UnCruise Baja Review: A Week on the Gulf of California
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The taste of lime and salt mix on my tongue as the van hurdles back down the highway toward the marina of Puerto Escondido in Baja California Sur. Like so many memories of my UnCruise in Baja, it was unplanned but entirely entrancing. See, for most people, a van breaking down on vacation is a good way to ruin the day – with UnCruise, it’s just another adventure, another chance to dive deep into the place you’re visiting.
I’ve been borderline obsessed with UnCruise since my first cruise with them in early 2017; they showed me Alaska as I want everyone to see it: wild, virtually untouched, and breathtaking. Two years later, Mr. V joined me for his first UnCruise, this time in Hawaii. (He’s always asking for warm weather destinations, so this was a treat!) We snorkeled with sea turtles, soaked up some sun, and fell in love with islands we had never visited before.
Now, after a tough few years in the travel industry and as many years talking about it, I’ve finally ticked another destination off my UnCruise bucket list: Baja. I’ve wanted to cruise in Baja’s Gulf of California with UnCruise since my first visit to the peninsula in late 2018, so boarding the ship in February 2023 was a special treat.
Below, you’ll find my UnCruise Baja review, which is meant to complement the other reviews I’ve written about UnCruise, as well as help answer questions you have if you’re considering a trip with them to this beautiful part of the world. As always, UnCruise blew me away – adventures I would never have had on my own, to places I couldn’t have imagined. While I’m not from Baja and thus can’t speak to how well UnCruise shows off this place to visitors, I feel confident in saying that nobody does it better.
Note: In this post, I limit my use of naming the waterway we sailed on, and call it the “Gulf of California” rather than “Sea of Cortés” so as not to perpetuate the concept that this place should be named for the conquistadors who drove out native peoples and their culture. Indigenous rights are one of my values on this site, and I encourage you to engage critically with your own experience should you travel on native land anywhere in the American West.
In this post, I promote travel to destinations that are the traditional lands of the Guyacura, Pericú, and Monqui peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
The UnCruise Baja Itinerary
I always like to start my ship reviews – and especially my UnCruise reviews – with an overview of the itinerary they share on their website. Unlike the other destinations I’ve visited with them, the UnCruise itinerary is pretty fixed in terms of the basics:
- Your cruise will start and end in La Paz, BCS.
- In between, you’ll visit some islands and the peninsula itself.
- You’ll probably go snorkeling a few times, and hopefully at least once with sea lion pups.
- You’ll also see grey whales and/or whale sharks, depending on the season.
But as for what each day will bring? I would look at the UnCruise website insofar as to understand the overall activities and experiences you might have, then throw it out the window! If you like what you see and are interested to know more, my review will help give you a deeper sense of what you’ll experience (and hopefully convince you to book!).
As I’ve learned from sailing with UnCruise three times now, the itinerary is a guideline – but my cruises have never followed them to a T. Instead, the captain and Expedition Team will work to mitigate weather and other issues, plus seek out the best experiences available that week when you’re aboard.
The Safari Voyager & UnCruise Baja
If you decide to book after reading my UnCruise Baja review, you’re in luck: there’s no choosing between ships or routes! In Baja, UnCruise offers just one ship and one itinerary. That ship is the Safari Voyager (and I’ve already covered the itinerary), so let’s look more closely at her.
My Cabin Aboard the Safari Voyager
On this UnCruise, I traveled with my friend Ashley from My Wanderlusty Life; we’ve traveled together before (most recently, Chile in 2019) and I knew we’d have a great time again.
Our cabin was arranged as two twin beds (rather than a single queen, which all cabins can be configured as) with a desk in the middle. We had a beautiful picture window looking out, and plenty of closet and storage space, plus a really nice wet room bathroom with toilet and shower.
It’s cozy, but it has everything you need – and you’re not going to spend much time in your cabin except sleeping anyway!
Shipboard Food & Drink
As usual, the food and drink aboard the Safari Voyager were fantastic! Breakfast was offered as a buffet each day with plenty of starch, protein, and fresh fruit options. Lunch was usually a simpler meal with 2-3 choices (at least one meat – land and/or sea – and a vegetarian choice), and was actually my favorite meal most days. Dinner was a fancier affair, with a three-course meal that always included entree choices from the land, sea, and vegetable garden, followed by insanely good desserts.
Pro-tip: You can always order “half and half” for dinner on UnCruise – combining two of the entrees into one dish!
The all-inclusive bar is one of my favorite parts of sailing with UnCruise – not because I drink a lot, but because it just makes it easy to relax and not worry about room charges and daily limits. My favorite part of each day was when Bronson the Bartender revealed his cocktail of the day – actually, scratch that. My favorite part of the trip (from a food and drink perspective) was when Bronson revealed he had the ingredients to make my all-time favorite cocktail, The Last Word.
