Baja, Mexico: Kayaking the Gulf of Cortez
If there is an ideal sea kayaking destination, Baja Mexico may be it. The water is warm, the wildlife is varied and abundant, and there are countless inlets and beaches to explore. A host of quality outfitters lead kayak trips to Baja year-round, though most tours are conducted during Mexico's warm winters. Some tours focus on wildlife and whale-watching, while others emphasize exploration of remote coves and out-of-the-way beaches.
Baja is the winter breeding ground for a number of large whale species, with the largest concentrations of gray whales found in Magdalena Bay on the Pacific coast. Baja Expeditions conducts very popular 9-day kayak trips to Magdalena Bay January through March each year. Support boats carry the gear and are used for close encounters with the big whales (in some places you can even reach out and touch the resting creatures). Past customers have given these trips rave reviews, and many participants have returned a second time. Baja Expeditions also takes sea kayakers to Isla Espiritu Santo, a beautiful, isolated island on the Gulf Coast near La Paz. With a major sea lion rookery, crystal-blue waters and numerous sea caves, this little island is a snorkelers' paradise. The Magdalena trip costs $1,250, while the 9-day Espiritu Santo expedition runs $1,200. Baja Expeditions, 2625 Garnet Ave., San Diego, CA 92109, (800) 843-6967, (619) 581-3311; Fax: (619) 581-6542; E-mail: email@example.com.
Trudi Angel's Paddling South runs great 8-, 10- and 12-day trips along the Sea of Cortez from October through May. Trudi is a legend in Baja, a soft-spoken lady who knows every inch of the coast from Conception Bay to La Paz. Tours start in Loreto, and work south along 40 miles of very remote, unspoiled coastline. Some trips visit Don Zante and Carmen Islands, both rich with marine life. The meals are a highlight of Paddling South's tours, especially the local seafood. Paddling five miles per day, there is plenty of time for snorkeling on the reefs and for day-hiking onshore. The 8- and 10-day trips cost roughly $995 and $1,095, respectively; this includes two nights at a hotel and transportation in Loreto. Compared to Baja Expeditions, the program is more adventurousno motor support boat is used, and Paddling South avoids the highly touristed destinations. Paddling South, 4510 Silverado Trail, Calistoga, CA 94515, Ph/Fax: (707) 942-4550.
Canada's Tofino Expeditions runs more than a dozen guided kayak trips to the Sea of Cortez every winter. Starting from Loreto, Tofino offers trips with a base camp at Isla Monserrate or one along the Sierra Giganta Coast. All of Tofino's tours visit remote hideaways where you'll never have to compete with other voyaging gringos. The tours are self-contained (no noisy outboard launches), and emphasize low-impact camping, though the food is surprisingly deluxe. The pace is easy, 3 to 4 hours per day, making Tofino's program a good choice for novice kayakers. Trips last 8 days, and range from US$890 to US$950. Contact Tofino Expeditions, #202-1504 Duranleau St., Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6H 3S4, (604) 687-4455; Fax: (604) 687-8525; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Internet: http://www.wimsey.com/tofino/.
The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) has operated sea kayak training courses in Baja for more than a decade, and NOLS' trip leaders know the best secret spots on both sides of the Sea of Cortez. The NOLS program, offered late October through mid-April, is not just a holiday. Running for 21 days, NOLS' Baja kayak program is designed to teach outdoor leadership skills, and offers five hours of college credit to participants. Expect more time paddling or day-hiking with NOLS than you might spend with another outfitter, and a bit less luxury. At $2,125, NOLS' 3-week trip is a good value. A 2-week course for those over age 25 is also offered in March and April for roughly $1,925. National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), 288 Main St., Lander, WY 82520, (307) 332-6973; E-mail: email@example.com; Internet: http:www.nols.edu.
If you're looking for a shorter trip, San Diego's Aqua Adventures offers two reasonably-priced 5-day Baja kayaking tours. The Loreto trip costs $745, while the Bay of Los Angeles trip costs just $475 if you provide your own food and air transportation, or $999 including airfare and meals. Aqua Adventures also runs outstanding weekend trips to scenic spots like the Rock Gardens along Northern Baja's Pacific coast. These are great weekend getaways for those with limited time. Contact Aqua Adventures Kayak School, 4901 Morena Blvd., Suite 1102, San Diego, CA 92117, Ph/Fax: (619) 272-0800; Fax: (619) 695-1500.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication