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“No other place like it” 5 of 5 stars
Review of San Ignacio Lagoon

San Ignacio Lagoon
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Ranked #53 of 287 attractions in Baja California
Type: Bodies of Water
Activities: Whale watching
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Attraction Details
Owner description: Grey whales are known to make an appearance at this lagoon.
San Francisco, California
Top Contributor
145 reviews 145 reviews
59 attraction reviews
Reviews in 69 cities Reviews in 69 cities
229 helpful votes 229 helpful votes
“No other place like it”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed July 30, 2011

There simply is no other place like this on earth. You can see gray whales on any number of whale watching tours up and down the California coast, but nothing like this. On an ordinary whale watching trip, you're lucky if you see a whale or two through binoculars. Here, there are dozens all around you, playing near the boats, sometimes close enough to touch.

And the best thing about it is that the whales themselves decided at one point that they wanted to make contact with the humans. That's right -it wasn't always like this. Once they were hunted. Then when hunting was banned, they kept to themselves for many decades. In fact when the first whales approached local fishing boats in the 1970s, the fishermen were terrified. Now humans and whales can commune in peace. It's a wonderful thing.

Know that they won't always come close enough to touch though. On my trip they were just out of arms reach, and the boats are not allowed to chase them (fortunately!). Still, I've never seen so many whales in my life. As a consolation prize, a school of dolphins decided to play near our boat on the way back. I snapped a picture of one just off the starboard side in mid-jump -maybe a foot away from the boat! The dolphin was actually close enough to touch!

There's another lagoon 3 hours north and less remote where you can see gray whales. San Ignacio lagoon requires a two-hour ride down a dirt road to get to the lagoon from town. But I'm glad I made the extra effort to get to San Ignacio. The whales generally come closer to the boats here, and they're more likely to come close enough to touch. And the fact that it's even more remote means even less tourists in an already untouristed part of Baja. They have a saying in Mexico: bad roads, good tourists; good roads, bad tourists. I believe it.

There are several companies that can hook you up in style, but I prefer DIY -more local flavor and way, way cheaper. And it doesn't take that much more time. Maybe less. Here's what it takes to do it yourself on the cheap:
Fly to San Diego, take the trolley to the border. Take a cab to the central bus terminal (tell the cabbie you want to go to the one with buses to Baja California Sur, not just Ensenada).
Buy a ticket for an overnight ABC bus (the trip takes 15 hours provided there are no delays, so overnight is the better way to go unless you can keep busy for 15 hours). The buses tend to be comfortable and safe, though one should always be prepared for various unpleasantries in Mexico... like loud movies, in Spanish, playing well into the night, so forget about sleeping. Or the fact that there's no reading light, so forget about reading. Or seats that are supposed to recline but don't. Oh, and perhaps a 2AM breakdown necessitating a middle of the night bus change. That last part was actually a blessing -no movies on the second bus and I finally got some sleep.

But in the end it all works out. I still got to San Ignacio in the morning of day 2 (only 3 hours late), walked into town (about a half hour from the road -the locals will point the way), and settled down into my room at the cozy Casa Leree. Plenty of time to take a nap, see the cute town park, the Mission, even take a hike up in the hills for a beautiful view of the town.
Oh yeah, and book a trip to the Lagoon for the next day with one of the tour companies. Alternatively staying in one of the camps there is an option, but harder logisitically without your own transport.

Day 3 is for the whales, and the tour company takes you there and back into town by the afternoon. You can be on the evening bus to Tijuana that very same night.

If you want to extend your trip you can take a half day tour to see the cave paintings. I settled for the cave painting museum in San Ignacio, where there's a half-scale replica of the cave paintings. But on the shortest trip, you need just 4 days for everything.

It's a once in a lifetime experience and well worth the effort. If it was anyplace populated, San Ignacio Lagoon might have been overrun with tourists by now. But fortunately, it's as remote as it gets, which makes it all that much better.