You will be well-fed and well-drank by the end of your UnCruise, but also burn off a lot of those calories on your adventures each day… it’s a very good way to live. (For a week, at least!)
Other Spaces & Amenities on the Safari Voyager
In addition to cabins and the dining room, there are some other parts of the Safari Voyager I wanted to mention:
- The Bridge – Like most UnCruise ships, the Safari Voyager has an open bridge policy, generally speaking. You just go knock on the door and if the bridge team feels safe to let guests visit, you can sit on the bench and watch them work.
- The Lounge – I already alluded to the lounge when mentioning it as Bronson the Bartender’s domain, but this is the primary common area where people spend time during the week aboard. There are tables and chairs, plus a few benches to relax (or snooze when you feel seasick, as I did!).
- The Library – Aboard the Safari Voyager, there’s a small library located forward near cabin 200. This is a great spot to spend an afternoon while cruising around, but don’t be surprised if you catch someone napping here in this quiet corner.
- The Bow – Accessed through a door in the library, you can also spend time on the bow of the ship when the crew isn’t working (usually only when raising/lowering anchor). This is the best spot to look for sealife and whales or watch the sunrise.
- The Sundeck – In addition to serving as gear storage (wet suits, snorkels, etc.), the Sun Deck is also home to morning stretching, workout equipment, and stargazing on nights when the ship is away from lights on land.
Hopefully this gives you a rounded-out view of what you’ll have available on the ship – now let’s talk about all the times you’ll leave it behind to explore Baja.
Our Day-by-Day Experience with UnCruise in Baja
Okay, here’s the best part of my UnCruise Baja review: a walk-through of the day-by-day itinerary we did during my February 2023 sailing. (Admittedly, I’m a little biased in saying that, but I love looking at all the photos and reliving the memories!)
I have to caveat though: this is not the standard itinerary – because there is no standard itinerary. Every UnCruise sailing is different, based on the weather, the activity availability, the wildilfe, other boats (mooring in places we might want to park), and many other factors.
This is what makes UnCruise special, though: you will truly have a unique experience. It will probably contain some of the same experiences I had – baby sea lions, grey whales, hiking, and burro rides – but it also won’t contain them all (hopefully no huge waves and wind for you!).
So this long section is just meant to give you a sense of what an UnCruise in Baja might be like, rather than a prescription for what memories and photos you’ll bring home as the best kind of souvenirs.
Day 1 – Transfer from San Jose & Embarkation in La Paz
The first important detail is that everyone flies into San José del Cabo, and a bus transfer is provided from there to La Paz, where you’ll board the Safari Voyager. Basically, you have the morning to yourself, then meet at the hospitality suite to board the bus in mid-afternoon. This means we arrived at the boat as the sun was setting (early February, early sunset!) and boarded the boat in time for our safety briefings and dinner.
There isn’t any time to explore La Paz during this cruise; if you want to have some time there, I recommend staying a day or two after your cruise (like some folks on our cruise did!).
Day 2 – Critter Cruising & Snorkeling 101
After setting sail and a restful night of sleep with the waves and engine sounds soothing me, I woke up full of Travel Energy® (not a trademark, but definitely a real thing!). I can’t help but rise and shine early when traveling, even if I’m dead tired – there’s just so much to see and do!
We spent the morning “cruising for critters,” watching Mobula rays perform their acrobatic flips out of the water, catching a whale spout or two, and spotting sea turtles sparkling in the sun. Somewhere in there, we had breakfast… and lunch… but all I remember was the excitement of suiting up for our afternoon adventure: snorkeling.
With a weather forecast in hand and in advance of our planned activity for the following day (snorkeling with baby sea lions!!!), our Expedition Team leader Katherine wanted everyone to get their wetsuits properly fitted and do a test snorkeling experience to ensure we’d be ready and safe.
We anchored off the coast of Isla San Jose and found a small bay to snorkel in; the Expedition Team undersold the experience, saying it wasn’t a great spot – but we spotted all kinds of sea life and fish, including moray eels, scorpionfish, and incredible sea stars. I also got stung by a jelly which gave me a chance to learn about the excellent medical care aboard the Safari Voyager (thanks, Dr. PJ!).
That evening, we set off cruising again, to be in a good position for our snorkel experience the following day. An incredible dinner followed an incredible sunset, and the gentle waves rocked me off to sleep again.
