A complete guide to Baja California Whale Watching and other great spots in Mexico
I discovered Baja California whale watching in 2018 on my first road trip in Baja California and I completely fell in love.
Fast forward two years I was back in La Paz writing this post after another 2 weeks spent around Baja chasing whales where I have checked out as many whale watching spots in Baja California as possible. And in this post, I am going to tell you all about it and more.
Edit: as I am updating this post in February 2023, I am back in Baja California for the third time to discover more whale-watching places in Baja and I don’t think I have the words to express the joy I get when I see these graceful animals. I am therefore updating this post with more whale watching spot!
They say that whales have special healing powers. I am not sure about it, but watching them breach or flip their tail and do their dance in the water is kind of magical.
Every time I managed to get so close to whales and even touch them for the Gray Whales, I felt such a blessing, a connection with mother nature.
Those are the gray whales and there are many spots where you can watch them and get close to them without creating any environmental issues, on the contrary, they are the ones getting close to you and showing off their newborn baby whales. It’s an unforgettable experience.
And also looking at the huge silhouette of the blue whales is an experience that everybody should have. You can find this majestic creature in Loreto Bay but those ones are untouchable of course.
The largest living animal on earth and you must keep your distance not to disrupt their natural behavior. I will talk about them further on, in this post.
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Among all the multiple reasons why you should get
The humpback whales are also a show to watch, how they flip out of the water and jump back in like dance is an incredible sight.
Baja California whale watching experience offers some of the best whale watching in the world and that’s what I will be mainly talking about in this post.
However, whale watching in Mexico is not only about Baja. There are many other places where you can enjoy these magnificent creatures.
In fact, whales travel from Alaska all the way down. by the entire Mexican Pacific Coast in winter from late December through the end of March and there are many other spots to see them.
I have to say, Baja California is my favorite spot because it’s where you can see more whale species in one place. In fact, Marine biologists go to Baja California especially to study their behaviors.
However, let’s give justice to other great vacation places in Mexico where you can also enjoy whales, like Puerto Vallarta and Sayulita So let’s start.
IMPORTANT MESSAGE – please be informed that I am promoting whale watching and any kind of other wildlife-related activity just when the animals are left free in their natural environment that we are sort of invading, but with all the necessary precautions not to disrupt their natural behavior. Rest assured I would never support any form of animal exploitation including zoos and themed parks that uses animals as a form of entertainment and keep them from their natural habitat.
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Whale watching in Cabo
Cabo is one of the easiest and most accessible destinations to see the whales, of its vicinity to the international airport.
The area of los Cabos, in the farthest south of Baja California, includes the touristy cities of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose’ al Cabo.
Besides the overdevelopment of the coast, with the incessant growth in the number of luxurious hotels and tourist facilities, nature is still thriving and Cabo boasts a wealth of marine activities all year round, including whale watching.
Right in front of Cabo’s coast, the Sea of Cortez meets the ocean which makes it a unique location where many marine mammals and other animals entering the area will pass by.
Many tour companies offer boat tours to spot this magnificent mammal and although the sight of the Humpback whale is guaranteed it will be also likely to see grey whales, dolphins, and orcas (killer whales).
I went whale watching with CaboTrek and I cannot recommend them enough. They have relatively small groups per boat and an enthusiastic marine biologist will be with you to explain about the whales and local marine life in general.
I wrote a full article about whale watching in Cabo where I share a few tips on how to choose the best whale-watching tour for you.
Whale watching in Cabo Pulmo
At about a 2-hour drive from Los Cabos international airport, Cabo Pulmo is a very special village on the coast, a paradise for underwater lovers. With its 2 dirt roads and laid-back lifestyle, it’s a world apart from its neighboring tourist hubs of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose.
The peaceful village offers amazing snorkeling and whale-watching experience.
If you don’t have much time you can get on a snorkeling tour and you will be able to see humpback whales too.
To know more about my experience and have more information check out my full guide to Cabo Pulmo.
Swim with whale sharks in La Paz
La Paz is the capital of Baja California Sur, although there are fewer hotels compared to Cabo.
Despite the huge expansion of the city, life revolves along the Malecon, the extended promenade along the bay where locals and tourists alike gather at the end of the day when the temperatures are cooler and the sunset paints the sky with breathtaking hues.
This area includes Isla of Espiritu Santu and other small deserted areas also proclaimed UNESCO world natural heritage site for their importance as a habitat for many birds, reptiles, and mammal species.
The morphology of the territory off the shores of La Paz, with deep waters favors a wealth of marine life, which means also an abundance of food that attracts great whales such as Blue, Fin, Sperm, and Humpback.
