Earlier this year, I joined the merry throng on board the excellent 24-passenger tourist vessel The Searcher, one of only a handful of ships with permits to visit protected sites along the Baja Peninsula.
Our trip to see the grey whales was a highlight of the journey; setting sail from San Diego along the Pacific coast we clocked acrobatic mobula rays, bow-riding bottlenose dolphins and even fluking blue whales, before entering the Sea of Cortez.
These barnacled sea beasts host more external sea lice than any other cetacean, but that doesn’t bother visitors to Mexico’s San Ignacio Lagoon, where the whales have been happily interacting with humans since the mid-70s.
Aptly described by oceanographer Jacques Cousteau as “the world’s aquarium” the body of water separating the peninsula and the mainland is teeming with life. In the bay outside resort-heavy city La Paz, I swam for 45 minutes with a gently ambling whale shark, whose gaping, filter-feeding jaw could have comfortably tackled a Volkswagen Golf.
Further along the coast, sea lions became our playmates at Los Islotas, along with guinea fowl puffers and large-lipped angelfish
But wildlife encounters weren’t restricted to the water.
At San Benito island, we dodged seabird burrows and prickly balls of cholla cactus to climb a dusty, sun-parched ravine to a plateau overlooking a haul out of honking elephant seals.
One morning, shortly after sunrise, we landed at Santa Catalina island, an arid, uninhabited, cactus-strewn landscape providing the perfect cover for lizards and the endemic rattleless rattlesnake. Yes, the bizarre creature does exist; we sidestepped five of the venomous pit vipers during our hike.
Hewn by wind and waves, landscapes have been sculpted into abstract works of art. My most memorable walk was along the emaciated spine of San Francisco island, where mineral-rich cliffs fold into a sparkling horseshoe bay.
On the horizon, I could just about make out the soaring jets of humpback blows; an oceanic fanfare to herald our journey home.
Images courtesy of Renato Granieri