Called “The World’s Aquarium” by Jacques Cousteau, the Sea of Cortes is the location to experience the incredible diversity of marine life. With 900 species of fish, 170 species of seabirds, a third of the world’s whales, dolphins, and porpoises, and five species of sea turtles, the Sea of Cortes is nature at its finest, and many of the best destinations along the Sea of Cortes are accessible only by small ship.
I had the pleasure of cruising the Sea of Cortes with my niece, Cheryl, and recommend these fantastic ports along Mexico’s Baha California Sur, plus the best activities in each.
UnCruise Adventures sponsored our voyage. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Pro Tip: Is It the Sea of Cortez or the Sea of Cortes? Both spellings are correct. Cortez is the Spanish spelling, and Cortes is the English spelling.
1. Baja Agua Verde
The gentle sway of the sea at Baja Agua Verde is a welcome relief to the strong El Norte winds we encountered upon leaving La Paz.
Located on the peninsula just south of Loreto, the waters of secluded Agua Verde Bay are a beautiful green and amazingly clear and clean. There are few tourists here as the 40-mile drive is rough and unsuitable for cars and the area is best visited by small ship. We anchored just offshore and enjoyed the following activities:
Skiff Tour Of Baja Agua Verde
A skiff took us to explore the rugged shore of the peninsula and is a great way to see the best of this area. Thanks to the calm waters, we could get close to and sight the many marine birds perched on the rocks.
Wildlife Sighting: Blue-Footed Boobies
The most unusual birds we saw were the blue-footed boobies. These are aquatic birds native to the tropical and subtropical areas of the Pacific. Do you know why their feet are blue? Scientists believe the blue color results from the carotenoid pigments in their diet. During mating season, the males entice females with fancy footwork during a dance ritual.
Have you ever enjoyed a burro ride along high cliffs overlooking the beautiful waters of the Sea of Cortes? Fellow cruisers, including my niece, raved about this experience with the Romero Family, who brought their burros over an 8-mile trek to provide this unique excursion. The Romeros are an authentic Mexican Ranchero Clan, rapidly disappearing as the younger generation moves away to seek educational and employment opportunities. The burro rides are an essential source of revenue for the clan and an activity unique to the area.
The so-called goat walk up the cliff was the most strenuous of the activities at Baja Agua Verde, and it was perfect for folks like my niece. I asked her if there was a special meaning to the term “Goat Walk.” “No, I don’t think so,” she replied. “It was just a scramble up some rocks like a mountain goat would.” She loved it! The path they took meandered along some relatively narrow pathways along the mountain cliff.
A beach walk and tasty refreshments at UnCruise Beach Stations topped off our afternoon at Baja Agua Verde before we reboarded the ship.
Pro Tip: Reminder that whenever and wherever you visit a beach, you should take nothing and leave nothing behind.
2. Puerto Lopez Mateos, Magdalena Bay
We docked off Isla Carmen and traveled overland on Highway #1 across the peninsula to Puerto Lopez Mateos on the Pacific Side of Baja California Sur. The terrain is amazing: desolate with miles and miles of cacti. One friend observed, “This is just like the old Western movies!”
Wildlife Sighting: Gray Whales
After boarding a small boat, we set out to observe the gray whales in the lagoon of Magdalena Bay. This area is one of the three major Baja breeding and calving lagoons for gray whales and is recognized as one of the world’s best places to view them. The lagoon is ideal because of its warm, calm, nutrient-rich waters.
Excitement sparks in the air as we all watch for the first blowholes. Soon, a sighting — and close to our boats.
What an absolute delight! Several mothers and calves were enjoying the warm waters of the bay. This is the closest I have ever been to gray whales and the first time I observed mothers and calves. We stayed for a good 45 minutes and witnessed these magnificent creatures throughout our time.
Pro Tip: The best time to view gray whales and calves here is mid-January to early March, when they begin their migration back to Alaska. Plan your trip accordingly.
3. Isla Carmen (Del Carmen Island)
Isla Carmen is the largest island in the Loreto National Marine Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We anchored just off the island and enjoyed these activities:
Prepare to be greeted by colorful fish! The waters are cold here — it’s not like snorkeling in Hawaii or the Caribbean. The good news is that hot chocolate was waiting for us on our return!
