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Baja: Whale Sharks and Snorkeling in the Sea of Cortez

Snorkel with whale sharks and sea lions in the Sea of Cortez and visit fish-rich Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park on this wildlife-filled expedition to Baja California, Mexico.

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Overview

TRIP HIGHLIGHTS

  • Spend 3 days snorkeling with whale sharks and sea lions in the Sea of Cortez.
  • Explore two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park with coral reefs that host more than 25% of the fish species in the Sea of Cortez.
  • Enjoy a morning looking for humpback whales out of Los Cabos.

Starting and ending in easy-to-reach Cabo San Lucas, this expedition features stops at the best snorkeling locations in the Sea of Cortez, plus the chance to see both whales and whale sharks. Our itinerary begins with an outing to look for humpback whales off the picturesque coast of Los Cabos, followed by snorkeling at the rocky reefs of Cabo Pulmo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From here we will travel to La Paz to spend two days snorkeling with whale sharks and exploring the mangroves and nature trails of Balandra Bay.

Our final day in La Paz will be at another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Espiritu Santo Island, where we will encounter breathtaking scenery and rich marine life and will have the chance to swim alongside the resident sea lions. We’ll also take time along our way to explore the small town of La Paz, the state capital of Baja California Sur, and to appreciate the culture and food that this region has to offer.

Beyond whale sharks, sea lions, whales, and other large creatures, our goal on this expedition is to observe and experience the diverse and productive marine environment of the Sea of Cortez, the Earth's youngest and richest sea. The waters here teem with countless invertebrate species, abundant and diverse fish species, and one-third of the world's whale and dolphin species. On land, an exceptional 695 vascular plant species are scattered among colorful and rugged desert landscapes.

Wildlife Highlights

The primary focus of this expedition is to observe whale sharks (Rhincodon typus)—slow-moving, filter-feeding sharks that are the largest known fish. Whale sharks are threatened with extinction worldwide, classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

On our expedition we will also look for humpback whales and sea lions, and with luck may also see blue and finback whales, dolphins, "flying" rays, and other marine megafauna. You'll also have the opportunity to snorkel in the waters of Cabo Pulmo Marine National Park where arrays of wondrous tropical fish thrive. More than 650 species of tropical and temperate fish inhabit the Sea of Cortez, 90 of them endemic.

The birdlife in the Sea of Cortez is also spectacular and many tropical seabirds are common. Magnificent Frigatebirds, Brown and Blue-footed Boobies, Brown Pelicans, Heermann's Gulls, Yellow-footed and Western Gulls, Royal and Elegant Terns, and Red-billed Tropicbirds can all be found here and add to the excellent diversity of this expedition.

Trip Dates & Cost

2020: March 21–28 | April 4–11. $3,300 / person. Single supplement fee: $925. Group size limit: 14.*

* Trip price does not include international airfare to/from Los Cabos. Click here for our full expedition terms and conditions.

Photos
Naturalist

Wayne Sentman is our director of conservation travel programs and an Oceanic Society naturalist since 1998. He is an experienced guide with a diverse background in marine mammal, seabird, and marine debris research. Wayne also co-teaches undergraduate field programs in Kenya on human-wildlife conflict and on the use of social media and art to raise public participation in conservation. He recently received a Master's in Environmental Management from Harvard University.

Katherina Audley is the founder and director of the Whales of Guerrero Project, an effort to study and protect humpback whales and support community development on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Fifteen years of marine mammal studies have brought her up close to whales, dolphins, and pinnipeds in Alaska,Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii, Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina, and New Zealand. Katherina has worked in Bahía de Potosí, Mexico for the past 16 years.

Joy Marzolf is a lifetime ocean lover and avid scuba diver who is a naturalist and education coordinator at the Mass Audubon Society. For more than 10 years Joy has assisted with marine animal stranding teams, and she is also on the boards of the Boston Sea Rovers and the New England Aquarium Dive Club. She is an experienced guide, as well as a wildlife photographer and photography teacher.

Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Los Cabos
You will be met upon arrival at Los Cabos International airport and transferred to our comfortable hotel. You’ll have time to relax before dinner, where you will meet your bilingual naturalist guide who will give an orientation of the week’s activities and answer any questions. Overnight at Tropicana Inn. (D)

Day 2: Cabo San Lucas - Cabo Pulmo
After breakfast, we’ll head down to the waterfront and take a private boat trip to look for humpback whales that visit the region each year between December and April. After our trip, we will have lunch before departing on the scenic drive to Cabo Pulmo (1.5 hours). Before dinner, you will have plenty of time to unwind and take in the pristine beaches and natural scenery of Cabo Pulmo National Park. Overnight at Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort. (B,L,D)

Day 3: Cabo Pulmo National Park
No visit to Baja California Sur is complete without experiencing the magic of Cabo Pulmo National Park. Home to the northernmost coral reef in the eastern Pacific Ocean, Cabo Pulmo is recognized as a model for successful marine resource management and is home to multitudes of marine species. Visitors to Cabo Pulmo are continually amazed by the quantity and diversity of marine life. Put on a snorkel and see it for yourself! Overnight at Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort. (B,L)

Day 4: Cabo Pulmo - La Paz
Today we’ll enjoy another morning snorkeling in the park. After lunch, we will head to La Paz. The scenic drive (2-3 hours) takes us along the foot of the Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve. We’ll have time along the way to stop and look at local fauna and visit one of the quaint small towns. Overnight at Hotel Catedral in La Paz. (B,L,D)

Day 5: Snorkel with Whale Sharks and Visit Hidden Beaches of Balandra Bay
Whale sharks are the true “gentle giants” of the oceans. The largest fish on the planet, these gentle animals return yearly to the waters off of La Paz. We meet early in the morning for the short boat ride to the observation zone where the whale sharks come to feed. Along the way, your naturalist will brief you on whale shark ecology as well as regulations for snorkeling in the observation zone. If you are lucky and feeling adventurous, grab your snorkel and mask and, accompanied by your guide, get in the water to see the whale sharks up close.

Our excursion then continues to Balandra Bay, a natural protected area that is home to pristine beaches, mangroves, and stunning scenery. Here we’ll have a tasty lunch (dietary restrictions taken into account), explore the nature trails, snorkel in the crystal water, and relax and unwind before heading back to La Paz.

Note: La Paz is unique as a whale shark destination due to its proximity to the observation zone and the combined efforts undertaken by tour operators, regulatory agencies, and civil society to responsibly manage this extraordinary experience. During peak holidays when boat activity increases, we may flip the itinerary and explore Balandra Bay and the surrounding area before entering into the whale shark observation zone. Overnight at Hotel Catedral. (B,L)

Day 6: Whale Sharks and Walking Tour of La Paz
Today we will head back out on the water in search of whale sharks. Afterward, we will be joined by a local guide to explore La Paz, the state capital of Baja California Sur. We will visit the local market and take in some of the architecture, history, and culture that make La Paz unique, including the Mi Ciudad mural project. Along the way, we’ll enjoy a snack or two from one of the spots popular with locals. Overnight at Hotel Catedral. (B)

Day 7: Espíritu Santo Island
Today we will explore Espíritu Santo Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to turquoise water, multitudes of fish species, and resident sea lions. We will depart early in the morning for a boat ride to this natural paradise that will amaze you with breathtaking island scenery and rich marine life. As we navigate alongside Espiritu Santo, your guide will brief you on its natural history. Once we’ve arrived at the sea lion colony (roughly 1.5 hours), you’ll have the chance to get in the water, accompanied by your guide, to snorkel with the sea lions and observe tropical fish. Afterward, your captain will seek out a secluded beach for a tasty lunch. You’ll have time to relax, take another snorkel or explore one of the island’s nature trails before heading back to La Paz before sunset. Overnight at Hotel Catedral. (B,L,D)

Day 8: La Paz - Los Cabos - Fly home
You will be met outside of your hotel in La Paz and transferred to Los Cabos International Airport (2.5 hours) in time for your flight home. (B)

Note: This itinerary is provided for informational purposes and is subject to change. Accommodations may be substituted with comparable hotels based on the final group needs or changes to the itinerary, and other details may be adjusted to match group needs and interests, site conditions, weather, and other factors. (B, L, D) denotes the meals provided each day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner).

Accommodations

Travelers will stay in double-occupancy hotel rooms at the following highly-rated hotels (or similar) that provide comfortable accommodations and convenient proximity to our activities:

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