While the peninsula is loaded with outdoor opportunities, it’s the Baja whale watching that gets many visitors excited. I started visiting the region with a focus on the fishing and incidentally ran into whales. I can remember paddling a kayak in the Sea of Cortez when a whale surfaced and blew near my boat. It was an incredible experience.
I’ve since joined a few tours in different areas to get up close and personal with whales in Mexico. There are a number of varieties that migrate into both the Pacific and Sea of Cortez and they are some of the most impressive creatures I have ever encountered. You can reach many great areas by renting a car or grabbing a shuttle. Otherwise, having a vehicle is necessary to drive to the very out of the way whale watching destinations.
Types of Whales in Baja
Several species are present in Baja at various times of year. For the most part, they are calving in the calm bays and seas. These congregating areas make it possible to reliably find and view the whales on annual migration schedules.
If you take a winter whale tour, expect to encounter these friendly behemoths. They spend the winters seeking warm bays for calving. The male whales also arrive in this time-frame, looking to mate. The largest concentrations of Gray Whales in Baja are present in the Pacific. Check out the whale maps from Baja Ecotours for a nice visual on their locations.
Whale Sharks in Baja
Ok, so these are not whales despite the first word in their name. They are actually sharks that look like whales to some degree. That said, you can take a winter tour and swim with these magnificent creatures. Many tours originate from La Paz in the Sea of Cortez and they run fall through spring. Make sure to book with an ethical company that is permitted and operating with minimal impact. Whale sharks are large but docile and simply amazing to witness.
Moving back to actual whales here. These are the biggest of all marine creatures and they visit both the Pacific and Sea of Cortez each winter. I can vividly remember my first encounter while walking a beach near Cabo Pulmo. A big Blue Whale suddenly surfaced for air and it was only a few hundred feet off the beach! These creatures are hard to miss as they reach lengths upwards of 100-feet. It’s hard to explain the sheer size and mass until you see one for yourself.
Also known as killer whales, they arrive somewhat randomly to feed. Orcas are exceptional predators and when they enter the Sea of Cortez, the scene is often chaotic as they herd massive groups of manta rays and other marine life in a feeding frenzy. While you can’t pinpoint when or where they will arrive, it seems that Orca sightings are becoming more common off the Baja Peninsula.
When you hear a big splash, there’s a good chance humpback whales are in the area. While many other species are slow moving and methodical, these whales can offer more action for viewers. At roughly 50-feet long, they are impressive in size (still half of a Blue Whale). They are highly migratory and have populations distributed in every single ocean. As a very vocal species, they communicate exceptionally well across long distances.
Sightings are less common with Sperm Whales because they hunt squid and other food sources in deep ocean channels and trenches. Like all whales, they do need to breathe however and are occasionally seen between dives. They sit on the surface to recover and breathe and make a distinct two blow sequence. The deep waters off the southern tip of Baja are prime Sperm Whale habitat.
Don’t blink because these beautiful whales are small and fast when compared to the latter giants. At 30-feet or less, Minke Whales can almost look dolphin-like in shape (although a bit larger). Spotting this species is no easy task as they are smaller and less visible in the calving areas where gray and humpback whales congregate. If you get to see one, consider yourself very lucky.
Minke Whales are relatively fast swimmers but the Fin Whale wins the speed record. They can pace alongside a boat at 25+ MPH without missing a beat. There aren’t many around but the Sea of Cortez does have a resident population with limited tours to the areas they frequent.
Less common whale encounters do happen with several other species. Sei Whales are very unique and also have threatened populations. Encounters with these are rare but they do happen. Bryde’s varieties of whales also make appearances, especially in the Sea of Cortez. You might see them feeding right along the surface at times.
When is Whale Season?
Resident species are always around but most whales visiting Baja are migratory. If you want a great whale watching experience, it pays to know the seasons and the places where they frequent. Nothing is guaranteed but there are some very consistent places and times when you should find good numbers of whales.
January to March – This is the prime season for robust whale populations in Baja. The calving grounds are busy and you get a nice overlap of species in many areas. Gray and Humpback Whales are especially active and Blue Whales are roaming around as well.
April to September – The waters are very warm during the summer season and that also brings the baitfish to the area. While migratory whale populations are largely gone during this time, resident populations are busy feeding. It’s not the best time to see whales but you can still have incidental encounters.
