During the months of January through April, Baja is likely the world’s best place for whale watching! There are so many species to see, including humpbacks, blue, minke, orca, fin, Bryde’s, sperm, sei, and the iconic gray whales of the eastern Pacific. Of these, the most commonly seen whales in the Sea of Cortez are blue, humpback, orca, and fin. On the Pacific Coast side of Baja, the most common species are the humpback and gray whale, and nothing compares to the calving lagoons of Baja for intimate encounters with gray whales.
Whale watchers observe a large gray whale during a foggy morning in Magdalena Bay, Baja
When is the Best Time to See Whales in Baja, California?
Whales start arriving in the waters surrounding Baja in December, so generally January through April is considered the best whale watching season. For those who want to see gray whales in the calving lagoons, mid-January through mid-April is the best time. For the species that come to the warm, protected waters of the Sea of Cortez, February through March is usually best. However, it’s important to remember that these are wild animals with an entire planet to roam, so the exact timing is somewhat different each year.
A gray whale spyhopping in San Ignacio Lagoon, Baja
What’s the Best Way to See Whales in Baja?
There are several ways to experience whales in Baja. For many people visiting Cabo San Lucas, a short excursion on a whale-watching boat is a good option. These tours focus primarily on humpbacks that come to the tip of the Baja peninsula where the waters of the Pacific and Gulf of California mix. Whale watching tours in Cabo are quite popular and are a good introduction to whales for the person with a casual interest.
Another place where day tours are offered is out of Loreto. The highlight here is the blue whales that come to this part of the Sea of Cortez during February and early March. Local fishermen take 5-6 people maximum out in their boats for this fabulous opportunity to see blue whales.
For those wanting one of the most incredible whale watching to see gray whales and their calves, the best whale watching in Baja is in a handful of whale-watching camps in one of the 3 calving and nursing lagoons on the Pacific Coast. These trips, usually 3-4 days in length provide an in-depth look at whales, with the opportunity for some meaningful education. It’s also possible to combine a trip that includes both sea kayaking and whale watching.
Where Can I Sea Kayak with Whales?
Sea kayaking in Baja, California is a world-famous activity and paddlers travel from around the planet to experience the warm, transparent, and marine-life rich waters of Baja. Sea Kayak Adventures is the leader in sea kayak and whale watching tours in Baja, with operations bases out of La Paz and Loreto, and over a dozen different sea kayaking itineraries. They offer trips on both the Gulf of California side of the peninsula, as well as the Pacific Coast side. Trips are led by local Baja guides, many of which hold degrees in marine biology from the University of La Paz.
La Paz, Kayaking
Sea kayaking trips that depart from La Paz offer three destination choices.
- Isla Espiritu Santo – The best-known and most popular destination for sea kayakers starting in La Paz is the island of Espiritus Santo (Holy Spirit Island) which entails a 2-hour boat ride from the city to the island. The island itself is a protected area and use is strictly regulated. Guides and outfitters must be licensed and follow rules designed to protect the environment. The island is located due north of La Paz and the west side of it is highly indented with beautiful bays providing protected waters for sea kayaking. The east side is more exposed and can only be navigated during calm weather. There is a well-known colony of sea lions on a small island to the north, which is a popular day-trip destination. Compared to many areas of coastal Baja, Isla Espiritu Santo is rather busy with visitors. Sea kayaking trips go from 3 to 6 days, usually paddling the more protected west side, but sometimes, when weather permits, circumnavigating the island. The whale watching on a sea kayak trip to Espiritu Santo can be okay, but it’s not the best location for seeing many species. In fact, it is more common to see whales when traveling to or from the island on the motorboat crossing.
- Isla San Jose – Further north of La Paz, and requiring a 4-5 boat ride, or 3-4 hour drive, is the island of San Jose. This is an incredible sea kayak trip in large part because very few kayakers visit this island. The main reason for this is that it’s more difficult to access than Isla Espiritu Santo. The scenery and hiking on Isla San Jose are spectacular and there is a small fishing village that makes for an interesting visit as well.
- Island Hopping from La Paz to Loreto – For those who want a great mix of kayaking and whale watching from a boat, a popular trip takes you north from La Paz to Loreto over the course of a week. This trip visits not only a number of islands along the way, including Espiritu Santo, San Jose, San Francisco, and Danzante but also the remote, mostly uninhabited coastline. The opportunity to see whales on these trips during February and March is quite high.
