A once-in-a-lifetime experience, (although many get “hooked” and return year after year!)
“A brief flirtation with a friendly gray is often all it takes to turn normal, quiet, unflappable people into delirious, jabbering extroverts …. Falling under the spell knowing that their lives will never be quite the same.” T.P. Peschak, National Geographic photographer.
Others I know who have experienced our gray whale adventure agree and also use words like: magical, spiritual, unbelievable, amazing and OMG! All because the whales approach you, inviting your caresses and kisses, often blowing heart-shaped sprays from the two blow holes on the top of their head. Quite the welcome and invitation to play!
Stretching over 800 miles south of the California, USA border, Baja, Mexico, is one of the longest peninsulas in the world. Writer and marine researcher John Steinbeck observed that: ‘Below the Mexican border the water changes color; it takes on a deep ultramarine blue…intense and seeming to penetrate deep into the water.”
It is to these very waters that the gray whales undertake the longest migration of any mammal on earth, swimming more than 10,000 miles round-trip from Alaska, to their traditional breeding and birthing grounds – the protected, warm, shallow Pacific lagoons of Baja. The perfect environment for mating, birthing and teaching in readiness for the long swim ahead of them.
Once hunted and slaughtered, the gray whale, known then as Devil Fish, is now widely regarded as the friendliest of whales. That being the paradox: that whales, 49’long (15meters) and weighing 40 tons, with tails so powerful they could annihilate a boat of observers with one flick; that they seek out us humans and gently and playfully embrace our attention, contact and awe of their magnificence. Once you look into the eye of a gray whale you are changed in some way, forever.
Your whale adventure begins in the beautiful, historic and magical mission town of Loreto nestled between the majestic mountains of the Sierra de la Giganta and the UNESCO marine park of the Sea of Cortez: Jacques Cousteau’s, ”world’s aquarium”. You will have an opportunity to shop, taste authentic Mexican foods, including Loreto’s famous chocolate clams – named for their color not the taste of chocolate! People-watch and relax on the historic plaza, visit the first Mission built in 1697, walk the beach and malecon. Take a trip into the mountains to historic San Javier and visit the mission and its ancient olive grove. Check out some of the over 400 species of birds that both live or migrate here and even take a panga (boat) over to one of the islands that is home to colonies of sea lions, pelicans, blue footed boobies, dolphins and hosts of colorful fish. From Loreto you will drive across the Peninsula to the historic oasis town of San Ignacio and on to the Pacific Ocean lagoons …. And the amazing, magnificent gray whales!
Your adventure begins in the picturesque, historic coastal town of Loreto, the first settlement on the Baja. It is the home of the first remaining and active Spanish Mission built-in 1697. The Mission stands tall surrounded by restaurants, hotels and interesting shopping on the historic plaza, the central focus of community activities. Looking from the plaza towards the Sea of Cortez, called by Jacques Cousteau as the “World’s Aquarium” and a UNESCO Marine Park, is the Malecon and marina. The Malecon is the place to walk, or promenade, by the beach and by the marina where the local fishermen moor and tend to their pangas, (boats), with the help of pelicans, egrets and blue-footed boobies. Actually, they are more interested in the fish the pescadores (fishermen) throw overboard! But it makes for a great photo opportunity! Breakfast on your own – Lunch on your Own – Dinner on your Own – Night in Hotel
A ride out in a panga to the white sandy beaches and pristine aquamarine waters of Coronado Island where you can explore the terrain, grand rock formations, snorkel, swim, or just relax. It is the home to many species of wildlife such as a colony of sea lions, dolphins, turtles, exotic fish, On the way, you may even have a bonus of seeing Humpback Whales, Blue Whales, Manta Rays, Dolphin pods, and flying fish. A picnic lunch will be enjoyed before heading back across the water to Loreto. After a rest, you will have the opportunity to be driven up into the cooler air of the mountains. Standing among the palo verde trees, majestic Cardon cactus, palm trees, and orchards are the historic village of San Javier. The Moorish style mission built just after Loreto is also an active church. The missionaries chose this spot because of its access to water. They created orchards and grew their own food. A must-see is the ancient olive tree at the back of the church. Breakfast in Hotel – Lunch on the beach – Dinner on your Own – Night in Hotel
Today you head north passing through the French colonial mining town of Santa Rosalia, whose streets were designed by a French mining company in the 1800’s. In the center of town is a church built mainly of iron and designed by Eiffel who designed the Eiffel Tower in Paris. From here you drive across the Sierra La Giganta mountains, passing Tres Virgenes – three huge dormant volcanic mountains thought to resemble three virgins, and then towards the Pacific Ocean, stopping in the oasis town of San Ignacio for dinner and the night. Breakfast in Hotel – Lunch on your own – Dinner on your Own – Night in Hotel
Your adventure continues, and the excitement and anticipation builds as you drive along the dirt road to San Ignacio Lagoon, a protected breeding place for the friendly gray whales and where a gray whale first initiated human contact 40 years ago. Located in the El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve, designated a World Heritage Site in 1988 by the Mexican government, the lagoon remains undeveloped, pristine and protected. Parts of the lagoon are lined with mangrove swamps teeming with wildlife and offering an opportunity for exploration.
At the whale camp, once you are checked in and given instructions and information about what to expect, your panga (boat) and panganero (captain) will be waiting to take you out on the lagoon to meet, greet and play with the whales!
Respect, not only for the environment, but also for the whales and regulations, is a priority. The captains keep a respectful distance allowing the whales to make their own decision whether to approach the panga or not. Fortunately they seem to enjoy meeting and greeting watchers! Mothers proudly present their babies and often nudge them towards the pangas. Breakfast in Hotel – Lunch in the camp – Dinner in the camp – Night in camp
Another chance to play with, scratch, an kiss the whales and their babies! Actually 2 chances! Morning and afternoon whale watching trips are offered. You can also explore the mangrove mazes and see how many of the over 200 species of birds you can identify, maybe see a coyote too! Another must-see are the area’s salt flats. A short distance from camp are salt lake beds. An amazing landscape, looking almost lunar, yet salt- from where premium salt is harvested … like the whales, seeing is believing! Breakfast in the campl – Lunch in the camp – Dinner in the camp – Night in camp
A last sail out to interact ad say farewell and thank you to the gray whales and the lagoon before setting out after lunch for the beautiful drive back to Loreto passing through Mulege, another oasis town with an active Jesuit mission built in 1705, destroyed by a flood and rebuilt in 1770. Breakfast in the camp – Lunch in the camp – Dinner on your own – Night in Hotel
Another panga and captain are ready to take you out on to the Sea of Cortez in search of the magnificent Blue Whales who like to hang out close to the islands. Later you can relax and enjoy Loreto. Breakfast in Hotel – Lunch on the beach – Dinner on your Own – Night in Hotel
Throughout the year Baja is home to over 400 species of birds and a paradise for bird watchers from all over the world. We have a local expert ready to guide you around some of their Loreto hangouts. Later you have time to enjoy your last day in Loreto: kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, hiking, Breakfast in Hotel – Lunch on your own – Dinner on your own – Night in Hotel
Goodbyes and return home. Adios y hasta luego
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