Seeing grey whales in Baja was at the top of my Mexico bucket list. Most whale watching tours I’ve experienced in the past were a several-hour boat ride where you might get a chance to see a whale.
But in Baja during peak whale season, it’s not a hope – It’s a guarantee. 🐋
The extra magical thing about a Baja whale watching tour is that you don’t just admire the whales from afar. Rather, you get to interact with the grey whales by touching or even kissing them! 🤗
This guide is everything I wish I had known about taking a whale watching tour to see grey whales in Baja. From whale watching tour costs, regulations for viewing (and touching) grey whales, and where the best place to see grey whales is in Baja are. We’ve got you covered!
🍿You can see our entire whale experience in the video below. I promise it will inspire you to plan a Baja whale watching trip immediately! Now let’s dive in.
About the grey whales in Baja
Each winter, thousands of grey whales migrate roughly 10,000 miles or 15,000 kilometers from Alaska to the warm waters of Baja California. The migration is considered the longest of any mammal in the world taking months to complete.
The grey whales come to three lagoons in Baja (more on that later) to breed and give birth in the safety of its waters.
Bajas oceans and bays are high in nutrients thanks to their oxygen-rich waters and strong tides. The constant movement of fresh water and unspoiled shores make it an all-you-can-eat plankton buffet for these gentle giants.
🐋 🤓 Fun fact: Female grey whales are the largest of the two. They can be as long as 49 feet or 15 meters and weigh as much as 80,000 lbs or 36,250 kilograms! One way to identify grey whales is their distinct grey color which is covered in barnacles. Grey whales can carry as much as 400 lbs. of barnacles on their body.
Grey whale protections in Baja
The grey whales in Baja are fiercly protected today to ensure their safety and well-being.
There are restrictions to how many boats can be out on the water with the whales at a given time and who is allowed to captain a boat in these waters. The lagoons the grey whales rely on for safe breeding and feeding are also protected from fishing and other potentially threatening human activities.
It’s great to see these protections today. However, it wasn’t always this way.
For many centuries the fishermen who worked in these lagoons feared the whales, believing they were evil giants of the sea. When fishermen would see a whale, they would harpoon them to kill the “devil fish”. At one point in the mid 1800s, grey whales were nearly extinct from whaling.
🐋 Thankfully, thanks to worldwide protection of these creatures. The grey whale population is considered “stable” today, according to the World Wild Life organization.
In the 1970s, a fisherman named Francisco (Pachico) Mayoral was out on his panga (boat) when he saw a grey whale approach his boat. The story says the whale kept following his boat.
Rather than fearing or attacking it, Mayoral decided to touch it. This was a major turning point for how Baja interacted with these gentle giants after he shared his peaceful and pleasant experience with the whales.
When can you see grey whales in Baja?
🗓️ Grey whale season in Baja is from January to March each year. However, peak Baja whale watching season (when you are guaranteed to see the most grey whales) is February.
Late March or early April is when the whales begin their long migration journey back to Alaska. If you come at the end of the season there’s a chance you won’t see whales on your trip.
Can you touch grey whales in Baja?
There’s a big debate as to whether or not touching grey whales is humane, responsible, or ethical. After all, most wildlife tours strictly prohibit touching wildlife in their natural habitats. The rule of thumb is to leave space between you and the animal or habitat you are experiencing.
But in the case of grey whales, they actively seek human engagement.
Whales are complex mammals. Studies have shown that whales feel and process emotions more complexly than we can. They have their own language and even different dialects within their geographical areas. More studies are needed to fully understand these creatures.
👨🏽🔬 However, scientists now believe the reason grey whales come up to boats is to engage and connect with humans.
We found that if you didn’t engage with the whales enough by touching or talking to them they would move on to another boat. The louder the boat was in calling them over and offering “pets”, the more whales we got to see and touch!
The laws of Mexico do not forbid the touching of whales if they come up to you in the boat. So it is legal to touch grey whales. Of course, you have to decide if doing so aligns with your ethics.
We felt extremely connected to the grey whales during this experience and do believe they were seeking our interactions. They would poke their heads up out of the water looking straight at us. Our captain had one whale return several times for a kiss. He was the only one it would allow to kiss it but popped its head up around 4 to 5 times for this. 💋
A good rule of thumb is if they come up to you to enteract, it’s okay so long as your comfortable with it.
Best places to see the grey whales in Baja
There are three options for seeing grey whales in Baja.
- Ojo de Liebre Lagoon in Guerrero Negro
- San Ignacio Lagoon in San Ignacio
- Bahía Magdalena near San Carlos
These three lagoons are where the largest concentration of grey whales can be found and are considered their protected breeding and feeding grounds.
