Programs let clients explore Sea of Cortes

NEW YORK -- Three programs that explore the Sea of Cortes, departing December through April, are offered by Special Expeditions, based here.

The itineraries are Among the Great Whales; Copper Canyon and the Sea of Cortes and Exploring Baja's Infinite Mysteries.

exploring the desert Throughout the Sea of Cortes, passengers travel on Special Expeditions' 70-passenger Sea Bird or Sea Lion, specially designed to operate in remote areas and to reach places inaccessible to larger vessels. Accompanying the group are naturalists who are experts in fields such as geology, marine mammals and birds.

With an educational emphasis, the adventures aim to give participants a chance to experience and understand the diversity of marine life and of the flora and fauna of the area's numerous uninhabited islands. The naturalists guide the group on shore walks, identify wildlife from the ship, give slide-illustrated lectures and discuss the day's highlights in an informal lounge setting.

The Sea of Cortes is home to whales, dolphins, seabirds, sea lions and many saltwater species of fish. The islands feature desert landscapes of cacti and wildflowers and untouched beaches. Among the activities on the Sea of Cortes portion of the trips are viewing dolphins, manta rays and whales such as finback, blue and humpback; swimming with sea lions; snorkeling and kayaking. On hiking excursions, participants can see avian life such as hummingbirds, frigate birds and blue-footed and brown boobies.

Beyond the Sea of Cortes, two of Special Expeditions' itineraries highlight Bahia Magdalena and its California gray whales and the Copper Canyon, a remote area in northwestern Mexico.

Among the Great Whales is an eight-night program with a heavy focus on the California gray whale, which migrates yearly from the waters of Alaska to the lagoons of Baja California to mate, give birth and nurture their young. The journey begins in La Paz on the eastern edge of the Baja Peninsula, explores the Sea of Cortes, stops in Los Cabos and heads up the Pacific coastline to Bahia Magdalena. Whales can be observed from the decks of the ships, and the firm carries a fleet of Zodiac landing craft to offer passengers up-close encounters with the huge creatures.

Among the Great Whales is available January to March. The tour is priced starting at $2,790 per person, double.

The seven-night Copper Canyon and the Sea of Cortes itinerary is offered from December to April. After traveling through the Sea of Cortes, passengers will stay a night in the colonial town of El Fuerte before boarding the Copper Canyon Limited train for an ascent on the Chihuahua al Pacifico railroad to Divisadero, situated nearly 8,000 feet above sea level. Participants will overnight at one of two mountain lodges at the rim of the canyon before descending by motorcoach to Chihuahua.

Beyond the natural beauty of the Copper Canyon, a highlight of the trip is the Tarahumara Indians, who live in caves or small adobe dwellings and have retained their colorful dress and ancient traditions. Rates for the Copper Canyon and the Sea of Cortes program start at $2,100 per person, double.

Exploring Baja's Infinite Mysteries was designed to give clients a comprehensive look at the Sea of Cortes, with visits to areas never featured on Special Expeditions' programs in the past. The seven-night tour features a loosely structured itinerary.

Exploring Baja's Infinite Mysteries, offered from late March to mid-April, is priced starting at $2,290 per person, double.

Special Expeditions, Phone: (800) EXPEDITION

Two firms make debut in Sea of Cortes market

NEW YORK -- Since 1981, Special Expeditions has offered small-ship adventures highlighting the Sea of Cortes, which now is an emerging area of interest in Mexico for firms wishing to cater to the trend toward soft-adventure, nature-oriented vacations.

Voyager Cruise Line, a new company formed by Alaska's Glacier Bay Tours & Cruises, and Alaska Sightseeing/Cruise West are new entrants this year in the Sea of Cortes market.

All three firms offer programs that couple the Sea of Cortes with a rail journey through Mexico's Copper Canyon, which gives clients a look at the area's Tarahumara Indians.

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