Going to See the Gray Whales

March is prime time to pay a visit to the friendly gray whales of Laguna San Ignacio. People who’ve read my book, “Eye of the Whale,” and other visitors to my website often ask about my recommendations for how to go about doing this. So, here they are:

If you can spare a week’s time, the ideal way to travel is by car. If renting one, however, make sure the company doesn’t have restrictions on traveling into Mexico. From San Diego, it’s a leisurely two-day drive down Highway One to reach the oasis town of San Ignacio, about halfway down Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, on the Pacific side. There are decent La Pinta hotels at which to stay en route, below San Quintin (near a restaurant just off the highway with the world’s greatest cracked crab), also at Catavina in the midst of a wondrous boulder field, and at San Ignacio. You won’t be disappointed in the Baja terrain!

From the oasis, it’s about 37 miles of rough road to reach the lagoon. Allow yourself at least two hours, maybe three, to do that last leg. Once you’ve arrived, after going down a hill, you will see the home and garden of Francisco (Pachico) Mayoral just on the left. He is the first person known to have experienced a “friendly encounter” with the gray whales, and still takes visitors out whale watching. Last I heard, the cost was about $50 per person. (He speaks a bit of English).

My favorite place to stay is Campo Cortez, run by Maldo Fischer and Johnny Friday, located right on the shoreline of the lagoon. There are signs pointing you to it, but it’s best to make reservations ahead, especially from mid-February into early April. Guests are taken on two whale watch cruises a day, morning and afternoon, for about two hours each time. You stay in tents with a pair of comfortable cots in each. The price, which a couple of years ago was $150/day per person, includes accommodations and three meals, plus a margarita in the evening. It’s well worth it. They have a website, bajaecotours.com. You can also call toll-free to their Baja Adventure Company in Oceanside, California, 877—560-2252.

If you would prefer to fly, you can go from L.A. or San Diego into Loreto, rent a car there, and it’s a four-hour drive to the town of San Ignacio. Or you can go by private plane with either Baja Expeditions or Baja Discovery, right into the lagoon. These companies are both based in San Diego, and used to offer 4-day stays for around $1,750/person, including two daily whale watches and nice tented accommodations with meals. Another very good outfit, and Mexican-owned like Campo Cortez, is Kuyima. They have an office/bookstore in the town of San Ignacio, right on the square, and a bus service that will take you to their lagoon camp. That’s where I stayed the first time, and really enjoyed it. The food, including locally-caught fish, was excellent.

There are actually several Baja lagoons where you can see gray whales. The easiest to get to is Laguna Ojo de Liebre, also known at Scammon’s Lagoon, located near the town of Guerrero Negro. The town has a nice hotel, the Malarimmo, that runs daily whale watches. It also has an airstrip.

Further south, on Magdalena Bay, whale watches take place out of the town of San Carlos. That’s about a six-hour drive north from Cabo San Lucas.

I hope this gives you a few ideas. The camps at Laguna San Ignacio all have websites, where you can book in advance. I can guarantee you a once-in-a-lifetime experience!