San Ignacio Lagoon Gray Whale Watching
Legendary San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja is one of our two locations for one of life’s most soul-stirring experiences. For reasons that no one understands, a select number of Pacific gray whales enjoy contact with people, and on these whale-watching tours you will get up close and personal with these gigantic animals.
San Ignacio whale watching is not to be missed and our camp, set on the edge of the water, is an ideal base of exploration. We head out twice each day to observe, discuss and get close to these gentle creatures that dwarf the motor skiffs (pangas) aboard which we travel. After each excursion we return to our camp to relax, enjoy a meal and after dinner, watch the sunset over this large Pacific lagoon.
San Ignacio Lagoon is one of our sheltered lagoons that are connected to the migratory path of the gray whales as they travel the Pacific Coast of North America from Alaska to Mexico, where they arrive every December and January to calve. Thousands of these awe-inspiring animals arrive each winter to bear their young, after having traveled over 5000 miles from the north.
For the past several decades, these gray whale birthing lagoons in Baja California have enjoyed strict Federal protection. Permits for the whale watching boats are limited and closely monitored. A lagoon guard notes exactly what time any boat enters the whale watching area and assures that each boat spend no more than the two hour limit. From the stable and comfortable skiffs, you watch the whales and their young calves (which may vary from a month to a couple of months old). There is also fascinating adult behavior to observe as well such as breaching, fluking and spy-hopping. It is not uncommon for a mother whale and her calf to approach our motor skiffs close enough that we are able to lean out and touch them. The key here is that the whales approach us and not vice versa. No one knows for sure why they exhibit this behavior, but looking into the eye of a whale is a very powerful experience. While the whales don’t always swim close enough to be touched, it is not uncommon and at the very least, you will be within 15-20’ of these athletic whales.
Our whale watching trips at San Ignacio Lagoon take place within the Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino that comprises two coastal lagoons, Laguna Ojo de Liebre and Laguna San Ignacio, along with their surroundings. The region includes a spectacular mosaic of wetlands, mangroves, dunes and desert habitats. The area is huge – over 800,000 acres and is part of the even larger El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve which is the biggest Biosphere Reserve in all of Latin America.
The two whale calving lagoons are the World's most important place for the reproduction of the once-endangered North Pacific Gray Whale. The protection of these winter breeding grounds has been a key factor in the remarkable recovery of this species after near-extinction that was the result of commercial whaling, which took part along the Pacific Coast and even inside these very lagoons. The whales that come here each winter migrate between these lagoons and the summer feeding grounds in the Chukchi, Beaufort and Bering Seas.
In addition to the gray whales, the lagoons are habitat for numerous other marine mammals, such as the California sea lion, bottlenose dolphin and harbor seal. There are four marine turtle species that live in the shallow waters which are also an important habitat and nursery-area for a large number of fish, crustaceans, and others marine life. As well there are numerous breeding and migratory bird species. Not far from the glistening blue waters are desert sands and this biogeographically part of the Sonoran Desert, boasting highly diverse flora and fauna is also protected.
It is fabulous that the first conservation effort that came into force was in 1937 with the Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds and Game Mammals - a bilateral agreement between Mexico and the United States of America. Another important protection came with Mexico's adherence to the International Whaling Commission in 1949, which has been protecting Gray Whales from commercial whaling since its establishment.
A marine refuge zone was established, by Federal Decree in 1971, for whales in Laguna Ojo de Liebre, followed by another decree one year later establishing several refuges around the lagoons. In 1988, the federal government declared El Vizcaino a biosphere reserve, which was then internationally recognized under the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Program in 1993.
We invite you to join us in this remarkable corner of the world for a life-enriching adventure to view whales, and the possibility to extend your vacation to hike and see the cave paintings of the Sierra de San Francisco.
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Welcome to Loreto in Baja!
We offer whale watching tours at San Ignacio Lagoon as a stand-alone experience with transportation to and from Loreto (about five hours south), or in combination with our sea kayaking tours in Loreto. You can combine a 4-day sea kayak tour of the Islands of Loreto with a 3-day whale watching tour in San Ignacio Lagoon. The San Ignacio Whale Watching with Kayaking combination tours run from mid-March to mid-April.
