Wondrous Whale Watching in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico – The whale, big as a locomotive, surged out of the water, streaming foam, airborne and spinning as though for the sheer joy of it, before gracefully slicing back under the waves. We watched silently, jaws agape, never having been so close to such a huge, fast-moving creature. It seemed almost possible to count the barnacles on the whale’s shimmering skin. Never had we seen such a massive living thing move with such grace and assurance.
In early December, gray whales, blue whales, and others had just started heading around the tip of Baja California, Mexico, moving as a community from the Pacific Ocean in the west to the Sea of Cortez on the eastern side of the peninsula. It’s in that protected waterway that pregnant whales calve their babies. Other whale babies, born the year before, could be seen trailing behind. All whale babies get two trips like this with mom before they’re deemed ready to start having babies of their own and making the journey on their own.
We’ve seen big creatures up-close – silverback gorillas in Rwanda, elephants in Thailand – but never had we seen such giants as these whales, moving with tremendous speed, natural elegance and primal dignity.
We’re in one of several small powerboats, sent out by Scuba Caribe, which has offices for arranging such tours at the Riu Hotels in Cabo San Lucas. The owner of Scuba Caribe has been working with the owner of Riu Hotels for a long time, and it’s proven to be a successful relationship.
Scuba Caribe will also take you out for scuba (of course!) and snorkel tours. Cruising alongside these behemoths is such a rare experience, however, you really should give it a try; it feels simply wondrous to be among the whales in their pods, moving right along with them, becoming a part, in a way, of their annual odyssey.
“What if He Lands on Us?” – The whales seemed to be, at times, less than 100 feet from our boat when they rushed out of the water. At other times, they would get much closer and swim beside the boat.
“What if one lands on us,” a woman next to me wondered, worrying that maybe the whales might inadvertently crush us during their exuberant acrobatics. I asked Fernando Del Toro, Destination Manager for Scuba Caribe, if they’d ever had problems with whales colliding with boats. He assured us “We haven’t had any incidents of whales jumping over our boats, as we always keep our distance.” The Scuba Caribe boatmen knew what they were doing. Still, keeping “our distance” sometimes seemed a matter of a few yards. Although the whales were having a wonderful time, we’re sure they themselves are probably careful not to collide with boats. Such an accident would probably also cause them much harm.
Singing Whales – Del Toro told us that the most amazing whale-related incident he ever witnessed – or, rather, heard – is when the whales sing to each other. Passengers can hear these underwater “concerts” using a hydrophone (and underwater microphone).
We didn’t hear any singing, but that’s the way it is when tracking any beast in the wild: you never know what they’re going to do next, which is part of the fun. When you do spot the whales, it’s a rare privilege to be in the presence of such giants of the deep. If you’re traveling during a time of year when whales are not migrating back and forth, a trip in the waters off Cabo San Lucas is still very beautiful, with many exotic birds and seals lolling in the sun along stunning rock formations.
Family Tour – “This is a family tour,” said Del Toro, “and everyone can enjoy this magical trip. However, we do not recommend it for kids under 5 years old.”
The best time to spot whales off Cabo San Lucas is usually between mid-December and Mid-April. Though conditions on the water vary, our trip was remarkably smooth. Even when the boat sped up to catch up with the whales, there was little need to “hang on,” and some of us remained standing throughout most of the trip. Still, you may want to pack Dramamine for those who might get queasy while bouncing along the waves..
You can set up tours with Scuba Caribe at any of the Cabo San Lucas Riu hotel properties, which are right next door to one another overlooking the Pacific Ocean. If you’re traveling with young children, it’s best to stay at the Santa Fe, which has a water park, a child care center, and lots of things for kids to do. Riu Palace Cabo San Lucas is a step up in quality, but also very welcoming to families. If you’re traveling with adults, including adult children, Riu Palace Baja California, which opened in December 2018, is adults-only, and like all three properties, has an on-site office for Scuba Caribe tours, making it very easy to set up a whale-watching experience that you and your family will never forget.
This article was written by David Hammond.