There's a reason Jacques Cousteau called Baja California Sur the "world’s aquarium.” The region, located in the southern half of the Baja peninsula, is home to some 900 species of fish and 300 species of birds. With the Pacific Ocean on its west and the Sea of Cortez on its east, Baja's landscape of startlingly turquoise and jade green seas juxtaposed with stark deserts are captivating, to say the least. Wildlife tours abound, ranging from all-inclusive packages to DIY types, and depart from San Diego, Los Cabos, La Paz, and Guerrero Negro. Here are four of our favorites.
Baja Discovery offers five-day whale-watching tours in San Ignacio Lagoon, where you stay in canvas tents with solar-heated showers, screened windows, and vinyl floors, right on the beach. The $2,985 price tag includes a bus from San Diego to Tijuana, a 2.5-hour flight on a 14-seat private plane from Tijuana to the lagoon, all meals, and two whale-watch tours a day. Birding-and-botany tours and natural history adventure tours -- including a hike in the mountains near San Ignacio to visit cave paintings -- are also available.
Seven-night small-ship cruises on UnCruise Adventures feature swimming with whale sharks (think less Jaws, more Free Willy) from November to mid-January in the Bay of La Paz, and whale-watching from mid-January through March in Magdalena Bay. Tours also feature snorkeling with sea lions in Los Islotes, a burro ride with a local rancher near Agua Verde Bay, and sea kayaking. Starting at $2,995, based on your cabin size, the cruise includes multi-course gourmet meals and beverages onboard, evening hors d’oeuvres, hot tub, massages, and round-trip transfers from San Jose del Cabo to La Paz, where the ship departs. UnCruise also offers themed cruises, like bird-watching, marine biology, and photography. Ships range from 22 to 84 passengers. A $500 discount applies to children ages 8 to 13.
Fun Baja provides the opportunity to swim and snorkel with whale sharks in the Bay of La Paz, a $100 3-hour outing that includes snacks, beverages, and transfers from your La Paz hotel; there is also a whale-watch tour near Lopez Mateo (both offered seasonally). Groups depart from the marina of CostaBaja Resort & Spa, a luxury beachside resort with several restaurants and a golf course, 10 minutes from downtown La Paz. The resort offers discounts of up to 45 percent for booking at least three months in advance, a third night free, and a day tour to pristine Espiritu Santo island that includes a free room upgrade, breakfast, beverage, and $20 spa credit.
Malarrimo Eco-Tours offers a three-hour whale-watching tour in Scammon’s Lagoon, 17 miles south of Guerrero Negro town, for $46 ($36 for children), which includes lunch and a half-hour bus ride from town to the lagoon. Tours go out in a 23-foot skiff -- which often gets within petting distance of baby whales, dolphins and sea lions -- based at Malarrimo, a budget motel in Guerrero Negro with simply-furnished rooms and a seafood restaurant. Guerrero Negro, about 450 miles from either La Paz or Tijuana, is accessible by car (an 8-hour drive) from Tijuana, or via a short flight from Ensenada on Aereo Servicias Guerrero.
When to go
To spot whales, you'll want to visit Magdalena Bay, San Ignacio Lagoon, or Scammon’s Lagoon (Ojo de Liebre) -- all on the Pacific coast -- in February or March. To swim with whale sharks, the world’s largest fish, you'll head to La Paz on coast of the Sea of Cortez from November to January.