Cabo San Lucas Whale Watching Trip Report

by our special guest Marie Harrington

Cabo San Lucas lies on the southernmost tip of the Baja California peninsula in Mexico. It’s eastern shore is bathed by the Sea of Cortez, one of the richest marine ecosystems on the planet. The west coast of Baja is embraced by the Pacific Ocean. At the point where these two magnificent bodies of water meet, the unique and distinctive rock formations protrude majestically from the sea to give rise to El Arco, the famous arch at the point known as Land’s End. 

As you make your way out of the marina on a 32ft Super Panga boat, through the shallows of the Sea of Cortez, you pass a colony of sea lions basking on the sun-drenched rocks. They may look as if they’re resting but these cheeky and charismatic mammals have one eye on the numerous fishing boats that are returning to the harbour. Occasionally, they hitch a ride on the back of the boat in the hope of getting thrown a fish and more often than not, the skipper will oblige. Brown Pelicans nestle in the shelter of the rocks and those brave enough try to copy the sea lions audacious attempts at gaining a free lunch. 

The captain stops the boat a couple of hundred meters away from a thin slit in one of the rock formations just off the shore of Lover’s Beach, amidst the calmness and serenity of the Sea of Cortez. This is known as the window to the Pacific. On the other side is Divorce Beach, aptly named due to the fury and anger of the waves and caverns of the wild and deep ocean. If you want to take a swim then be a lover and not a fighter as the Pacific currents are unforgiving. 

December to March is whale watching season in Cabo. Each year, hundreds of Humpback whales gather in the warmer waters off the western coast of the Baja Peninsula to breed. Boats full of eager whale enthusiasts armed with iPhones, GoPro’s and cameras with impressive lenses head out into the Pacific to catch a glimpse of these awe-inspiring creatures. If you know what you’re looking for then it doesn’t take long to find them. As they surface to breathe, spray or blows in excess of 3m high can be seen as they expend the warm air from their lungs. 

Reputable whale watching tour operators will have the welfare of the animals at the heart of what they do. The World
Cetacean Alliance (WCA) is the global marine conservation partnership that sets the standards for responsible and eco-friendly marine tourism. A company that has been through the accreditation programme will have the protection of these marine mammals and environment in which they live at the very top of their agenda. Tangible conservation efforts and the education of the public through responsible tourism is a key requirement of the WCA and more and more conscious travellers are expecting this as standard. It’s important to research which companies operate in accordance with WCA guidelines. 

Cabo Trek is the only organisation in Cabo San Lucas that has attained this status and the only tour company you should consider using for your whale watching activities. The passion that the entire Cabo Trek team displays for these stunning and majestic animals is unrelenting in addition to an overwhelming sense of pride they feel for the small corner of the world’s waters that they represent. This is a company that prides itself on its ethical and moral perspective. As a WCA partner, the foundations of Cabo Trek are built sustainability and environmental enhancement. They have the utmost respect for these whales and put their protection and welfare above all else. 

Humpback whales are one of the giants of the Pacific and can reach lengths of up to 16 meters long, weighing almost 40 tonnes. They are one of the most interesting species to watch due to the array of behaviours exhibited on the surface. Tail-lobbing, fin-slapping, spy-hopping and breaching are all common behaviours you can expect to see from humpbacks. Minimal disturbance is essential to the well being of these whales and respecting them by observing from a distance is advocated, particularly as many will have calves. Believe me, watching from a distance is all you need to appreciate these truly majestic mammals. 

Once a blow has been located, the skipper will manoeuvre the Panga to within a safe distance of the animal in accordance with regulations. The engines are cut off and a calming silence surrounds you as all you can hear is the sound of the waves lapping against the side of the boat. Everyone is engulfed in a palpable sense of anticipation. When will it appear next and how close will it be? What will it do? What am I about to see? Then, just meters from the boat, the whale surfaces with deafening exhalation. Its sleek black arch moves gracefully through the water as the sun glistens on its back culminating in a showing of its 3 metre wide tail flukes as it takes a dive. There are sharp intakes of breath as we all watch in admiration. 

Cameras are clicking and iPhone videos are rolling. We want our family and friends back home to see what we’ve just seen. Everyone holds their own thoughts for a few seconds, eyes transfixed on the water to see if and where it will surface again. Then, all of a sudden, with no warning, a breach! A hundred meters or so from the boat, a fully grown adult humpback breaks the surface and propels itself from the water, scattering spray like thousands of glittering jewels being thrown from it’s back. It’s five meter long pectoral fins outstretched and it’s white belly twisting in the air. Mesmerized onlookers gasp in amazement. The whole spectacle lasts about four seconds but it feels like you’re observing it in slow motion. 

Nobody really knows why these whales breach. Marine Biologists speculate and theorise but the truth is, we will never really understand. It’s estimated that each breach for an adult humpback takes almost 6,000 calories of energy so there must be a very good reason. Bearing in mind these waters are breeding grounds, it could be a form of communication or to attract a partner. It could be an attempt to dislodge some stubborn barnacles or parasites from their skin or it could just be for the sheer hell of it. 

To see a humpback breach is the pinnacle for many whale enthusiasts. Not only is it a spectacular sight but it stirs your emotions and leaves you spellbound. These creatures are captivating, they’re intriguing and they have mistified us for centuries. There’s something about being this close to nature that affects us in ways that other experiences can’t. 

Witnessing these wild whales in all their glory in one of earth’s most beautiful spots becomes more than just a nice thing to do whilst on holiday. Something changes. It becomes a part of you. It elevates your soul.

As if seeing them wasn’t enough, you are given the opportunity to hear their calls and listen to their underwater song through the portable hydrophone operated by the onboard Marine Biologist. Humpback whales are highly communicative and very rarely do we get the chance to feel a part of their world beneath the waves. The haunting chorus of repetitive moans and grunts is like nothing you’ve ever heard before. To experience the mating calls of these extraordinary and highly complex mammals is something very special indeed. 

Those that board a Cabo Trek vessel don’t just get a pleasant boat trip to see some whales. They get a life-enhancing experience. They leave with not only cherished memories of a thrilling encounter but with a deeper understanding of the lives of these graceful, intelligent mammals and the plight that they face. 

Bringing joy and educating the masses day in and day out throughout the season is obviously paramount but the work that the Cabo Trek team does behind the scenes is just as important. The countless hours of research, the proactive collaboration with the authorities and the outreach and education within the local and wider community means that the contribution of Cabo Trek extends way beyond providing whale watching experiences to tourists. What this small dedicated team of professionals offers to the preservation and conservation of all of Cabo’s marine wildlife is immeasurable. Of course, their work will never be done. For us tourists and enthusiasts it’s an inspiring and memorable experience but for these guys, it’s a way of life.   

It’s fair to say that Cabo San Lucas totally stole my heart. It has so much to offer and although it’s a bustling tourist resort, it remains a relatively undiscovered part of Mexico. Other resorts such as Cancun, Playa Del Carmen and Cozumel on the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean coasts are more popular amongst Europeans. 

Cabo has everything. Beautiful beaches, stunning resorts and an abundance of leisure activities as well as wonderful food and great tequila. The sunsets on the Baja Peninsula are some of the best I’ve ever seen and it’s a haven for wildlife lovers. 

To watch the sun going down across the Pacific with a couple of homemade enchiladas and a bottle of ice cold Dos Equis whilst observing breaching humpbacks close to shore from the comfort of a sunlounger is my utopia. Everybody has their own idea of paradise. I certainly found mine in Cabo.


Cabo Trek focus is on educational tours in Baja California Sur region, please check out our other activities: