Mexico |  Baja Peninsula: Gray Whales and Desert Landscapes

Mexico | Baja Peninsula: Gray Whales and Desert Landscapes

About this trip

Each year, gray whales travel thousands of miles from arctic seas to the warm waters of Baja California’s lagoons to court, mate, give birth, and care for their young. Take part in one of the unique natural wonders of the world as you visit two whale sanctuaries for arm’s-length encounters with these graceful giants. During your journey south along the arid peninsula, you’ll also observe beautiful desert vegetation—including some of the region’s 600-plus endemic plant species—enjoy opportunities to see birds and other wildlife, visit Spanish missions, and learn about daily life on a working goat ranch.

Highlights

  • Enjoy thrilling opportunities to view and photograph gray whales up-close during small-boat excursions.
  • Explore hidden coves, snorkel with sea lions and tropical fish, and relax on the pristine beaches of Espíritu Santo, a protected island and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
  • Seek out resident and migratory birds in mangrove and coastal habitats and in the highlands’ prickly desert vegetation.
  • Walk through the scenic Cataviña Boulder Fields, where gigantic granite boulders, Boojum trees, towering cardon cacti, and contorted elephant trees dominate the landscape.
  • Swim off the shores of La Paz with the largest fish in the world, the graceful plankton-feeding whale shark.
11 Travelers

$4,175

Land Cost

Group size

Book 10 travelers and 1 group
leader travels for free

16 Travelers

$3,775

Land Cost

Group size

Book 15 travelers and 1 group
leader travels for free

Ensenada

Day 1

We meet at the airport in San Diego, California to begin our adventure. Driving south, we'll stop at the border to process our tourist permits for entry into Mexico. If time allows, a visit in Tijuana may be included: Walk through a traditional Mexican market displaying fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, colorful piñatas, and more; and/or visit a modern visual museum depicting the history of Baja California as an introduction to our upcoming experience. Continue south along the Pacific Coast on scenic Highway 1 to Ensenada. Our guide will explain the history of this pleasant port city, an important agricultural and fishing center on the Bahía Todos Santos. Attend a welcome dinner and program orientation this evening at our oceanfront hotel.

Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Las Rosas

Cataviña

Day 2

Check out and continue the journey south along the peninsula. Stop en route to visit a small community museum in San Vicente, then cross an agricultural area before taking a detour to the shores of San Quintín Bay for lunch. The scenic desert here hosts unique vegetation, much of which is endemic. Take a short walk to observe a variety of succulents, ranging from small pincushion cactuses to giant cardons reaching 30 feet or taller. Next, visit Reserva de los Cirios, named for the tall, graceful Boojum tree (cirio in Spanish), a member of the ocotillo family and Baja's signature plant. We continue on to the isolated town of Cataviña, set in one of the most picturesque portions of the Central Desert.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Misión Cataviña

Guerrero Negro

Day 3

This morning, explore the famed Cataviña boulder fields; sun, sand, gigantic granite boulders, Boojum trees, cardon cactuses, and elephant trees combine to create a superb desert garden landscape. Investigate the flora in this attractive setting, and visit a small cave with colorful rock paintings, believed to be created by the Cochimí people about 1,000 years ago. Next, depart for Bahía de Los Angeles on the Sea of Cortez. The view coming into town is a memorable one, with the deep-blue bay dotted with islands spread out before us. Enjoy lunch and a walk along the bay before continuing to Guerrero Negro. Located on the 28th parallel-the border between the states of Baja California and Baja California Sur-the town is home to the largest salt-producing facility in the world, an immense salt marsh, and a whale sanctuary that receives a record number of migrant gray whales each year.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Halfway Inn

San Ignacio

Day 4

Begin the day on the shores of the lagoon, where the large salt marsh attracts migratory birds like Ospreys, egrets, herons, gulls, ducks, and more. Then we prepare for our first up close encounter with the magnificent gray whales. Scammon's Lagoon, also known as Ojo de Liebre, is the largest of the lagoons visited throughout this trip. Each year, gray whales travel thousands of miles from the Arctic Ocean to the warm waters of this wildlife refuge to court, mate, give birth, and care for their young. Enter the sanctuary by driving through La Exportadora de Sal and learn about the salt works' activities. At the dock, board small pangas (outboard motorboats) and head out into the lagoon in search of gray whales; with luck, we'll be able to view these enormous mammals at arm's length. Later, depart Guerrero Negro and continue to San Ignacio, a charming town that developed around its famous 18th century mission in the midst of a lush and tranquil palm oasis.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Desert Inn

San Ignacio

Day 5

Set out for a second whale experience, this time in San Ignacio Lagoon. Board local vans and cross an open stretch of desert and a salty mudflat, and then board pangas to enter the protected marine sanctuary. Together with Scammon's Lagoon and the surrounding areas, San Ignacio forms part of El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve, Mexico's largest protected area. Migrating birds can be spotted along the shore, and this region is also important habitat for pronghorn antelope, sea lions, and four different sea turtle species. A hot lunch will be served at the lagoon. This afternoon, return to San Ignacio and visit the mission. The church dominates the town square and was built entirely of volcanic rock in the 1700s. Enjoy a relaxing evening in the tree shaded plaza.

