whale in front of a boat

The ultimate guide to Baja California whale watching experience

In BAJA CALIFORNIA, MEXICO by Isabella BiavaLeave a Comment

I discovered Baja California whale watching 2 years ago on my first on the road trip in Baja California and I completely fell in love.

Fast forward two years I am back in La Paz writing this post after another 2 weeks spent around Baja chasing whales.

I tried to see as much as I could and take as many tours as possible.

Every time I managed to get so close to whales and even touch them I felt such a blessing.

Looking at the huge silhouette of the Blue whales is an experience that everybody should do.

In this post, I will tell you about all the places you will be able to join a whale watching tour in Baja California and all the practical information you need to book yours and have the best experience ever.

Whale watching in Cabo

Cabo is one of the easiest and most accessible destinations to see the whales, for its vicinity to the international airport.

The area of los Cabos, in the farthest south of Baja California, includes the touristic 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 coasts,  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).

a humpback whale jumping out of the water during our snorkeling trip in cabo pulmo

Whale watching during Cabo Pulmo snorkeling trip

Whale watching in Cabo Pulmo

At about 2-hour driving 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, its a  world apart from its neighboring tourists’ 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 too Cabo Pulmo.

snorkeling in cabo pulmo - fishes

Snorkeling Cabo Pulmo – Picture take from a GoPro Video

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 temperature are cooler and the sunset paints the sky with breathtaking hues. La Paz sunsets are indeed some of the most memorable.

This area includes Isla of Espiritu Santu and other small deserted areas also proclaimed UNESCO world natural heritage site for their importance as an 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 in marine life, which means also an abundance of food that attracts the geat whales such as Blue, Fin, Sperm, and Humpback. Large pods of 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 shark. Tours are organized from the Malecon daily from half December through mid-April and you can swim with them 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 form to protect the environment and the Inhabitat for 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.

whale shark and other fishes

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 of its bay, its cultural heritage and a 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 since and a UNESCO natural heritage site for its unique underwater richness. It is home in fact of 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 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.

Seeing those spectacular creature 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.

blue whale tail

Magdalena bay whale watching: 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.

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 reach 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.

The first town on Magdalena Bay where you can join a whale watching tour is San Carlos, but when I got there there was no activity due to the strong wind, as in this location the boats need to reach an area of the bay that is more exposed.

a man petting a whale in Adlfo lopez mateos

So I cannot really speak about it.

The second spot is Adolfo Lopez Mateos whale watching tour, 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 whales 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.

whale close to a boat

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 boats (lancha) 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 bungalow are located right on a river, an interesting spot for bird watchers.

Some interesting facts on the grey whales in Baja California

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. San Ignacio lagoon is one of the best places to camp and spends days just watching whales and stay connected with mother nature. 

Normally you are told to keep the 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.

Amazing.

In the yellow box below I am explaining what happened.

Baja california Sur - An essential guide

On the way from San Ignacio town to the lagoon to see the whales

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.

office entrance yellow and orange

Whale watching tour in San Ignacio: Kuyima office

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 in 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 a 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.

San Ignacio mission

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, head 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 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 coast and try all the possible whale watching experience 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 nor its restaurants, 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 lakes 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 don’t go out unless you pay for the difference.

So I was told by the boat dispatcher.

Guerrero Negro lagoon

Guerrero Negro Lagoon

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 been squeezed like sardines on the boat and not being able to move.

Very strange vibes, overall.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.