Large pods of bottlenose dolphins are easily spotted, not to mention the biggest colony of sea lions that lives north of the island of Espiritu Santo.
However, La Paz bay is also popular for the presence of the biggest fish on the planet, the whale sharks also called the gentle giants of the sea because despite their humongous size are completely harmless.
Tours are organized by local fishermen from late December through the end of March and you can swim with whale sharks while respecting their behavior, therefore without touching them.
This amazing activity which I recommend doing once in your life, it’s super controlled in Mexico, as a way to protect the environment and the natural habitat of this beautiful fish.
That means that your time on the water is limited to 15 minutes so that other tourists can experience it too.
However, you will repeat it a few times during your tour.
You can also swim with whale sharks from Cancun, Holbox, and Isla Mujeres in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, where there are many tours available.
Just in a different season. In fact, while whale watching on the Pacific coast is only possible in the winter months, on the Southeast Mexican coast, whale season is from June through September.
Whale watching in Loreto
The charming Pueblo Magico (Magic Town) of Loreto deserves more attention than it actually receives, for the abundance of marine life in its bay, its cultural heritage, and the wealth of things to do in its surroundings.
So much so that I wrote a post on the 11 amazing things to do in Loreto so that you can’t miss it.
Not many know that Loreto bay is both a protected marine park and a UNESCO natural heritage site for its unique underwater richness. It is home in fact to 891 fish species, including 90 endemic fishes and 695 vascular plant species, more than in any marine and insular property on the World Heritage List (source Ocean Foundation)
Loreto bay is also one of the few water territories where the blue whales hang out at an easy reach for the human eye. Blue whales are the largest animal seen on earth and they usually live in the open waters where it is unlikely to spot them.
Apparently, the richness of the Sea of Cortez, in the Gulf of California, for a reason called the world’s aquarium, is a good motivation for those spectacular marine mammals to pay a visit and make it their home for a while during which time they mate and give birth.
The area is also a UNESCO World Heritage site for its richness in underwater flora and fauna.
Seeing those majestic creatures diving and submerging from the water is a unique and special experience that I suggest anyone who loves wildlife and nature should have.
Local tour companies organize whale-watching tours in Loreto from January through mid-April.
The tour lasts from 7.30 am through 2 pm, and it’s most likely you also see fin whales and large pods of dolphins racing with your boat. You can read my whale-watching experience in Loreto in my dedicated post.
But I can reveal right now that during my amazing day trip to see the blue whales we also had a surprising encounter with hundreds of bottlenose dolphins flipping around our boat, it was just unbelievable. That sight only would have made the trip.
Magdalena bay whale watching
There are three places where watch whales in Magdalena Bay: Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos, Puerto San Carlos, Puerto Chale. I have been to all of them and here is how you can do it too.
Whale watching in Puerto Chale
Puerto Chale started to become one of the top places where to see the Gray Whales from La Paz or Cabo San Lucas, as it’s the closest of the three and you can see so many whales in their beautiful bay.
The place is quite rustic, there is no hotel where to stay, so make sure you plan your visit so that you have time to leave and get to your place for the night before it gets dark.
I booked my tour with Yesenia Tours, and I had a great experience. But I think all the local companies offer pretty much the same treatment.
They offer 2-hour and 3-hour tours, of which the latter includes a stop at Margarita Island for a swim if you dare. I choose the 3 hours tour but I ended up staying among the whales most of the time with a short stop at the beach.
It cost 1500 mxn (75 USD) per hour. Minimum 3 hours because you need time to get out to the bay where the whales hang out.
The drive from La Paz takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes and once you get to Puerto Chale you can park your car (50 MXN) and walk to the tour company you booked with. They are all located by the water.
Although you may be able to just get there and find somebody available to take you, I wouldn’t risk it, because they work with tour companies as well so you could end up getting there for nothing because they are all busy.
Also, you will need your own car, as there is no transportation. If you don’t feel like driving in Baja, you can always book a tour either from Cabo or La Paz.
This private tour to Puerto Chale is led by a marine biologist which adds extra value to your tour.
In fact, keep in mind that the captain of the boat is not a guide, and won’t share much information about the whales or the area.
If you are traveling by yourself, probably a private tour from La Paz gets too expensive. You can choose this tour instead where you will share the boat and transportation with other people.
Whale watching in Puerto San Carlos
I finally made it to Puerto San Carlos this time. Last year I went too late and the season was over. This time I made it right when the whales were coming in and it was spectacular.
