast at the Santa Fe Hotel, where we would spend our final night. After a long, soothing dip in the hotel’s Jacuzzi, we fell into a deep slumber, with dreams filled of so many incredible memories from our week-long journey together through the expansive, ecologically & culturally rich landscape of Baja California Sur!
This was a trip of a lifetime – and one I would repeat again and again! I can’t wait to get back to revisit the whales and see what other treasures there are to discover in this incredible region!
Where can you see whales in Mexico?
There are several great destinations for Whale Watching in Mexico. Many of these can be found in Baja California Sur. The best cities to visit to see whales in Mexico include Guerrero Negro, San Ignacio, Loreto, Adolfo Lopez Mateos, Puerto San Carlos, La Paz and Cabo San Lucas.
For more information on Grey Whales, check out this PADI article!
Where to see whales in Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur, Mexico?
There is a bay in Guerrero Negro called La Laguna Ojo de Liebre (which translates to Eye of the Hare Lagoon), which is a paradise for Grey Whale viewing between late December through late April, with the peak viewing between early February to Late March.
La Laguna Ojo de Liebre is a favourite breeding ground for Grey Whales due to its safety from the open Pacific Ocean’s waters. Hundreds of Grey Whales take refuge here and will spend months here in the plankton-rich waters.
Where to see whales in San Ignacio, Baja California Sur, Mexico?
San Ignacio Lagoon is one of only 4 mating and birthing lagoons in the world. This Lagoon has the highest concentration of sociable whales and is the only lagoon still untouched by human development. The peak season of San Ignacio whale watching is between the end of January to early April.
Where to see whales in Loreto, Baja California Sur, Mexico?
Loreto National Marine Park preserves 2046 square kilometres (790 square miles) to keep the sea full of life and protect the abundance of sea creatures that call this place home. Here you can find Humpback Whales, Fin Whales and the largest mammal in the world, the Blue Whale, all sheltering here during the winter months between December and March.
The Sea of Cortez was nicknamed “The Aquarium of the World” by the legendary explorer Jacques Cousteau. In addition to whales, you have a good chance to see dolphins, manta rays, the ‘gentle giants’ Whale Sharks (not actually whales!), and other underwater wildlife that exist in the silent world.
Where to see whales in Adolfo Lopez Mateos, Baja California Sur, Mexico?
Bahia Magdalena isn’t really a single location at all, but a 300km long series of lagoons is which makes it longer and thinner than Ojo de Liebre and San Ignacio to the north. This means you don’t have to navigate very far before you encounter whales. Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos is located in the northern half of Bahia Magdalena, making it the perfect solution for those who want to encounter whales in an intimate location, without large crowds found in the southern half.
Once in Lopez Mateo, head for the “Embarcadero Ballenas” near the cannery at the northern end of the town, look out for the red and white lighthouse as a nearby landmark. English is spoken, though Spanish is better! The service is friendly and knowledgeable. You can hire a boat for 900 pesos an hour (capacity twelve) or you can wait for enough people to assemble and pay 150 pesos each for an hour in a shared boat.
Where to see whales in Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, Mexico?
Puerto San Carlos, located along the southern half of Bahia Magdalena, is the most popular location for visitors to both Los Cabos and La Paz to come experience the whale’s migrations and breeding. The best time of year to see Grey Whales here is between late January to Early April.
Another whale watching opportunity in Los Cabos is observing the migrations of Humpback Whales passing the southern tip of Baja California Sur between November and December, and again between March and April.
All in all, this was a full-on, very full itinerary – a bit over the top for the time we had, but you could also pick and choose fewer stops, and simply opt for longer stays in each, depending on your interests and holiday time. Baja California Sur had never really been on my radar before, but it most certainly is now, and I hope to get back to see the rest of it sometime soon!
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
This is a map of Baja California Sur, with links to the main whale viewing areas linked below:
Ojo de Liebre: https://goo.gl/maps/znQDc7Neq5Aykki19
Laguna San Ignacio: https://goo.gl/maps/TEs1ieYhC5qHihTt7
Puerto San Carlos: https://goo.gl/maps/1GgstAM5BN5BGJBC8
Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos: https://goo.gl/maps/yP6UkteGU9Efa6Db7
Bahía Concepción: https://goo.gl/maps/VyjhBJx5KAd2TSPH6
Loreto National Marine Park: https://goo.gl/maps/Mjr24PBWCsfyiY6v7
Do – Activities & Attractions
There is an infinite number of activities and attractions around Baja California Sur. This trip, however, was focused on Whale Watching. With so many operators offering similar services, it is always best to do some due diligence on those practicing responsible and sustainable options to best protect the whales, and not interfere with their natural behaviours.
Some of the operators we used on our trip were the following:
While visiting La Laguna Ojo de Liebre, we used the services of Mario’s Tours. They had wonderful customer service, and a long-standing reputation dating back more than 3 decades! They even have a whale education centre as part of their office, where we were able to learn about the whales before going out into the bay, as well as safety protocols both for us, as well as for the whales. They are very focused on the sustainability and protection of the whales which take refuge in the Lagoon.
In San Ignacio Lagoon, we opted for Ecoturismo Kuyima. They offer a variety of ecotourism services, including bird watching and mangrove tours, kayaking, and nature hikes. They also have a great reputation for their whale watching.
Accessible from Mulege, La Burra Baja Tours specializes in snorkel tours on pontoon boats around Conception Bay. We went out in a regular pontoon, as well as on a glass-bottom boat. Both were perfect for cruising over the water and getting to relatively secluded beaches. They also get some decent speed, and we had pods of dolphins swimming alongside us at various points of the expedition!
El Catamarán Belgato
A highlight of our trip was spending a day out on the water on el Catamarán Belgato, a gorgeous 4 cabin catamaran. Cruising around Loreto National Marine Park on a giant Cat is one of the best feelings. With some decent winds, you can really cruise along at good speeds. That being said, no wind or too much wind each comes with its own issues, so be mindful that launching sails is not always possible, though it will still be an enjoyable voyage!
Stay – Accommodation
Some of the destinations we visited have limited options for accommodations due to the lower volumes of visitors they attract. There is usually a mix of hotels and camping options. Some places, such as Bahia Magdalena are often just day-trip destinations for places such as Los Cabos and La Paz, though accommodation does exist for those wishing to spend more time there.
Some of the memorable accommodations on our trip include the following:
Hotel Rosarito, Loreto
This is a gorgeous boutique hotel located only a few blocks from the Malecon (boardwalk). The rooms are large and comfortable. There is a small courtyard between the rooms, most of which is occupied by a swimming pool and a small dining area.
Hotel Santa Fe, Loreto
This is the largest hotel we stayed at on our trip. It is located further out from the Malecon, making it difficult to walk into town, but if you have a vehicle, it’s a very short drive. The rooms are comfortable and set up like studio apartments. There is also a jacuzzi which was popular with our group, as this was our last stop on our journey, and we needed to soak our sore muscles for a few hours!
Hotel Malarrimo, Guerrero Negro
Hotel Malarrimo has been around since 1974, and you can feel its age to a degree. The rooms were comfortable and clean, and the showers had high pressure, though the walls are thin and you may hear everything happening in the room next door. After a long journey, if coming from La Paz or Loreto – or after an intense day of whale watching, however, you may get one of the deepest sleeps you ever have!
Hotel Las Casitas, Santa Rosalía
Arriving late at night, I didn’t get a great look at where we were when we arrived. To my surprise, opening my curtains in the morning, I realized we were overlooking a gorgeous vista over the water. The rooms were comfortable, and our group had a cabin-style set up with a central common area, with each of us having fully equipped private rooms.
Hotel Las Casitas, Heroica Mulegé
This is an eclectic hotel, with every room having its own style and charm. The beds are comfortable, and the staff were incredibly friendly. It is a great option for guests passing through or vacationing in the historic town of Mulegé.
