A cruise in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico

The sea lion pup looked me straight in the eyes and said” Come on let’s play.” It’s times like that you wish you had spent hundreds on an underwater camera in the duty free shop at the airport but trust me even if you don’t the memory will stay with you for ever.

In fact for me this cruise started as we banked to land at the airport in Cabo at the southern end of Mexico’s Baja peninsula and looking down I saw three humpback whales cavorting in the clear waters at the end of the runway. It is the whales that most people take this cruise as in the plankton rich, warm waters Grey, Humpback, Pilot and even Blue Whales, the largest creature ever to have lived on the earth are all found.

I had travelled to Mexico’s Sea of Cortez with Un-Cruise Adventures (Formerly known as Innersea Discoveries and American Safari Cruises.) The company call themselves this because they do not see themselves as a typical cruise line. The cruises are flexible in what you see and wear on board and at dinner and are focused on delivering quality over quantity, wildlife over nightlife and life changing encounters to an evening of glamorous entertainment.

From day one you are immersed in the amazing wildlife spectacle that is the Sea of Cortez. The sea literally boils with dolphins in their hundreds coming to ride the bow wave, rays and whales breach out of the waves and return to the water with a resounding crash.

Our first day saw us landing on the pure white sands of the island of Espiritu Santo and it was from this beach that we set off on our first snorkelling safari. The snorkelling has to be some of the finest anywhere and once I got my confidence as I realised my wet suit issued on the ship along with flippers and snorkel would keep me afloat I just lay on the surface watching the stunning colours of the fish and coral below.

Activities on this cruise are not just confined to below the waves, kayaking in and out of hidden bays and sea caves, paddle boarding and hiking plus riding mules in the cacti strewn desert are also on offer. It may be called a desert but it is full of life from shimmering emerald green humming birds to multi coloured lizards scurrying across the dirt tracks in front of you.  Various species of cacti ranging in height offer perches to many species of birds and all the times the red headed turkey vultures seem to be coming down to check that you’re still breathing!

All equipment for these activities is issued on the ship and care is taken that it is the right size for you. If you want to relax there are wellbeing classes, massage and yoga available throughout the cruise. The Sea of Cortes is also know as the Wine Red Sea and I have to say some of the sunrises were incredible with the land being sandwiched between a vibrant scarlet sky and sea.

This cruise is totally relaxed with you deciding what you would like to do from the many choices on offer every day. You can if you wish just go and do your own thing and be dropped on a secluded beach to explore or sunbathe then when you are ready stand by the waves with your life jacket on and the crew will come and pick you up and take you back to the ship.

The beauty of this cruise is the spontaneity of it all. Once when  were boarding the DIB to go onshore at the small fishing hamlet of Aqua Verde the crew spotted some splashes about a mile away and we went to investigate.  Soon we were surrounded by rays jumping out of the water all around us. On another occasion similar splashes were seen so off we set in the DIBS to discover a school of some two hundred dolphins which we just sat in the middle of them and watched them leaping, twisting and turning out of the water.

History and culture is not forgotten on the cruise and we visited the historical small town of Lareto where first Spanish mission was built in southern California in the seventeenth century. There was an optional tour of the town here but we chose to sit in a café and drink tequila eating tacos whilst chatting with the locals, all desperate to improve their English. Even those who didn’t speak the language, we spoke no Spanish, joined in , laughed and joked whilst we wiled away a pleasant couple of hours.

On another occasion the crew decided to set up a bonfire on an isolated beach at night which meant we could lie back and look at the stars  dazzling in their intensity as there is no light pollution and as we watched the Milky Way stretching across the sky we had a lecture on the constellations whilst holding an Irish Coffee to help compliment the evening. It said something for their care of the environment that the crew took the remains of the fire away them back to the ship at the end of the evening.

If there is one memory I will take away from this cruise it is snorkelling with baby sea lions at the island of Los Islotes a steep rocky outcrop  rising straight from the sea. The speed they can move under the water is truly amazing and their desire to play is such that they literally come right up to you and look you in the eyes even touching you with the their flippers encouraging you to get friendly.

It wasn’t just the sea lions here that took my breath away but the cormorants diving down beside you into a shoal of thousands of silver fish that parted to allow the birds through revealing another even large shoal beneath with colours of red and gold partying in their turn to expose the corals with King Angel fish and other species darting in and out of the rocks.

If you can get to the Galapagos come to the Sea of Cortez. You will never forget each wonderful moment.

 

Box Out for Food

The food on the Safari Endeavour is quite simply superb. Also nothing is too much trouble for the excellent waiting staff. Chef Robert Ward is on his third season with the company and comes out each morning at breakfast to let you know the choices for the evening meal and lunch. The menu is also posted on the TV screens in the lounge around the ship and in your cabin.

For our cruise, the menu featured gourmet cuisine with a Pacific Northwest flare along with regional flavours from Baja. There were three choices plus a vegetarian option offered. There is also an early riser cocktail breakfast from 6 a.m. with hot coffee, pastries and fruit. Pastries are also available through the day on the bar.

All the produce is sourced locally at La Paz and includes fish, meat, fruit and vegetables. Only difficult items to obtain such as puff pastry and pasta are bought elsewhere.

Pre cruise Robert spends his time researching menus and ingredients local to Baja and has a list of passenger requirements to study. If the ship is on its Alaskan station he will be sourcing fresh, wild salmon, halibut and crab.

All meals are served in the elegant dining room, and the complimentary bar offers premium spirits, fine wines and microbrews. I have to say that Jenny the bar manager made the best Mexican Margaritas I have ever tasted!!

 

Properly Ship shape

The newly refurbished Safari Endeavour, offers luxury and amenities with the price and efficiency of a small ship cruise. She carries only 86 passengers and the all-American crew of 34 give you attentive service and a guest-crew ratio of 2.5 to 1. Amongst the cabins are four staterooms (commodore suites) each outfitted with a small balcony. There are five  stateroom categories on board Master, Commander, Captain and Admiral and Commodore suite. Depending on the category, singles, doubles or triples can be accommodated.

A sportsdeck can be raised and lowered at the stern and makes swimming, launching a kayak or paddle board very easy. There is a Dining Room, Wine  bar, Library, and underwater camera for viewing the sea world below whilst on the Main Deck, the Salon and Bow Viewing Area provide more places to gather and view the scenery. The Upper Deck features two hot tubs whilst the Sun Deck is home to a bar, and exercise equipment.

My cabin was neat and tidy and I found moving about the ship very easy. You are actively encouraged to go on the bridge and chat with the crew and the compactness of the vessel quickly encourages you to get to know your fellow passengers.

All cabins have TVs and DVD players so you if you don’t feel like going to the evening lecture you take a drink to your cabin and watch one of the many films kept in the library. You are also given a pair of binoculars in your room to watch the wildlife.

Please note there is no internet access onboard and as you are truly in the wild you mobile phones will not work as there is no coverage. You will get coverage in La Paz and there is a Wi-Fi café as well as land line telephone kiosks in Lareto.

 

 Safari Endeavour Fact File

Built    1983

Refurbished  2012

Length     232ft

Passengers    86

Crew   34

Passenger Decks  3

Registry     United States

Itineries   Un-Cruise offer several distinct  cruises. “Baja’s Bounty” is a seven day round trip island hopping tour from La Paz in the Sea of Cortez in this World Heritage Site  and Biosphere Reserve from November to April. Seven to 12 night cruises in Alaska (April to September) , Seven night cruises on the Columbia and Snake Rivers  (September to November & March to May), seven night cruises in the Hawaiian Islands