Note that UnCruise requires folks to be good swimmers and able to get back on the boat using a ladder to participate in snorkeling. There is always the option to enjoy the views from the lounge on the ship, too.
Pro Tip: Uncruise offered Snorkel 101 for folks new to snorkeling, those who had not snorkeled for several years, and those who needed more confidence in snorkeling. This is a great option to help you get comfortable with snorkeling.
Wildlife Sighting: Dolphins And Blue Whales
Later in the afternoon, we heard the announcement: “Dolphins spotted off the bow!”
We rushed from the lounge to the bow of the ship to see the dolphins. In the distance, we also saw the spouts of blue whales. One of the crew identified them. I asked how she knew they were blue whales and not gray whales. Her response: “Gray whales don’t come up here.”
Fun Facts: Blue whales are the largest mammals on earth — they can reach up to 100 feet in length and can weigh up to 180 tonnes. Blue whales are found regularly in the “Blue Triangle” off Del Carmen Island. They are found greater distances from shore than the gray whales.
4. Isla Coronado
We anchored in a remote cove off Isla Coronado, another one of the five islands in UNESCO World Heritage Site Loreto Bay Marine Park. Isla Coronado is inhabited by 16 species of reptiles, including snakes, lizards, and geckos, and is also known for its jackrabbits and mice.
Skiff Tour Of Isla Coronado
A skiff tour lets you get closer to Isla Coronado’s unique volcanic rock and shore formations, which are intricate and spell-binding.
Wildlife Sighting: Marine Birds And Nests
In addition to the impressive shoreline, during our skiff tour, we observed more blue-footed boobies, brown pelicans, and cormorants. We marveled at two huge cormorant nests along the rocks — one with a cormorant guarding it.
Native Vegetation, Fishermen’s Shrine, And Pearl Farm
Amazing also was the lone cacti trying to survive in the rocks. With less than one inch of rain annually, plants here have adapted to the harsh conditions to eke out a sustainable life.
As we rounded a bend, we came across a cross and shrine dedicated to the safety of the fishermen in the area. In another area, we got to see an abandoned pearl farm.
Swim With Sea Lions
These clear turquoise waters are rich with life. One of the main attractions at Isla Coronado is the sea lions, frolicking in the waters and sunning on the rocks. If conditions are calm, folks can swim with the sea lions in one area.
Unfortunately, the winds had picked up, so we could not do this on our trip. (I always tell myself that I need to save some experiences for next time!) Flexibility is needed when small-boat cruising on the Sea of Cortes. Some experiences require good weather, and the captain always places safety first. So do be prepared for a change of plans.
Fun Fact: Loreto Bay Marine Park is also a Ramsar Site, meaning it’s internationally recognized for its wise use of waters and wetlands.
How To Get There
The Sea of Cortes lies between the Baja California Peninsula and the western coastline of Northern Mexico. Baja California Sur is the southern tip of the peninsula. We flew into San Jose del Cabo and met our UnCruise Expedition there.
- Bring some flip-flops or water shoes for wet landings.
- I also recommend you bring a backpack to have your hands free when stepping into and out of the skiffs.
- To help preserve the delicate marine environment, I recommend reef-safe sunscreen.
More On Our Small Ship: The Safari Voyager
Our cruise was the Baja’s Bounty: Baja California’s Whales & Sealife Adventure. The Safari Voyager is a 66-passenger, 33-cabin small ship operated by UnCruise Adventures. Guest to crew ratio is 2:2.1.
The ship has three decks. Deck 3 is the spacious lounge with 270-degree windows. The majority of the cabins are located on the second deck. All the cabins are outside, above the deck, and have lovely picture windows. The dining room is situated on the first deck. The vessel is decorated with beautiful handcrafted artwork in public areas and cabins.
Safari Voyager has an underwater camera and posts on Channel 2 in your cabin.
Three levels of activities are offered morning and afternoon: very active, active, and laid back. Between the two of us, my niece and I participated in all the activities.
Note that on this cruise, most landings are “wet landings,” meaning that you will step into shallow water to reach the beach. Additionally, there are no elevators on the ship.
Do plan a visit to Baja California Sur and the Sea of Cortes. Whether you enjoy sealife, birding, geography, or cruising, this is nature at its finest.