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 San Lucas!
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.
And whale watching is one of the top things to do in Cabo!
Whale watching in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Over the years visiting the destination (writing travel articles on Cabo for various magazines and newspapers and for this blog), 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.
Types of Cabo whales: Thar they blow!
Cabo is located at the tip of the Baja California Peninsula in Mexico.
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.
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 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.
The annual migration of whales in Mexico from Alaska and the Arctic is one of the lengthiest mammal migrations in the animal kingdom.
The long journey is a mammoth 12,500 miles round-trip.
And it’s estimated that 10% of the world’s humpback population is born in Mexico.
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. It’s the best way to view these magnificent creatures.
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 a recent visit to Cabo, we took a whale watching tour with Cabo Expeditions.
We’d previously experienced a great tour with Cabo Expeditions – swimming with whale sharks in La Paz.
They’ve 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 bottlenose 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.
Best Cabo whale watching tours
You have 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.
Boats depart from the Cabo San Lucas Marina.
They head out into the Cabo San Lucas Bay, passing by Lover’s Beach and El Arco (the iconic rock Arch) and giving you a close-up view of the sea lions that hang out at Land’s End.
Depending on where the whales are, they often leave the protected bay and go around to the Pacific side of the Cabo San Lucas area too.
Note that 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 guests on our Zodiac tour, plus the boat captain guide and a photographer. (A photographer accompanies each tour, so you can buy a digital link to photos recording all that great Moby Dick action.)
The Zodiacs are comfortable, with cushioned bench seats at the back and front. You can also sit on the side.
Children aged 5 or over can sign up for these tours.
Among the fastest inflatable 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 2½-hour tours include pick-up from your hotel in an air-conditioned van.
And as you’ve probably gathered by now, we had an awesome time on this small group Zodiac tour with Cabo Expeditions – we recommend them highly!
Cabo Adventures also offers whale watching tours in Cabo San Lucas on inflatable speedboats.
On their whale watching adventures, 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…
Whale Watch Cabo:
Dedicated whale watchers might also want to check out Whale Watch Cabo.
We haven’t yet gone with them, but we know they have a reputation for offering good educational Zodiac tours.
You go with a marine biologist on fast Zodiacs that hold just 10 people each (no children under 13).
Cabo San Lucas whale watching tours on a small boat
Cabo Trek has a small boat with a roof canopy (for shade).
While they’re licensed to carry up to 18 people, the group size for their top-rated whale tours average 10 to 12 guests only – so there’s no fussing for shade, leg room or the best view!
Three tours are offered daily at 8 am, 11 am and 2:30 pm, and they’re 2½ hours long each.
Marine biologist guides are on every tour.
And the company prides itself on being the first and only company in Mexico certified as a “Responsible Whale Watching Operator” by the World Cetacean Alliance (WCA).
Whale Watch Cabo:
Whale Watch Cabo also offers 2½-hour tours on small covered boats holding no more than 12 people.
Unlike their Zodiac tours (covered above), 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).
Cabo Adventures luxury catamaran:
Cabo Adventures (mentioned above) also offers whale watching in Cabo on a large boat. Their tours are on a luxury double-deck catamaran.
This French-made vessel was designed for comfortable and smooth sailing. Bonus: It has a hydrophone system so you can hear the whales singing.
This 3-hour adventure includes snacks (or lunch) plus alcoholic drinks.
Pezgato catamaran tour:
This 2-hour whale watching cruise on a big steady catamaran with Pezgato can take about 45 passengers.
It includes hotel transfers, a light breakfast or lunch plus an open bar. New hydrophones onboard allow you to listen to the whales’ songs too.
For total stability on a large motorized catamaran (two decks high), there’s the Sunrider 100, large enough to hold 250 passengers. You won’t have any worries about getting seasick on this boat!
They say the early bird gets the whale, er, worm. So leave at 9:00 am on this whale watching breakfast cruise – and enjoy a delicious full hot breakfast too!
The Cabo Escape (operated by Wild Cabo Tours) is a large twin-level power catamaran, with two bathrooms.
Cruise out for a scenic view of Land’s End and the famous Arch as you tuck into breakfast of fresh Mexican fruit, juice and coffee, scrambled eggs, bacon, chorizo-and-egg burritos, bacon-and-egg burritos and pancakes. You’re not going to go hungry!
You’re also treated to an open bar. (We vote for the Mimosas and Bloody Mary’s.)
An experienced marine biologist accompanies you onboard and shares their knowledge with you throughout your whale watching trip.
Spot whales on sunset cruises
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 pirate boat for a spot of whale watching with breakfast?
Then you’ll want to book this 2-hour pirate-themed whale watching cruise. Families with kids are sure to especially like this one.
Cabo whale watching season
If you want to see whales, the best time to visit Cabo is during the winter months.
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 late March and April, the whales start to migrate back north to Alaska.
But there’s still lots of good whale spotting toward the end of the Cabo whale season!
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.
Final words on 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 three) too!
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Photo credits: 5, 9, 16 to 18, 20 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase