Whale Watching Season Is Here! How to See These Majestic Creatures Up Close and Personal

baby grey whale calf portrait while looking at you

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Whale watching in the Baja region offers a unique and memorable experience for wildlife enthusiasts. The world’s first commercial whale-watching tours began with grays migrating along the coast of Southern California. Gray whales, known for their proximity to the shore and curiosity around boats, have become popular subjects for whale watching. Today, eco-tourists flock to witness these magnificent creatures, with tours spanning from the west coasts of Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

These tours provide glimpses of whales during their annual migration. For a more intimate encounter, a visit to their winter calving grounds is recommended. In these sheltered coves, the whales engage in playful activities such as frolicking, feeding, and interacting with boats. Unlike the hurried coastal sightings, this setting allows for close observation of spyglassing, fluking, splashing, and direct interaction with the whales. The gray whale season in Baja presents a rare opportunity to witness these majestic creatures in an intimate and memorable way.

This guide offers insights into this remarkable adventure and provides essential information to help you choose the best bay and tour for you. Continue reading to discover how to make your whale-watching experience a dream come true!

The World’s Longest Migration

Large Grey whale
Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Eastern Gray Whales make the world’s longest migration, a round trip of up to 12,000 miles that spans up to 55 degrees of latitude. They spend all summer and autumn feeding on tiny crustaceans in the nutrient-rich waters of the Arctic. Then, in late fall, they begin swimming south.

The whales start to arrive in the birthing lagoons in early December. It’s a long and hungry winter where they can lose 16-30% of their body mass during this time before returning to the summer feeding grounds, but it’s the safest place to have calves.

Where Are Mexico’s Gray Whale Birthing Lagoons

newborn grey whale calf and mother
Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Mexico has three birthing lagoons: Magdalena Bay, San Ignacio Lagoon, and Ojo de Liebre Lagoon. They’re all located off the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur. Each one has a little different vibe and something to offer, so we’ll start our journey in the south and head northward up the coast.

When is Gray Whale Season in Mexico

grey whale tail going down in pacific ocean
Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

The first whales arrive in December to early January. Pregnant mothers come seeking the protected, calm waters to birth their calves. The males arrive in February but are the first to leave in March. As the calves grow in strength and confidence, their mothers let them interact more with the boats. By late April, they’re ready to begin the long voyage north to the Arctics, and mother/calf pairs start their migration.

Magdalena Bay

Grey Whales in Magdalena Bay
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Magdalena Bay is the southernmost birthing lagoon. It’s only three hours from La Paz, which is logistically close enough for a day trip. You can also stay overnight in the quaint seaside towns of San Carlos or Adolfo López Mateos. These are sleepy villages with a few places to stay and incredible fresh seafood.

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Magdalena is close enough that I visited as a day excursion during a Baja Uncruise. The cruise had terrific activities, like snorkeling with baby sea lions and burro tours through remote canyons. Still, the whales were my highlight, even though I had already seen them in San Ignacio and Ojo de Liebre.

On the downside, Magdalena is the most exposed of the three lagoons, with the smallest whale population. There are still plenty of whales, and you’ll see them up close and personal. There’s also sport fishing and eco-tours like trips to the Isla De Patos – Bird Island Sanctuary.

La Paz

La Paz Mexico via Canva
Photo Credit: Canva.

La Paz is the gateway city to Magdalena. It’s situated in the back of a large bay on the Sea of Cortez. The water here is unbelievably blue, warm, and hospitable, which leads to a series of eco-tours to explore the surrounding islands, like Isla Espiritu Santo and the sea lion preserve at Los Lobos.

La Paz is a city of 250,000 people with an international airport and a newly constructed cruise port, although many people fly into Cabo to take advantage of budget airlines. Observing how cruising affects La Paz will be interesting, especially if there’s an uptick in shore excursions to Magdalena Bay. Fingers crossed, it’s done responsibly with appropriate daily limits in place.

San Ignacio Lagoon

Petting grey Whales with Kumaya in San Ignacio Baja
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

San Ignacio Lagoon is the most remote, sheltered, and regulated gray whale birthing lagoon. A small collection of primitive whale-watching camps is the only industry around the bay, with a 1.5-hour drive across unpaved salt flats from San Ignacio, the nearest town. The isolation makes San Ignacio Lagoon the premier viewing location for dedicated whale watchers. There’s a dense whale population here, so seeing over 100 whales in a day is common during some parts of the season. Plus, the San Ignacio population is known as the friendliest and most curious whales.

You can take a whale-watching day trip from San Ignacio or book a room or campsite at the whale-watching camps along the bay. The cabins at the bay book up early, especially over weekends, so it’s suggested that you make your reservations well in advance.

San Ignacio Town

Baja road trip Mexico
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

The town of San Ignacio is a delightful dip back into old Mexico. The town center is a tree-lined park with the 1728 Mission San Ignacio Kadakaaman on one end and a row of shops and restaurants surrounding the square. You’ll find small hotels in town and a few eco-resorts along springs that offer kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding on one of the few freshwater springs in the Baja.

Loreto

Loreto town mexico
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Loreto is the closest international airport to San Ignacio. Even so, it’s 3.5 hours to the town and another 1.5 hours to the lagoon, which makes for a long day trip for whale watching. There are several direct flights to the US from Loreto, but only on selected days.

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Loreto used to be the capital of Baja California, with a classic town square and mission. Like La Paz, it sits on the beautiful blue Sea of Cortez with a series of eco-tours to explore the seas and islands, especially Isla Coronado. Despite only being a city of 20,000, there’s a well-developed tourist industry with hotels, restaurants, and shopping.

Ojo de Liebre Lagoon / Scammon’s Lagoon

Guerrero Negro whale watching boat
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Ojo de Liebre has the largest whale population and the most surface area, so you will not see as many whales here as San Ignacio. Access comes through Guerro Negro, whose primary industry is salt processing. The town feels industrial, lacking the charm of a fishing village or historic mission square.

Guerro Negro is conveniently located on Highway 1 if you’re making a trans-Baja road trip. However, our recommendation would be to travel on to San Ignacio if logistics allow.

Whale Watching on the Sea of Cortez

Whale Watching on the Baja at Magnolina Bay Mexico
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Gray whales aren’t the only winter visitors to Mexico. You’ll find humpback and blue whales frolicking in the Sea of Cortez all winter. These are two of the largest animals on the planet and are always a pleasure to see, even if they’re rarely sighted in groups. Plus, the weather and water are warmer on the Gulf side, making it a pleasant all-around experience.

Other Baja Eco Adventures

Mobula rays jumping out of water Sea of Cortez
Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Whale Watching isn’t the only winter eco-adventure in the Baja. You can snorkel with baby sea lions and search for giant schools of Mulbea rays performing acrobatic jumps out of the water. It’s a nature lovers’ paradise, with 900 species of birds and one-third of the Earth’s marine mammals.

Best Whale Watching Tour Companies In Baja Mexico

Guests experience gray whales Magdalena bay via UnCruise
Photo Credit: UnCruise Adventures.

These companies are all highly rated on Google and Trip Advisor, and we have personally vetted some of them:

Magdalena Bay

  • Magdalena Bay Whales
  • Mag Bay Expeditions
  • Friendly Whale Tours
  • UnCruise Adventures (shore excursion on Baja Cruise)

San Ignacio

  • San Ignacio Lagoon
  • Ecoturismo Kuyima
  • Baja Ecotours
  • Baja Discovery
  • Antonios Eco-Tours

Ojo de Liebre Lagoon

  • Baja AirVentures Whale Watching Eco-tours
  • Eco Tours GAMA
  • Whale Magic Tours
  • Mario’s Tours

Concluding Whale Watching on the Baja

Whale watching on the Baja - Grey whales Mexico
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Hopefully, the awareness from eco-tours helps protect not only this gray whale population but also other animals around the globe. Because of increased attention and protection, the Gray whales have recovered well in the eastern part of their range. However, the western gray whale subpopulation that feeds near Russia’s Sakhalin Island and Kamchatka Peninsula is in critical danger. It’s one of the smallest whale populations in the world and is at risk from oil drilling and continued whaling. There’s a saying that you love what you know and protect what you love, and nowhere is that more evident than with the gray whales in Mexico.

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Read More From Coleman Concierge:

Bahia Agua Verde Baja with UnCruise Safari Voyager anchored
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

UnCruise Baja is designed to get you off the boat and into nature. Baja California’s Sea of Cortez is nature’s aquarium. Not surprisingly UnCruising the Baja is a bucket list adventure for anybody who loves nature and the outdoors. Read on as we review this sustainable small-ship cruise to see if it lives up to its mission of responsible cruising and its accolades.

UnCruise Baja – A Concierge Review of Baja California’s Adventure Cruise

Sea of Cortez Cruises – A Complete Guide to Ports, Routes, and Adventures

The coastline of Baja via UnCruise
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Sea of Cortez cruises are a great way to visit “the world’s aquarium.” It’s a nature lovers’ paradise, home to 1/3 of the Earth’s marine mammals, 900 bird species, crystal blue water, and deserted white sand beaches. Learn about the ports-of-call and shore excursions found on Baja Mexico cruises, from mega-ships to boutique boats, to help you decide which best suits your travel style!

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DIY Baja California Road Trip: 64 Tips to Create Your Own Baja Adventure

Baja road trip Mexico
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

The Baja California road trip runs down Highway 1 from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas. A thousand miles of excitement and discovery awaits those brave enough to make the trip, but don’t worry we included a Baja Mexico map to make it easy. Scenic beauty, cultural experiences, and outdoor adventures await!

DIY Baja California Road Trip: 64 Tips to Create Your Own Baja Adventure

Akumal Beach- How to Snorkel with Endangered Sea Turtles Ethically And Safely

Akumal Bay Turtle with remora
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Imagine snorkeling in the warm waters of Akumal Bay Mexico surrounded by sea turtles. It seems like a dream come true, except we’ve heard one too many stories about pushy beach vendors and unclear regulations. Keep reading to find out the real deal when visiting Akumal Beach.

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Meet Ed & Jenn

Hi! We are Jenn and Ed Coleman, and together we are Coleman Concierge. It is our goal to inspire you to get out, expand your world, and to seek adventure, even in your own backyard.

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