Day 3 – Baby Sea Lions / Espiritu Santo National Park
We awoke in a nice anchorage off the coast of Isla Partida in Espiritu Santo National Park. This UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site has three main islands: the largest Espiritu Santo, the smaller Isla Partida, and the tiny Los Islotes, which are really just large rocks in the gulf where sea lions, red crabs, and blue-footed boobies make their home.
It was Los Islotes that we set our sights on for the morning’s activity: snorkeling with baby sea lions!!!! (Yes, the excitement is merited!)
We boarded boats operated by a local company out of La Paz – Cortez Club – because the national park doesn’t allow ships to anchor near Los Islotes, and requires local contractors to provide the guidance and snorkel/scuba service (it’s a good way to support the local economy, too!). A short boat ride brought us to Los Islotes, where our guide Daniel gave us tips on safely snorkeling with the highly excitable sea lion pups.
I didn’t stay in for the full 45-minute session (I’m prone to both getting very cold quickly and seasickness while snorkeling – blech!), but can still share that the chance to interact organically with these funny animals was a highlight of my Baja UnCruise experience. The pups just want to play: they zoom around, nip at fins and cameras, and jump out of the water; the mama sea lions are resting on the rocks and the bulls only care about the females so we humans are left to keep the kids entertained.
After returning to the Safari Voyager, we pulled anchor and had lunch en route to another part of Espiritu Santo: Playa Bonanza. Due to changing weather, the captain and Expedition Team decided a few hours on a beach was a nice idea… but we had only enough time for a short nature walk before the wind came up, turning the sand into a thousand tiny daggers and driving everyone to seek shelter back on the boat.
It was, in part, this accurate forecast of wind that changed our plans for the next few days, and we sought shelter again in the same cove of Isla Partida for the night.
Day 4 – More Time in Espiritu Santo National Park
Another morning, another epic sunrise – the Vermillion Sea really lives up to its name in this way. With a forecast of strong wind and big swells (waves) in hand, we spent the morning enjoying a hike on Isla Partida before setting out to charge north.
Unfortunately, the waves and wind were a doozy, and most people spent most of the day doped up on Dramamine and resting either in their cabins or the lounge; a few lucky souls (NOT me) were unaffected and able to enjoy the ride and dinner… I just rested all afternoon and had a light dinner before taking more Dramamine and hoping I didn’t roll out of bed.
(Sidebar: I am SO not equipped to cruise to Antarctica if this is what the Drake Passage is like. Someone solve the seasickness issue, please!!)
Day 5 – Grey Whales in Puerto Lopez Mateos
Thanks to the excellent command of Captain Andrea and her bridge crew, we awoke in calm waters: a safe harbor off the coast of the Baja Peninsula near Puerto Escondido marina. We had to be at this spot to meet our buses because today was another highlight: grey whales!
As you look at the map and itinerary for UnCruise in Baja, you might be surprised: we have to take a bus across the peninsula to reach the grey whales? Yes, my friends, that’s what it takes. It might seem silly to be on a cruise and not see the whales from the boat, but we go where the wildlife is – we can’t make it come to us.
Grey whales used to enter the Gulf of California, but no longer – whaling drove them out decades ago, and they now make their birthing grounds in a series of lagoons and estuaries along the Pacific Coast. It’s therefore a two-hour drive from Baja’s Puerto Escondido to the nearest spot to see them in Puerto Adolfo López Mateos near Magdalena Bay.
Once in López Mateos, we boarded smaller boats, called pangas, with another local outfitter, Aquendi Tours. (Love these local operators getting “a piece of the pie,” so to speak.) Our captain maneuvered us out into the waters of Magdalena Bay, and hit the gas: we had two hours to see as many whales as we could find – and oh did we find them!
Over the course of our cruise, we saw at least a dozen grey whales including mama and baby pairs; we got to spend some time quite close and personal with one, adhering to the rules set forth to protect the whales about how our boat could be positioned, the speed at which we could follow, and so on. I felt quite happy with our captain (though there were other panga captains who could have been more respectful to the wails), and got some incredible footage of the experience.
(YouTube video forthcoming and will be inserted here!)
After unloading from the pangas, we had lunch at a local restaurant and re-boarded the buses back to Puerto Escondido. Wind and waves continued to plague our plans, so we made a very short cruise to a place called Honeymoon Cove for dinner and an evening of stargazing; our Expedition Team guide Christian is a sailor and taught all about wayfinding by the stars.
Day 6 – Tabor Canyon Hiking & A Visit to Loreto
We awoke to another beautiful sunrise in… wait, is this Puerto Escondido… again?!
Due to the multiple-times-aforementioned wind and waves, we were forced to reposition in the middle of the night, seeking shelter back closer to the peninsula – so this put the Expedition Team scrambling to entertain a bunch of adventurers for the day.
