I'm getting goose bumps just thinking about that trip...since I was a kid touching a whale has been kind of a “untouchable” dream of mine...kissing a whale?! Well, that's just silly!
What if I told you there is a place on Earth you could have such a close encounter (legally and safely)?
Well, do you believe in fairy tales?
As many of you may know I'm a complete, hopeless, forever-lost-to-the-cause Whale Geek. Once I have discovered that we have whales in Southern California and you can actually see them, there was no turning back...I was forever “hooked”!
I joined the Whale Watch Program and became a Certified Naturalist. I became a part of The ACSLA Gray Whale Census: a volunteer based program that counts the gray whale migration sunrise to sundown from December to June every year (and it has been for over 30 years!). I started planning my world travels around the whale watch seasons and destinations...we even bought a boat, so we can go out anytime and Whale Watch...well, you get the picture!
For a few years I have been hearing from my fellow “whale geeks” about the Friendly Whales of Baja and seeing the shameless “photo parades” of the incredible encounters they have had.
Gray Whales make one of the longest mammal migrations on Earth every year: Alaska to Baja, Mexico and back...almost 14,000 miles round trip!!!
There are a few lagoons in Baja, Mexico where the gray whales migrate to have their calves and mate. One of them is San Ignacio Lagoon...an hour and a half from the closest tiny town of San Ignacio. During the peak season there are over 1,000 whales down in the lagoon and there is not place on Earth like it!
San Ignacio lagoon is heavily regulated and there is a small handful of tour operators that are qualified and have permits to operate in that area. And I know what you are thinking...nooo, you can not take your own boat down there...sorry!
You have to stay at one of the Eco camps and take the small pangas operated by guides to see the whales. Sounds cool? Oh, you have no idea!!!
This trip was officially put on my bucket list and later became our “honeymoon trip” to be.
It's not an easy place to get to and there are a few different ways to experience it:
- If Money is no object
Go with a tour company. They will take you by bus from San Diego, CA to Tijuana, MX, where you will board a very small plane (yes, kind of scary) and it will land on a tiny runway (well, more like a dirt road) in San Ignacio Lagoon. From there you will be shuttled to their camp. (The closest to the whales!)
- Long Road Trip Lover
You rent a van in San Diego, CA (from a rental company which will allow you to take it to Mexico, and drive 14 long hours down to the Lagoon to the camp of your choice. You can make a stop at one of the other lagoons on the way and check out the whale watching there.
- Our way - the perfect way! (well, I might be biased)
Fly into Loreto, MX and pick up a rental car at the airport (the last 20 km of your journey are not paved, so choose your rental car wisely:-). Have lunch at one of the cute beachside restaurants of Loreto, then drive 2.5 hours north by the scenic road which will take you through the highs and the lows of the Baja Peninsula: through the mountains and by the stunning beaches of the Sea of Cortez.
Get ready to want to stop at every vista point and spend way too much trying to find the World Tallest X-rated shape Cactus. You will pass by so many RV campsites (one prettier then the other), that it will make you wonder why you have never done this before and maybe it should go on “The things to do when I retire” list.
Arrive at the old mining town of Santa Rosalia, make a quick stop at the market to buy some cold beer or wine (wait for it...I promise it will all make sense soon) and check into Las Casitas, probably one of the best budget hotels I have ever stayed at...on top of the cliff with giant private patios overlooking the Sea of Cortez...you see where I'm going with this? Let's just say the Private-Sunset-Happy-Hour you will never forget!
Get up early in the morning (yes, you will not want to leave Las Casitas after watching the Sun come up over the Sea of Cortez), but it's ok...the adventure awaits and you will be back in a couple of days. Make a 2-hour track inland to a quaint little town of San Ignacio, passing a beautiful dessert Oasis town on the way.
Oh, wait...what about breakfast? Grab a table outside at Victor's at the town plaza and devour the local cuisine while your eyes are enjoying the view of the San Ignacio Mission towering over this tiny seven-street-town. Well, you also might be tempted to snap a few pics in between your Huevos Rancheros and another cup of coffee. This is goooood...but your journey is not over yet! Check in with the eco camp office, get a handmade map and the proper directions to the camp. Now you are ready for the last leg of your trip – road into the San Ignacio Lagoon.
This off the beaten path road will pass by the dessert salt lakes, giant cacti forests and small “mountains” of scallop shells. Warning: the anticipation and the excitement will make this part of the trip feel like a dreamy forever, but it is just about an 1 hour and 15 min drive...and it will all be worth it!
You are in the Whale Land NOW!!!
The BEST is yet to come... to be continued