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Baja Peninsula: Gray Whales and Desert Landscapes

Trip Highlights

  • Enjoy thrilling opportunities to view and photograph gray whales up-close during small-boat excursions.
  • Explore hidden coves, snorkel with sea lions and tropical fish, and relax on the pristine beaches of Espíritu Santo, a protected island and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Seek out resident and migratory birds in mangrove and coastal habitats and in the highlands’ prickly desert vegetation.
  • Walk through the scenic Cataviña Boulder Fields, where gigantic granite boulders, Boojum trees, towering cardon cacti, and contorted elephant trees dominate the landscape.


Day 1: La Paz

Upon arrival at Los Cabos International Airport, travel about two and a half hours to the hotel in La Paz. Participants should arrive no later than 3:00 pm.

Although La Pas is the most important city of the southern part of Baja peninsula, its tree-lined streets and calm, clear bays inspire tranquility. A walk along the malecon is a treat.

This evening, attend a welcome dinner and orientation at the hotel.

Stay overnight at the Hyatt Place.

Meals: Dinner

Day 2: La Paz

The Sea of Cortez has been identified as one of the most biologically diverse marine areas in the world. Within the Sea of Cortez Marine Park Reserve, the protected island, Espiritu Santo, offers a variety of attractions: fascinating geology, snorkeling with sea lions and tropical fish in crystal clear water, pristine beaches, and hidden and isolated coves. Walk along the marina to board a boat and depart for the island for the day’s activities.

Return to La Paz and get to know the downtown area.

Dinner is in a traditional fish and seafood restaurant on the malecon.

Stay overnight at the Hyatt Place.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3: Loreto

After breakfast, depart for Loreto. The road crosses an important agricultural area where Crested Caracaras are often seen perched on fence posts.

En route, take a detour to Bahía Magdalena for an unforgettable experience: a boat ride in a gray whale sanctuary to view these giant mammals at arm’s length. The gray whales seen here are part of the annual migration across thousands of miles from the Arctic Ocean to the warm waters of the Baja Peninsula – one of the longest migratory routes by a mammal. All gray whales are born off the coast of the peninsula and participate in the migration between warm and cool waters throughout their lives.

After the whale watching excursion, continue to Loreto, the oldest mission and permanent settlement of the Californias. The mission is still standing today.

Check in to the beautiful hacienda-style hotel, located on the waterfront.

Stay overnight at the La Misión.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4: Loreto

The island-studded portion of the Sea of Cortez facing Loreto is protected by the Loreto Bay National Marine Park.

This morning, take a boat to encircle Coronado Island with its azure waters, interesting geology, a colony of sea lions, and more.

Return to Loreto for lunch; then head inland for the mountains.

The city is surrounded by the rugged peaks of the Sierra de la Giganta, providing the scenery for one of the peninsula’s most beautiful excursions, a drive along steeps walls to San Javier Mission and village. Known as “the jewel of the missions,” San Javier is one of the best preserved missions, and still home to its original orchard first planted by the missionaries.

En route, stop at a goat ranch to learn about life on a  ranch and the process of making goat cheese. Practice hands-on tortilla making for your cheese and beans snack.

Dinner is in a traditional “palapa” local restaurant this evening.

Stay overnight at the La Misión.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5: San Ignacio

This morning, depart Loreto and begin the journey to San Ignacio, with stops along the way. Observe the giant elephant cacti that dominate the scenery, then drive along the crystal blue waters of Bahía de Concepción.

Make a stop at an unspoiled beach, where you can see mangroves rich in bird life.

Continue to Mulegé, a mission settlement on a riverbed lined with palm trees.

In Santa Rosalía, visit the old French Quarter and the Boleo mine museum to learn how the French established this copper mining town and brought over the prefabricated iron church designed by Gustave Eiffel that is still standing today.

North of Santa Rosalía, head inland up one of the steepest grades in the peninsula leading to a plateau and the “Tres Vírgenes,” red lava rock volcanoes dotted with elephant trees.

Stop to view the birds in the highlands among prickly desert vegetation before arriving in San Ignacio, a charming oasis town developed around its imposing 18th century mission, still in use today.

Stay overnight at the Desert Inn.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6: San Ignacio

Today, continue the whale experience in the San Ignacio Lagoon, one of the best places to view the migrant whales because of its isolation. Cross an open stretch of desert and a salty mudflat, then board a small pangas for a memorable ride among the whales.

After lunch, enjoy the tranquility of the lagoon and spot migrant birds along the shore.

In the afternoon, return to San Ignacio to visit the mission and stroll in the laurel-filled plaza.

Stay overnight at the Desert Inn.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 7: Cataviña

This morning, depart for Guerrero Negro, home of the largest salt production plant in the world, an immense salt marsh, and a whale sanctuary that receives a record number of migrant gray whales each year. Drive through the salt plant to reach Scammon’s Lagoon, then embark on  a third and final outing among the whales.

Continue the drive to Cataviña, with a nature walk through desert vegetation.

Enter Reserva de los Cirios, named in honor of the endemic Boojum tree, Baja’s signature plant, and arrive in the famed Cataviña boulder fields, a superb desert garden landscape of enormous granite boulders, Boojum and Elephant trees, and Cardon cacti.

Settle in at the hotel and enjoy a dinner fiesta.

Stay overnight at the Misión Santa Maria.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 8: Ensenada

Begin the day with a beautiful walk in the magnificent Cataviña desert garden, including a visit to a small cave with simple rock art.

Lunch is in a San Quintín restaurant to taste traditional platters.

In the afternoon, arrive at Ensenada and take some time to stroll in the main streets and along the waterfront. Check in at the oceanfront hotel and relax, admiring the spectacular view.

Enjoy a farewell dinner at the hotel.

Stay overnight at the Marea Vista Hotel.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 9: San Diego

Depart for the last stretch along Highway One, a particularly scenic portion with stunning views on the Pacific Ocean coastline.

Cross the border into the United States and continue to the San Diego International Airport for your return flight.

Arrival time at the airport is approximately noon. Please note: departing flights should be scheduled no earlier than 2:00 pm.

Meals: Breakfast



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Your Journey

Baja Peninsula: Gray Whales and Desert Landscapes

By participating in an Alumni Association of the University of Michigan travel trip, you have stated that the Alumni Association has the exclusive right to use video and other visual/audio portrayals of You or Your likeness taken during Your trip in any medium of any nature whatsoever for any purpose, including advertising or promoting the services of the trip without any compensation being paid to You. Any such portrayal or likeness shall be the exclusive property of the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan.

  • March 15–23, 2021
(9 days)
Starting price: $5,295
Singles $5,890
Deposit per person: $500
North America
Type: Land

You must be an Alumni Association member to travel with us. Questions? Call Michigan Alumni Travel at 855.764.0064.

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