Gray whales are common in the Sea of Cortez. // © 2013 Lisa Frobisher
Wayne, a 65-year-old New York lawyer, obviously didn’t read the packing list in his cruise documents. He arrived for dinner on the first night of our cruise wearing a jacket, tie and slacks while everyone else was in casual attire.
“Is there a band?” he asked.
No band, Wayne — this was an Un-Cruise (formerly InnerSea Discoveries/American Safari Cruises) sailing onboard the Safari Endeavour in the Sea of Cortez, and the entertainment was, well, a little different.
We were about to immerse ourselves in one of the most biologically diverse marine environments on earth — and have the time of our lives doing it. The Sea of Cortez is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve, a quiet paradise just south of California. During our cruise we really felt attuned to this beautiful place — swimming with young sea lions, touching baby whales and interacting with dolphins.
Departing from La Paz, the captain and several members of the crew welcomed us as we met our fellow passengers, and we toasted to our upcoming adventure. This was my second trip onboard the Safari Endeavour, and I was thrilled to see familiar crew members, who greeted me and my husband with hugs and smiles.
Onboard the Safari Endeavour, the days are filled with promise and fulfillment from daybreak to bedtime. Guests choose from early morning yoga on the aft deck led by onboard wellness instructors, kayaking, hiking, beachcombing, snorkeling, paddleboarding, small-boat tours and more — all led by an experienced team of expedition leaders and guides who provide instruction and information every step of the way. Some choose to relax onboard with a good book and a glass of wine or indulge in a healing massage.
The ship has a launch dock made specifically for kayaks, which makes it easy to get in and out without getting wet. The crew is gently encouraging, and you feel equally comfortable taking it easy or trying something new, such as stand-up paddleboarding or snorkeling. You can also get out into the wilderness on scheduled sightseeing trips in a pontoon or an inflatable skiff.
As Safari Endeavour holds a maximum of 86 passengers, she can access plenty of remote Sea of Cortez locales. We did not see another ship the entire trip — during our week it was like we had a private paradise all to ourselves.
Itineraries may vary, as Un-Cruise schedules are flexible depending on weather conditions, wildlife sightings and the whims of the captain and guides who may surprise guests with fun activities at any time. On our cruise, we were outfitted with wetsuits, snorkels and fins (which were ours for the week) in Ensenada Grande, where small boats brought us to shore for a gentle snorkel to get accustomed to the gear. The next day, in the waters around Isla Santa Catalina/Isla San Francisco, we had snorkeling, kayaking or small-boat tour options in the morning. The afternoon activity was a guided leisurely hike through a forest of the world’s tallest cactus, the Cardon.
In Bahia Agua Verde, the crew made arrangements with a local ranchero who met us on the beach with 20 mules for an exhilarating ride around the island. After lunch, we set sail in search of wildlife and were rewarded with a rare sighting of a blue whale.
A major highlight of the trip was Loreto, the first Spanish settlement on the Baja California Peninsula. An optional excursion (for an extra charge) to Magdalena Bay was offered to see the gray whales and their calves. If your clients have the opportunity and the timing is right, advise them not to miss this experience — it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see these majestic creatures up close with their calves. And when I say close, you could often touch the whales over the side of the small pangas we were in.
In Arroyo Blanco, we had a morning of snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding, small-boat tours and just lazing around. In the afternoon, we came across a pod of hundreds of dolphins who followed and played with us for two hours. After dinner, we were whisked back to the beach, where the crew had set up a bar and a bonfire surrounded by small chairs and treated us to a wonderful history lesson on the area by one of the guides under the stars.
In Los Islotes, the southernmost breeding colony for the California gray sea lions, we got back into our wetsuits and into the water with juvenile sea lions, who greeted us with such fervor that we felt like it was a playdate for them — and for us. It was some of the most fun I have ever had.
The Safari Endeavour is one of Un-Cruise’s Luxury Adventure experiences and is all-inclusive. Fares for the Sea of Cortez trip start at $2,995. Guests can expect excellent dining, premium wine and cocktails, a complimentary massage, all transfers, activity equipment, informed guides, surprises and, above all, a great vacation. www.un-cruise.com