4 of the best Sea of Cortez cruises

Travel Advice

The Sea of Cortez is an often-overlooked destination by UK travellers. Cradled between the barren Baja California Peninsula and the Mexican mainland, at first glance you might assume that the windswept coastline offers little more than rugged desert beauty.

But dive under the surface of these waters and you'll discover an extraordinary wealth of wildlife that has earned the Sea of Cortez UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Famed for its huge numbers of dolphins, sea turtles, blue whales, gray whales, orca, humpback, pilot and fin whales, whale sharks, manta rays and sea lions, it's no wonder Jacques Cousteau described the Sea of Cortez as 'the world's aquarium'.

Exploring by water is the best way to discover the region, but only a handful of expedition cruise lines operate here. We've put together a short guide to the best options available…

1. AE Expeditions

Australian company AE Expeditions is the perfect choice for adventurous travellers who like to be active, travelling in the company of an experienced, enthusiastic expedition team including naturalists, historians and geologists.

Aurora's newest ship, the Sylvia Earle, visits the Sea of Cortez in 2022, with two round-trip itineraries from San José del Cabo. The first, a 13-day trip beginning on 23rd April 2022, begins by sailing to Magdalena Bay, famed for the gray whales hat visit to give birth and raise their calves here in February and March, and then focuses on the more southerly area of the Sea of Cortez, with a flexible itinerary to allow for spontaneity. This gives you the best chance of experiencing spectacular wildlife encounters, from vast pods of dolphins to mass gathering of mobula rays, which are known for leaping out of the water.

A shorter 9-day itinerary on 5th May 2022 focuses solely on the Sea of Cortez, and will be accompanied by the ship's godmother Dr Sylvia Earle, the world-renowned marine conservationist, biologist, oceanographer and pioneering explorer, who'll be hosting various lectures, talks and immersive excursions by land and sea.

Gray whale in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico

2. Scenic

Originally a touring company catering to Australian holidaymakers, in 2019 Scenic launched Scenic Eclipse, a luxury expedition ship which caters to a maximum of 228 guests looking to explore in style, equipped with two six-seat twin engine helicopters and a seven-seater submarine. On board the ship there is no compromising on luxury, with all rooms opening onto a private balcony, and there are 10 different dining experiences spread across 7 venues, offering a range of cuisine including Pan-Asian fusion, contemporary French and Italian fine dining.

Scenic Eclipse in Roatán, Honduras

Scenic Eclipse has three upcoming itineraries dedicated to discovering the Sea of Cortez. A 12-day trip from the UK joins the ship in Loreto for an 8-night exploration, with flights and a pre- and post-cruise stay in Los Angeles included. Planned stops include Isla Ángel de la Guarda, Isla Partida and Isla Coronados, offering the chance to kayak, stand-up paddle board, snorkel with sea lions and swim in shallow lagoons with outstanding visibility. A flexible itinerary means you'll be able to follow the wildlife to ensure highlights come thick and fast. There are two departure dates to choose from - 15th April 2023 and 5th October 2023 - at the end and the beginning of the peak season.

Alternatively check out the 12-night itinerary on 23rd April 2023, beginning with a night in LA before sailing from Loreto to San Diego. Calls include Isla Monserrate for superb snorkelling, the turquoise waters of Isla San Francisco, sea lion colonies near Isla Partida, and the incredibly clear waters around Isla Cerralvo, home to a wide range of exotic fish. Then round the Baja Peninsula and discover Magdalena Bay and Laguna San Ignacio, where dolphins, sea birds and whales routinely congregate, before arriving in San Diego for your return flight home.

Whale in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico

3. Lindblad Expeditions

One of the best expedition operators in the world, Lindblad have a close relationship with National Geographic and a reputation for offering more aboard, such as a certified photo instructor on every Baja California departure to assist you with camera settings, the basic elements of framing, composition and lighting and general tips to ensure you go home with fantastic photos.

Photography on a Lindblad Expeditions cruise in the Sea of Cortez

Lindblad regularly operate three ships in the region between November and April, on a choice of six itineraries ranging from 4 to 14 nights. The shortest itineraries focus solely on Magdalena Bay, while longer trips include extensive exploration of the Sea of Cortez during the height of the whale watching season. The 15-night 'Baja: A Remarkable Journey' itinerary on 14th and 22nd March 2022 is our preferred route. You'll begin the journey at Magdalena Bay then sail to Laguna San Ignacio for more gray whale viewing opportunities, before spending 8 days sailing amongst the islands of the Sea of Cortez. Highlights include the Isla San Pedro Mártir Biosphere Reserve, Los Islotes, where you can swim with sea lions, and Isla San Francisco.

You'll be sailing on the 100-guest National Geographic Venture, which launched in 2019. The ship has twin expedition craft landing platforms, allowing quick access to the Zodiacs to maximise time off the ship, whilst the bow has a uniquely tiered viewing system so you won't miss a thing. No matter which itinerary you choose, all of the Lindblad ships operating here have kayaks, paddleboards, snorkelling gear, hydrophones and multiple underwater cameras, and with a range of sailings from a number of departure points, there's sure to be an itinerary that suits.

Lindblad Expeditions cruise in the Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

4. UnCruise Adventures

UnCruise Adventures specialise in small ships exploring off the beaten track, giving inquisitive travellers who love wilderness, wildlife and exploration an unrushed and uncrowded opportunity to experience a holiday with a difference.

As well as offering all the expedition activity you'd expect, including snorkelling, kayaking, stand-up paddle-boarding, whale watching and hiking, UnCruise's relaxed and informal approach is also apparent in the evening beach party included on each Sea of Cortez itinerary, celebrating the night sky with a bonfire, warm beverages and a constellation lesson.

UnCruise Adventures - Kayaking in the Sea of Cortez

UnCruise's Sea of Cortez voyages are on board the Safari Voyager, which operates a regular 7-night itinerary between January and April, accommodating a maximum of 66 guests. A bow viewing area and sun deck means space for wildlife viewing, and there's a kayak launch platform for ease. A basic yet comfortable vessel, she's equipped with a bow-mounted underwater camera, paddleboards, Zodiacs and snorkel gear, perfect for exploring both above and below the water. Your itinerary includes plenty of snorkelling, swimming, hiking and wildlife spotting, with calls at Bahía Agua Verde, Isla San Francisco, Isla Partida, Isla Espíritu Santo and, if the gray whales have arrived on Baja's west coast, you'll also drive across the peninsula to Magdalena Bay.

Sea lions near Los Islotes, Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Meet the author

Alex is Director of Sales & Marketing at Mundy Adventures, having worked with the company for 10 years and in travel for over 18 years. His most recent adventure was a cruise on Seabourn Venture and he has also sailed with Regent, Crystal, SeaDream, Tauck and Ponant. His favourite adventure destination is South America however he's also enjoyed adventures in Antarctica, the Western Mediterranean, Middle East, East Africa & Indian Ocean, India, Myanmar and South East Asia. When he’s not travelling he loves walking holidays; a favourite included a trek to Everest Base Camp.

More about Alex

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