When was the last time you touched a whale? Come face to face—literally!—with wonders you’ve only dreamt of on an extraordinary Baja small ship cruise. Sometimes called the “Galapagos of North America,” the Baja California is small in area but jam-packed with wildlife—some species endemic to their Baja homes.
Explore by kayaking, snorkeling, swimming or gazing from the deck of your ship. You’ll be awestruck by the biodiversity of the Baja Peninsula and the Gulf of California (also called the Sea of Cortez). The waters teem with dolphins, sea turtles, more than 5,000 species of macro-invertebrates, rare and endangered marine mammals, migratory and resident fish species and, of course—whales!
Spot humpback whale, killer whale, and the world’s largest animal—the blue whale, measuring over 100 feet long and weighing an impressive 150 tons. Look for gray whales, which migrate over 5,000 miles each year—the longest migration of any mammal—from Alaska’s Bering Sea to the Gulf of California to feed, mate and give birth to their young. Seeing a gray whale up close on your Baja tour is one of the most thrilling wildlife experiences in the world.
At the right time of the year, you might see mother whales together with their babies in Magdalena Bay, San Ignacio Lagoon, or other “nurse” bays where whales return each year to birth and nurse their young.
Birders will enjoy the thousands of seabirds that nest on the 900 islands on the peninsula’s western coast. The Isla San Ildefonso on the Baja’s eastern side is a small, rugged island home to blue- and brown-footed boobies, as well as many other nesting seabirds.
Many of the 37 islands in the Gulf of California are the result of volcanic explosions that occurred in prehistoric times. You’ll marvel at the rich diversity of marine life in comparison to the sparse, arid lands of the peninsula. Hike among huge cacti—sometimes twice as tall as you. Stand in awe of 10,000-foot peaks and breathtaking mountain vistas, or gaze at volcanoes on Isla Coronado and other islands. Experience true isolation on one of the regions many uninhabited islands.
La Paz welcomes visitors with vibrant city life and a rich history that includes exploration by Cortez, being occupied by the United States, and even declaring itself its own republic. Today you’ll enjoy the unique shopping, a scenic seaside walk, and a selection of great restaurants.
Second only to the Malay Peninsula in Southeast Asia, the Baja Peninsula is one of the longest, most isolated peninsulas in the world. Baja tours show you a treasure trove of bird and marine life, unique geology and a rugged land nearly untouched by humans.
Just a short plane ride from Los Angeles lies the extraordinary Baja California peninsula. Measuring 760 miles long and 30 to 150 miles wide, this thin strip of land and its adjoining sea, the Gulf of California (also called the Sea of Cortez) comprise one of the most biologically diverse places on earth.
The Gulf of California was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2005 for its unique geography, striking natural beauty and marine diversity. The area remains an important center for research, most notably for a 10-year project to monitor and protect green and loggerhead turtles in Magdalena Bay. Fishermen, students, teachers, scientists, and boatmen all collaborate to identify, tag and monitor the giant sea turtles. The Magdalena Baykeepers group helps in this effort and studies and protects wildlife by monitoring the water quality and the health of local mangroves, promoting ecotourism, and educating local communities about conservation.
When Europeans sailing under Hernando Cortez first landed in 1533, they encountered some of the 60,000 to 70,000 Indians who lived in small groups throughout the peninsula. These natives sustained themselves modestly on hunting, fishing and gathering plants in their respective territories. Attempts by Europeans to settle the rugged landscape were unsuccessful until 1697, when Jesuit missionaries established a permanent settlement at Loreto. The Jesuits were followed by the Franciscans and later the Dominicans. While these missionaries were teaching the natives about agriculture, livestock and Christianity, they also unknowingly transferred diseases that would wipe out all but a few of the Indians.
Independence from Spain was recognized in 1822, and the missions were gradually abandoned. The once-numerous Indians were replaced by a small population of mestizo farmers. After the Mexican War (1846-1848) the territory that is now the state of California was assigned to the United States, and Baja, or lower, California was given to Mexico.
The peninsula remained relatively isolated until the construction of a highway in 1973. Running the length of the peninsula, the highway has made this remote area more accessible. Agriculture, mining and other industries have expanded as a result. Commercial fishing in the Gulf of California is some of the richest in Mexico. Shrimp, tuna and sardines are among the most numerous species caught. Tourism flourishes, especially in Cabo San Lucas, where numerous resorts have sprung up. Sport fishing draws many visitors here and to other small port cities along the gulf coast. Baja cruises bring visitors from around the world to experience the biodiversity of this extraordinary geographic location.
Marine life thrives in the Gulf of California thanks to the strong currents that swirl the water’s rich nutrients to the surface. On land, the wildlife refuges of Constitution 1857 National Park and Sierra de San Pedro Mártir National Park protect several coniferous species of trees, chaparral and desert shrub as well as mule deer, big horn sheep, cougar, bobcat, ringtail cat, coyote and more than 30 species of bats. The peninsula’s more than 900 islands are important nesting sites for thousands of seabirds. Additional bird species include bald and golden eagle, falcon, black vulture and others. While Baja California boasts over 2,000 miles of coastline, surface water is scarce, limited to a few streams and springs.
Photos: © WOLFGANG KAEHLER