Can you tell us more about the Lodgings where we will be staying?
After a drive through the mountains of Northern Baja and La Rumorosa we’ll stop at the Malecon of San Felipe for lunch at Rosita’s. Then we’ll head down the newly completed Highway 5 along the eastern coast of Baja, with stunning views of the Sea of Cortez. Our first stop for the night will be at the Hotel Santa Maria Catavina located in the middle of the Baja peninsula. This is 410 miles from our departure point in San Diego and we should get there around 4:30pm. We’ll check in, unload, and have free time to hike, explore, or check out the Cantinas at the Hotel. In the morning after breakfast in the Hotel we’ll drive back North a few miles to a small cave painting site. Short hike, not very tough, but a beautiful and accessible example of the Pinturas Rupuestras in Baja and the Central Baja desert flora. Then back on the road heading south to Guerrero Negro and our cetacean friends the Gray Whales
During our stay in Guerrero Negro, we will be at the Hotel Los Caracoles. Located off the main road in town, this motel is a nice addition to GN for housing. Large, clean rooms with private baths. The cleaning staff is very punctual and consistent. Since Guerrero Negro is more of a working town than tourist hot spot, there are mostly motels – not hotels. The motel has internet available – great for checking emails – and they have a small display of curios for sale.
In Bahia de Los Angeles we will stay at the Motel Costa del Sol. They are one of the more modern motels in Bahia and is located in the center of town. They have great rooms and a very nice on-site restaurant/cantina.
The next day we head north to San Quintin and the fantastic Hotel Mision Santa Maria on a fabulous slow break beach with LOTS of shells! We will stop for lunch at Parcela 12, a comedor with homemade and fantastic food – very popular with the locals. The Hotel restaurant is very good and we can decide our dining options depending on preferences.
The next day we’re off to the Sierra de San Pedro Martir (if accessible) to see the mountaintop park with old growth forests and unique wildlife – not your usual Baja. If not able to ascend the road to the Parque, we will instead stop for a wine tasting at the Santo Tomas Winery, one of the oldest in North America.
Our last night is in the heart of Ensenada, a large fishing and tourist port. Our hotel the Cortez is right on the main street with loads of shopping and snacking options. Dinner will be next door at the world famous El Rey Sol restaurant with a unique blend of classic French and Mexican dishes.
And the ultimo dia we will have breakfast in Ensenada, free time, then lunch at a wonderful seafood restaurant right on the coast. Then it’s north to Tecate to cross back into the USA – and home!
Can you tell us more about transportation?
Our vehicle for the trip down the Baja peninsula will be a Ford E350 van, with seats for 11 passengers. However, we never load our tours with more than 8 clients, a driver, and a Co-guide. This leaves ample room for luggage on the inside of the van – less problems with weather and security. The longest driving time going south and returning north is about 6-7 hours and we will have several shorter trips during our tour. On the way home to San Diego we will be driving through the Valle de Guadalupe on the much improved Highway 3 and our exit through Tecate – a slightly less hectic border crossing than San Ysidro or Otay Mesa.
We make stops every couple of hours for leg stretching and restroom breaks. We usually stop at the Pemex or new brand stations (both for gas and restrooms) which was the nationalized gas distributor for Mexico; that changed several years ago so now there are other providers of fuel from worldwide companies as well. We do have to clear at least 3 “checkpoints” which are manned by the Mexican Army – but it’s not a problem since they are only inspecting for guns or drugs. And we should NEVER have either of those with us. If you have a predilection for motion sickness, it might be a good idea to take Dramamine before we leave since many parts of the road are very curvy. Or try to sit up forward in the van – this seems to help quite a bit. The troopers get to sit in the rear seat
Some of our clients use this driving time for resting or reading, but the scenery and changing flora are very interesting. We will see everything from California coastal, large agricultural areas, mountain canyons, turquoise waters and many islands in the Sea of Cortez, high altitude desert with flora only found in Baja, pines and manzanita forests in the San Pedro Martir, and of course the sandy flats which surround Guerrero Negro.
Can you tell us more about Guerrero Negro?
Located in the state of Baja Sur, Guerrero Negro is right on the border of Baja Sur and Baja Norte. Part of the Vizcaino Preserve, this is a large area dedicated to preserving unique Baja species and environment. Besides the gray whales, its primary claim to fame is the extensive salt mining operation which is operated there. Located on the Pacific ocean and being fairly flat has made Guerrero Negro a natural area for evaporation of sea water – leaving sea salt behind. Many of the residents work for the salt company – ESSA – which is run by the Mexican government and their partner Mitsubishi.
Most of the land for ESSA and for the whale watching activities is located on ejido land. The local members of the ejido benefit from the lease with the salt company and they operate much of the whale watching concession.
Though Guerrero Negro is not a resort town, it’s approximately 30,000 inhabitants are very hard working and enjoy the interaction with tourists who come to see the whales. Motels are small, restaurants are usually family run, and this town is a true example of a Mexican town without undue influence from tourism. But has grown over the years and offers many more services.
The whale watching industry has grown up in the last decades since the local fisherman noticed that the whales and their babies were curious about the boats. There are three designated whale watching areas around Guerrero Negro, each with different types of whale activity, boats, and tour providers. We will also have the chance to visit a scientific sanctuary for the endangered Baja Pronghorn Antelope. When not petting whales we will tour the Old Town Guerrero Negro and the wetlands on the lagoons.
Can you tell us more about Bahia de Los Angeles?
LA Bay is in the state of Baja Norte and is on the Sea of Cortez about 160 miles south of San Felipe. It is a small town which finally installed electrical power on the grid and still does not have cell service. This is also where I’ve had my vacation home for the last 20 years.
The islands and mountains surrounding LA Bay are some of the most beautiful in all of Baja. On a calm day you can kayak, fish, snorkel, and just lay in the sun. Of course if one of the notorious “Westies” comes up, a very strong West wind caused by pressure differentials between the Sea of Cortez and the upper desert, you may want to pick a sunny spot on the lee side of the building for cocktails and reading.
Can you tell us more about Food & Drink on the tours?
Having traveled in Baja for over 40 years I probably take some of the food concerns for granted, but it does pay to be prudent. For driving there will be lots of waters, small snacks, drinks/beers. Clients are welcome to bring small quantities of their favorite snacks/drinks – we’ll find room! Our lunch on the first day will be at Rosita’s in San Felipe. Great, very popular Mexican restaurant with great owners who constantly help their community. While in Guerrero Negro we eat at restaurants that I have eaten at for years – they have some traditional Mexican food selections, but the real treat is the seafood that they serve. Shrimp, scallops, octopus, fresh fish and clams. These are prepared in several different ways. Breakfast is usually eggs, breakfast meats, fruit, toast or tortillas and of course beansJ. We will have plenty of bottled water since you should not drink tap water ever. There are juices, sodas and of course beer and other adult beverages. Lunches are usually at the restaurants or a taco stand if the group agrees – some of the best food you can get in Baja in my opinion. If you have any special diet needs PLEASE let us know as soon as possible and we will try to accommodate – our options are limited though in most of Baja.
Can you give us some tips on Clothing and What to Pack?
The weather during whale season can be either windy and cool or windy and warm – the key word is WINDY! Usually in the mornings it will be calm, but the breeze almost always picks up by early afternoon. I suggest people plan on dressing in layers – and the outside layer should be waterproof or at least water resistant. Though sometimes cloudy, it can also be sunny so a hat and sunscreen are important. We have also had light amounts of rain and there will always be some spray from the pangas – not to mention when the whales blow next to the boat! They’ve made improvements in the inner lagoon so we don’t have to wade to the boats anymore; though I always enjoyed that part! I like to wear warm socks and tennis shoes, but water shoes are fine too. I would avoid cumbersome boots and high heels are not recommended Definitely something closed toe though since we are moving around in the boats. Our trips are 2-3 hours each so whatever the weather is like it won’t be forever, but give yourself some options. By the way, sunglasses are great but I get tired of wiping them every time we have some spray from the boat or a passing whale. At least put some kind of strap on them so you don’t lose them when leaning over the side.
Bahia will be similar to Guerrero Negro though usually warmer. And it will be either flat and calm or blowing to high heaven. That’s how it is in Bahia. We will be on the beach at my house for an afternoon so bring a suit if you’re so inclined – water temps will be down at this time of year.
In the Sierra de San Pedro Martir we will be up to 9,000 feet for a bit while we visit the top of the mountain. You will need a heavier jacket for this portion – but again if you think in layers you should be able to manage with your whale gear. And yes – we do get SNOW at the top!
Can you give us some tips on what kind of photo equipment and other gear to bring?
I promise LOTS of photo ops on this trip – both whales, friends, birds, the town, other wildlife, etc… If you have the normal digital camera you should be fine, but bring something to clean the lens and view finder with. If you are using a high end digital/film camera, I would recommend you put at least a protective filter if not a UV or sunlight filter – something to protect the lens. Video cameras are great and you’ll have a better chance of getting that pic of a whale broaching than with a still – timing is everything! Myself, and many others, use our Iphones as cameras. A good case or even a waterproof case is not a bad idea. And with AirDrop we can share photos – that way we all get to see ourselves in the pictures too.
For your room, an alarm clock is good since many of our activities are fairly tightly timed (tours, departures, planned meals). Phones work great.
What about cell service/wifi?
While there is decent cell service in the northern part of our tour and in Guerrero Negro, much of our trip is in the Dead Zone. No cell coverage and no real utility services – just solar and generators. A true Frontier! All of our lodgings have some wifi – though not always fast and usually not good enough for streaming.
What kind of documents do we need to bring with us?
The ONLY document to bring now is a current passport – regardless of your citizenship. Any non-resident aliens in the US MUST bring their documents to re-enter the US – US residents need a photo ID or their alien resident card (green card). It is VERY important that you make sure you have the right documents since this can put a serious crimp in our trip – please call us if you have any questions. It’s not possible to cover every question – so please feel free to call or email us and we’ll do our best to answer your question.