Situated in the middle of Baja Sur, and about 2/3 of the way “down” the peninsula, is the tranquil fishing town of Loreto. Just offshore is the Loreto Bay National Marine Park, one of the world’s great treasures protecting a rich ecosystem of islands and marine life. This is the base for sea kayak tours that visit any number of islands including Danzante, Coronado, and Carmen.
Loreto has also earned a well-deserved reputation as a superb base for blue whale watching and during February and March people come from around the world for the chance to see blue whales. These are the largest creature to ever live on earth, equivalent to 24 adult elephants in mass! They feed almost exclusively on tiny krill, and some of the largest individuals may eat up to 6 tons a day, straining huge amounts of ocean water through their baleen plates in sieve-like fashion. They are protected as an Endangered Species and population estimates range from 10,000 to 25,000 animals worldwide.
Kayakers sometimes have incredible close-up encounters with blue whales, such as the photo below shows, taken on an Islands of Loreto kayak tour. This is admittedly a rare experience and for those wanting more certainty in seeing a blue whale, a trip aboard a local fishing boat, or panga, is best.
Pacific Coast of Baja Kayaking + Whale Watching
One of the most unique tours for seeing the gray whales of the Pacific Coast is a kayak trip to Magdalena Bay that combines a stay at a whale camp with 4 days of kayaking through the bay. The trip, known as Magical Magdalena Bay is truly worth considering if you’re an active whale enthusiast. When considering which kayak tour might suit you best, you can find a useful comparison chart on our Kayaking Baja page.
A blue whale surfaces next to Sea Kayak Adventures Guide Vlady while kayaking in Bahía de Loreto National Park, Baja.
There are 3 bays or lagoons that are best known for seeing the gray whales that migrate south from Arctic waters and come to Baja to calve and nurse their young. In each of these bays, operators have set up whale camps that range from basic tent camping to comfortable stand-up canvas tent camping, to small cabanas. Let’s discuss each of these locations.
Sea Kayak Adventures serene and private whale camp in Magdalena Bay, Baja
Furthest south of the 3 bays, the gray whales tend to arrive here a little later than the more northern bays and leave a little earlier, which makes sense since this is the furthest point south that they travel. There is a beautifully operated whale camp here, located on a long barrier island that separates the huge Pacific Ocean from the protected waters of Magdalena Bay. The camp is located at the mouth (or Boca in Spanish) of the calving lagoon and you can sit in a camp chair while the gray whales swim and spy hop just in front of you! Stays in the camp last from 2 to 5 days.
A traveler overlooks San Ignacio bay while enjoying his morning coffee
San Ignacio Bay
Further north than Magdalena Bay, and close to the small mission town of San Ignacio, this is the most famous of the whale watching bays and has a number of whale watching camps. These range from simple tent camps to those using small cabanas. After the gray whales have left Magdalena Bay, kayak trips that combine kayaking and whale watching will come here.
A gray whale curiously approaches a whale-watching panga
Ojo de Liebre or Scammon’s Lagoon
Captain Scammon was a famous whaler known for discovering this bay during the peak of the whaling epoch of history. While he led a cruel slaughter of hundreds of animals, he also was a keen observer and wrote a book in 1874, The Marine Mammals of the North-western Coast of North America that was the main source of knowledge regarding gray whales for the next 100 years. It has only been relatively recently that biologists have studied and improved what we know about gray whales. This bay has the largest number of gray whales of the 3 bays, and most people stay in small hotels in the nearby town of Guerrero Negro.
A gray whale exits the water in Magdalena Bay, Baja California Sur
The Whale Extravaganza
One amazing itinerary that combines whale watching in the Sea of Cortez with a stay at a whale camp on the Pacific Coast, is called the Whale Extravaganza! Trips are only offered in February as this is the month with the highest rate of viewing success for blue whales in the Gulf of California. This is not a sea kayaking trip, so is attractive to a wide audience of whale enthusiasts.
Jacques Cousteau once called the Sea of Cortez the “aquarium of the world” and indeed, the variety of marine species that can be seen there is staggering. This, combined with the lagoons of the Pacific side of Baja, make this truly one of the best whale watching places in the world!