With my friend Hayley McSwain, a fellow RVer and contributor to this blog, we’ve now experienced grey whale tours at all three lagoons. Through our shared experiences, we’ll guide you on what to expect at each spot to determine the best place to see grey whales in Baja for you.
|Time to whales on boat
|Total tour time
|Ojo de Liebre Lagoon
|Best for those in San Diego or headed south on a Baja road trip.
|Largest concentration of grey whales, very friendly demeanor, and affordable tour cost. *Our top pick*
|The road out to the Lagoon is rough and the town of Guerrero Negro doesn’t have a lot to do.
|San Ignacio Lagoon
|Best for those near Mulegé or Loreto.
|Large concentration of whales, picturesque town, and affordable tour cost.
|Rough road to the Lagoon if you are in your own vehicle.
|Best for those near Los Cabos or La Paz.
|4 – 5 hours
|Breakfast and lunch included, closests proximity to see grey whales if you are deep into Baja California Sur.
|Most expensive tour and whales depart north sooner in the season.
Ojo de Liebre Lagoon
If I could only experience grey whales in Baja in one spot – Ojo de Liebre Lagoon would be it. Located about 45 minutes to an hour outside of Guerrero Negro, Ojo de Liebre Lagoon is where the largest concentration of grey whales migrate each year.
The Lagoon does a weekly study to estimate whale population and track behavioral movements. During our visit in February of 2023, there were over 2,000 grey whales in the Lagoon! We saw dozens of whale spouts pushing up water through their blow holes from the shore. And that was before we even got on the water.
We must have seen 30 whales on our whale watching tour, touching at least five to six whales. The whales in this Lagoon were by far the most curious, friendly, and interactive of the three.
San Ignacio Lagoon
San Ignacio Lagoon is another great option for Baja whale watching. It’s roughly two hours further south from Guerrero Negora in Baja California Sur and about a two-hour drive north from Mulegé.
The Laguna is a UNESCO world heritage site and a protected sanctuary for the whales, where commercial fishing is halted during their migration and birthing season to protect the whales.
Accessing the protected Laguna is an adventure in itself. The drive from San Ignacio is challenging, with paved roads covering only a fraction of the journey. The badly graded dirt road demands patience, limiting speeds to an average of 8 mph and topping out at 12 mph.
Navigating the maze of dirt roads closer to the campsite can be confusing, with sparse signage. Expect a 2 to 3-hour drive unless your vehicle is equipped for rough terrain. There are options to book a grey whale watching tour which includes transporation to the Laguna (sparing you and your car the stress of the road).
Whale watching at Laguna San Ignacio is ideal for those based in San Ignacio, Santa Rosalia, Mulege, or Loreto.
The town of San Ignacio is picturesque. There is a historic mission in the center of town, a lush oasis with beautiful palms and a river to admire, along with a few restaurants and shops in town.
For many, the allure of the town makes this the better viewing point for a grey whale experience. However, there are fewer whales in the Lagoon compared to Ojo de Liebre and the road to the lagoon is less than ideal.
Bahía Magdalena is the furthest south destination where you can see grey whales in Baja. The town of Puerto San Carlos, where most whale watching tours depart from, is around a 3-hour drive from La Paz and a 5-hour drive North of Cabo San Lucas.
If you are flying into Cabo San Lucas or based in Baja California Sur, then Bahía Magdalena is your best option for seeing grey whales.
Bahía Magdalena is known for having large populations of grey whales during peak season. Additionally, it is a great spot for commercial and sport fishing. However, due to it’s southern location whales return to their northern migration earlier in the season.
For that reason, your best chance of seeing and interacting with grey whales here is in January and February.
Hayley saw 20 grey whales on her trip in late March but was not able to interact with the grey whales in Magdalena Bay as you could elsewhere. They kept their distance on this tour, which could be due to how late in the season she visited.
Another thing to note about viewing grey whales at Magdalena Bay is how long the journey was to get to the whales on the boat. The town of Puerto San Carlos also had lots of litter in the streets, which detracted from the overall experience.
Best grey whale watching tours in Baja
Below are a few of the best eco-tour companies to book a Baja whale watching tour within each location.
You can also check out these recommended tours from Get Your Guide, many of which leave from Cabo San Lucas.
Guerrero Negro whale watching tours
Since this is considered one of the best places to see and touch grey whales in Baja there are tons of different tour options to choose from. If you are coming to Baja in an RV like we did, you can stay at Malarrimo RV Park. The park offers whale watching tours with transportation to and from the RV park.
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Mallarimo’s whale watching tour cost roughly $50 USD in 2023, which could be paid by card or cash. You can check for updated pricing here and book a tour with them without staying at the RV park.
Another option is to stay at Ojo de Liebre Lagoon Campground. There are no services here aside from a pit toilet and a few palapas but you have stunning views of the lagoon and are next to the launch area for the pangas (boats). Be warned, the road out here is brutal with lots of sand and ruts.
⚠️ For many, it’s better to stay in town and take the guided tour which includes transportation down the rough roads to the shore.
We took our whale watching eco-tour with Punta Mariscal. They have two departure times one at 8:00 am and 10:00 am. The maximum number of people allowed on the boat for each tour is 30 people. Luckily on our trip, there were around 10 of us in all.
This tour included transportation out to Punta Mariscal, a point on the shores of the lagoon that passes through Guerrero Negro’s salt mines. We were loaded up on the boat via a truck over the water which was a fun experience!
It took around 15 minutes to get close to the whales. Our captain turned off the engine and almost instantly the grey whales started coming up to the boat. In total, we spent around 2 hours on the water and we saw 30+ whales touching several of them. The entire experience (travel included) took about 4 hours.