Arrive in Loreto, headquarters for ROW Sea Kayak Adventures’ operations in Baja! We have been based in this lovely town since 1993 and consider ourselves part of the fabric of the community. We are proud that we employ over 15 Mexican guides, support a number of local businesses, buy all our supplies locally and generally have a large economic impact within Baja California.
On your arrival catch a short cab ride to your hotel. Drop off your bags and head out to explore this tranquil colonial town. Founded in 1697 by Jesuit Missionaries, it is the region’s oldest permanent settlement. Located on the Sea of Cortez, Loreto today remains idyllic in many ways. There are gorgeous beaches, whale watching opportunities, snorkeling, and superb hiking and, is our base for kayaking tours to nearby Islands of Loreto Bay National Marine Park. Enjoy the town and waterfront promenade before we gather an orientation meeting at the Hacienda Suites.
Please see our Baja Travel Guide for full details on travel to and from Baja.
Drive from Loreto to San Ignacio Lagoon
Today is a fabulous day of discovery! We rise and shine early then begin our drive north along the coast, and then west across the desert to the Pacific Ocean. This is the perfect introduction to the mountains and landscape of Baja California, and we will stop for some memorable highlights along the way. We will visit the old mining town of Santa Rosalia, founded in 1884 by a French copper mining company, where we see a handsome metal church designed by Gustave Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame! By early afternoon we arrive in the old mission town of San Ignacio. We arrive in the afternoon just in time for our first Whale Watching session in San Ignacio Lagoon. Breathe in the salty air of our secluded, quiet stretch of beach before settling into tonight’s accommodations. We dine together outside under the stars. Our seaside camp, perfectly located on the lagoon, provides everything you need for a rustic, but comfortable experience.
Whale Watching Galore!
It is hard to capture in words the powerful experience of an intimate whale encounter. To be close to these powerful, yet gentle animals, is the dream of many, and our whale watching adventure will fulfill that dream. We head out from our camp in small, motorized boats, locally called “pangas” with expert skippers. During our whale-watching sessions we are likely to see whales spy hop, breach and even witness a rare mating romp. Our small pangas allow us to observe the whales at close range. Once we near a whale (or whales) at a respectful distance the engine is put into neutral and it’s up to the whale to come closer or not. It is not uncommon for a whale, or a whale and her calf, to come up right next to the boat for a back scratch or head rub! It’s impossible to know why they exhibit this behavior, but we are the lucky recipients! To look into the eye of a whale is truly one of life’s most rare and moving experiences.
Whale watching activity is closely monitored and a limited number of boats are allowed in the lagoon whale watching area each morning and afternoon. Generally, we spend a hour and a half whale watching per excursion, and take two excursions today, but this could vary depending on whale activity, weather and regulations. Each excursion is different and a variety of whale behavior is witnessed while our naturalist guides offer you a wealth of knowledge to enrich your journey.
When not on the boats, we may hike, birdwatch, or explore the local mangrove estuaries.
San Ignacio back to Loreto
Awake and say goodbye to San Ignacio Lagoon. We have a morning whale watching session before we catch our van transport and return to Loreto where some may be continuing to our Islands of Loreto Bay Kayaking Tour, or concluding their adventures in Baja.
Depart Home or Extend Your Trip
Return to the Loreto Aiport to catch your return flight home. Or, you may want to extend your trip with a kayaking tour around the islands of Loreto!
Dates & Rates
Groups of 7 or more: Adult $1290 / Youth $1240.
Groups of 4-6 add $240 per person supplement.
Accomodations: On our San Ignacio whale camp trips we use the same standard tents we use on our sea kayak tours that are different from the stand-up tents we have in Magdalena Bay. San Ignacio tents are smaller and do not have cots. Groups of 6 or more may opt to upgrade their accommodations to tents with cots, or to private cabins at San Ignacio. This would be a custom arrangement and we would be delighted to quote you pricing for the option of your choice.
- Full services of our Adventure Consultants
- Professional naturalist and bi-lingual guides
- All meals and beverages as indicated on the itinerary
- All transportation while on tour
- All camping equipment
- All National Parks & Biosphere Reserve access fees required by itinerary
- Whale watching sessions by Panga
Tour Does Not Include:
Hotel before and after the tour
Transportation to and from the airport
Items of a personal nature
ALL PRICES IN US DOLLARS. We will do our best to adhere to the itineraries and trip descriptions listed on our website. However, tour itineraries or sub contractors (such as taxi, cruise boats or hotels) may change slightly due to reasons beyond our control including but not limited to Acts of God, wind, waves, inclement weather or other. We always welcome you to call us to clarify any item - often this is the best way to fully clarify expectations - call us collect or on our toll-free number. You will be sent pre-trip email with latest details within a month of your tour - it is your responsibility to check in with us prior to your trip to see if you have all the information you need. We will always do our best to provide you with the best possible tour and to fully meet your expectations to the best of our ability.
FAQ & More
How do I get to Loreto?
Please see our Baja Travel Guide for full details on travel to and from Baja.
Do you provide transportation to and from the airport?
Airport transfers are not included in your tour package price.
Are your tour prices in USD?
Yes, all of our tour pricing is in US Dollars.
What’s included in this whale watching package? What’s not included?
Packages Include: all camping equipment, all meals and beverages once the tour begins, all National Parks & Biosphere Reserve access fees required by itinerary, bi-lingual certified guides and the full service of our Adventure Consultants. Dates provided reflect your arrival date; all packages include a arrival and departure day.
Packages do not Include: Hotel accommodations before and after the tour, Airfare, transportation to and from airport, gratuities, and items of a personal nature.
Why would I choose this tour over another that flies directly to San Ignacio?
Apart from the cost savings...you, the guest, have more flexibility when flying into Loreto. First, there are simply more flights and it's more affordable. Second, it's a great location to extend your vacation experience by either kayaking, snorkeling, joining a cave painting hiking tour, or any other activity Baja has to offer. Although we don't fly directly into San Ignacio, our guests have found that the cost savings, and flexibility, of not having to fly to San Diego, then bus to Tijuana to then take a charter flight to San Ignacio lagoon, is in fact much easier. Loreto is an ideal base for exploring other regions of Baja and there are several flight options to get there. In addition, on the day we drive from Loreto to San Ignacio lagoon, you get a great feel of the Baja landscape and people we meet along the way during our special activities that day.
San Ignacio vs Magdalena Bay
Visit this page for a better understanding of which whale watching tour is best for you: San Ignacio Lagoon vs Magdalena Bay.
What’s the difference between San Ignacio and Magdalena Bay?
Visit this page for a better understanding of which whale watching tour is best for you: San Ignacio Lagoon vs Magdalena Bay.
When is the best time to see whales?
We design our wilderness adventures to provide you with the best whale encounters imaginable. San Ignacio Lagoon is a whale-watchers' paradise and we GUARANTEE gray whale sightings on this tour! The whales migrate down from their Alaskan home waters to calve in San Ignacio from January through mid-April, so this is the only window to see them in Baja.
How long are the whale watching sessions?
You will spend two-hour sessions on the water in motorized skiffs (called pangas) whale watching. Be ready to go immediately when the boat arrives to maximize your time out whale watching, as the 2-hour session starts promptly.
How many people are in a panga during the whale watching session?
All whale watching excursions are in open fiberglass 22-foot motorized boats called “pangas” that hold a maximum of six passengers each, plus a guide and driver. Each panga is equipped with life jackets, radio, first aid kit, and piloted by an experienced, government-licensed Mexican “pangero” who will allow us safe and proximate viewing of the California Gray Whale.
Can I kayak with grey whales?
No kayaks or private boats are allowed in the nursery lagoons of Baja’s Pacific Coast including San Ignacio. Only licensed Mexican whale watching boats are allowed in the lagoons when the whales are present.
Are there any physical requirements?
It is important to understand that this is a camping trip and we want to be sure that you are prepared, both mentally and physically, for the challenges it will present, and have clear expectations about the trip. During the day, we'll spend two hour sessions on the water in motorized skiffs (called pangas) whale watching. While whale watching from a boat is not strenuous and the water is usually calm, the bay can be choppy when it is windy, so if you are susceptible to seasickness, bring medicine or whatever you need. The hiking could best be described as leisurely. We do require that anyone over 70 or with any health or weight concerns consult us before signing up to make sure you are up to fully participating.
