Grey whales watching of Baja California – A most intimate experience.
It feels like a long drive from Loreto and La Paz and on to San Ignacio to go in search of grey whales, but as you head north the scenery changes and creates new dimension to the journey. The roads are flat and straight as an arrow out of La Paz, but within a few hours you’re driving through mountain ranges and along rugged coastlines with turquoise seas. San Ignacio is small, sleepy oasis town with large fresh-water lagoon which irrigates the surrounding area and creates a flash of green in this arid Baja world of desert and mountains.
The small town of San Ignacio has a colourful tree lined square with a few cafes and restaurants and is a popular stopping off place for people heading north and south. However, there is another reason for the would-be explorer to find themselves in this part of Baja California. You see, San Ignacio has a secret which few know of; the Laguna San Ignacio. Travel west for 53kms along mainly sealed roads (though some parts are still earth) is the Lagoon of San Ignacio. This wide expanse of sea stretches for as far as the eye can see and opens out to the Pacific Ocean, where, from the months of January to April becomes one of the best places in the world to observe female grey whales and their calves.
As you approach the coast the landscape is flat, sandy with salty pools that fill up as the tide moves in and out. You notice a salty taste to the air and start to catch a glimpse of ospreys as they head off, talons outstretched, to catch their next fishy meal. Turning off the sealed road you head towards one of several eco style camps which overlook the lagoon, each offering simple cabin style accommodation set around a communal meeting and dining area.
We stayed at Kuyima camp, a local community camp with great eco and community values which were obvious from the moment of our arrival. We were immediately made to feel at home, and the working of the camp and the next few days of grey whale watching were explained (including how the eco loos wo!). The cabins were raised with 2 single beds, clean linen and pleasantly cool in the evening from the pacific breeze.
After breakfast is served, details of how the activities of the day will be organised are explained to the eager audience. Safety of clients and grey whale welfare are taken very seriously and once everyone is confident, you’re handed life vests and head to the shore to board the small fishermen’s boats which will take us out to sea. The boats comfortably hold 8 to 12 people along with skipper and marine biologist. There is a sense of excitement onboard as everyone wants to be first at spotting a whale. A whale’s blow is soon sighted, and we turn in the direction of our first encounter; a mother with calf. The boat slows and what happens next is quite unbelievable!!
This huge female grey whale starts to push her calf towards our boat, as which point the skipper instructs us to put out hands in the water and plash. This action appears to give the young grey whale calf some additional confidence and within a few minutes its long grey, bow shaped head comes along side and we’re offered the opportunity to touch, stroke and scratch this young whales head. To our amazement, this young whale pushes his head further out of the water for more interaction and appear to relish the intimacy of the moment; just like a dog or horse might do when a fuss is made of it.
After a few minutes the whale moves away, only to return with the encouragement of its mother. It’s hard to truly describe the experience, as it’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced before and rather than being the exception this interaction is something that happens on a daily basis in certain lagoons along Baja’s Pacific coastline.
We travelled with Archipelago Choice and feel confident to say our grey whale trip wasn’t a contrived, or stage-managed experience as the young whales genuinely sort out human interaction and our sense of wonderment has meant this was perhaps the most amazing wildlife experience we’re ever had.
A few helpful pointers to a great trip.
- The best time to go is January through to April
- Don’t just go for the grey whales, the whole Baja wildlife experience is amazing
- Roads and OK to drive, though avoid driving out of towns at night-time due to cattle on the roads
- Accommodation is limited so try to book well in advance
If you’d like to know more and explore the options for a visit, please contact:
Tel: Archipelago Choice on 00 44 (0)17687 721040
There are travel experts, or there’s ‘Archipelago Choice’ – it’s always worth a call.