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Three destinations for getting up close and personal with some of the world’s largest mammals.
Like us, whales are mammals who love vacationing places with sunny weather and warm water. Unlike us, they measure up to 50 feet long, so they’re stuck swimming south rather than jumping on a plane. Whales spend about a third of their life swimming to and from the warm, shallow waters surrounding Hawaii and Baja California. So take a few hours of your vacation to say hello to these majestic creatures.
With hundreds of marine species calling the waters off the coast of Baja California home already, it’s no surprise that 8 of the world’s 11 whale species can be found here as well. Many, including blue whales—the largest animals on Earth—and dolphins come play in the Sea of Cortez. But serious whale watchers gravitate up the peninsula’s Pacific coast from Los Cabos to Magdalena Bay and San Ignacio Lagoon, part of Latin America’s largest biosphere reserve and where a majority of gray whales go to calve. Here in Mexico, friendly whales will often approach within arms’ reach of the small whale-watching skiffs that take visitors out to meet them.
It’s estimated that two-thirds of the entire North Pacific humpback whale population comes to Hawaii each winter to breed, calve and nurse their young. Around 10,000 whales arrive in December and hang out until April, so your chances of seeing one are pretty good (and even if you can’t see them, you’ll probably hear their calls if you go snorkeling). Boat tours leave from most of the islands’ harbors, many of them heading to the shallow waters of Auau Channel between Lanai, Moloaki and west Maui. Other scenic observation spots include Maui’s McGregor Point, Kauai’s Napali Coast and from atop Diamond Head in Oahu.
To catch a glimpse of gray whales migrating down the California coast, head to San Diego’s Cabrillo National Monument. In addition to several observation points, the park also hosts an annual Whale Watch Weekend program in mid-January during the height of the southern migration. Plenty of whale-watching boat tours leave from San Diego’s harbor, while more adventurous visitors head out via kayak to the La Jolla Ecological Reserve. Further north, whale-watching is a fun excursion to add to any visit to San Francisco, as long as a little chill doesn’t bother you. Head north to Point Reyes National Seashore or down to the Monterey Bay aquarium for the best views.
On any whale-watching excursions, calm seas and an abundance of patience (along with sunscreen and a snack) will give you the best chance to see these magnificent animals in their natural habitat.