What is whale camp like? Are there toilets and showers at camp?
A roomy full-height wall tent with two cots, night stand, rectangular sleeping bag with clean sheet, small pillow, and comfortable self-inflating pad are provided for your convenience at camp. There is also a washroom tent with a portable toilet. We recommend packing biodegradable shower wipes to freshen up with as there is no fresh water at whale camp.
What common space is available?
We have a spacious 30’ wide dome tent that serves as an evening gathering space if it’s too cool or rainy outside (rare) or just a place to get out of the sun during the day. There are also miles of beach and sand dunes to explore!
How big are the tents at whale camp?
Our tents are 8’ x 12’ and about 7’ tall. They are made of canvas and have a nice big window on one side. They are equipped with cots, comfortable sleeping pads, sleeping bags and pillows.
What gear do I need?
Sea Kayak Adventures will provide you with a detailed packing list prior to your trip. We provide all of the necessary camping, paddling and snorkeling equipment, which you will need to fully enjoy your adventure. If you are interested in more specific information, check out our general Baja packing list here! If you have any questions, or need help deciding what to bring, you can call or e-mail one of our friendly Adventure Consultants at any time for some extra advice!
Who will my guides be?
We know your Guide will make the biggest difference on your trip! Which is why we pride ourselves on employing only the best local guides for all of the incredible locations that we visit. Part of this is to support our eco-tourism efforts, but we also believe that there is no better way to experience a new destination than through they eyes of a local! We find talented and skilled local guides, train and certify them, and provide a positive and consistent source of income to them and their families. Most of our guides are with us for the long-term, despite the seasonal nature of the industry.
What kind of food will I eat? Do you accommodate dietary restrictions?
Our renowned wilderness meals are prepared daily by our guides using local, fresh, healthy ingredients. In Baja you can expect an authentic dining experience, with savory dishes like chiles rellenos, tostadas, ceviche, and chicken mole. We even serve delicious desserts like brownies and pineapple upside-down cake! Each morning, we serve up freshly brewed coffee or tea. Throughout the day we provide an abundance of local fruits, vegetables, and other snacks. Wine and mixed drinks are served with hors d’oeuvres each evening for happy hour.
We do our best to accommodate special dietary requests, working within the parameters of the destinations in which we operate. If you have a very strict diet, we recommend packing extra snacks that you know you can eat.
How many guests per tour?
To keep our group size small and our impact minimal, we typically limit our tours to 14 people or less. Our standard minimum to confirm a departure is 4 guests for our San Ignacio whale watching tour.
What’s the weather like in Baja?
Please check out this great website Weather Underground for temperature averages in Baja.
Is there a single supplement fee for solo travelers?
Solo travelers will typically have their own tent at whale camp, at no additional cost. However, we are unable to guarantee individual tents at whale camp due to limited tent capacity. If you are asked to share a tent at our whale camp, rest assured that tents are very spacious, full-height canvas wall tents, with two cots and plenty of room to stand and maneuver around your tent-mate without difficulty.
Where can I store my luggage while I’m on your tour?
You can leave your luggage at your hotel while you are on tour. We recommend getting a luggage lock if you are leaving any electronics in the bags. We’ve never had any issues with guests leaving their bags at the hotel but it’s always better to be safe just in case.
Do I Get to Touch the Whales and What is a "Friendly" Whale?
Some of the gray whales in Baja exhibit what is known as "friendly" behavior. While they have the entire sea as their home, some whales choose to come very close to our boats to interact. When this happens, there are times when it is appropriate to touch the whales. In fact, if we don't interact they will sometimes swim away in search of another boat of humans to play with. We can't know the emotion that the whales are experiencing, but clearly they have a choice to approach the boats or not. Equally fascinating is the fact that often these friendly whales bring their babies up close as well, sometimes even pushing the calf closer to the whale-watching skiffs. On some tours the whales choose not to get close to us and it's important to remember that these are whale watching trips, not whale touching trips.
What are your Terms and Conditions?
Please see our full Terms and Conditions HERE.
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