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Baja: San Ignacio Lagoon and Sea of Cortez

Experience magical, close encounters with the friendly gray whale mothers and calfs of San Ignacio Lagoon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We also visit the beautiful Sea of Cortez for snorkeling and whale watching on this week-long Baja adventure.

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  • Close encounters with the friendly gray whale cows and calves in San Ignacio Lagoon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Opportunities to see blue, fin, humpback, Bryde's, sperm, and killer whales in the Sea of Cortez, plus snorkeling with tropical fish.
  • Comfortable land-based accommodations in beautiful Baja California.

Baja California's San Ignacio Lagoon is the primary calving ground for eastern Pacific gray whales and part of Mexico's El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve—the largest wildlife refuge in Latin America. The large concentration of gray whales that reside here each winter are extremely 'friendly,' and regularly approach our small whale watching pangas (skiffs) in a moving display that occurs nowhere else. The whales are the focus of our trip, and we will have three full days to observe them. We expect to see large numbers of gray whales, including cow-calf pairs, courting whales, and others.

At the start of our trip, we also take two days to explore the Sea of Cortez, one of the most productive and diverse seas on the planet. From our base in the quaint town of Loreto we will make a private boat excursion to search for marine mammals and to enjoy the outstanding landscapes of the Gulf of California. Here we have the possibility to see blue whales, the largest animals ever to exist on Earth, fin whales, Bryde's whales, sperm whales, humpbacks, and herds of dolphins.

Wildlife Highlights

The highlight of our trip will be the three full days spent with gray whale mothers and their curious calfs in San Ignacio Lagoon. The protected lagoon is also a wintering ground for migrating birds, and we may see White Ibis, Elegant Terns, Reddish Egrets, Brown Pelicans, Brandt's Cormorants, Brant Geese and others.

We also explore the wildlife of the productive and diverse Sea of Cortez, which is home to more than 650 tropical and temperate fish (90 of them endemic) and one-third of the world's whale and dolphin species. On land, an exceptional 695 vascular plant species are scattered among colorful and rugged desert landscapes. On our excursions we have the possibility to see humpback, blue, fin, Bryde's, and sperm whales, dolphins, sea lions, "flying" rays, and many bird species.

Trip Dates & Cost

2017: February 23 - March 3 | March 9-17. $2,950 per person.*

* Trip price does not include international airfare. There is a single supplement fee of $800.

"My sister Martine and I were in awe the whole time we were there. Only positive comments can be posted regarding this expedition"

- Christine Sartori, 2015 traveler


Izzy Szczepaniak holds a M.S. from San Francisco State University and is a research associate at the California Academy of Sciences. He has conducted research on harbor porpoises in the Gulf of the Farallones for 35 years, and on humpback whales in California and Costa Rica. He has worked as a naturalist for Oceanic Society since 1983, guiding both Bay Area whale watching programs and international expeditions.

Kathi Koontz is Program Manager of Oceanic Society's Belize Field Station. Her passion for the ocean includes work as a whales-in-distress responder through NOAA's Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program. Kathi is an avid diver, snorkeler, and advocate for marine wildlife. She has a degree in Industrial Engineering from Purdue University and spends as much time as she can underwater.


Day 1: Arrive in Loreto
Arrive in Loreto, Baja California Sur. You will be met at the airport and transported to our comfortable accommodations. Gather for dinner and briefing with your guide.

Day 2-3: Exploring the Sea of Cortez & Loreto
Enjoy two full days of whale and wildlife watching by private excursion boat in the Sea of Cortez, including island exploration with a picnic lunch on the beach (approximately 6 hours out on the water). In your downtime enjoy the quaint, historic town of Loreto, home to a mission founded in 1697 that is considered the "mother" of all missions in Baja California.

Day 4: Loreto - San Ignacio
Depart for San Ignacio Lagoon by private van to your safari-style tented camp on the beach. Our leisurely 5-6 hour drive includes stops to observe bird life and sites of interest. Visit the town of San Ignacio and its historic mission before arriving in time for dinner. Lunch along the way is included.

Day 5-7: San Ignacio Lagoon
We will spend three full days observing gray whales from our small pangas (skiffs) which provide excellent opportunities to approach the graceful gray whales closely and unobtrusively. We use sturdy, twenty-two foot Mexican panga boats operated by local fishermen under the guidance of our naturalist. Photographic opportunities are excellent. The lagoon, which is part of the El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve (the largest wildlife refuge in Latin America), is also a wintering ground for migrating birds, and we will look for White Ibis, Elegant Terns, Reddish Egrets, Brown Pelicans, Brandt's Cormorants, and Brant Geese.

Day 8: San Ignacio - Loreto
Spend a final morning with the gray whales, then return to Loreto and check into your comfortable hotel. Farewell dinner.

Day 9: Fly home
The morning is at leisure for exploring the historic town of Loreto. Transfer to the airport for your afternoon flight home.


In San Ignacio we stay in a safari-style tented camp. During the Loreto / Sea of Cortez portion of the trip, we stay in comfortable hotels and enjoy meals in local restaurants. In San Ignacio Lagoon we stay in a catered camp situated on the water's edge, with safari-style tents that have solar-powered lights and platform beds. A spacious palapa lounge offers a comfortable place to enjoy delicious meals, listen to natural history presentations, relax with a book, or enjoy refreshments from the fully stocked bar. At night, enjoy the outstanding Baja night sky.

All excursions are in private boats, offering excellent whale watching and wildlife exploration by day and enjoying terra firma land-based accommodations each night.

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