Friendly Gray Whales & Ancient Paintings of Baja: A Coastal Whale Watching and Desert Canyons Tour
The Baja peninsula beautifully merges desert and sea--invigorating sea-salt air with sunset-colored canyons, friendly gray whales among sparkling water and splashes of color cast against secluded, dry caves. Our Friendly Whales & Ancient Paintings of Baja tour perfectly joins both of Baja's worlds, taking you right into the heart of whale territory as well as the prehistoric wonders of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Spend the first half of the trip sailing to a sheltered breeding lagoon and engaging with gray whales before setting off to an arid world of cacti and arroyos to view ancient cave paintings of cultures long since gone. Look into the mystifying eye of the whale as they gather close to your panga, hoping for a nose pet, and discover unmarked paths and hidden symbolism.
Travel from Loreto to San Ignacio. Next, travel to Santa Teresa Canyon in the company of cowboys and pack mules. No matter where you travel, each landscape is breathtakingly unique and utterly inspiring. Wander and wonder with us on this incredible tour.
Explore Loreto, Orientation Meeting
Your Baja Unbound adventure begins in the historic coastal town of Loreto, home to Baja Unbound's operations since 1993. Founded by Jesuit Missionaries in the 17th centry and the California's olest permanent settlement, Loreto offers plenty of rich history, local landmarks and unique cultural experiences to travelers. After checking into your beachfront hotel, set out to explore and discover some fine local dining. After, meet for orientation.
Activities: Whale Watching, Hiking, Visiting Mission
Wake and enjoy breakfast a tthe hotel before setting out through the arid desert landscape toward the Pacific Ocean. If time allows, we plan to visit Mulege's ancient cave paintings as well as the historic mining town of Santa Rolsalia. Santa Rolsalia retains its early French heritage epitomized by the unique metal church designed by Gustave Eiffel--who also designed the Effeil Tower. Our day's journey continues with a stop at the Old Mission Town of San Ignacio. Tour the town and its Spanish Mission while you learn more about the region's complex history.
Our final stop of the day is the beautiful town of San Ignacio. There's time to relax from the busy day and possibly fit in some exploration before dinner.
Activities: Whale Watching, Time for Exploration, Relaxation, Bird Watching
Spend all day engaging with Baja's enigmatic, legendary whales. Set off in a panga for two differernt 2-hr sessions of whale whatching in Baja's well-known gray whale breeding grounds. Encounter whales as they nurture their young calves and spyhop, breach and do double tale lobs in the warm water. Baja's gray whales are notoriously friendly, and they occasionally nudge their calves up to the pangas for a nose scratch and rub. It's an incredibly moving, exciting experience few get to experience.
While Baja California is known for its gray whales, humpback whales, blue whales, sperm whales and more also travel to the Sea of Cortez. Our experienced guides take you nearby passing pods or the occasional spotted whale so that they may approach the boat if they wish.
After our time out on the water, there's plenty of time to explore the mangrove forests' dense root systems, see what lies beyond the sand dunes, do some birdwatching or relax on the beach, gazing at offshore marine life.
Note: Weather, whale watching ordinances and natural whale activity is taken into consideration as they might influence the timing of our excursions. Whale watching is a monitored activity, so your experience should be natural, unique, and uncongested with other boat traffic.
After a full day of exploring San Ignacio lagoon, we return to our simple accommodations in San Ignacio town for another restful night at our tour hotel.
Enjoy a final breakfast before before departing town. Our travels take us to San Teresa Canyon. On our way, we pass through Sierra de San Francisco where prehistoric communities left behind stunning collections of rock paintings. Well-preserved by the dry air and high elevation, the rock paintings here depict the hunter-gatherers and the many animal species that played significant roles in their lives. Our first stop at this UNESCO World Heritage Site is to Cueva del Raton, a mural featuring a mountain lion, deer and a human figure whose face is covered with a black patch.
Once we reach the town and pick up our permits, we're met with our pioneering cowboy guides and our mules who guide our journey down into Santa Teresa Canyon. Follow a rugged trail through prickly cacti, towering canyon walls and secluded palm oases--a perfect introduction to Baja's unique ecosystem. Our hike takes you to the Arroyo San Pablo, just short of our basecamp. Once we've settled into camp, relax and perhaps do some exploring before enjoying a freshly prepared hearty meal. After, gather around the campfire for great conversation and views before bed.
Activities: Hiking, Explore Cave Paintings, Camping
Over the coming days, explore the world of Baja's cave paintings, hike through the desert canyon's sharply defined beauty and camp out under star-studded skies. As you hike from cave to cave, you trek across dry creek beds and cragged volcanic rock. You picnic under the cool of palm trees. We have planned for visits to Baja's best cave paintings: Cueva de la Soledad, whose lofty paintings feature "monos"--anthropomorphic figurse-- and animals shifting in movement as well as a vast checkberboard carved of alternating colors; Cueva de las Flechas, or Cave of Arrows, where it's the human figures pierced with arrows rather than the animals; Cueva Pintada, whose impressively diverse and large collection of figures spans over 500 feet; Boca de San Julio, known as Baja's most beautiful cavern as its pregnant deer and leaping buck shine in the constantly streaming sunlight; and Los Musicos, whose human figures pirouette as if musical notes across white lines that remind one of a score. These are just a few of the cave painting highlights whose artistry depicts an enigmatic yet compelling panorma of history.
Activities: Hiking, Climbing, Return Trip to Loreto
Rise to the smell of coffee and enjoy a final morning among the caves before hiking up out of the canyon. Our trek takes us past Arroyo San Pablo and Guadalupe Ranch before returning us to San Francisco de Sierra. Take in your last views of the incredibly complex ecosystem before reaching the plateau. Once there, you're met with our van and transported back to Loreto. Upon arrival, settle into your hotel and discover a delicious local eatery before bed.
Dates & Rates
4-6 guests $2690
7-12 guests $2250
For 2-3 guests add $500/person surcharge.
Custom departures for groups of 4+
ALL PRICES IN US DOLLARS. We will do our best to adhere to the itineraries and trip descriptions listed on our website. However, tour itineraries or subcontractors (such as taxi, cruise boats or hotels) may change slightly due to reasons beyond our control including but not limited to Acts of God, wind, waves, inclement weather or other. We always welcome you to call us to clarify any item - often this is the best way to fully clarify expectations - call us collect or on our toll-free number. You will be sent pre-trip email with latest details within a month of your tour - it is your responsibility to check in with us prior to your trip to see if you have all the information you need. We will always do our best to provide you with the best possible tour and to fully meet your expectations to the best of our ability.
- Fully escorted guided tour including naturalist guides
- All meals while on tour
- All transportation while on tour
- Hotel before and after your tour in Loreto
- Hotel in San Ignacio town
- All camping equipment
- All National Parks & Biosphere Reserve access fees required by itinerary
- Whale watching sessions by panga
- Full service of our Adventure Consultants
- Transportation to and from the airport
- Meals in town
- Extra souvenirs you wish to purchase.
SINGLE SUPPLEMENT: If you are a solo traveler and wish to have your own hotel room in Loreto (or if we are unable to pair you up with another solo traveler), an additional single supplement of $120 USD is required. Solo travelers will typically have their own tent at whale camp, at no additional cost. However, we are unable to guarantee individual tents at whale camp due to limited tent capacity. If you are asked to share a tent at our whale camp, rest assured that tents are very spacious, full-height canvas wall tents, with two cots and plenty of room to stand and maneuver around your tent-mate without difficulty.
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FAQ & More
Apart from the cost savings...you, the guest, have more flexibility when flying into Loreto. First, there are simply more flights and it's more affordable. Second, it's a great location to extend your vacation experience by either kayaking, snorkeling or any other activity Baja has to offer. Although we don't fly directly into San Ignacio, our guests have found that the cost savings, and flexibility, of not having to fly to San Diego, then bus to Tijuana to then take a charter flight to San Ignacio lagoon, is in fact much easier. Loreto is an ideal base for exploring other regions of Baja and there are several flight options to get there. In addition, on the day we drive from Loreto to San Ignacio lagoon, you get a great feel of the Baja landscape and people we meet along the way during our special activities that day.
