Each year between December and April, thousands of whales migrate from their Arctic feeding grounds to the warm waters of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula to mate and give birth.
This is the time for whale watching in Cabo!
Indeed, Cabo (short for Cabo San Lucas) – and the whole area of Los Cabos – is one of the best places in the world to see whales.
Whale watching in Cabo
Over the years visiting the destination (writing travel articles on Cabo for various magazines and newspapers), we’ve taken many Los Cabos whale watching tours.
On all but one tour, we saw whales. Sometimes gob-smacking, amazing whale sightings!
The odds are high you will see whales – something like a 90% to 95% chance during the whale season in Cabo.
Whales in Cabo: Thar they blow!
Cabo is located at the tip of the Baja Peninsula.
This finger of desert is flanked by the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Sea of Cortez (which the late French explorer and marine researcher Jacques Cousteau famously once called “the world’s aquarium”) on the other.
And the waters curling around Cabo are home to many species of whales. Blue whales (the largest). Orcas (killer whales). Sperm whales. Minke whales. Fin whales. Pilot whales. And more…
The two main types of whales in Cabo San Lucas that migrate down here from Alaska are gray whales and humpback whales.
You see mainly humpbacks when whale watching in Cabo; they’re the most active and also the most rewarding to watch.
Whale watching in Cabo San Lucas: The experience
It’s possible to see whales from the shore (usually humpback whales) spouting and jumping. We’ve seen them from Santa Maria Beach after snorkeling there.
But to see whales up close (and learn more about whale behavior), you’ll want to take a whale watching tour.
You may get lucky and capture amazing full-frame pics of the humpbacks’ barnacle-covered backs.
The whales might even come so close that you can smell their fishy breath as they exhale and spew plumes of white water in the air!
On the other hand, you may only snap a shot of a tail fluke. (Though it’s rare you’d have such bad luck.)
On our most recent visit to Cabo, we took a whale watching tour with Cabo Expeditions.
We’d previously experienced a great tour with them swimming with whale sharks in La Paz. We understood they had since added whale watching in Los Cabos to their portfolio of tours. So we decided to try out one of their Cabo whale watching tours in a Zodiac-style boat.
And the whales gave us the best show we’ve ever witnessed!
One humpback shot out of the water at least eight times, breaching in dramatic displays with huge splashes. It was almost like he (she?) was putting on a performance for us.
Following that, we watched two humpbacks lie on their sides and slap the water loudly with their pectoral fins. (Scientists believe whales communicate with each other by breaching and tail and pec slapping.)
As a bonus, we saw dolphins too.
The thing to remember, though, is that whales are wild creatures, and there are no guarantees they’ll show up. But if you don’t spot whales on your tour, most tour operators will offer you another tour complimentary.
Cabo whale watching tours
There are many options for whale watching tours in Cabo San Lucas, so you can choose the tour that best suits you – from adventurous, high-speed, Zodiac-style boats to a large stable vessel to a small sunset cruise boat.
Whale watching is regulated in Los Cabos (and Mexico). The whale watching boats we’ve seen out on the water all respect the regulations and keep the required minimum 200-foot distance from any observed whales.
Zodiac whale watching, Cabo San Lucas
Cabo Expeditions’ tours are intimate and groups are small – no more than 15 people per boat.
We had only 12 people on our Zodiac tour, plus a photographer (so you can buy a digital link to photos recording all that great Moby Dick action) and the boat captain guide.
The Zodiacs are comfortable, with cushioned bench seats at the back and front. You can can also sit on the side. Children aged 5 or over can sign up for these tours.
Among the fastest whale watching boats in Cabo, these Zodiacs move around nimbly to follow the great greyish-black mammals wherever they spout.
Our captain guide was also extremely knowledgeable. When a whale would dive back down underwater, he’d point to where (and tell us when) to expect the whale to jump out of the water again.
The 2-1/2 hour tours include pick-up from your hotel in an air-conditioned van.
To book your small group Zodiac tour with Cabo Expeditions, see here.
Dedicated whale watchers might also want to check out the “whale watching photo safaris” offered by Cabo Adventures.
Small all-weather inflatable speed boats are used, and trips are guided by marine mammal behavior experts.
Sit quietly – and watch the humpbacks play, breach and engage in tail slapping and other fascinating whale behaviors.
Well, that’s the idea, anyway…
See here to book this 2-hour whale watching trip with Cabo Adventures.
Whale Watch Cabo:
We haven’t yet gone on a tour with Whale Watch Cabo, but we know they have a reputation for offering educational whale watching tours in Cabo San Lucas.
You go with a marine biologist guide on fast Zodiacs that hold just 10 people each (no children under 13).
Whale Watch Cabo also offers tours on small covered boats holding 12 people. Kids can join these tours.
Los Cabos whale watching on a big boat
If you’re prone to motion sickness, consider one of the larger, more stable vessels for your Cabo whale watching tour.
The EcoCat, for example, is a large sailing catamaran with a huge enclosed indoor space, as well as plenty of outdoor viewing areas (it can accommodate 120 people onboard).
Spot whales on a sunset cruise
During the whale watching season in Cabo San Lucas, you may also see plenty of whale action on the water, even though you’re not on an actual whale watching tour.
When we went out on one sunset dinner sail with Rissalena Cruises, our motorized 24-passenger catamaran ordinarily would have cruised along the scenic shoreline.
But on this occasion, we spent a goodly amount of time lingering by a mama and baby whale we came upon. Whale sightings trump all other sights!
More Los Cabos whale watching tours
There are other fun ways to see whales in Cabo too.
How about hopping aboard a fun pirate boat for a spot of whale watching with breakfast? Then you’ll want to book this 2-hour whale watching pirate cruise.
Or check out this whale watching tour with lunch on the stable Sunrider catamaran.
See also these other tours:
Cabo whale watching season
The “official” whale watching season in Los Cabos is usually set each year by the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (Mexico’s environment ministry) as being from early-to mid-December to about mid-April.
The peak season for spotting humpbacks is from late December to late January. If you go in February, you’ll start to see baby humpbacks.
Come March and April, the whales start to migrate back north to Alaska. But there’s still lots of good whale spotting!
Best time to see whales in Cabo San Lucas
Whale watching tours are typically offered three times a day – early morning, mid-day and late afternoon.
Which is the best time to go? That depends…
We like the early morning tours. That’s when the sea is calmest and the wind hasn’t yet picked up. The boat ride is likely to be the most comfortable then. (Plus, we personally like to be active in the morning and enjoy beach-and-book time in the afternoon.)
But many people report that late afternoon tours can offer some of the best whale activity sightings. Whales are more active and playful in wilder weather (more wind and waves), they say.
You’ll probably have less people on your boat or Zodiac on an afternoon tour, so that could make it more comfortable for you and give you more room to move around.
Cabo San Lucas whale watching
However you choose to watch the whales in Los Cabos that winter here each season, you’re sure to come away with a greater appreciation for their species.
And hopefully you’ll catch a memorable pic or two too!
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Photo credits: 7, 10, 16, 17, 18 and 20 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase