So, you’re on the hunt for the best place in Mexico to see whales? You’ve come to the right blog. This guide has five of the most famous whale-spotting destinations in the whole land of tequila and tacos, where you can go to all but guarantee a sighting of mighty humpbacks and formidable killer whales.
All of them await on the Pacific side of the country, since that’s where the most prolific populations of whales exist. There’s a decent mix, too, going from the ever-lively party town of Cabo San Lucas at the tip of the Baja to the lesser-known ports of Mazatlan and Loreto.
One of the most important things about planning a trip to the best place in Mexico to see whales is timing. The calving and migration season is the peak for seeing these mighty beasts. It usually lasts from December to March each year.
Cabo San Lucas
Nope, Cabo San Lucas is only about tequila-soaked spring break parties and rocking away the evenings in Cabo Wabo. It’s also a downright awesome destination for whale watching. That’s down to two main things about the resort: Its geographical location and the shape and orientation of the shoreline that surrounds it. Let’s take a closer look…
First, the location. Cabo – as it’s known to the large group of loyal fans – sits at a neat 22 degrees north. That’s smack dab on the main migration route for humpback and gray whales, who move south during the winter months to hit the warm waters of the Sea of Cortez and the tropical reaches of the Pacific Ocean.
Second, the shape of the coastline…Cabo enjoys exposure to both the open Pacific and the protected havens of the Sea of Cortez, which cuts inland to divide the Baja California Peninsula from mainland Mexico. The result is just about the perfect playground for whale pods, who can seek ocean waters rich in food on one side and hide away during the mating season in the more sheltered bays on the other.
As we’ve mentioned, the bulk of the whales migrate here when the winter months kick in further up the Californian and Canadian west coast. That means the prime time to see the great beasts of the water is between December and March each year. During that time, regular whale-watching trips will leave from Cabo San Lucas marina. They usually last around 2.5 hours a pop and will often guarantee sightings of whales, not to mention bottlenose dolphins and pelicans.
Bahia de Banderas
The wide Bahia de Banderas is a huge dent in the Mexican shoreline that’s best known as the home of the buzzing party city of Puerto Vallarta. You’ve probably heard of that for its sleepless Malecon promenade – a Senor Frogs hotspot – and its big hotel resort. But there’s also ample whale watching to be done in these parts.
Yep, humpback whales especially will move south from the USA to the tropical Mexican Pacific around the state of Jalisco in the winter months. It can take a little longer to get this far down the shores of the land of mezcal and mariachi, which means the peak months for spotting the ocean giants out of Puerto Vallarta tends to be January and February.
The good news is that tours will leave from the main marina in the city of Puerto Vallarta. Plus, they are usually run in conjunction with conservation programs, so the captains of the boats have access to maps that show the latest location of the whale pods. That ups your chance of catching a sighting and means tours rarely end in disappointment (though bear in mind that it does still happen!).
Once you’re done seeking out whales in the water, the Bahia has oodles more up its sleeve. Go north and you can hit the surf breaks of Punta Mita. Go south and there are tropical paradise beaches stringing the whole shore from Boca de Tomatlan to the hippy yoga town of Yelapa.
The state of Nayarit lies immediately to the north of the aforementioned Bahia de Banderas. That means it gets just the same traffic of humpbacks in the winter season as its compadre. Only here there’s a half-decent chance that you’ll even be able to spot the whales from the shoreline, without even hopping on a boat.
The part of Nayarit you’ll want to focus on is the so-called Riviera Nayarit. That’s 192 miles of seriously lovely and lush coast, ranging from the northern extremity of Puerto Vallarta all the way to the remote beach towns in the wide bay of San Blas. We like the southern side of the riviera the most. It’s host to popular surf town Sayulita, and the chilled Mexicana village of San Pancho.
There are hiking paths linking both of those and all manner of other small villages to the north. Take to those and you can spend hours weaving between deserted sands backed by clusters of coconut palms. Occasionally, you’ll happen upon a lookout point with 180-degree views of the Pacific Ocean and the chance to spot whales in the wild to go with it.
If your coast walks fail, then there’s always the backup of a guided tour. You can organize those from Sayulita and Punta Mita. Most will involve a transfer to Puerto Vallarta to begin with and then a boat outing into the Bahia to spot the whales themselves.
Loreto Bay National Park
The Loreto Bay National Park has a trump card that might just make it the best place in Mexico to see whales: It’s one of the few spots on this list where sightings of the colossal blue whale are commonplace. They come down this way more than 4,000 miles from the icy depths of the North Atlantic to calve during the winter season, and the sheltered reserves of this national park on the eastern haunch of the Baja is just about the perfect place for it.
Yep, there’s a whole chunk of designated natural reserve territory here spreading south of the Isla Carmen that’s downright amazing for whale watchers. There are extra regulations in place, though. For example, boats must stay more than 100 meters away from the whales at all time so as not to disturb them and their young.
And it’s not just the blues that make an appearance here. You can also see humpbacks, fin whales, killer whales, sea lions, dolphins – you name it. Trips can be organized from the nearby beach town of La Paz. Again, the peak season for seeing whales in Loreto is between December and March, though populations can linger into the first half of April.
Mazatlan is the wave-washed resort town of the Sinaloa coast. It sits roughly 800 miles from the US-Mexico border and just across the strait from the very tip of the Baja California – you can even catch a ferry here from the bumping party hub of Cabo San Lucas! Anyway, the location is top for whale spotters, since the city is right there in the mouth of the Sea of Cortez, a major mating location for both gray whales and humpbacks.
There are now umpteen tour providers that can help you get out of Mazatlan and on the water on the search for these amazing creatures. Usually, tours leave early in the morning and last between 2.5-3 hours in all. The highest success rate is usually in the peak of the calving season, around January, but good sighting stats still happen in December and February.
What’s great about whale watching in Mazatlan is that the outings are also a great chance to see a whole host of other marine life. Trips will often take you to coves and reefs where dolphins, orcas, fin whales, and even sealions make their home. You won’t want to blink!
Returning to port, get ready to enjoy the chilled vibe of Mazatlan itself. The town is famed for its rejuvenated Centro core, which sports colorful cantinas and boutique hotels. All that spills out onto a series of urban beaches on one side and into the Zona Dorada nightlife area on the other.
The best place in Mexico to see whales – our conclusion
Mexico is a fantastic destination for whale watching. As the waters of the North Atlantic cool down come December, humpbacks, blue whales, orcas, and fin whales all make their way south to enjoy the protected and balmy seas of the country. There are plenty of resort towns and port towns awaiting their arrival, offering oodles of fantastic trips and outings and even the chance to spot whales from the shoreline. We’d say the overall best place in Mexico to see whales is Cabo San Lucas, though there are great choices in Nayarit, Sinaloa and Jalisco to boot.