It is important to understand that this is a camping trip and we want to be sure that you are prepared, both mentally and physically, for the challenges it will present, and have clear expectations about the trip. During the day at our San Ignacio Whale Camp, we'll spend two hour sessions on the water in motorized skiffs (called pangas) whale watching. While whale watching from a boat is not strenuous and the water is usually calm, the bay can be choppy when it is windy, so if you are susceptible to seasickness, bring medicine or whatever you need. The hiking aound San Ignacio Bay could best be described as leisurely.
For the Cave Painting tour the first day’s hike leading down to the depths of the canyons is a challenging day. We recommend the use of hiking poles. The distance is around two miles down and the trail is comprised of dirt and loose rock. Most would consider it a moderately difficult hike. The elevation is not high, starting at about 3000’ (970 meters), so altitude is not really an issue. Once in the canyons the hiking is easy, but some of the climbs to the caves require travel over some steep stretches where hands and feet are needed to climb. On the last day we hike back out of the canyon, slow and steady. We estimate the climb to be around 1100’ (330 meters). Horses are available for a modest additional charge. If you choose this option we request that you bring your own riding helmet.
We do require that anyone over 70 or with any health or weight concerns consult us before signing up to make sure you are up to fully participating.
The minimum age for our family whale watching base camp trips is 8 but we require a minimum age of 12 for the hiking portion of this tour. We do make exceptions on occasion, so call us if you think your child is physically capable of participating in this tour.
We send you a complete packing list. We provide tents, sleeping bags and sleeping pads, as well as all camping gear. You bring your own clothes, hiking boots, hiking poles, camera, toiletries, etc.
We design our wilderness adventures to provide you with the best whale encounters imaginable. San Ignacio Lagoon is a whale-watchers' paradise and we GUARANTEE gray whale sightings on this tour! The whales migrate down from their Alaskan home waters to calve in San Ignacio from January through mid-April, so this is the only window to see them in Baja. (Blue, fin, humpback, and other whales may be seen on our kayak tours in Loreto or La Paz)
No kayaks or private boats are allowed in the nursery lagoons of Baja’s Pacific Coast including San Ignacio. Only licensed Mexican whale watching boats are allowed in the lagoons when the whales are present.
Fewer than 500 people make it to these remote canyons annually.
Absolutely! If you have a group of 8-18 friends or family and would like a private trip we are specialists in tailoring a custom trip for you. Perhaps you’d like a trip that is a day shorter or includes other elements our standard tour does not. Whatever it is just call us and let’s start the planning process!
The Loreto Airport (LTO) is serviced by Alaska Airlines direct from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The flight from LAX to LTO is typically in the morning. Depending on where you are traveling from, you may need arrive in Los Angeles a day early, and stay overnight in a hotel near the Airport. Many LAX Airport hotels offer a free shuttle service to and from the Airport. Westjet has seasonal Saturday service (mid February - May) direct from Calgary (YYC) to Loreto (LTO). As flight options for Loreto are limited, we recommend making your reservations as soon as your ROW Sea Kayak Adventures tour is confirmed.
Note: Loreto is also accessible through San Jose del Cabo(SJD) and LaPaz(LAP); however both of these options will involve an additional internal flight or a long bus ride (5-7 hours) North through the Baja Peninsula.
Our tour costs are based on double occupancy on any included hotel nights. Solo travelers who would like their own single hotel room can pay a single supplement (see "Dates & Rates" above for the single supplement price for this tour), or can be matched up with another solo traveler of the same gender if one is available and willing to share. If we are unable to pair you with another solo traveler, we must apply the single supplement charge to cover our hotel costs. Solo travelers will typically have their own tent at whale camp, at no additional cost. However, we are unable to guarantee individual tents at whale camp due to limited tent capacity. If you are asked to share a tent at our whale camp, rest assured that tents are very spacious, full-height canvas wall tents, with two cots and plenty of room to stand and maneuver around your tent-mate without difficulty.