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Whale Watching in Baja California

For thousands of years the grey whales have migrated to Baja in the winter to bear there young in the warm and placid waters surrounding the Baja Peninsula. The grey whale migration takes them south past the west coast of the United States and the Pacific coast of Baja. Scammon’s Lagoon and Bahia San Ignacio are some of the most famous places to see grey whales. San Ignacio boasts the 'friendly whales', a pod that seems to have over some time, developed an afinity with the tourists that come to whale watch in Baja.

Gray whales are 52 feet long and weigh 36 tons, yet are gentle enough to touch… and Baja California’s Pacific coast is the perfect place to experience the thrill! Every year in November, more than 10 thousand gray whales trade the freezing waters of Alaska’s Bering Sea for the warmth of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. Traveling along the Pacific coastline at top speeds of five mph and with pregnant females in the lead, the whales take about four months to make the 10 thousand miles roundtrip.

Whale breechingOnce the whales reach the Mexican coast, they mate, bask in soothing lagoons and give birth, making January through early April the peak time to whale watch. During these months, boat excursions are available all along Baja California, giving tourists the chance to observe these magnificent creatures in their natural environment, see the newborn calves and enjoy the blowhole water shows. Gray whales are so friendly that on many occasions they swim right up to the boats and even allow human contact. In early spring, the calves and their mothers are the last to head back up north, and without the presence of the males, mothers are less protective, often allowing their young to approach tour boats more freely.

Where to watch Although a small percentage of whales, particularly those that are not giving birth, make it as far south as Cabo San Lucas and the East Cape on the southern tip of the Baja, most whale-watching takes place in three major lagoons all the coastline of the Baja Peninsula.

Grey whaleLaguna Ojo de Liebre: Also known as Scammon’s Lagoon, this body of water is located half-way down the peninsula on the Pacific side in Guerrero Negro, about 440 miles south of the border. It was the principal hunting lagoon used by commercial whale hunters in the 19th century. Today tourists arrive to the lagoon by car, but a national airport is also available for tourists flying in from other destinations in Mexico. Laguna San Ignacio: Located 100 miles south of Laguna Ojo de Liebre, access to this site is mostly through charter air service from international airports such as San Diego and Tijuana

Bahia Magdalena (Magdalena Bay): This bay in becoming increasingly popular for whale-watching due to its proximity to the La Paz and Loreto International airports

Grey whale breeching

Cabo San Lucas: Although the above mentioned locations may be more famous, it is possible that more people actually get to SEE whales in Los Cabos than any other location in Baja. From late December to late March the harbor sails and sunset trips aboard the many charters available each day have an excellent chance of a close encounter with a grey whale.

How to get there Tourists can arrive by charter plane and/or ground to the lagoons. Loreto’s International airport is the closest international airport to the lagoons, with limited service provided by Aeromexico and Aero California. Baja California’s capital, La Paz, is located approximately halfway between Loreto and Cabo and its larger airport offers more flight options. Whale-watching options Gray whale excursions comprise half-day or day trips, packages based out of whale-watching camps, and cruise programs that allow tourists to sleep onboard ships. There are various tour operators that specialize in whale-watching, including some major ones below. For those not interested in signing up for a whale-watching package, Puerto Lopez Mateos or Puerto San Carlos at Magdalena Bay are quaint sleepy villages where boats can be rented for US$70 a day, skipper included, and are located two hours by car from the Loreto International Airport.

Map of whale migration

Gray whales aren’t the only species to see while in Baja. Sea kayak adventures also offers kayaking/camping adventures out of Loreto on the Sea of Cortez, located on the eastern side of the Baja Peninsula. Tourists can watch finback and blue whales, along with dolphins, sea lions and exotic fish. Apart from paddling among islands, additional activities include snorkeling and hiking up scenic canyons offering breathtaking panoramas. More on gray whales Hunted for their oils, blubber and other valuable products, gray whales were once victims of massive slaughters in the 1800s and early 20th century. The hunting continued until the numbers were reduced to only a few hundred, and the whales were subsequently placed on the endangered species list. Thanks to an international protection agreement made among several countries in the 1940s, the whales’ numbers have grown at an incredible rate. Today, more than 20,000 gray whales exist and although still protected, they were removed from the endangered species list in 1975. Gray whales are among the oldest species of mammals, inhabiting the Earth for about 30 million years.

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About the Mexico Tourism Board

The Mexico Tourism Board (MTB) brings together the resources of federal and state governments, municipalities and private companies to promote Mexico's tourism attractions and destinations internationally. Created in 1999, the MTB is Mexico’s tourism promotion agency, and its participants include members of both the private and public sectors. The MTB has offices throughout North America, Europe, Asia and Latin America.