Since I wasn’t sure about the company to book my tour with, I just showed up and stop by a local travel agent who addressed me to Magdalena Bay Whale tours which is based inside the Hotel Isabel.
I booked my tour with them and I was lucky to find a room in their hotel as well, which turned out to be very convenient.
The hotel is not fancy but the bed was very comfortable. I got lucky as they gave me their last room available. But I would suggest you book your room in advance or be ready to look for another hotel in case it’s full.
I loved their tour because I asked if it was possible to be on the boat with fewer people as I was going to do a lot of photography and I needed space to move around and Isabel, the owner, was happy to accommodate me.
We spent 4 hours in the bay watching whales and it was unbelievably beautiful from the very start with a spectacular sunrise.
The tour starts at 7 am and ends at 1 pm. Around 11.30 the captain will ask the group if they are interested in going to have lunch in their camp on the island or just staying out and keep watching whales.
We decided to stay out and loved it. We had some chips and cookies to snack on, and water but you can bring your own as well.
Drones are allowed here in San Carlos so I took some great shots as well.
Whale watching in Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos
Whale watching in Magdalena bay is becoming more and more popular among whale lovers.
Located at about 430 Km from Cabo San Lucas, on the Pacific coast of Baja, Magdalena bay is the first largest bay where you can experience very special encounters with the gray whales with a short ride on small boats
Since the whale watching activity has been a thing, in this particular side of the world gray whales become so accustomed to the human presence that they even enjoy his presence and expect a nice scrub on their back any time they come close.
Otherwise, they get offended and swim away. No joke.
Here below in the San Ignacio paragraph, I will tell you more about this story.
Attracted by the motor of the boat, as soon as the fisherman reaches the area of the bay where they hang out, they appear nose up, right by the side of the boat, a unique experience for us wildlife lovers, to be able to touch their gummy skin and make such a special connection with such divine creatures.
Adolfo Lopez Mateos is a fishing town at 1-hour drive from Ciudad Constitution, the second city you will find coming from La Paz. Road signs are visible, you can’t get lost.
Adolfo Lopez Mateos was actually my favorite place for gray whale encounters.
Here I will tell you why.
First of all, you don’t need to navigate for much time to reach the spot where the whales hang out.
And you can decide how many people you want to travel with and how much you want to spend.
Let me explain more.
How to book a whale-watching tour in Adolfo Lopez Mateos
Once you get to the marina you will see a few authorized tour companies, one next to the other.
They all cooperate with each other and have the same rates which is a fixed rate of 1600 MXN per hour, no matter how many people are on the boat.
The small boats (lanchas) can hold a maximum of 12 people but I would suggest being not more than 6 or 7 for the best experience.
I was alone, so I just asked around and waited for more people to arrive.
As I did two tours in both cases I met 2 other couples and we shared the boat cost.
Easy and the best experience ever!
If you wish to stay in Lopez Mateos, be advised that the hotel options are scarce and very simple.
I stayed at the hotel Mangrove Inn, a little pricy for what it is, but very charming in its simplicity, definitely the best in the area. The bungalows are located right on a river, an interesting spot for bird watchers.
Some interesting facts on the grey whales in Baja California Peninsula
Every year in winter the grey whales migrate from the cold Alaskan water to the warmer Baja coast to find a protective shelter from the predator to have their babies in tranquility and mate.
Although you can see them from January through Mid-April, March is always the best time to see the whales in Baja California because the mating season is over and the males are heading further out in the ocean instead of chasing the females, which can now relax and hang out in tranquillity with their new baby born.
It’s a joy to see them swimming in pairs and together playing around the boat.
I want to imagine they teach the babies not to be scared of us.
San Ignacio lagoon whale watching
Baja California whale watching season attracts a lot of wildlife amateurs and experts who come here just to see the whales for days. Laguna San Ignacio is one of the best places to camp and spends days just watching whales and staying connected with mother nature.
Normally you are told to keep your distance and don’t even dare touch the animals, including other types of whales.
In this case, it’s the opposite if you don’t pet them they turn around and go away.
In the yellow box below I am explaining what happened.
How to see the whales in San Ignacio lagoon
There are many different eco camps there where you can spend a few nights and go out on the boat multiple times to see whales.
You can also go for one tour experience only.
I went with Kuyiba a very popular local agency that has been there forever.
They have an office in town, right in the plaza but it’s better if you arrange your tour or stay prior to your arrival, especially in March when it’s the high season.
If you wish to stay for more days in their bungalows you need to buy their 4 days/3 nights packages.
If you wish to stay one night only you can book their tent, fully equipped.