October to January – You will have whale sightings on the edge of the winter season. The fall months are also good for Whale Sharks around La Paz. If you want to see peak action for whale activity however, wait until the winter progresses.
Where to Go Whale Watching in Baja
Getting to a location is half the battle for Baja whale watching tours. You might see whales while fishing or simply walking down the beach but tours are ideal for the close-up experience. Destinations like La Paz, Loreto and Cabo San Lucas all have tours and shuttle departing on schedules.
Otherwise, having a vehicle (with mandatory Mexican car insurance) makes it possible to reach remote bays and lagoons. 4×4 vehicles with self rescue capabilities are advised in these regions as well.
Sea of Cortez Whales
The clear, tranquil water found in the Sea of Cortez have a Caribbean feel. This sea extends north, nearly reaching the United States border. It goes south where the peninsula ends, colliding with the Pacific Ocean. Whales migrate around the cape and into the Sea of Cortez where they can feed and spawn.
Loreto – Remember that story about a whale surfacing near my kayak? That happened near Loreto which is loaded with wild spaces and marine life. It’s actually part of a big national park with protected islands and rich aquatic waters. It’s also a great place to see blue whales during the winter months.
La Paz – Many of the tours from La Paz are focused on whale sharks and sea lions. If you take a boat ride during the winter months, encountered whales is also a real possibility. You will have more reliable encounters on the Pacific side however.
Cabo Pulmo – The protected marine area has no fishing zones and it’s loaded with life. Whales migrate through the area and are seen during January through March. Again, they are often migrating so it’s not guaranteed to see whales. If you’re in the area, taking a boat tour or snorkeling trip is a must-do however. There are some excellent operators and you will see a vibrant world beneath the surface. It’s one of my favorite stops while driving around Baja Sur.
Pacific Ocean Whale Locations in Baja
The major whale concentrations occur in the Pacific ocean bays and lagoons. Cabo whale watching tours often drive north to reach some of these destinations. There are tours that launch directly from Cabo San Lucas as well. A good portion of the water is open in this area and like Cabo Pulmo, many whales are passing through.
Whales in Magdalena Bay
Mag Bay is one of the world’s most impressive ecosystems. It’s large, wild and full of variety. The fishery is robust and with large amounts of food resources, it’s an excellent gathering place for whales. You can begin a whale watching journey from Adolfo Lopez Mateos, San Carlos or Puerto Chale.
San Carlos and Puerto Chale are likely the most popular Baja whale watching spots but I have a soft spot for Adolfo Lopez Mateos. It’s a rugged area that has some wonderful mangroves and backwaters to enjoy between whale tours.
San Ignacio Lagoon Whales
Head farther north of Mag Bay and you will reach the sheltered waters of San Ignacio Lagoon. This is a very remote region that will require some driving to reach. It also has air strip access for small planes but some advanced planning is necessary to find flights.
Santa Rosalia is the closest community of significance. Guerrero Negro is to the north but they have whale tours there as well. The Lagoon has some exceptional ecotour operations. Being remote, many offer full packages with food, lodging and tours. If you really want to get away and have a great experience, consider a trip to this insanely beautiful place.
Ojo de Liebre
We mentioned Guerrero Negro above and this is the most common basecamp of choice for Ojo de Liebre whale watching. The town has services, hotels and some great tour operators. There are other communities surrounding this bay as well. It’s a great place to see gray whales and humpbacks throughout the winter months.
How to Plan a Baja Whale Watching Trip
Planning the details for a trip is pretty easy! If you arrive unscheduled, many of the tour operators run daily trips anyways. You can literally just show up and grab an open seat in a panga. For the folks flying into Loreto, La Paz or San Jose del Cabo, grabbing a local tour or one that shuttles to the remote bays is agreat move as well!
- Use our calendar to narrow down dates
- Choose a location to visit
- Plan on how you will get there. Drive yourself, rent a car, grab a shuttle, etc. If you drive, don’t forget your Mexican insurance to stay legal.
- Hit the water!
For the first timers out there, keep in mind that weather is always changing. While Baja is generally warm, the Pacific waters are cool. Bring sunscreen for the sunny days and a raincoat for those chilly mornings. You might catch some spray on the boat so prepare to get a little wet. Otherwise, go out and have fun!