Whales, Dolphins and Deserts of Mexico's Baja Peninsula

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If you are captivated by whales—then this is a quintessential marine mammal travel destination. And if you love to photograph whales—even more so! From Mexico's legendary Baja California, our exciting photo tour visits the two most important nursery lagoons of the Pacific gray whale. With the end of commercial whaling, this charismatic cetacean was rescued from the edge of extinction. Today the eastern population of Pacific gray whales numbers over 20,000 animals—their recovery is one of the great conservation success stories of the last century. 
Gray whale spyhopping in Baja MexicoHistorically, gray whales were known to whalers as the “devilfish” due to the aggressive response mounted by females when they or their calves were harpooned. Inexplicably, in the early 1970s after a century of persecution, this highly defensive whale began to approach local Mexican fishermen with seemingly sociable intentions. Today, travellers to the warm waters of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula can go boating in a quiet sheltered coastal lagoon, under a warm desert sky, surrounded by dozens, if not hundreds of 36-ton whales—breaching, spy-hopping and frolicking—often close enough to touch! The whales migrate to coastal Mexico to spend the winter, mate, and give birth to their one-ton calves. The curious newborns soon learn from their mothers there is nothing to fear from the small fishing boats that are used for tourism and they seem as eager as the adults to interact with humans. Ironically, it is in these same lagoons where the majority of the gray whale slaughter took place.

The opportunities around Baja California for whale photographs at extremely close range are unique in the world. The friendly gray whales of Baja routinely rub the underside of the small fishing boats. They shove the boats with their snouts as if they were bathtub toys and repeatedly surface beside them seemingly for no other reason than to be stroked and petted. When a whale’s eye—the size of a tennis ball—looks at you from two feet away, one wonders what such a magnificent creature is thinking—for surely it IS thinking and experiencing some interaction. 

Cactus at sunsetAs well as being a nursery area for female gray whales, the waters off Mexico’s Baja Peninsula are also a vital wintering location for magnificent 150-ton blue whales, the largest creatures believed to have ever lived. Add to that the chance to see breaching humpback whales and pods of common dolphins and pilot whales—and you have a true cetacean bonanza.

The Baja Peninsula offers nature photographers even more than just a sunny, whale-filled winter photo shoot. There are photogenic colonial Spanish missions, 3,000-year-old rock pictographs and petroglyphs, fabulous towering sand dunes, the cactus-filled splendour of the Sonoran and Baja California Deserts, and the rejuvenating azure waters of the Sea of Cortez. "The Baja" truly provides outdoor photographers a wildlife and landscape photo experience like no other on Earth!

Read Wayne Lynch's trip report from our latest Whales of Baja photo tour 
For trip questions or to enroll give us a call at (206) 463-5383

Tour Itinerary

Day 1 (Feb 13) 
Arrive at Loreto International Airport on the eastern coast of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Our representative will meet your flight and bring you to our hotel. Depending on your flight schedule the afternoon is at leisure to enjoy the prolific coastal birdlife of the Gulf of California. We meet this evening for dinner. (D)

Day 2
A boat trip brings us to Bahía de Loreto National Park. We cruise in the azure waters of the Sea of Cortez searching for gargantuan wintering blue whales as well as humpback, fin whales and bottlenose dolphins, stopping for a picnic lunch on one of the many desert islands in the protected waters of the park. (BLD)
San Javier Mission Baja MexicoDay 3
Today we photograph two of the peninsula’s famous Spanish missions built in the 1700s. This morning we visit San Javier Mission located in the picturesque Sierra de la Giganta range. The magnificent art, elaborate altar pieces, and wood and stone sculptures of San Javier have earned it the distinction of being the most photogenic mission on the entire peninsula. After lunch we return to Loreto to photograph the first colonial Spanish mission built in this desert region of Mexico. The town of Loreto, founded in 1697, was the original capital of the state of Baja California Sur. We have time to stroll along the many quaint shaded streets or browse the curio shops. (BLD)
Day 4
We drive north through the rolling landscape of the Sonoran Desert, ending in the welcoming shaded plaza of the small village of San Ignacio. After lunch we visit the imposing Jesuit mission of San Ignacio, as well as a museum highlighting the renowned rock art paintings of the Sierra de San Francisco range, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (BLD)
Day 5
Today we travel to San Ignacio Lagoon, off the Pacific Ocean, to encounter our first female gray whales and their newborn calves. We lunch at a local seafood restaurant and have leisure time for birdwatching along the shore of the lagoon. The area is especially noted for its habituated nesting ospreys. (BLD)
Gray whaleDay 6
Traveling north to the salt mining town of Guerrero Negro on the shores of Laguna Ojo de Liebre we arrive at the finest of Mexico’s gray whale nursery lagoons. In March 2023 there were 2,100 whales wintering here. En route we make a side trip into the Sierra de San Francisco range to photograph the spectacular cave paintings of Maseta del Carmen. We drive through a beautiful desert landscape in the Valley of the Cirios, where Boojum “trees” can grow 50 feet in height or more, and by the ghost town of Pozo Aleman, where impoverished miners lived in caves cut from the bedrock. (BLD)
Days 7, 8 & 9
We begin each day with an early morning whale-watching tour where “friendly” mother whales routinely bring their curious calves alongside our small boats—and close to our lenses. In the afternoons we photograph the towering golden dunes of San Miguelito, and stroll the trails of the local bird sanctuary—refuge for thousands of wintering waterfowl and shorebirds, as well as local ospreys, peregrine falcons, pelicans, egrets and herons. On the afternoon of Day 9 we drive back to San Ignacio. (BLD)
Day 10
We return to Loreto, stopping en route at Santa Rosalia Mission in Mulegé founded by Jesuit missionaries in 1705. From the stone mission it is just a short walk to a nearby lush date palm oasis. This afternoon we relax at our oceanside resort. (BLD)
California sea lionsDay 11
We begin the day before sunrise with a short trip to Mirador Frida, an elevated overlook above the quiet sparkling waters and desert islands of Bahía de Loreto National Park. After breakfast we travel by boat to Isla Coronado, one of the picturesque desert islands in this 800-square-mile national marine park. We photograph a colony of loquacious California sea lions, and enjoy a picnic lunch at the finest beach on the island. As always, we search for pods of common dolphins and whales whenever we are on the water. In the late afternoon we end our tour with a final sunset cruise to Isla Danzante searching for blue whales and seabirds to photograph. (BLD)
Day 12 (Feb 25)
Participants fly home at any time today. (B)
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Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris Enrollment Information

Whales, Dolphins and Deserts of Mexico's Baja Peninsula

Feb 14, 2024 - Feb 25, 2024

A deposit and completed and signed Registration Form are required to reserve a place on a Joseph Van Os Photo Safari.


All prices are quoted in US dollars and all payments must be paid in US dollars. For deposits we accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Final payment of the trip fee is due 120 days prior to departure and may be paid by check or bank transfer. If you wish to make your final payment with a credit card a 3% convenience fee will be charged.

We must receive written notice of your cancellation. Based on the cancellation date the following apply:

Trip deposits are non-refundable.
150-91 days before the trip start date: We will refund any payments made exceeding 50% of the total trip cost.
90-61 days before the trip start date: We will refund any payments made exceeding 75% of the total trip cost.
Within 60 days of the start of the trip: No refund.

If, on the trip start date, your space has been resold and the tour is full—as designated by “Limit” number of travelers on the tour website page—we will refund your payment, minus the non-refundable trip deposit and any discounts given to resell your space.

No partial refunds are made for unused portions or services of a trip for any reason. Trips are sold as a package only. This policy also applies to tour extensions and independent travel arrangements. Cancellation fees are not transferable.

We strongly encourage you to protect your travel investment and purchase a comprehensive travel insurance policy that includes emergency evacuation coverage. We can provide travel insurance options, or it can be purchased online. A CANCEL FOR ANY REASON policy is available. Trip participants without travel protection insurance are considered “self-insured.” Without insurance you assume all risks and losses for any conditions requiring your cancellation.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris are within the capabilities of average people in good health. Some of these trips require the capability of walking for several miles over uneven trails, stepping from a small boat to a wave-washed rocky beach, flying in small planes and helicopters, and occasionally hiking at high elevations—all while carrying an assortment of camera equipment. If you have concerns about your own capabilities and/or fitness as it relates to a trip, please inquire with our office before reserving a space. By forwarding a signed Registration Form and trip deposit, you certify that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions of disability that would create a risk for you, or other trip participants and you agree to inform our office in writing if changes in your health, including viral illnesses, occur any time prior to the tour. We reserve the right to request a doctor's statement of good health. The company's or trip leader's judgment shall provide the ultimate determination of an individual's ability to embark upon or to continue a trip. Once a trip has been confirmed, medical circumstances will not be considered as exceptions to our cancellation policy. We assume no responsibility for medical care or for special dietary requirements. Tour members are asked to refrain from smoking with or near the group.

Participants will receive three emails before the trip departs: 1. Initial Tour Information sheet confirms the deposit and provides pre-departure information. 2. Invoice/Practical Information provides clothing and photo gear recommendations, climate data, and applicable health advisories. Visa information will also be included (if applicable). 3. Final Tour Information includes arrival instructions, itinerary revisions (if any), hotel addresses, trip telephone contact information and participant list. We provide the trip leader's telephone number(s) and/or email address with final documents so you can inquire about special photographic questions you may have regarding your trip. We welcome your calls or email messages to info@photosafaris.com.

Information supplied upon enrollment describes the specific details that are included in your trip fee. Generally, these include lodging in double room occupancy, all meals (specified in the itinerary as BLD denoting breakfast, lunch, or dinner), ground transportation during the trip in vans or small busses, internal tour air transportation as specified, meal and baggage tipping, and guide services provided by the trip leaders. Not included are airfare or other transportation from your home to the trip staging location, airport departure taxes, insurance, alcoholic beverages, and bar expenses (plus bottled water and soft drink expenses on international tours outside of North America), tips and gratuities to local guides, phone calls, passport or visa expenses, laundry, or items of a personal nature. Gratuities to Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris trip leaders are optional and always appreciated. Rates are based on group tariffs; if the trip does not have sufficient registration, a small party supplement may be charged.

Most of our trips are priced in double occupancy (shared) accommodations. Single accommodation is available for a supplemental cost in many locations; see the pre-departure trip information or call our office for details. You will be charged the single supplement fee if you desire single accommodation or if you wish to have a roommate, but one is not available. In some remote locations, clients with single rooms are infrequently compelled to share a room due to circumstances beyond our control. In such cases, appropriate per diem refunds will be made reflecting the direct cost of the single room at the facility where clients are required to share. There is no additional single supplement fee on ship-based cruises if you request a roommate and one is not available.

Cost increases may occur unexpectedly due to rising costs of airfares, ground transport, fuel surcharges, accommodations, and currency fluctuations, among others. Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. may be compelled to amend prices, and we reserve the right to do so without prior notice. An increase in trip prices shall not be sufficient grounds for any refund of funds paid for the trip other than as determined by the terms of our cancellation policy.

Whenever possible, our trip participants are lodged in comfortable, modern hotels. We select among the best available accommodations but refrain from extravagance. Some interesting photographic destinations are far removed from modern amenities, however, and where necessary we will be accommodated in rustic country inns, cabins, or tented camps.

Meals are always a special part of our trips for the camaraderie they engender and the opportunity they provide to try new foods from different areas. Depending on the trip and specific locale, participants order restaurant meals from the full menu or, less frequently, table d'hôte. Some trips include picnic lunches in the field. Fruit juice for breakfast and coffee or tea is included with the meals. Soft drinks are included with meals on tours within North America. Participants are responsible for their own bar tab (including bottled water, soft drinks, as well as alcoholic beverages on tours outside of North America) at restaurant lunches and dinners.

Our itineraries are intended as examples only. Participants should allow for flexibility due to changes in weather, natural history or cultural events, or other logistical arrangements deemed necessary by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or our leaders.

The second tour leader (and any subsequent additional leaders) listed for each trip on the website will be added as the group size warrants. If only one space remains on a trip, and logistics permit, we accept two people traveling together, even if it exceeds the trip maximum.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. and/or their Agents act only as agents for the passenger (trip participant) in regard to travel including, but not limited to, sightseeing, meals, lodging, transportation, and all other services whether by railroad, motor coach, automobile, van, boat, ship or aircraft or any other conveyance, and they assume no liability for injury, damage, loss, accident, delay or irregularity which may be occasioned for any reason whatsoever, or through the acts, bankruptcy or default of any company or person engaged in conveying the passenger or in carrying out the arrangements of the trip.

They can accept no responsibility for losses or additional expenses due to delay, cancellations or changes in flights or other tour services, and by force majeure including sickness, weather, strike, war, volcanic eruption, terrorist acts, political unrest, quarantine, epidemics, pandemics and outbreaks, or other causes. All such losses or expenses will have to be borne by the passenger, as trip fees provide for arrangements only for the times and locations stated. Baggage is at the owner's risk entirely.

The right is reserved to 1) substitute hotels of similar category for those indicated and to make any changes in the itinerary or transport where deemed necessary, or caused by changes in flight schedules or equipment substitution; 2) cancel any trip prior to departure due to low enrollment, in which case full refund of the paid trip funds will be given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non -refundable air tickets, visa fees, travel insurance premiums and medical related expenses; 3) At the company’s sole discretion, suspend or postpone any trip due to force majeure or disease outbreak in which case the trip may be rescheduled, or a refund issued less any non-refundable deposits paid to tour component providers on behalf of the passenger, or a travel credit given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non-refundable air tickets, visa fees and medical related expenses; 4) substitute trip leader(s) for the leader(s) originally specified, in which case the substitution is not a basis for participant cancellation or refund other than provided by our normal cancellation policy; or 5) accept or retain any person as a member of any trip.

Trip prices are based on tariffs and exchange rates in effect at the time of publication and are subject to adjustment in the event of any change therein.

A signed Registration Form with the Enrollment Conditions and Release and Assumption of Risk sections must be returned by each participant prior to the commencement of the trip. Participation by any trip member will be declined in the absence of the signed Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section, with no trip fee refund. No modification to the Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section will be accepted.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this agreement, the enrolling trip participant(s) agree(s) to indemnify and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, the enrolling participant(s) agree(s) to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington.

I have read, understand, and agree to the terms, conditions, and provisions of the enrollment information, as stated on the Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris website and the Enrollment Conditions section of this form, especially noting the policy on cancellations, refunds, and limitations on responsibility.

I am aware that during any trip or tour that I am voluntarily participating in under the arrangements of Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., a Washington corporation, and its employees, agents and associates, certain risks and dangers exist while traveling in the United States, foreign countries, and wilderness areas in any country or territory that include the possibility of property damage, bodily injury, and death. There is a possibility of accident or illness occurring without access to immediate or timely medical treatment or facilities. There is a risk of tropical or communicable diseases that may require quarantine and removal from the tour at my expense, food-related illnesses, the risk of personal injury and property damage or delay or inconvenience by forces of nature, wildlife or wildlife models, quarantine, political instability, acts of terrorism, strikes, government restrictions or regulations change, thefts, and the risk of accidents during travel while on foot or by aircraft, train, automobile, van, bus, boat, ship, or other conveyance. I understand that such risks cannot be eliminated without jeopardizing the essential qualities of this trip or tour. In consideration of, and as part payment for the right to participate in such trips, tours and/or other activities and services arranged for me by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, agents and associates, I have and do hereby assume all risks, and hereby release Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, shareholders, agents and associates, and will hold them harmless from any and all liability, actions, causes of actions, debts, claims, and demands of every kind and nature, howsoever caused, which I now have or which may arise of or in connection with any of my trips or tours and participation in any activities arranged for me by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, agents and associates.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf, be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this Agreement, I agree to indemnify them and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, I agree to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington and further agree that the substantive law of that state shall apply in that action without regard to the conflict-of-law rules of that state. The terms hereof shall serve as a release and assumption of all risk for myself, my heirs, executors, and administrators, and for all members of my family.

If any part, article, paragraph, sentence, or clause of this Agreement is not enforceable, the affected provision shall be curtailed and limited only to the extent necessary to bring it within the requirements of the law, and the remainder of the Agreement shall continue in full force and effect.

I acknowledge that if anyone is hurt or property is damaged during my participation in this activity, I may be found by a court of law to have waived my right to maintain a lawsuit against Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, shareholders, agents, and associates, based on any and all claims from which I have released them.

Whales, Dolphins and Deserts of Mexico's Baja Peninsula: Easy Activity Level

Van and boat transportation. Numerous small boat excursions in relatively calm water. Landscape photography within short walking distance from the vans occasionally on uneven ground. Easy walks through quiet villages and historic Spanish missions.

Trip Details
Feb 14 - Feb 25, 2024
Fee: $7,395 from Loreto, Mexico
Deposit: $2,000
Limit: 10 participants
Activity Level: EasyEasy

Single Supplement: $800
  • Four 1/2 day trips in small private boats to photograph remarkably “ friendly” gray whales and their newborn calves—often close enough to touch.
  • A private morning cruise on the Sea of Cortez to search for wintering blue whales, the largest creatures to have ever lived
  • A private sunset cruise on the Sea of Cortez searching for dolphins, humpback whales and sea birds
  • Shoot four picturesque and uniquely different Spanish missions built in the 1700s
  • Photograph a gallery of ancient rock paintings set in a magnificent “forest” of cirio and giant cardon cactuses.
  • Includes all meals, lodging, boat and ground transportation, entrance fees, photo guide and instruction
Tour Leaders
Wayne Lynch

Wayne Lynch

And local leader