Whilst roaming the Pacific Ocean in 1539, Francisco de Ulloa stumbled upon a narrow body of water thinking he found a quick natural passage to the Atlantic Ocean. Running into dry land just shortly after, this dream was quickly shattered, but little did he know just what a treasure he found.
The Gulf of California, better known as the Sea of Cortez, is a narrow inlet formed by the Baja peninsula on one, and the Mexican mainland on the other side: being located right along the San Andreas fault line, the Baja peninsula is slowly separated from the North American continent, going westward at a speed of approximately 1cm a year. Eventually this will lead to the disappearance of this special piece of the sea altogether, but for now, it’s still there, in all its glory. Home to 40 % (!) of all sea mammals, 891 species of fish and nearly 700 types of plants its biodiversity is almost unrivalled. A mermaid’s mecca.
Having a personal bucket list full of animal encounters – preferably of the aquatic kind – visiting this place was just inevitable. Swimming with seals, watching whales, dancing with dolphins, and the biggest draw of them all: The whale sharks, what else could you wish for?
The small island of Los Islotes harbours a huge population of wild seals, known for their relatively docile but playful nature: ideal for close encounters in their natural habitat. And what amazing encounters I had: adolescents spinning around you whilst trying to chew on your fins, juveniles floating on their backs so close you could touch them and adults performing courtship dances, all allowing you to witness their activities. In the meanwhile, there are dolphins swimming by and Mobula rays trying to join in the party, making you feel engulfed by nature’s grandeur. Needless to say, I never wanted to leave.
One encounter stands out more than any others, the whale shark. Returning every winter to feed in these nutrient-rich waters, these gentle giants seem more omniprevalent there than anywhere else on earth and because of their bold but calm nature you can get ridiculously close. Nothing prepares you for their sheer size and huge mouths, having a fish with those dimensions suddenly appearing in front of you in murky water is simply overwhelming, like the myth of Moby Dick made real. Adding to that the fact that you can swim at just an arm lengths distance makes the whole experience nearly seem surreal.
The list of up close and personal moments with aquatic creatures during this trip is almost endless, and an absolute must for any ocean lover. All I can say is: go and see for yourself…