Baja Bliss - In The Sea of Cortés

by Ilona Kauremszky
Special to Cruise Magazine
Summer, 2006

The Sea of Cortés - Beneath the sun-kissed azure waters, schools of iridescent angelfish, damsel fish, and rainbow wrasses glide though the coral reefs that teem with clusters of anemones and sea cucumbers. Above the speckled blue sea, piercing squeals from a pod of dolphins is the early morning wake up call. In a New York minute, the entire boat load arrives on deck to discover a bluenose playing on the bow wake. Welcome to the Sea of Cortés otherwise dubbed “The Galapagos of Mexico.”

Mexico’s newest state, California Baja Sur (Spanish for Lower California), is putting a whole new spin on adventure travel as million-dollar resorts, golf courses, and the untamed wilderness have meshed around the newly designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A great way to experience the marine life and awesome views is to splurge for passage on a boutique vessel like American Safari Cruises which offers an eight-night all-inclusive trip.

The US-based company around since 1996 has been ushering exclusive groups of up to 22 persons in the lap of luxury and style aboard its 120-foot Safari Quest which was constructed in 1992 and totally refurbished in 2000.

Inside the spacious posh staterooms open with sliding glass doors onto a balcony with some suites donning a decadent private Jacuzzi. Or if you prefer, the deck is always lively where parched sundowners meet you with toasts of champagne from a hot tub that overlooks the secluded aquatic wilderness. Perhaps a pod of whales might even breach to greet you.

When the cruise company started, this part of Mexico was virtually unknown. But that wasn’t always so.

First discovered by the Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortés who was in search of the North Passage and later by Jesuits who set up missionaries in seaside villages called, La Paz, Loreto, and Cabo San Lucas, the Baja was deemed as a sanctuary. In the forties author John Steinbeck took a 400-mile journey aboard a 76-foot sardine boat and crowned the Sea of Cortés as “reality changing with the moment.” In 1948 actor John Wayne and singer Bing Crosby were so captivated by the unsung wild beauty of La Paz that they built the region’s first resort.

The Sea of Cortés has long been hailed as a fishing capital, but it became even more popular after American WWII pilots flying across the desolate peninsular spotted hundreds of schools of jumping marlin. Today, the sea has been declared a whale sanctuary and is considered the Marlin Capital of the World and with good reason.

Formed by a fracture on the San Andreas Fault, the Sea of Cortés was formed 15 million years ago. It’s the youngest sea in the world and is still largely undeveloped. The pristine ecosystem receives the churning sediments from the Colorado River and the mélange of the fresh sea water has created an astonishing array of life. The entire sea and its islands are designated as a special Biosphere Reserve to protect the extraordinary biodiversity found few other places on earth.

And for exclusive adventure cruise buffs, this is Shangri-la.

After the captain’s welcome, everyone gets to know each other over a flute of champagne, toasting into the magenta sunset as the boat pushes forth from La Paz harbor. It’s off to the Sea of Cortés in search of Nemo and Flipper.

You quickly adopt casualness on board as guests soon discover the voyage demands a barefoot elegance. On deck pick up some binoculars, scan the horizon as Captain Tom Voss narrates some stories or hear first-hand accounts from seasoned naturalists like Expedition Leader Heather Peterson. She knows everything about the place.

On the first day at sea, guests can choose from hiking, sea kayaking, water skiing or exploring desolate red mangrove lagoons. Most of the passengers are American and for many, it’s their first trip here despite the 100-mile distance from the US southwestern border. Now a haven to the stars, Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Simpson, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are some of the A-listers who have discovered the luxurious estates with exclusive spa treatments. American Safari Cruises can even be chartered for private groups.

For island hopping, the boat plies the azure water on its voyage to Isla Coyote, the smallest village in the Sea of Cortés. At Isla San Jose guests can snorkel with a large colony of 300 sea lions that inhabit the small rocky isle. Here the biggest sea lions scamper about playfully while pods of dolphins charge the waves in front of the Safari Quest.

Each day brings new discoveries. The captain can summon everyone to the deck for a view of a lifetime. In the distance, a large blue whale spurts water high in the air. Of the 11,000 known to exist in the world, hundreds of them visit the Sea of Cortés in February and March.

While the Sea of Cortés has more than 800 species of fish, the surrounding desert possesses its own unique ecosystem where endemic flora and fauna flourish. Strange looking valleys of sentinel-like cardon cactus (the largest in the world), primitive cirious and elephant trees are some of the 4,000 different plants that form the spiny green carpet from the sandy earth.

Beneath the azure water, tufts of dense plankton are met by pods of filter- feeding whales, giant mantas, hammerhead sharks and whale sharks meandering around the vessel. Then all of a sudden, the sea pops like flying popcorn as dolphins explode out of the water in a marine chorus line. There are 20 leaping on the port side and 30 on starboard, and dozens more play in the pressure wave from the bow of the yacht. It’s impossible to know where to aim the camera – they’re everywhere. No wonder, this aquatic paradise was once described by famous oceanographer Jacques Cousteau as the “aquarium of the world with the largest diversity of sea life we can find on earth.”

For hungry sailors, it’s al fresco dining. Meals are exquisitely prepared dishes from the chef’s own classic creations blending south western US and Mexican flavors. High on the menu are coconut shrimp tempura with curry sauce and tamarind glazed game hen.

There’s no need for fancy ballrooms, night shows and all-you-can-eat-buffets when you have an aquatic theater group performing hourly. Yet it is a more intimate experience on the smaller vessel. You can go into the shallow craggily waters or the open sea, where ever the action happens to be. It’s pure Baja bliss.


To Know:

American Safari Cruises specializes in elegant, adventurous cruises on exclusive boutique-style luxury yachts and whisks passengers off to areas that are not accessible to larger cruise liners. The company currently offers cruises in the Sea of Cortés during December through April.

Highlights: Includes pre-cruise overnight at the Casa Natalia
Nights spent at anchor in remote bays and coves
From the yacht kayaking, snorkeling and small-boat excursions
Unhurried time to watch whales, dolphins and sea lions
Included trail ride into the mountains with a local ranchero
An underwater camera to view sea life from the lounge TV
Swim with sea lions
A special visit to Isla Coyote, the smallest village in the Sea of Cortés

A week’s cruise ranges from $3,995 to $5,995 per person and includes all tours, transfers, meals, wine and cocktails. For private yacht leasing, the cruise starts from $98,795 per week.

Getting there:
The Baja California peninsula is easily reached by direct flights on Delta Airlines and other airline carriers.

For travel information on Los Cabos, visit

For reservations and more information call toll-free 1-888-862-8881 or visit

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