🏨 If you are not staying in an RV or van you can stay at Hotel Los Caracoles or at Malarrimo RV Park and Hotel.
San Ignacio whale watching tour
If you’re in an RV you can stay at Antonio’s EcoTours overnight camping on the beach then take a tour with a Marine Biologist who runs the tour in the morning.
Another eco-tour company that allows overnight camping on San Ignacio Lagoon is Kuyima Eco Tours (who Hayley went with). Their tours cost around $50 – $55 USD and last two hours total. You can book their tour by making a reservation online or visit their office on the main square in San Ignacio.
As previously mentioned the road to San Ignacio Lagoon is only paved for the first 30 miles / 50 kilometers then it turns to a tough bumpy dirt road for the last 10 miles / 17 kilometers. If the drive isn’t harrowing enough, the sand on the beach is soft in some sections and it’s easy to get stuck (ask us how to know).
🚘 If you have a rental car, especially one with 4-wheel drive you can make it to any of the eco-tours that reside along the shores with ease. Just give yourself ample time to get there before the tours depart.
If you don’t want to deal with soft sand and bumpy roads in an RV the best option is to stay and town and book an eco-tour with a group in the town center.
Pachio Eco Tours offers camping on the beach (tents and cabins) for around $350 a night which includes a whale watching tour. Tours alone are around $65 USD and last about 2 and a half to three hours roundtrip.
Hayley took the first boat tour at 7:00 am with Kuyima tours. It only took 15 minutes to reach the whale-rich waters from the campsite. To make the most of the time on the water, she took two tours back to back spending 4 hours on the water.
We saw about 50 whales that day! In the Laguna, the whales displayed a remarkable friendliness, often approaching the boats closely. Many fortunate individuals on other boats even got the chance to touch these magnificent creatures, although we did not.
After the tour we got lunch at Kuyima’s restaurant. However, we felt it was overpriced and not worth the money. If you’re coming here for this tour we suggest bringing your own food.
🏨 If you aren’t in an RV or van, you can check out some of the vacation rental stays in the area. San Ignacio is even smaller than Guerrero Negro so there aren’t big hotels to stay at. Ignacio Springs Resort has beautiful grounds with glamping and hot springs on-site next to the oasis!
Puerto San Carlos whale watching tours
Whether you’re coming from Cabo, La Paz, Todos Santos, La Ventana, or Loreto, Magdalena Bay is conveniently accessible from various points along the Baja California Sur coastline. Easily accessible by car, paved roads lead the way until the small town of Puerto San Carlos, where the roads transition to dirt.
For a guided educational grey whale watching experience, the go-to choice is Magdalena Bay Whales. This family operated business offers multiple types of tours and excursions which can pick you up from multiple locations in Baja Sur if you are without a car.
Our whale watching shared tour cost us $100 per person for half a day on the water. If interested they offer a multi-tour experience where you stay overnight on an island and “glamp” in canvas tents between tours.
Our tour left early, at 6 am because high winds are common later in the day. The tour included a traditional Mexican breakfast at the hotel before setting out, which was great given the early start. The boat journey from the port to the bay takes approximately an hour and we spent several hours on the water.
🤢 If you get seasick easily I would suggest taking dramamine before getting on the boat.
We spotted approximately 20 whales during our tour, although the numbers should be greater earlier in the season. The highlight of the trip was our close encounter with the three magnificent grey whales that approached our boat, providing a truly awe-inspiring and unforgettable spectacle.
Returning to the hotel around 1 pm, we enjoyed another meal at the hotel restaurant with margaritas to celebrate our magical encounter, before leaving town. If you aren’t in an RV, you can stay at Hotel Isabella.
For those seeking a more rugged experience, camping is permitted on the free beach north of town. Just beware there are soft spots in the sand, don’t get stuck!
Baja whale watching tours from San Diego
If you aren’t on a Baja on a road trip, you may need a tour company with transportation and lodging from the United States in order to see grey whales in Baja.
San Diego is a popular launch pad for grey whale watching tours because of its proximity to the border. Ojo de Liebre Lagoon in Guerrero Negro is around a 9 to 10-hour drive from San Diego, requiring a multi-day trip to get there and experience the whales. Other options include airfair from San Diego to San Ignacio for a whale experience.
🤑 Baja whale watching trips from San Diego are extremely costly. We highly recommend taking a DIY road trip to experience this on your own. However, if you want a more luxurious or all-inclusive experience without the planning this is a great option for you.
Below are a few options for whale watching experiences that depart from San Diego.
- Baja Discovery offers 5-day whale watching trips starting at $3,900 per person. Whale watching tours, (some) food, transportation, and lodging are included.
- Baja Expeditions offers 3-night to 6-night stays ranging from $2,500 and up per person. Again, whale watching tours, (some) food, transportation, and loading are included.
No matter where you experience the grey whales in Baja, a Baja Mexico whale watching trip is a must-do! We hope this guide to seeing grey whales in Baja has helped you plan your trip for this bucket list experience.
Let us know in the comments how your tour went. We love hearing how our posts have helped others make epic memories.