The islands of Baja’s Sea of Cortez have a unique ecosystem. // © 2017 Ralph Lee Hopkins
I was never the kind of child who wanted to go to science camp and, perhaps not surprisingly, my 16-year-old son isn’t interested in that either. But luckily, we both have the gene that makes us excited to explore deserted islands, have thrilling encounters with wildlife and try out new activities above and below the waves. What we discovered on a recent cruise with Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic, onboard National Geographic Sea Bird, was that kids — budding scientists or not — can have a trip they will talk about for years to come.
Our sailing was in the Sea of Cortez, near La Paz, Mexico, where hundreds of undeveloped islands lie within sight of the Baja peninsula. The area is ideal for young naturalists and biologists, who can hike on these islands and spot wildlife ranging from snakes and scorpions to wild boars.
On our cruise, both junior scientists and junior adventurers found ample assistance and camaraderie from the ship’s “expedition staff,” many of whom travel the world conducting their own research projects. It was not unusual to find ourselves in conversation with staff members about the unusual (and sometimes gross) habits of an indigenous beetle, or to hear about their encounter with a blue whale while doing a study on Baja’s rare dolphins. On each day of our cruise, we would check out a new island — sometimes a few islands in one day — and every evening before dinner, guests met in the lounge for the daily recap, where staff shared photos and gave more in-depth information about the region.
For my son, who prefers to leave the biology lessons (no matter how fascinating) in the classroom, there was a new activity to be had every day, as well. Kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding was always an option, but snorkeling was the main attraction, as the crystal-clear waters of the Sea of Cortez teem with unique marine life. On the first day, we were equipped with our own wetsuits, snorkels, masks and fins to use for the week, which made it especially easy to explore the underwater world when we dropped anchor at a new island.
One of the highlights of this Baja itinerary is the opportunity to snorkel with sea lions, which are curious and enjoy swimming with people. Sadly, inclement weather prevented us from experiencing this on our sailing, but being able to swim with whale sharks more than made up for it. Reaching 50 feet or more in length, these gentle giants are the largest fish in the ocean, but since they only eat plankton, it’s perfectly safe to swim alongside them. Watching these massive creatures swim toward us certainly got our adrenaline flowing.
Life for passengers onboard the 31-cabin Sea Bird is comfortable, but not lavish. Our room was small, with two twin beds and a clever bathroom/shower design that is more functional than aesthetically pleasing. There are no televisions in the rooms, and the Wi-Fi access on our ship was spotty. The heart of the ship is the lounge, which features a full bar, a library, board games, free coffee and snacks and more. There is also a dining room where all meals are served, and the food is homey and delicious.
Our Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic trip offered an educational and adventurous vacation surrounded by true experts and, most importantly, other young travelers. At least a third of our group was made up of kids ranging in ages from 6 to 18. Unlike some expedition ships with a much older clientele, sailing in tight quarters with other families created a close-knit community vibe.
It was like the best science camp ever.