It is something you don't want to miss. I did it with my boys while exploring Loreto, Mexico, last spring. It was a moment we still talk about.
Before you pet your whale, you will need to know a few
things. This is not a big boat tour. This is not a tour that will ask the
whales to flip and do tricks. Each boat captain knows the whales. They see them
spawning year after year in the warm waters off the Pacific coast of Baja. The local guides hate that the government is allowing larger
companies to pay a huge fee to be able to bring their boats into these channels
of water to show their passengers the whales. It disrupts the whales peaceful
existence. Not to mention, it impacts the local economy that is profiting from the
grey whales' yearly migration.
If you hop onto a local tour company's excursion (a two-hour drive to the Pacific coast) from
Loreto, Mexico, you will get in a small
panga, which is essentially a large rowboat with a motor. About 15 people fit
in one of these boats, making sure you have an intimate experience with the
whales. Everyone stays quiet as the captain looks for the whales. Most are mama
whales with their new babies. When one is spotted, you know right away as boats
start rushing towards one spot. This isn't a motorboat extravaganza though.
During our two-hour tour, we only saw between three and five boats in the huge lagoon
we were floating through.
The captain held onto his life vest as my son, who was just over 3 years old at the time, tried to get up his courage to pet the mama whale.
Unlike the U.S., Mexico does not have the 100-yard rule. In Hawaii, boat captains must shut down their engines if they get within 100
yards of a whale. You cannot bring your boat any closer. Now, if a whale decides
to swim up to you that is a different story. In Hawaii, especially on the
island of Maui, whale-watching is a huge draw for tourists, so this is a very
good rule and protects the animals. Mexico doesn't have this law, but they also
don't have the crowds that Maui does or the boat sizes that Maui uses. The
whales are used to the tiny boats that frequent their waters. They tolerate
them and come to say hello pretty regularly. They aren't fed; they aren't being
trained to interact with humans. They are just curious.
Our captain made sure everyone got a chance to pet a whale.
He even patiently waited for my very timid son to figure out if he wanted to
pet a whale or not. The captain held onto his life vest as my son, who was just
over 3 years old at the time, tried to get up his courage to pet the mama
whale. She was big. Huge! I don't blame him for being nervous. I, on the other
hand, who had his baby brother strapped to me, threw myself over the side to
get close enough to pet the whale. The captain had his other hand on my
shoulder making sure I didn't fall in.
I pet the whale. It was one of those
moments that you don't forget. My son did not pet the whale in the end.
Apparently, that is one of those moments you don't forget either, since he still
talks about it more than a year later.
But he did see one. Actually, more than one
whale swam by us—a few males, who were trying to impress the mama we had found
plus another mama and her calf. (Why do men think we want to get knocked up
again right after we have had a baby? No thank you.)
Petting a grey whale was an incredible experience, but that
isn't all that Baja has to offer. We had set ourselves up in the tiny town of Loreto, just
north of La Paz and about six hours from Cabo San Lucas. There were a number of
creatures that called the islands off of Loreto in the Sea of Cortez home. The
town also had cheap, comfortable lodging, great food and a quiet pace of life
that we enjoy more than we would have in a crowded beach town.
Other natives you
Grey whales aren't the only creatures you will find when you
visit Baja. Off the coast of Loreto, there are sea lion colonies and pods of dolphins swimming around. You can take a boat to Coronodo Island for
the day to swim, kayak and stand up paddleboard. Your boat will stop by the sea
lion colony for a quick (and smelly) visit, and you will probably pick up a few
dolphin friends before you hit the beach.
So, how does a grey whale feel? Kind of like bumpy rubber.
Where to stay in
There are plenty of resorts outside of Loreto that can
pander to your every whim, but we prefer the small inns in the town of Loreto.
La Damiana Inn is run by an American expat and her Mexican husband right in the
center of town. The rooms are comfortable, and the clientele ranges from
families to kayaking adventurers. There is a communal kitchen all guests can
use, and, if you are really lucky, the owners will make fresh guacamole as you
sit around the table with other guests swapping stories over a bottle of wine
after the kids go to bed.
What to eat
Orlandos, La Parala and Islas are three delectable spots to
grab dinner after a long day exploring the area or just sitting on the beach.
The food is fresh and the prices dirt cheap compared to what you would get in
the U.S. Pan Que Pan is a great place to grab breakfast or a loaf of bread to
enjoy with your picnic lunch. If you are looking for fish tacos, head down to
the Wild Loreto Beach Club for some of the best around. You can rent paddleboards
and kayaks to entertain your kids, while you kick back with a beer, guacamole
and chips, and fresh tacos on the beach.
Loreto is one of the best—and quietest—places to set up
for your whale adventure. It may take a two-hour shuttle ride to get you to the Pacific coast from Loreto so you can see the whales, but it is a town with
enough to keep everyone entertained without the bother of crowded resorts and
high priced tourist traps.