Breakfast-Lunch- included
Overnight at Desert Inn

Loreto

Day 6

The variety of scenery makes the drive from San Ignacio to Loreto particularly interesting; giant cardon cactuses dominate the landscape. Pass the impressive "Tres Vírgenes" volcanoes-three cones of red lava rock dotted with graceful white elephant trees-before beginning the descent down one of the steepest grades in the peninsula, leading to the blue waters of the Sea of Cortez. We'll make a stop on the coast in Santa Rosalía, first established by the French as a copper mining town. Visit the Iglesia de Santa Bárbara, a prefabricated iron church designed by Gustave Eiffel, along with the old French Quarter and El Boleo bakery. Our next stop is in Mulegé, a mission settlement on a palm-lined riverbed, to see the mission and have lunch. South of town, on a beautiful coastal stretch along Bahía de Concepción, enjoy the chance to relax or go for a stroll along the white, sandy beaches, which stand in contrast to the bay's azure waters. We eventually arrive in Loreto, the oldest mission and permanent settlement of the Californias; it also served as the territory's capital for over 100 years. The mission still stands today and houses a museum. Check in at the elegant waterfront hotel, just steps away from the center of town.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at La Misión

Loreto

Day 7

Take a boat ride around Coronado Island in the Loreto Bay National Marine Park. The island's volcanic rock formations host abundant bird and marine life, and a white-sandy cove encircles calm, emerald waters. We'll have a chance to spot sea lions, rest on the beach, swim and snorkel, and walk among the interesting desert vegetation. Return to shore for a quick lunch and then head up into the mountains. Surrounded by the rugged peaks of the Sierra de la Giganta, the well-preserved San Javier Mission is known as "the jewel of the missions" and still retains its original orchard planted by the Jesuit missionaries. En route, stop at a goat farm to learn about life on the ranch and the process of making goat cheese. Enjoy a snack, with the chance to make our own tortillas by hand.

Breakfast-Lunch- included
Overnight at La Misión

La Paz

Day 8

Depart in the morning and continue the scenic drive along the coast and then through the mountains of the Sierra de la Giganta. The road crosses an important agricultural area where Crested Caracaras are often seen perched on fence posts. Although La Paz is the most important city of the southern part of the peninsula, its tree lined streets and attractive beaches inspire tranquility. A walk along the malecón (boardwalk) is a treat. Settle in at the hotel, and then head out to stunning Balandra Bay, famous for its many shades of blue. Get acquainted with the surroundings on a short hike that offers panoramic views. Continue to Pichilingue Beach to view the sunset while enjoying a shrimp dinner in a palapa-style restaurant.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Hyatt Place

La Paz

Day 9

The Sea of Cortez has been defined as one of the most biologically diverse marine areas in the world. Within the Sea of Cortez Marine Park Reserve, the protected island of Espíritu Santo, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1995, offers a variety of attractions: fascinating geology, snorkeling with sea lions and tropical fish in crystal-clear water, beautiful beaches, and hidden and isolated coves. Take a boat out to the island for a full-day excursion. Return to the hotel with time to relax. In the late afternoon, join the local Paceños on a leisurely stroll along the malecón. After dinner on own, regroup for the brief return drive to the hotel.

Breakfast-Lunch- included
Overnight at Hyatt Place

Todos Santos

Day 10

Depart by boat for a morning excursion to search for whale sharks. These docile, plankton feeding creatures-the largest of all fish species-have become regular winter visitors along the shores of La Paz. Visit their feeding grounds and jump in the water to snorkel alongside them. Return to the hotel for check out. After a quick lunch, depart La Paz to reach the turbulent Pacific Ocean coast, crossing the peninsula at its narrowest point. Briefly detour to El Triunfo, a former colonial mining town that's recently been restored, to walk through the remains of its foundries and chimneys, including a 300-foot cylinder smoke stack designed by Gustave Eiffel. We spend our final night in the fertile oasis of Todos Santos, now home to many artists and galleries. Established to process sugar cane, the abandoned haciendas have been adapted into boutique hotels, restaurants, and galleries. Stroll in town along the shops and galleries, or venture out along the wide, open beach. Tonight, we'll share a delicious farewell dinner and a fun mezcal tasting with an Oaxaca native to conclude the experience.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Casa Tota

Depart

Day 11

Transfer to the San José del Cabo Airport for international flights home.

Breakfast- included