His eyes widened, animated and appeared to lock onto mine, his ebony pupils dilated to an obscene size and his flat, thin lips slowly opened and closed in an almost rhythmic motion. We gazed at each other for a moment, my hands bobbing on the surface of the water, his spines creating pressure against my palms. What an expected surprise, to be treading in crystal blue water of the Loreto Bay, face to face with a porcupine fish!
The Islands of Loreto are located in the Baja Sur region of Mexico, on the stunning Sea of Cortez and the wildlife is abundant both on land and in the water. Its a short flight from Los Angeles but feels a world away making it a great destination for a weekend getaway. As we approached the airport for landing, gliding closer I sneaked a peak across the row of seats to the window. The light brightly burst through the portal and I could make out dark blobs in the water, at first thinking they were large rocks submerged in the sea. My eyes adjusted to the sunlight and the rocks began to move, a pod of whales, dozens of whales, making their way through the Baja region during their annual migration pattern. I squealed with delight. I knew we were going to be whale watching that weekend and now it was certain we would encounter something in the water.
Piling into the shuttle, we set off to Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto Bay. The road was winding, on the left of us was a costal view of the Sea of Cortez, and the right was barren landscape that cascaded down from the mountainous terrain. We were the only car on the road and aside from the occasional grouping of small local villages we only passed one other resort, we bounced down the dusty road alone, the seclusion a perfect start to a relaxing weekend.
We were going to spend the whole day on the water, getting the full experience the Sea of Cortez has to offer. The Apex boat bobbed in the bay as we lined up along the shoreline, lifting our bags over our heads, hiking up our shorts and wading in the calm seawaters towards our little vessel.
We slowed as we came to a large rock formation jutting out of the sea with a mass of sea lions basking in the sun. A few of the males, bulls, lazily lifted their heads in our direction, showing us who the alphas in the pack were while assessing the danger level of our approaching boat. Seeing that we weren’t a threat, they continued to lay about on the rocks, the water splashing up around them. Several slick, shiny heads poked out of the water near the boat and would quickly disappear, playing peak a boo with our group, the younger pinnipeds playfully swim about or float along the surface mimicking those sun bathing vacationers we had left on the beachside earlier that morning.
After hanging around observing them for a bit, there was a sudden mass exodus into the water, about half of the pack barreled into the sea as we turned the boat around and headed back out on our journey.
You won’t be on the water long without seeing other wildlife, looking in either direction up or down. Beautiful birds soaring above our boat as we skimmed along towards our little secluded beach spot at lunchtime. Hiking, hanging by the water and snorkeling, our break from the boat was peaceful and beautiful.
The snorkeling here is wonderful, I would have loved to spend more time in the water. I jumped in fin first from the side of our boat only to interrupt a huge school of Angel Fish and I quickly could see how Jacques Cousteau affectionately call this region the “Aquarium of the World”. We were constantly talking about how impressive it was that after the whole day out we had only encountered one other boat towards the end of our trip; it was as if we had the whole sea to ourselves! It made for a great way to explore, the calmness and lack of other swimmers or boat engines allowed us to view some unique sea life!
The highlight of the day was when we came upon a huge pod of dolphins, we were the only boat around and they playfully swam and chased us as we circled around them, creating a wake for them to jump into. I was at the front of the boat trying holding my balance as we sped, pointing, shouting and grinning ear to ear like a teenage girl at a One Direction concert, as we watched the dolphins playfully jump all around us.
Once we made it back to land we took a quick tour of the town of Loreto, checking out a few shops and seeing the old mission in the town center, but also making sure we had enough time for a guacamole & margarita pit stop.
When to go?
This is the perfect spot for a west coaster to have a get away weekend. It’s a quick flight from LAX, all you need is the time off, your bathing suit and a passport. For us east coasters, the flight may be a little longer, but it is worth it to explore another side of Mexico aside from Cancun and Playa del Carmen. We came in January which is right during peak season (December – March) but is also the time when the whales are coming through this region so if you want to go whale watching it is worth the extra price hike. Aside from high temps in the summer time, Baja is potentially a year round destination spot.
Where to stay?
Villa del Palmar at the Islands of the Loreto Bay was a total hidden oasis! Our group spent the long weekend there being pampered by the staff whether it was at the spa, the beach or the dining table. They have spacious apartment style rooms with kitchens and the resort also has all inclusive packages if you would rather just check in and have the location do the rest. A back of house tour revealed some wonderful eco conscious operations along with a great work environment for the staff which is an added bonus to such a gorgeous location.
Although I was a guest of the Villa del Palmar for this trip as usual, all of my comments reflect my own personal thoughts and opinions.