I recently returned from my third trip to Baja California Sur more in love than ever with this magical part of Mexico. Last year, we spent over a week sailing the Sea of Cortez (read all about it here). We had such an amazing time that we decided to return again this spring and do it all again. Read on for our magical week spent whale watching, diving with sea lions, swimming with whale sharks, hiking, and exploring the beaches of Baja California Sur…
A Little Bit of Geography
The Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California, separates the Baja California peninsula from the Mexican mainland. The Mexican state of Baja California is located directly under the US state of California (Baja in Spanish means “lower”). Baja California Sur is, naturally, the southern half of the peninsula. So to reiterate, Baja California is not part of the US state of California.
The Sea of Cortez
The Sea of Cortez is a dazzling sea in the midst of the desert, surrounded by staggering mountains covered with enormous cacti. As you sail from one cove to another, the sea changes from shades of crystal clear blue, to aquamarine, turquoise, and emerald green. In Baja, you can’t help but be in awe of the beauty and wildness surrounding you. Though this was my third trip to the peninsula, it was like I was experiencing it with fresh eyes. From sunrise to sunset I just couldn’t get enough of my surroundings.
Due to weather conditions, we were unable to go to some of our favorite spots from last year, including Coronado Island, Monserrate, and Agua Verde. While we were a bit disappointed, such is Mother Nature and we didn’t let it ruin our trip. Instead, we spent more time enjoying the white-sand beaches of Espiritu Santo and exploring the wild islands of San Francisco and San Jose. The map below details our ship’s route.
The Sea of Cortez was dubbed the world’s aquarium because it is one of the richest and most extraordinary marine environments on earth. During our weeklong trip, we got up close and personal with the stunning creatures that call the Sea of Cortez home. We also got a glimpse into life in the remote parts of Baja and explored the islands by foot, boat, jet ski, and kayak. Some of the highlights included…
I still remember the first time I saw a whale in the open sea, it took my breath away. Now I’ve been lucky enough to see whales on multiple occasions but they never cease to amaze me. Grey whales travel more than 10,000 miles from their summer feeding grounds in the Arctic to the southern Baja peninsula. There they spend the months of December to April mating, giving birth and feeding their young calves. Both last trip and on this occasion we were lucky enough to see the famous grey whales. We even saw one breach (aka jump out of the water) and a mother with her young. Getting close to such massive, magnificent creatures is truly awe inspiring and something I hope everyone gets to experience one day.
Swimming with Whale Sharks
Last year we had planned to swim with whale sharks but weather conditions prevented us from doing so. But this year we were in luck! Whale sharks get their name because they are as large as some species of whale and, like whales, are filter feeders. In other words, they feed on plankton and have absolutely no interest in eating humans. The whale sharks we swam with were juveniles and measured about 25 feet long. Although they looked absolutely massive, they were actually on the small size for whale sharks with adults measuring up to 40 feet! Swimming with these gentle giants was a surreal experience and it reinforced my belief that sharks are misunderstood creatures who get an (often) undeserved bad rep.
*PS check out theMisunderstood Predators episode of the Netflix show “Tales by Light” about human-friendly tiger sharks. I guarantee you it will change the way you think about sharks.
Playing with Sea Lions
Sea lions are one of my all time favorite creatures. They’re so much fun to watch and interact with! Last year we snorkeled with the famous sea lions of Espiritu Santo and this year we dove with them. Scuba diving allowed us to get even closer to them and some young ones came to play with us. They swam in circles around us and our instructor even put his hand out for them to playfully nibble on; they’re just like puppies!
Later in the trip, we took jet skis to explore the islands surrounding San Jose and came across a small rock isle inhabited entirely by sea lions. We had the best time watching them engage in their favorite activities–defending their personal rock, playing in the water with their friends, and sunbathing their hefty bodies. Watch a drone video of them below! Some day I’ll learn how to edit videos but for now this will have to do 🙂
Visiting Coyote Island
Right next to the sea lion’s abode is a tiny fishing village called Isla Coyote. This island is home to a grand total of 15 inhabitants and they are literally in the middle of nowhere. They make weekly trips to La Paz, over 2 hours away by boat and 3 hours away by land, for fresh water, food and other necessities. A fisherman named Manuel greeted us and insisted I wear his flip flops to tour the island. He told us he’d lived on the island since he was born and wouldn’t live anywhere else. I was blown away by their decision to live in a nearly inhospitable environment disconnected from the rest of the world. It served as an important reminder that many live with far, far less, and without the modern conveniences we take for granted, and yet are happy with what they have.
Hiking Isla San Francisco
Another highlight was hiking to the top of the hill on Isla San Francisco. It’s not a very strenuous hike and the view from the top is unbeatable. On one side, you have the calm aquamarine waters of the inlet and on the Pacific side, the rough waves of the open sea. The terrain almost looks extraterrestrial with its red, jagged rocks, hundreds of different species of cactus, and arid soil.
Exploring Isla San Jose
Out of all of the starkly beautiful islands we visited in Baja, San Jose may be my favorite. It’s an incredibly diverse island with everything from giant cactus covered beaches to mangroves and salt flats. I’ve always had a thing for succulents so I went crazy for these towering Saguaro cacti. As a point of reference, I’m almost 6 feet tall (1.83 meters) so you can imagine how tall these cactus are! ⠀⠀
Not too far from the cacti are enormous salt flats. We discovered them last year when Julian flew his drone on the beach and realized they were right behind the sand dunes. I had never seen anything like that before with the red algae, mud, and wide expanse of salt.
At one point in the cove, there’s a salt-water river that can be accessed with a kayak or small boat. The scenery is incredible with arid cacti covered hills behind verdant mangroves. After a short ride, the canal opens up to a large bay with a narrow strip of beach between the bay and wider sea. I was so glad Julian brought his drone along as the bird’s-eye view gives you a spectacular perspective of this diverse ecosystem.
Until next time Baja! I’ll be counting down the days to our return…