Overnight on El Catamarán Belgato, Loreto
One of the coolest experiences was being able to sleep on the boat itself. At first, I thought it would just be a little bunk bed, but to my surprise, it was a private mini-suite, with a private bathroom! The bedrooms are located in the ship’s hulls, with two bedrooms in each hull. Staying overnight is an all-inclusive experience with a big open bar, and a wonderful food spread! The ship stayed at the pier as we arrived late in the evening, and we had to be mindful of other boaters moored here (and sleeping), but it was a wonderful experience. On multiday trips, you may even sleep out around some private islands.
Mangrove Hotel – Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos
I really liked this hotel due to it being right on the water, and it was very modern. The firepit gets lit up at night, which was a perfect way to end a day of whale watching. I would happily stay there again.
Eat – Restaurants
There are many wonderful local dishes you can try while in Baja California Sur. Some of the most popular dishes include Butter Lobster, Beef Machaca Burritos (machaca is dry and shredded meat), Stingray Machaca, Fish tacos La Paz style, Chocolata clams tatemadas (roasted), Lion claw clam ceviche and Dates bread.
We ate so many wonderful meals on our trips. I’d have to say that the meal that stood out the most, however, was at Hotel Las Casitas, Heroica Mulegé, during an overnight stay en route between coasts. It was a feast of feasts. From an assortment of delicious cut meats to a cheese board, and endless varieties of salads as well as some local delicacies, this felt like it was prepared for royalty!
There was one vegetarian in our group, and he had no real difficulty getting veggie food along the trip. If you have other serious dietary restrictions, they may be a little harder to appease, depending on what they are, given occasional limited options.
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
When can you see whales in Mexico?
The whale watching season in Mexico is during the winter season when whales migrate to the warmer waters surrounding Mexico all the way down from the Arctic and the Bering Sea. This happens between November and April each year, depending on the species. To see the whales you need to take an organized boat trip operated by an experienced skipper who knows where the whales are and how to approach them in a responsible and safe way.
The Pacific Coast has the most whale sightings between January to April. The Sea of Cortez has the most whale sightings between November through January.
The hottest time of year is between April – June and could be unbearably hot for you if you’re not used to the heat. The coldest time of the year is between December – March, and you’ll need to pack appropriately to ensure having enough warm clothes.
Safety – Possible risks
Baja Calfornia Sur is safe for the most part. There are occasional stories you’ll hear on the news of this region, if not of Mexico as a whole, though from my personal experience, everyone was incredibly friendly, nice and helpful, and welcoming of foreigners. That said, just as you would in an unfamiliar neighbourhood back home, always use your best intuitions and be safe. Lock your car and hotel rooms, use safes when possible, and be friendly but don’t put yourself in situations that don’t feel safe or comfortable.
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim to those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed.
Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoil your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
Overall, the pacific coast of Baja California Sur is reasonably priced. Meals averaged between 120-400 pesos per person (about $6-20 USD – drinks not included). Our accommodations generally averaged 1000 pesos per night (around $50 USD), per bungalow/room. Most activities were under 1000 pesos ($50 USD), with a few exceptions.
Here are the prices we had, though keep in mind these are subject to change based on seasonality, sales, advanced bookings vs last minute, as well as exchange rates and inflation.
- Hotel Rosarito, Loreto: $2200 MXN ($110.00 USD) average per night
- Hotel Malarrimo, Guerrero Negro: $750.00 MXN ($35 USD) per night
- Motel Oasis Baja, San Ignacio: $550.00 MXN ($27 USD) per night
- Hotel Las Casitas, Santa Rosalía: $1800 MXN ($90 USD) per night
- Hotel Las Casitas, Heroica Mulegé: $1200 MXN ($60 USD) per night
- Catamarán Belgato Overnight: 7400 MXN ($370 USD) per person, per night.
- Hotal Santa Fe, Loreto: $1800 MXN ($90 USD) per night
- Mario’s Tours Introductory talk & whale watching tour: $1000 MXN ($50.00 USD) per person, min. 6 people
- Mario’s Tours visit to ESSA: $300 MXN ($15 USD) per person average, min. 6 people
- Mario’s Tours Tour to La Soledad Dunes: $200 MXN ($10 USD) per person, min. 6 people
- Mario’s Tours visit to Los Amargos: $300 MXN ($15 USD) per person, min. 6 people
- Ecoturismo Kuyima whale watching: $1100 MXN ($55 USD) per person min. 6 people
- La Burra Tours: $1000 MXN ($50 USD) per person, min 4/max 6 per boat. No beverages included.
