There are three spots in Baja California Sur where the gray whales come every winter—Laguna San Ignacio, Laguna Ojo de Liebre, and Bahía Magdalena. Visitors go out into the lagoons in small fishing boats, and up close encounters with the gentle giants are extremely common. There’s nothing quite like getting to kiss a baby gray whale in the wild from a panga. Prime season for gray whale watching is late January through early April.
Whale Watching in Laguna San Ignacio
Of the three locations in Baja California where the gray whales make an appearance each year, Laguna San Ignacio is regarded as the best: It’s where the whales are friendlier and encounters more likely. It’s never guaranteed that travelers will get to pet a gray whale, but the odds are pretty good here.
There’s not much of anything out at the lagoon other than a number of pangueros and some basic eco-camps. Some of the tour companies will arrange to take you out to the lagoon, and some will have you drive directly to the lagoon yourself. Reservations for whale-watching must be made in advance.
The Kuyima (on the plaza across from the mission, tel. 615/154-0070) office in San Ignacio can arrange for you to see the whales for a day or overnight trip. Accommodations at the lagoon consist of primitive eco-camps. You should make arrangements in advance (especially if you want to stay overnight). There are also a few other companies based out on the lagoon that lead whale-watching excursions, some originating from San Diego.
Pachico’s Eco Tours (no tel., email@example.com) has rates starting at US$230 per night. They recommend staying with them at the lagoon for at least 3-4 days in order to have the best chance for encounters with the whales. They have cabañas for rent and can also provide a camping area for you to bring your own tent or camper if you make arrangements in advance.
Antonio’s Ecotours (tel. 615/103-3323) offers a variety of affordable options for whale-watching, from day trips to camping to staying in eco-cabins at the lagoon. The staff is comprised of San Ignacio natives with decades of experience with the gray whales and incredible customer service.
With 16 solar-powered cabins, another eco-lodge option is Baja Eco Tours (toll-free U.S. tel. 877/506-0557). They also offer all-inclusive tours (starting at $1,550) with air or bus transportation from San Diego included. They can accommodate travelers arriving at the lagoon on their own during non-peak dates.
Both Baja Expeditions (tel. 612/125-3828, U.S. tel. 858/581-3311) and Baja Discovery (U.S. tel. 619/328-9678) offer all-inclusive tours to Laguna San Ignacio that originate in San Diego and include transportation, eco-lodging at the lagoon, meals and drinks, activities, and whale-watching.
Whale Watching in Laguna Ojo de Liebre
There are two ways to do some whale-watching at Laguna Ojo de Liebre (formerly known as Scammon’s Lagoon), located near Guerrero Negro. The first option is to go through a tour operator. Malarrimo Eco-Tours (Blvd. Emiliano Zapata, tel. 615/157-0100, US$38 per adult, US$30 for children) offers four-hour tours (three hours on the water with the whales) with a bilingual guide. Reservations must be made at least one day in advance. A boxed lunch is included.
The whale-watching tours through Mario’s Tours (Mexico 1 Km 217.3, tel. 615/157-1940, firstname.lastname@example.org, US$50) begin in their large palapa restaurant where they explain about the whales and their behaviors. Boats go into a northern lagoon, an area most other boats do not have access to. They spend three hours on the water and provide a boxed lunch. Reservations must be made in advance by calling or emailing.
The second option for whale-watching in Laguna Ojo de Liebre is to go directly to the lagoon yourself and go out on the water with a local panguero. The southern part of the lagoon is controlled by the Ejido Benito Juarez (tel. 615/157-0025, email@example.com, US$45), and this cooperative runs pangas out to see the whales. Boats leave about every half hour from 9am to 3pm and spend an hour and a half on the water. From Guerrero Negro, head south on Mexico 1 to kilometer 207.5 and turn west onto the dirt road, following signs for Ojo de Liebre to out to the lagoon. You’ll pass a guard you who will take your information, and then you will eventually get to a large dirt parking lot and a beige adobe building. Around the back of the building, you will find the kiosk and dock for whale-watching. They also have camping palapas here that cost US$10 a night.
There are also all-inclusive gray whales trips originating from San Diego. Baja Custom Tours (tel. 619/886-4116, US$1,700/week all-inclusive) offers clients a unique experience whale-watching along with other interesting Baja attractions on the trip down and up the peninsula. Shari Bondy of La Bufadora Inn at Bahía Asuncion also offers whale-watching tours in Guerrero Negro through her company Magic Whale Tours (tel. 615/155-7197, U.S. tel. 619/906-8438). These multiday packages can be either fly-in or drive-in.
Whale Watching in Bahía Magdalena
Bahía Magdalena, affectionately called “Mag Bay” by many Americans, is an area popular with water sports fanatics, whale-watchers, and nature enthusiasts. Protected by a string of barrier islands, this is the third and southernmost bay the friendly gray whales migrate to during breeding and calving season. Whale watching tours that depart from Mulegé, Loreto, or La Paz generally come to Bahía Magdalena.
Whale-watching, kayaking, windsurfing, fishing, and bird-watching are all favored activities within the protected bays and mangrove swamps. The largest town along the bay, Puerto San Carlos, has a handful of hotels and restaurants and is a great base for whale-watching or exploring the bay.
For over 18 years, family-operated Mag Bay Tours (U.S. tel. 202/642-6386) has been leading whale-watching experiences. You can select from a day tour (US$450 per boat for five hours of whale-watching) or multiday excursions that start at $495 per person for three-day, two-night experience with whale-watching, camp accommodations, and meals included.
Magdalena Bay Whales (toll-free U.S. tel. 855/594-2537) is a whale camp where visitors can stay on the property and go out for whale excursions and enjoy other activities during the day. The property has a campsite with tents on platforms, a restaurant, and main palapa. Prices start at US$495 per person for a two-day, one-night whale experience. Meals, accommodations, whale-watching, and other activities are included.
If you want to go whale-watching for the day without an organized tour group, head to the port at López Mateos. Here you’ll find a number of businesses authorized to take tourists out whale-watching. Expect to pay about US$65 per person for a few hours. If you’re looking for fewer crowds, avoid weekends and plan to go out during the week.
Excerpted from the Tenth Edition of Moon Baja.