Whale Sightings Start the Year Right in Baja


Travel Weekly Crossroads' associate editor, Judy Koutsky, spent the holidays on a chartered cruise along the Pacific coast of Mexico. The following is Part Five in a series of reports:

Aboard the Ocean Majesty-- New Year's Day. I started the beginning of the year watching the sun rise over the Pacific while eating breakfast. If nothing else, I've seen more sunrises and sunsets on this trip than I've seen in my life. Then, to the surprise and delight of all the early risers, somebody spotted a whale.

We were all up and running toward the dock, our breakfasts quickly forgotten, hoping for a glimpse. Sure enough, not one but two whales greeted us, their tails slapping against the water. I had read that from January through March thousands of gray whales make the long trek from the Bering Strait to the Baja Peninsula to give birth to their calves, but it's not that common to see them this far south.

With such a great start to the day -- and the year, to boot -- I was eager to begin the last leg of the cruise. After docking around 10 a.m., we took the tender ashore for our excursions or, for some, a relaxing day in the sun. The Coastal Highlights tour, which I took, allowed visitors to see the vast contrast between the desert terrain, cacti and all, and the rugged coastline. church

We stopped often for pictures and refreshments in both Cabo San Lucas and its neighbor, San Jose. We were supposed to get a demonstration of glass blowing at a nearby glass factory, but it was closed due to the holiday. In fact, we soon discovered, many buildings were not open that day. Our tour guide instantly came up with a backup plan: shopping.

Although many of the bigger centers were closed, the smaller shops and flea markets were open and ready for us. Many people on the excursion complained that bartering in Mexico is not as easy as it used to be. Some tried the old walk-away trick and found that many of the older Mexican women will let the American tourists just walk right out the door. They may go down a little, but I found that, up and down the Pacific coast, the shopkeepers drive a hard bargain. Also worth noting is that most places accept American dollars, and clients are more likely to get a better price than when paying with pesos.

In the afternoon, on this sunny day, many people enjoyed jet -skiing and snorkeling. The best bet for this activity is to take a water taxi out to Playa del Amor (Lover's Beach). It is here that the warm, calm water from the Sea of Cortez meets the rugged surf of the Pacific Ocean (marlin and sailfish can be seen breaking the waves here). The water taxi costs about $3 per person; the trip to this semi-secluded beach is well worth the modest fee. It's important to remember to tell the driver when you want him to pick you up, otherwise they won't make the trip back.

After swimming, snorkeling or just lounging on the beach, visitors should check out the famous El Arco.El Arco The natural rock arch can be seen from cruise ships, but it's worth it to see the formation up close. Another sight that shouldn't be missed is El Faro de Cabo Falso (Lighthouse of the False Cape), located a short distance from El Arco.

Many people come to Cabo for its beaches, and they are rarely disappointed. For very calm water (best for families with young children) and snorkeling, Playa Hacienda is a good bet. Playa Solmar is clean and pretty, but the current is pretty rough, so it's advisable to stay on the sand. My pick, for the sand and the view, is Playa del Amor. beach

I took advantage of the calm water today to go parasailing. I had been once before but forgot the calm, almost hypnotic feeling of floating so far above the ground. The view of the mountains, beaches, El Arco and the spot where the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez meet was awesome. I strongly recommend spending the $25 to experience this aerial panorama. Although parasailing is offered up and down the coast, I think Cabo offers the best experience for the money.

Cabo San Lucas and San Jose were the two most developed and posh resort ports we visited. They are also the two fastest growing resorts in Mexico. Gabrielle , the guide on the Coastal Highlights excursion said many wealthy Mexicans and Americans have summer homes here. Both towns are very clean, with beautiful beaches and a wide variety of water sports offered, and the towns are more upscale than Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta. Many restaurants, both formal and casual, abound, and shopping is at a premium. This area is for those clients who want a lot of fun in a opulent environment without having to put forth a lot of effort.

Judy Goes to Mexico, Part 1: 'Little Boat' Makes for a Cozy Cruise to Mexico

Judy Goes to Mexico, Part 2: Acapulco Boasts Restored Infrastructure, Energy

Judy Goes to Mexico, Part 3: Traditions Still Alive in Mexico's 'Twin Cities'

Judy Goes to Mexico, Part 4: Creatures From the Manzanillo Lagoons

Judy Goes to Mexico, Part 5: Whale Sightings Start the Year Right in Baja

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