An Un-Cruise Adventure
The Sea of Cortés
Story and photos by Greg Aragon
magine being in a small boat, drifting in a calm lagoon, surrounded
by sand dunes and colorful migratory birds. Then picture ripples dancing
on the surface, followed by a spout of water and then a graceful and
magnificent emergence of a 30-ton gray whale. If this sounds exciting,
then a trip to Bahía Magdalena with Un-Cruise
Adventures is the way to go.
My recent getaway to Baja
California came courtesy of the Un-Cruise Adventures, which specializes
in small ship travel to some of the globe's most beautiful and pristine
locations. My 7-day journey concentrated on the Sea of Cortez, an area
once described as the "world's aquarium" by legendary oceanographer
Un-Cruise Adventures takes small ships to pristine,
The trip began aboard the 230-ft-long Safari Endeavor,
an 84-passenger exploration vessel designed to reach remote ports and
beaches unavailable to most of today's large cruise ships. With amenities
such as comfortable cabins, a gourmet kitchen and dining room, social
lounge, fitness equipment, hot tubs, nature viewing areas, and a sports
platform for swimming and launching kayaks and skiffs, the four-deck
boat is a floating adventure waiting to happen.
To get to the ship, a friend and I flew to Los Cabos
International Airport, where we were met by representatives with Un-Cruise
Adventures, who then transported us to a small, rustic harbor in the
city of Los Cabos, Mexico, where we boarded.
Once aboard the Endeavor, we met Captain Barrett Whitten
and his crew, and enjoyed a cocktail welcome reception. We were then
escorted to our cabin on deck 3. And after a brief safety drill we lifted
anchor and sailed into the Mexican sunset.
The Safari Endeavor is a floating adventure waiting
As the ship cruised north up the Sea of Cortez, it hugged
the rugged coastline, giving passengers a preview of the week-long adventure
ahead. There were endless miles of deserted beaches, jagged mountains
and hidden coves to explore. And since this was an Un-Cruise small ship
expedition, it meant docking in tiny bays, using snorkeling gear, kayaks
and paddleboards to explore by water, and our feet to discover uncharted
The Sea of Cortés, also known as the Gulf of
California, is thought to be one of the most diverse seas on earth.
In 2005 the islands of the gulf were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage
Site, for natural beauty and diversity.
The Sea of Cortés has been called the "world's
Our first stop on the cruise was gorgeous and deserted
Ensenada Grande. Located on Isla Partida, Ensenada Grande is part of
a protected UNESCO biosphere reserve. With the Endeavor anchored a few
hundred feet off shore we took small skiffs to the beach, where we set
up camp and went exploring.
Along my hike, I discovered desert cactus hiding behind
large sand bluffs, puffer fish skeletons and unique shells along the
shore. I also dove in the clear turquoise water to keep cool in the
tropical, 80-degree temperature.
Back aboard the Safari Endeavor, we enjoyed a lunch
of Cuban sandwiches and Mexican beer in the dining room, while the captain
set sail for Agua Verde. While cruising the coastline, I found a window
seat in the lounge and watched the magical scenery go by.
Cabins aboard the Safari Endeavor are comfortable
and offer great views
In the morning, we opened our cabin door to find a postcard
picture of craggy mountains, turquoise water and unspoiled beach before
us. Once again, I realized the benefits of a "small" boat
compared to some of the mega cruise ships out there. The Endeavor can
drop anchor off pretty much any hidden island location.
At Agua Verde we met a local rancher, who took us on
a burro ride through canyons and mountains to experience the real
Baja. Along the way, we encountered a desert oasis, numerous types
of giant cactus, a lost beach, and listened to our guide sing Mexican
Riding burros along deserted beaches, mountains
and canyons is a great way to experience Baja
Our next stop was no less beautiful. It was the charming
mission town of Loreto. As the first Spanish settlement on the Baja
California Peninsula, Loreto is located about 220 miles north of La
Paz. The town was founded in 1697 by Jesuit missionaries, who discovered
fresh water in the area and erected the Misión Nuestra Señora
de Loreto (Mission of our Lady of Loreto). Considered mother
of all the missions in Baja California, the Mission of our Lady of Loreto
has seen many renovations over the centuries and today features a sober
Baroque style stone façade that welcomes town visitors above
a grand plaza in the quaint downtown village.
While touring Loreto, I visited the historic mission,
walked along the sand, chatted with pleasant local fishermen in my elementary
Spanish, and enjoyed the town's quiet, laid-back beach atmosphere.
A visit to the charming mission town of Loreto is
a highlight on the Un-Cruise Adventure through the Sea of Cortés
Back aboard the Endeavor, I had a glass of wine at the
complimentary daily happy hour in the lounge, and then joined fellow
passengers in the dining room, where the chef prepared a special wine
pairing dinner with fish ceviche, lobster bisque, artichoke glazed lamb
rack with mint chimichurri, and a dessert of Kahula chocolate mousse
in tart shells.
The next day, we dropped anchor near Los Islotes, a
jagged and mysterious rock formation jetting from the sea, that is home
to a colony of friendly, barking sea lions. While here, I hopped in
a skiff for an up-close look at the creatures from above water, while
other, more adventurous passengers donned wetsuits and joined the animals
as they swam through underwater arches and swaying sea coral.
Skiff rides, kayaking and snorkeling with sea lions
are all part of the Un-Cruise adventure
But when it comes to encountering marine mammals in
Baja California, there is nothing like Bahía Magdalena home
to migrating grey whales. To get to this whale wonderland, the Endeavor
docked in Puerto Escondido, where all of us passengers loaded into vans
and drove two hours across the beautiful Baja peninsula, past mountains,
valley, lakes and deserts full of towering cactus.
Whale watching in Bahía Magdalena is an ultimate
highlight of a Sea of Cortes Cruise
At the bay, we boarded small panga boats and floated
into the serene, 30-ft deep lagoon. In a few minutes our captain/guide
pointed to a "footprint" along the waters tranquil surface,
an indicator that a gray whale was about to appear. And sure enough
one did appear, and then another and another and even a couple babies.
Soon, our 20-ft panga was "swimming" alongside a giant, 45-ft-long
mother and her 15-ft baby.
Adventurous days on the Safari Endeavor end with
a cruise into the Mexican sunset
For more information on taking an Un-Cruise Adventure
to Mexico or other destinations such as Alaska, Central America, Galápagos
Islands, or Hawaii, visit: www.un-cruise.com.
Paz, Baja Sur California; Take
Pleasure in La Paz; La
Paz Slideshow; 3
Things We Didn't Know About La Paz; Las
Alamandas Awaits; Playa
del Carmen, Yucatan Peninsula; Cozumel,