By April Fung, Caradonna Agent
What can I tell you about gray whale encounters in Mexico's San Ignacio Lagoon? For starters, it's nothing like the trips where you spend a few hours on an offshore excursion scanning the horizon for a breaching whale or a tail flip. At San Ignacio, the encounters are up close and personal. These amazing creatures seek you out, coming right up to the boat and sometimes even allowing you to have direct contact with them.
Recently, I was one of the lucky few humans given the privilege of meeting these whales. And I did it in style.
WHERE IS SAN IGNACIO?
San Ignacio Lagoon sits on the Pacific side of the Baja Peninsula, about 350 miles north of Cabo San Lucas. It's a remote place with few people, located within Mexico's largest wildlife sanctuary. It's also the world's last undeveloped nursery and breeding ground of the Pacific Gray Whale.
Each year between the months of January and April, gray whales gather in the shallow, sheltered waters of the lagoon. The Mexican government issues a limited number of permits to tour operators for interactive encounters with the whales. My trip to San Ignacio was organized through Baja Expeditions, which started as a family-owned company with five decades of experience, and a pioneer of these gray whale encounters. Subsequently, Nautilus Dive Adventures is continuing this legacy.
IT'S REMOTE, BUT THERE'S NO ROUGHING IT
The trip to San Ignacio started with a two-hour private charter flight from the private jet terminal at San Jose Del Cabo Airport. The flight over the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains was quite scenic, and touching down on the edge of the lagoon we were greeted with a welcoming glass of prosecco. This sets the tone for the days to come.
From there, we boarded pangas to cross over to the campsite — make that “glamp” site. As you can see from the photos, Baja Expedition's glamping accommodations are a far cry from a basic tent and a cot. My tent was furnished with a comfortable bed, electricity and an en-suite bathroom with hot and cold running water. There were also some unexpected luxury touches like carpeting, a chandelier and fine bed linen that may possibly rival some at the best hotels. It was hard to believe we are in the middle of the desert, and the view from the tents facing the beach and lagoon are worth waking up to. There are also family tents and luxury tents, yes, even more spacious than the one I had.
The camp included a dining tent where meals are served fine dining style and a bar and lounge tent where you can enjoy snacks and a complimentary assortment of hot and cold beverages, including wines, craft beers and single malt scotches. It's a great place to hang out in the evenings while sharing photos and videos, listening to presentations on gray whales, or just surfing the web. Yes, there is complimentary camp-wide WiFi.
Operation-wise, the trip was well-coordinated by Baja Expeditions. From office staff to camp staff to boat staff, I was impressed by the friendly and excellent customer service.
My daily routine at San Ignacio began with an early breakfast and a 07:45 panga ride to get an early start on the first of two morning whale encounters. There's also the option of sleeping in and catching one morning boat ride. After lunch, there's one more chance to visit the whales, then a bit of free time to go for a kayak or paddleboard exploration of the coast or take a walk in the desert.
The pangas are chartered from local fishermen and depending on the size of the boat they can carry six to nine participants. All the pangas I rode were clean and well-kept; you could see that the local fishermen took care of their boats. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes to reach the part of the lagoon where the interactions happen, though it can be a bit shorter or longer depending on whether it's the earlier or later part of the season. All trips are regulated to a 90-minute maximum, with a mandatory break at a nearby beach before starting another 90-minute session.
GREETING THE FRIENDLY GIANTS
Gray whales come to San Ignacio once a year to mate, socialize and give birth to darling baby calves. For a few months, the babies grow, play and learn from their mothers, who prepare the calves for the long journey back up to Alaska where they will all feed for the rest of the year.
According to the guides, who are all enthusiastic and passionate about the whales, there are only two places left in the world where this happens, and San Ignacio Lagoon is the only setting where the whales actually approach boats to interact with humans. The local fisherman started noticing this behavior a few generations ago, and the rest is history.
Some whales will come right to the boat to look you in the eye, and wait to be caressed, stroked and yes, hugged and kissed too. Being in such close proximity to these friendly giants made me giddy with excitement and filled with gratitude. I felt very lucky to be one of the few to receive this precious gift from the gray whales. When a baby calf blew water from it’s blow hole into my camera, I could only laugh. It was too awesome for words.
To celebrate such perfect days, we shared our stories around the evening campfire, enjoying drinks under the stars in the middle of the desert.
April is an avid diver, scuba diving instructor, and one of experienced Caradonna's Dive Travel Specialists. To learn more about reserving your space for a 2024 gray whale encounter, contact our offices at 800-329-9989 or send a note to your Preferred Caradonna Agent or email@example.com.
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