Baja Cruise: Active on the Sea of Cortez

Baja Cruise Sea of Cortez Whale watching
A Humpback checks out our small Un-Cruise ship at Isla San Francisco

Just as we hoped, there was never a dull moment on our Baja cruise on the Sea of Cortez. One afternoon aboard the Safari Endeavor, we were chatting in the lounge with Jeremy Saenz, our Un-Cruise Adventure Expedition Leader, when someone spotted a Humpback Whale nearby. As is customary, the sighting was announced from the bridge so everyone onboard could keep an eye out. But unexpectedly, Saenz jumped up to request a skiff be launched so we could get out on the water for a closer look. Six of us were on a spontaneous whale hunt.

That’s the sort of unplanned activity we learned to appreciate aboard this Un-Cruise tour. This Baja cruise was a great example of an active cruise, a small-ship Baja cruise on the Sea of Cortez with Baja California whale-watching tossed in.

Being actively involved in and responsive to the environs are part of the Un-cruise package. Within 10 days, I got to snorkel, kayak, hike, eat well, take in gorgeous scenery, and learn a fair amount about the marine and bird life in and around the Sea of Cortez. I was up close with whales, dolphins, sea lions, pelicans, frigatebirds, coyotes, sea stars, cacti and dozens of other marine and desert species previously unknown to me. Plus, I allowed time in a colonial Baja Sur town, San Jose del Cabo, on either side of the cruise to check out the local culture on land.

Our ship, the Safari Endeavor, is an 84-passenger vessel, with a crew of about thirty.  Passengers met in San Jose del Cabo, convenient to the Cabos (SJD) international airport. A bus ride to La Paz has replaced an earlier version of that leg by sea, saving time and some potentially rough waters around Baja’s cape.

So, starting in La Paz, our first evening and morning aboard were filled with safety, equipment, and staff introductions.  But even on the first day out, it was apparent that this ship was going to slow for dolphins and detour for calm coves.

Each day, passengers are given a few options for activities, with indications of the level of difficulty. Most days involved shuttling off the anchored ship in skiffs holding about ten people. Activities and exploration ranged from snorkeling (sometimes off skiffs, sometimes from beaches) kayaking, hiking, beach combing, nature walks, and, on one occasion, riding mules through the countryside with the local family who owns the mules.

Baja Cruise Sea of Cortez
Snorkel Sea Lions, Los Islotes, Laura

When conditions and time permitted, there was also free swim and stand-up paddleboarding, either off the ship or from the shore at beach parties. One calm evening (we were lucky on the weather this first week of March) the staff decided to set up a campfire on a secluded beach protected by rock cliffs. We shuttled over in the dark and enjoyed the fire and stargazing, s'mores, beverages, and an improvised talent show of fire-dancing and song.

The Sea of Cortez is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Our itinerary included stops along Espiritu Santo, Isla Coronado, and Isla San Francisco. Views of the rocky desert landscape and barren Gigantes mountain range were devoid of towns, buildings or roads. In the evenings we might see a few other sailboats, yachts, or fisherman. Only in the Bahia Agua Verde did we see signs of people camped out for the season.

Sunrises and sunsets are spectacular. A nice stretchy yoga class is offered at sunrise, when the sun is just hitting the rocky outcroppings.

baja cruise Sea of Cortez Whale Watching
Desert and Sea Expeditions, Magdalena Bay, Lopez Mateos

One day was devoted to heading by bus over to the Pacific for whale watching.  We docked at Puerto Escondido, a little town with a nice pier and harbor, substantial infrastructure, but precious little population–an urban vision that never came to fruition. (I was curious to meet the occupants of an RV with Minnesota license plates parked along the water there. But no one was home. Later I spotted two children paddling beside our docked ship. They said they were sailing around the world with their parents.)

The bus trip across Baja and the subsequent whale watching in Magdalena Bay off Lopez Mateos was handled by Desert and Sea Expeditions. We had a chatty guide who pointed out every last Magnificent Frigatebird and vulture along the way, much to his passengers’ delight.

With so much activity off the ship, I didn’t pay much attention to the accommodations. Though they don’t compare to luxury river cruise cabins in size or style, standard cabins with twin beds are comfortable, with sufficient light, closet space, and bathroom and shower facilities.

baja cruise Sea of Cortez
Kayaking, Agua Verde

At meal times we were offered a choice of entrees–meat, fish, or veggie–and served at our tables. There was widespread appreciation for the reasonable portion sizes, fresh salads, presentation, and the staff’s willingness to adapt to individual requests. The ship is all-inclusive, meaning wine is included with meals and the bar is always open. There’s no additional charge for drinks, which worried me when I heard cheers for the bartender Chris before we embarked. But this active and fairly fit crowd was not the sort to abuse the privilege.

Three members of the crew are the wellness staff, providing a 30-minute massage for any passenger who’s interested, also included.  Yes, I availed myself!