Visited February 2011
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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9 reviews from our community

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  • English first
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English first
San Jose, CA
13 reviews 13 reviews
7 attraction reviews
Reviews in 4 cities Reviews in 4 cities
24 helpful votes 24 helpful votes
“Magical experience with the Grey Whales of Baja”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed May 14, 2009

I had wanted to take this trip for 15 years after reading about it somewhere.
I finally was available at the right time of year (Jan-March) to go see the lagoon where the mother grey whales go to give birth.
We ended up going with Baja Expeditions just based on availability during the time we had to go. We were not disappointed!
We met in San Diego, bordered a bus and drove over the border to TJ.
There we boarded one of two charter planes for our approx. 2.5 hour flight to the dirt airstrip near San Ignacio Lagoon. A old school bus took us about 20 minutes out to our camp on the beach.
We immediately got a tour from Lupita, showing us all about the camp, latrines, solar showers, mess tent, etc. The tents are fabric, and 'walk in' style so there is plenty of room. Cots, chairs, & sleeping bags with liners
are provided. The latrines are basic, but always kept very clean and were not a problem.
Twice a day we went out on the lagoon with a local fisherman driving the boat (panga) and a naturalist along to help us learn about the whales and the lagoon. We went with different guides/drivers each session and they were all terrific!
The first experience of seeing a massive grey whale approach your panga is simply MAGICAL! You cannot imagine the awe of the size and wonder of these creatures. We had many "friendlies" approach our boats and were able to touch them. Many of the whales would stay and 'play' with us, returning to be scratched and look at us over many minutes.
Baja Expeditions puts alot of weight on the preservation of this lagoon and not only the whales, but the turtles, fish, and birds. They taught respect at all levels for the environment.
In addition to the wonderful times we had with the whales, the food was exceptional. Each night we had a Happy, Happy Hour with appetizers and drinks. Dinners were a different Mexican meal each nigh, each one more delicious than the last. Choice of cold breakfast (early) or hot breakfast (later) kept us all full and happy. Lunch was also terrific.
This was my family's first time here, but many of our fellow campers were there for the 2nd or 3rd time. I would go back in a heartbeat, but would probably go in mid-late February when they said they had about 350 whales in the lagoon, compared to an estimated 75 when we were there.

Was this review helpful? Yes 21
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
North West UK
Senior Contributor
43 reviews 43 reviews
10 attraction reviews
Reviews in 32 cities Reviews in 32 cities
160 helpful votes 160 helpful votes
“Didn't believe we could experience this until we did!”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed April 5, 2008

We are caught here between letting people know about a way of seeing the Grey Whales and their calves without ruining the charm of the place and the exhilarating experience for others.

Still, travelling from the UK it took over a week of research to find a suitable hire car that would provide all the necessary insurance etc. to travel 600+ miles down into Baja Mexico, plus 2 days of hard driving, friends with very local knowledge and a dollop of good luck to get there.

The last 60 miles are the most interesting, with some mild off road experience required and a nose for the right direction as there are many unsigned roads and paths off into a desert landscape; some of which is undoubtedly treacherous sand and mud.

Don't get me wrong, though, it is hardly travelling down the Amazon and there was the beginnings of a finished road leading toward the lagoon when we visited.

To my shame, I cannot remember the name of the camp we stayed at, but it was a local independent fisherman who has only recently built plywood huts for guests to sleep in.

There is a round matting building for eating and there is cold beer available.

Sitting around a beach fire watching the sun set over Baja and the lagoon is pretty darn good, but not as good as the day you have in store when you wake the next morning.

Heading out in a roughly 35 foot fishing boat the next morning, within 15 minutes we were surrounded by 4 Grey Whales; probably 2 mothers and their calves. Even our marine biologist friend was impressed and she has seen this 4 times before.

The whales come up to your boat (not the other way around) and have a look at what is going on. Some stay and have a look, others move on. Some want to be stroked and some don't. Some blow water in your face and others don't. Some play with the numerous dolphins in the lagoon and again some don't.

All, however, give the tremendous pleasure of feeling that you have touched - both figuratively and literally - an intelligent mammal that knows another world.

Many times, our small boat was used as a mobile scratching post by both the mothers and the calves. One played with the painter on the bow (the rope used to tie the boat up).

What intelligence lies behind those cow eyes to know that the boat would capsize if they rubbed just that *little* harder? Even when the vessel is listing because we are all looking over one side the animals know not to rock the boat too hard lest we are treated to an early and maybe welcome bath.

The experience isn't life changing, but it is exhilarating and it was worth a total of four days driving, seven military checkpoints and one fruit interrogation.

We have seen whales in New England a couple of times and dolphins in countless places, but here in this place where they are together and choose to interact with us it feels special.

I just hope that highway doesn't get finished any time soon. In the interim, I dare you to find your own way without paying a tour operator £1,000 to take you.

Good luck and don't forget to take a jumper as it can be chilly...

Was this review helpful? Yes 15
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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