Can you tell us more about the Motels where we will be staying?
Our first stop for the night will be at the Desert Inn Catavina. This is 325 miles from our departure point in San Diego and we should get there around 12:30pm. We’ll check in, unload, and have lunch at the hotel restaurant. Then we’ll drive back North a few miles to a small cave painting site. Short hike, not very tough, but a beautiful and accessible example of the Pinturas Rupuestras in Baja. Then back to the hotel for happy hour and finally dinner.
During our stay in Guerro Negro, we will be at the Hotel Los Caracoles http://www.hotelloscaracoles.com.mx/ . Located off the main road in town, this newer motel is a nice addition to GN for housing. Large, clean rooms with private baths. The cleaning staff is very punctual and consistent. Since Guerro Negro is more of a working town than tourist hot spot, there are mostly motels – not hotels. The office has internet available – great for checking emails – and they have a small display of curios for sale.
In Bahia de Los Angeles we will stay at the Motel Costa del Sol. They are one of the more modern motels in Bahia and located in the center of town. They have great rooms and a very nice on-site restaurant/cantina.
Our last nights of the tour will be spent at Rancho Meling in the San Pedro de Martir mountains just Northeast of San Quintin. A working ranch, with small ranch style rooms with wood burning stoves and fireplaces for heat. Our meals are served family style in the main lodge and are always delicious! http://www.ranchomeling.com/
Can you tell us more about transportation?
Our vehicle for the trip down the Baja peninsula will be a Ford E350 van, with seats for 11 passengers. However, we never load our tours with more than 9 clients, a driver, and on this tour Graham Mackintosh! This leaves ample room for luggage on the inside of the van – less problems with weather and security. The driving time going south and returning north is about 6-7 hours. On the way home to San Diego we will be driving through the Valle de Guadalupe for a wine tasting and our exit through Tecate – a slightly less hectic border crossing than San Ysidro or Otay Mesa.
We make stops every couple of hours for leg stretching and restroom breaks. We usually stop at the Pemex stations (both for gas and restrooms) which is the nationalized gas distributor for Mexico. The government has been diligently repairing or improving the Highway 1 so the ride is usually smooth. We do have to clear at least 3 “checkpoints” which are manned by the Mexican Army – but it’s not a problem since they are only inspecting for guns or drugs. And we should NEVER have either of those with us. If you have a predilection for motion sickness, it might be a good idea to take Dramamine before we leave since many parts of the road are very curvy. Or try to sit up forward in the van – this seems to help quite a bit. The troopers get to sit in the rear seat.
Some of our clients use this driving time for resting or reading, but the scenery and changing flora are very interesting. We will see everything from California coastal, large agricultural areas, mountain canyons, extensive vineyards, high altitude desert with flora only found in Baja, and then finally the sandy flats which surround Guerro Negro.
Can you tell us more about Guerro Negro?
Located in the state of Baja Sur, Guerro Negro is right on the border of Baja Sur and Baja Norte. Part of the Vizcaino Preserve, this is a large area dedicated to preserving unique Baja species and environment. Besides the gray whales, its primary claim to fame is the extensive salt mining operation which is operated there. Located on the Pacific ocean and being fairly flat has made Guerro Negro a natural area for evaporation of sea water – leaving sea salt behind. Many of the residents work for the salt company – ESSA – which is run by the Mexican government and Mitsubishi. http://www.essa.com.mx/
Most of the land for ESSA and for the whale watching activities is located on ejido land. The local members of the ejido benefit from the lease with the salt company and they operate much of the whale watching concession.
Though Guerro Negro is not a resort town, it’s approximately 15,000 inhabitants are very hard working and enjoy the interaction with tourists who come to see the whales. Motels are small, restaurants are usually family run, and this town is a true example of a Mexican town without undue influence from tourism.
The whale watching industry has grown up in the last 20 years since the local fisherman noticed that the whales and their babies were curious about the boats. There are three designated whale watching areas around Guerro Negro, each with different types of whale activity, boats, and tour providers. We will also have the chance to visit a scientific sanctuary for the endangered Baja Pronghorn Antelope. Over the years I’ve made friends with the scientists operating the field station for breeding. Our interaction with the Pronghorns will range from close up viewing to hand feeding and petting; depending on their mood and who is showing us the facility. Absolutely a wonderful experience to add to our whale encounters!