Because I was so ignorant of the Sea of Cortez, I was pleased to find recommended reading on the Un-Cruise website prior to the trip. Naturally I didn’t do the reading in advance, but did make use of the reference library on board to check out John Steinbeck's Log from the Sea of Cortez. Passengers enjoyed identifying various fish and plants they'd discovered, and recording their findings on a bulletin board tracking our collective sightings.

baja cruise Sea of Cortez
Espiritu Santo sunset

One of the joys of the trip was watching the crew’s enthusiasm for exploring the far side of an island, spotting a rare bird, meeting a mellow sea lion pup. The crew is made up of well-educated adventurers, working hard to apply their science backgrounds or naturally observant habits to their environs.

The enthusiasm is contagious, and the amount that can be learned unending. Passengers from 10 years old to 80 were enthralled when the crew scooped up some plankton (the stuff that makes this sea a great ground for breeding and exotic marine life) and placed it under a microscope, so we could understand better the food chain and magic of the Sea of Cortez.

Un-Cruise Sea of Cortez
Sea of Cortez Itinerary

It might not be hard to please a Midwest girl who's escaping the gray days of March to cruise under the sun on a warm body of water.  Just witnessing the flat azure skies, turquoise waters, and golden brown desert mountains of Baja is a serious treat. But this trip, with it's respectful approach to the sea and desert, offered more. We were actively participating, carefully deciding how we'd explore each day.  Based on weather and wildlife patterns, every excursion may not yield an amazing encounter. But Un-Cruise Adventures will help you explore the possibilities.

I found my way onto this adventure via friend and fellow travel blogger Sherry Ott. Check out her fabulous photos and her story, “Why Go to the Sea of Cortez” on her blog, Ottsworld.com .

For more images from our day of whale watching, see this post.

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24 thoughts on “Baja Cruise: Active on the Sea of Cortez”

  1. It sounds like a very enjoyable and relaxing trip. We love the salt air, it’s freshness and smell so your pictures brought that home to us. Really enjoyed the shot from the kayak in particular.

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    • Thanks! It was so inspiring to see things from sea level. One of my favorite shots (which I’ve yet to post) is of a sea lion I met while snorkeling. The pup and I were about one foot below the surface! Happiness.

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  2. This looks like a cruise that gets you “up close and personal” with nature. Your photographs are amazingl. Both the scenery and the wildlife look like awe-inspiring experiences.

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  3. The name Un-cruise seems very apt in that it doesn’t read like your average cruise at all. I love that it’s small enough that the crew could improvise when a whale was sighted. Who needs a pool on-board when the ship can stop so you can take a swim or snorkel? It sounds heavenly!

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    • Improvisation was indeed the mantra, within the context of the general itinerary and safety. For those who want a detailed itinerary far in advance, without prospect of changes, this may be unsettling. But I enjoyed the day to day surprises.

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  4. So when I saw “Un-cruise” I obviously didn’t realize the company had that name! What a great experience—-so much to do! I loved the picture of the Espiritu Santo sunset. This is a type of trip that would interest me…much more than a typical big-ship cruise.

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  5. I so love this part of the world and we are hankering to get there soon. All of the activities look and sound fabulous, so many that I was getting a little worried about whether there would be sufficient time for cocktails. I was glad to see you clear that up. This would be a wonderful experience.

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  6. I have considered doing an Un-Cruise Adventures cruise and think I would like this type of small ship, laid-back, eco-adventure type of cruise. Reading your post and seeing the photos has only confirmed that this is a trip that should stay on my list!

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    • Just writing the post (and reliving the experience) has confirmed my wish to go on another Un-Cruise trip. Besides their Alaska fleet, they do cruises in Hawaii, the Galapagos, and also up the Columbia River. I heard great comments from other guests about those. Over half of the passengers on my trip were repeat Un-Cruise travelers!

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  7. I love the look on the faces of the people in the Magdalena Bay photo as the whales are right there at their boat. What a fantastic experience. Sounds like Un-Cruise Adventure is perfect for adventurers like you guys and even those, like me, who would like the campfire on a secluded beach.

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    • Haha, yes!! You’re the first to mention those faces, but it just makes me laugh every time I see that image. That’s how I felt! What a surprise, one of many on the trip. But at the same time it was leisurely. Nice combo, indeed.

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  8. I love hearing about the flexibility and spontaneous outings on this cruise. What an adventure you were able to have. The whale looks like he is close enough to touch and what perfect expressions you captured on the faces of fellow passengers. My first cruise is coming up this summer and I can’t wait.

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  9. Although I’ve been on traditional cruises before, this Un-Cruise sounds like Heaven to me! Flexible, small, and access to great wildlife spots–how could it get any better than that! Thanks for introducing the idea, and I will definitely check it out ASAP. Great photos. I especially like the one of the whale spy-hopping right in front of the passengers. Can’t wait to try this out.

    Reply

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