- Catamarán ABT-Sailing Tour: 3 hours $1500 MXN ($75.00 USD) per person max 16 people/min 12
- Adolfo Lopez Mateo mangrove boat tour: $4000 MXN ($200 USD) for the whole boat.
One thing to consider is that there are not many ATMs or banks throughout the entire area, especially between bigger towns, likely due to the poor internet connections. This means you need to bring enough cash to pay for the majority of the trip (including at gas stations). I would suggest not keeping it all in one place, and hiding it between bags, and compartments in your vehicle – and bring more than you expect you’ll need.
You also need Mexican pesos, as most places will not accept or exchange USD, nor are there banks along the way to change them at.
I pulled out all the money needed while in the city of La Paz, using my international bank card. If you plan to do this, understand there are daily limits, and inform your bank before you leave home, so they don’t lock your card for unusual behaviour (a quick call to your bank or credit card company should be all you need to do this).
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
Most of what makes Baja California Sur so special is how untouched it really is. Even the towns are tiny, and for the most part, cut-off from much of the outside world… and they like it that way. Be sure to be respectful of local customs and practices while in each destination, understanding you are one of the few guests each place sees.
Follow all the rules your whale watching guides and companies give you. The rules are there to protect both the whales and yourself from harm! This includes staying in your boat – swimming with the whales is not permitted, especially as there are babies, and you don’t want an overprotective momma whale getting nervous. Even a nudge from something the size of 3 school buses would feel more like a motorboat hitting you.
The desert is also an amazing ecosystem that has taken hundreds of thousands of years to be able to sustain any form of life within it. Though it looks, in places, like a lot of nothing – life exists there. Please don’t throw your trash from the window while driving. I know it seems like common sense, though at every stop we made along the highway, we did see a bit of trash on the sides of the roads – so try to keep it as uniquely beautiful as possible, and make sure you have an extra bag for your snack wrappers to dispose of at proper waste bins later on.
If you are reading this during the time of Co-Vid 19, please also make sure you take adequate precautions to wear masks, wash your hands and socially distance yourself in each destination. Many of these towns are isolated and safe as a result. Let’s do our part to keep them that way.
Everyone also got CoVid antigen tests 1-2 days before travelling, to make sure we were safe to fly (some PCR tests take up to 3 days to get results back). It may or may not be enforced in your local airports – it’s just a responsible thing to do, both for yourself and for the locals you are going to visit.
Reality Check – Be Aware
Baja California Sur is a relatively untouched paradise waiting to be explored. Travel here is a bit difficult solo, especially if you are self-driving. Makes sure you have a valid international driver’s license (easy to get, with a valid driver’s license back home). It is also some pretty rugged terrain – even with well-paved roads – you want to make sure you have enough water and snacks on hand should you get stranded for any reason.
There’s not much phone/internet signal between many of these destinations, so if you do get stuck, you’ll likely have to wait for the next person who drives by… and may need a bit of Spanish to communicate with whoever that might be. Hiring an experienced and licensed tour guide/driver is a great idea to avoid these types of issues.
With these precautions in mind, this could be one of the most exciting, off-the-beaten-path adventures you may ever take! Each destination had its own special package full of magic waiting to be unboxed.
JOIN US! WSE Travel Packages
This sounds like quite the adventure, right? We thought so too! Though we realize it can be pretty intimidating to get out there into the world on your own, especially when travelling to some of these off-the-beaten-path locations. We love it when our readers give it a shot and try it for themselves! In fact, please leave us feedback if you do!! If trying something ‘this’ adventurous on your own is just a bit outside of your comfort zone, WSE Travel is here to help!
Follow this link for our ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Tours – packages that are highly personalized and tailored at your request.
Check out the stories from my fellow road-warriors who joined me in Baja California Sur:
Baja California Sur 10 day itinerary
Lost Boy Memoirs:
Have you ever been whale watching? What was your experience like? What whales did you see?
Please feel free to share your stories and thoughts in the comment section below!