Can you tell us more about Bahia de Los Angeles?
LA Bay is in the state of Baja Norte and is on the Sea of Cortez about 160 miles south of San Felipe. It is a small town which recently got electrical power on the grid and still does not have cell service. This is also where I’ve had my vacation home for the last 12 years.
The islands and mountains surrounding LA Bay are some of the most beautiful in all of Baja. On a calm day you can kayak, fish, snorkel, and just lay in the sun. Of course if one of the notorious “Westies” comes up, a very strong West wind caused by pressure differentials between the Sea of Cortez and the upper desert, you may want to pick a sunny spot on the lee side of the building for cocktails and reading.
Can you tell us more about Food & Drink on the tours?
Having traveled in Baja for over 30 years I probably take some of the food concerns for granted, but it does pay to be prudent. For our drive down we will have lunch that I bring from the US – usually sandwiches, salads, snacks, drinks. While in Guerrero Negro we eat at restaurants that I have eaten at for years – they have some traditional Mexican food selections, but the real treat is the seafood that they serve. Shrimp, scallops, octopus, fresh fish and clams. These are prepared in several different ways. Breakfast is usually eggs, fruit, toast or tortillas and of course beans. We will have plenty of bottled water since you should not drink tap water ever. There are juices, sodas and of course beer and other adult beverages. Lunches are usually at the restaurants or a taco stand if the group agrees – some of the best food you can get in Baja in my opinion. If you have any special diet needs PLEASE let us know as soon as possible and we will try to accommodate – our options are limited though in most of Baja.
Can you give us some tips on Clothing and What to Pack?
The weather during whale season can be either windy and cool or windy and warm – the key word is WINDY! Usually in the mornings it will be calm, but the breeze almost always picks up by early afternoon. I suggest people plan on dressing in layers – and the outside layer should be waterproof or at least water resistant. Though sometimes cloudy, it can also be sunny so a hat and sunscreen are important. We have also had light amounts of rain and there will always be some spray from the pangas – not to mention when the whales blow next to the boat! They’ve made improvements in the inner lagoon so we don’t have to wade to the boats all the time (depends on the tide), though I always enjoyed that part. I like to wear warm socks and tennis shoes, but water shoes are fine too. I would avoid cumbersome boots and high heels are not recommended Definitely something closed toe though since we are moving around in the boats. Our trips are 2-3 hours each so whatever the weather is like it won’t be forever, but give yourself some options. By the way, sunglasses are great but I get tired of wiping them every time we have some spray from the boat or a passing whale. At least put some kind of strap on them so you don’t lose them when leaning over the side.
Bahia will be similar to Guerrero Negro though usually a little warmer. And it will be either flat and calm or blowing to high heaven. That’s how it is in Bahia. We will be on the beach at my house for an afternoon so bring a suit if you’re so inclined – water temps will be down at this time of year.
At Rancho Meling we will be at 2,200 feet altitude and up to 9,000 feet for a bit while we visit the top of the mountain. You will need a heavier jacket for this portion – but again if you think in layers you should be able to manage with your whale gear.
Can you give us some tips on what kind of photo equipment and other gear to bring?
I promise LOTS of photo ops on this trip – both whales, friends, antelopre, the town, other wildlife, etc… If you have the normal digital camera you should be fine, but bring something to clean the lens and view finder with. If you are using a high end digital/film camera, I would recommend you put at least a protective filter if not a UV or sunlight filter – something to protect the lens. Video cameras are great and you’ll have a better chance of getting that pic of a whale broaching than with a still – timing is everything! They do sell some film in Guerrero Negro but obviously the selection is limited. For my tours I usually collect everybody’s memory sticks/cards at the Rancho so I can copy them to my computer and burn everybody a memory stick. That way we all get to see ourselves in the pictures too.
For your room, an alarm clock is good since many of our activities are fairly tightly timed (tours, departures, planned meals).
What kind of documents do we need to bring with us?
The ONLY document to bring now is a current passport – regardless of your citizenship. Any non-resident aliens in the US MUST bring their documents to re-enter the US – US residents need a photo ID or their alien resident card (green card). It is VERY important that you make sure you have the right documents since this can put a serious crimp in our trip – please call us if you have any questions.
It’s not possible to cover every question – so please feel free to call or email us and we’ll do our best to answer your question.