One day whale watching in San Ignacio lagoon
I went only for one day and I was quite happy, although if I had enough time I would have stayed longer.
First, you will have to check in to the office in town and pay for your tour if you haven’t done it already.
There they will give you also a map and explain how to reach the destination.
From San Ignacio, you will have to drive for one hour on a dirt road to reach the lagoon.
If you have 4-wheel drive it would be much better.
But if it hadn’t rained heavily in the previous days you’ll be fine with a regular car.
Once you have arrived at their camping site, you will regret not having booked the 3 days tour, but you will go ahead with your own 2 hours boat tour.
If you are lucky not many people will be there and you will have to share the boat with only a few other travelers, otherwise, they might need to fill the boat with more people.
That’s a matter of timing and luck. 🙂
Besides the spectacular whale watching tour, look around for hawks, and other birds.
The wild surrounding nature and mangroves are home of many birds species as well.
San Ignacio is also a pretty town with an old mission to visit.
If you have spare time the Kuyiba office also organizes hiking tours in the surrounding area to see the Cave paintings.
Also for hiking, you can choose between 1 day up to 4 days tour.
Plenty of things to do around San Ignacio.
A brief story on grey whales
In 1800s, the gray whales were known as the “devil fish” “ because when whalers harpooned their calves, the mothers destroyed a lot of the small whaling boats. That narrative of aggression reverberated for years through the local fishing communities” reads a National Geographic article.
The story tells that one day back in the 70s a group of fishermen in San Ignacio bay was approached by one of those grey whales who got unusually close to the boat, heading out of the water. Knowing the past, the fishermen were very nervous but one of them took courage and held out his hand and started to pet the big mammal.
That gesture sealed a new connection and a friendship that has been developing over the years until now.
The fishermen’s communities are considered the guardian angels of those spectacular marine giants and you can tell from how they get so close.
In my experience, after being on a whale-watching boat 6 times, I have always felt that special connection with the boat captain although they get close to us as well, stranger tourists, they would go first by the fisherman as if to be reassured that we are ok.
It’s indeed moving to watch.
Whale watching in Guerrero Negro
I really wanted to reach the very north of Baja California Sur on the pacific ocean coast and try all the possible whale-watching experiences available in Baja. And so I did.
Guerrero Negro is a small town right before the border with Baja California (north).
The town is everything but charming and its restaurants, are rather shabby I would say.
An interesting fact is that there is a salt industry and the salt lakes will be your spectacular view during the entire trip on the way to the lagoon.
Please make sure you drive around the salt Lake area during sunset, I have missed it but it must be gorgeous to watch.
Here are the reasons why I believe Guerrero Negro is the worst place to see the whales.
You cannot reach the entrance of the lagoon on your own, you need to join an organized tour from town unless you get a special permit, although I didn’t manage to understand how.
The tours are always with 12 people never less, and it costs 50 USD (1200 MXN), with fewer people the boat doesn’t go out unless you pay for the difference.
So I was told by the boat dispatcher.
I don’t really think they are ready for tourism as they don’t understand what the real experience is.
I was squeezed on a boat with 12 people moving and trying to see the whales.
I saw whales but didn’t enjoy the overall experience of being squeezed like sardines on the boat and not being able to move.
Very strange vibes, overall.
All in all my favorite place to watch the grey whales in California is Adolfo Lopez Mateos and that’s where I would go back. In Loreto for the Blue Whales and in Cabo Pulmo for the humpback whales.
Have you ever been in Baja California? what’s your favorite experience? I look forward to hearing back from you.
Whale watching in Puerto Vallarta
Mexico’s Baja peninsula is not the only place where you can see humpback whales in Mexico. Puerto Vallarta and all the pacific coasts of Oaxaca Jalisco and Nayarit are also great places to spot whales.
Although I have been in Puerto Vallarta it was not the right season for Whale Watching so I can’t talk from my experience.
But I know for a fact that not only you can see the humpback whales on tours, but also from the coast, especially if you are on a higher cliff, for example on the spectacular hotels south of Puerto Vallarta, facing the Pacific Ocean, you will be able to spot whales from your hotel rooms dancing around Bahia de Banderas. Isn’t it incredible?
Obviously, on a boat tour, you can see them from closer and have a much better whale encounter than from the coast.
Many local tour operators organize whale watching tours in the right season but you can also find other snorkeling tours, sometimes combined, to enjoy the wealth of underwater world population of Banderas bay and see sea turtles, manta rays
Make sure you choose small group tours, for the best chance to have a more enjoyable experience.