Thar She Blows: A World of Whales

Baja and the California Coast
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The ruggedly beautiful peninsula of Baja California has a topography marked by contrasts. Mountains soar above remote arroyos and pristine coves lapped by the warm waters of the Sea of Cortez, the world's largest deep-water gulf. The low-lying western coast is marked by expansive sand beaches, pounding Pacific surf and protected great lagoons.

By most criteria, Baja Mexico is the best whale-watching destination in the world. Every winter, hundreds of whales migrate down the Pacific coast to winter in southern Baja's warm lagoons which have provided nurseries to the mighty gray whale throughout the millennia. On the west coast, Magdalena Bay is the focus of activity, while on the Sea of Cortez side, Isla Espiritu Santo north of La Paz is a favorite whale hangout. The whales congregate in great numbers and stay in the same lagoons for days on end, making for easy viewing.
For a top-flight Baja experience, a good choice is Natural Habitat adventures' "Ultimate Baja Tour."As many as 10 whale species have been spotted in recent years, including scores of grays in Magdalena Bay. The 11-day, 16-18 person voyage costs $2,795. Contact Natural Habitat Adventures, 800.543.8917.

For whale-watchers on a tighter budget, we recommend Baja Expeditions' Mexican cruises. Using pangas (skiffs) launched from a large motor yacht, participants observe gray, blue and humpback whales in their winter harbors. The cruises run January through March, ranging from $895 to $1,595 for tours from 5-10 days. Contact Baja Expeditions, 800.843.6967.

For those who don't have the time or money for an extended whale watching vacation, you can see the same whales who congregate in Baja lagoons on their trip up or down the California coast through the Santa Barbara Channel. Whale watching day trips out of Long Beach or Santa Barbara are a popular alternative to view the migrating gray whales on their route to and from the Bering Strait. The elusive blue whales, largest mammals on earth, also have been spotted in recent seasons, generally during summer and fall. Truth Aquatics runs whale-watching voyages to the Channel Islands aboard the 88-foot Condor. Day trips cost just $24, and if you don't see whales, you get a "whale check" good for free ride during the balance of the season (January through April). The best viewing is generally in early March, when three to five whale sightings per day is typical. Contact Truth Aquatics, Sea Landing, Breakwater, Santa Barbara, CA 93109, 805.963.3567.

Paul McMenamin is the author, editor, and photo director of the original Ultimate Adventure Sourcebook.

Published: 30 Jan 2001 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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