Luckily, there is no shortage of incredible ways to experience Baja, and about half the boat spent the morning on a nice, technical hike up into Tabor Canyon, which was made famous by John Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez. It is a truly magical spot, surrounded by towering red rocks and with the sound of trickling water running down through this arid landscape.
After lunch, Expedition Team leader Katherine pulled off a miracle: she arranged a tour to Loreto! See, Loreto was on our original itinerary, but due to the weather and waves, it wasn’t a good idea to take the Safari Voyager up to that exposed part of the Baja coast so the whole experience was scrapped – I mean – exchanged for a different memory-making opportunity.
But when we were forced back to Puerto Escondido, Katherine realized that a one-hour land transfer could bring us to Loreto instead, so she pulled strings, made calls, and paid whatever it took to get us drivers and guides for some time in this historic Baja city.
After a walking tour along the malecon (waterfront) and into the historic district near the Mission, we had free time to explore, too. Fellow bloggers Ashley, John, Kelly, and I all high-tailed it to a local craft brewery for beer and tortilla chips before grabbing ice cream on the way back to the vans.
(Sidebar #2: The Mission in Loreto – Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó – is one of 27 on the Baja peninsula! The Catholic Church worked hard to subjugate the native peoples of this area too, but these missions are not directly connected to the California Missions I’ve previously visited and shared about.)
Day 7 – Best of Agua Verde: Burros, Skiffs & Scenery, Oh My!
After re-positioning overnight, we awoke somewhere new: Agua Verde, or “green water.” Here, members of the Romero family from a nearby ranchero met us to offer a truly unique experience: burro rides! (Actually, there were mules, burros, and horses, just to be clear.) There were other activities available for the day, so basically everyone got off the boat at least once for an adventure.
My day started with a guided burro ride; while I still love camels best for riding, it was really incredible to see the diversity of ecosystems in a small part of the landscape. After climbing up away from the bay, our guides took us into an arid forest, onto the beach, and into an oasis before ascending and then descending a steep ridge. This is an experience where you just have to trust your burro – it doesn’t want to fall either!
In the afternoon, I took a long-overdue skiff tour. Skiffing was one of my favorite activities with UnCruise in Alaska, so I knew I had to try it once in Baja too. Our tour took us out to a rock – Solitario – to spot pelicans and blue-footed boobies nesting in the area. Then we were deposited on the beach, where cocktails and cookies were waiting – plus some incredible beachcombing.
After that, it was a time of winding down: dinner back aboard the Safari Voyager, packing up, and one final night of rest with the waves lulling me into sleep.
Day 8 – Disembarkation in La Paz
Disembarkation day is always the worst, though another beautiful sunrise certainly helped soothe the pain. We awoke moored in La Paz, and after breakfast, we were quickly shuttled off onto buses heading back to San José del Cabo. In my case, I was headed straight to the airport (though flight delays/rescheduling meant I didn’t arrive home until midday Sunday rather than Saturday night!).
There is never much to report from disembarkation day, other than a general sadness at saying goodbye to an(other) incredible UnCruise crew and heartwarming feelings thinking back on all we experienced in such a short time.
Final Thoughts on UnCruise in Baja
So where does that leave us? Wind and weather conspired to completely change our plans – multiple times – but it’s the resiliency and creativity of UnCruise’s crew that continue to astound me each time I cruise with them. Here are my final thoughts, as briefly as I can make them:
- Flexibility is essential. As you review the UnCruise Baja itinerary on their website and decide that you want to book it, please don’t get too attached to the specifics of what you’ll see, where you’ll go, and what you’ll do each day. Wind, weather, and other factors always necessitate a change of plans – and the crew will make it as memorable (in good ways) as they can. It’s this flexibility and freedom to explore that sets UnCruise apart from other cruise companies, and it’s something I love about them. (I hope you will too!)
- Be prepared to spend time off the ship. I heard this comment from fellow cruisers – wait, we’re leaving the boat again? As I’ve said in my other UnCruise reviews, the whole point of UnCruise is to get you off the boat. You won’t find entertainment, specialty dining, go-kart tracks, and stuff like that on UnCruise’s small ships; instead, your entertainment will be scenic vistas and wildlife encounters, your specialty dining will be flavors of a local place, and your adrenaline will come from skiff tours and heart-pumping hikes rather than go-karts and casinos.
- Baja is a special – but different – destination. Having visited Baja before, I was a bit prepared for how unique this peninsula is, but there’s really nowhere like it. If you love desert climates or looking for the small signs of life that show how incredible our planet is, Baja is the place for you. UnCruise will help you make the most of your time there, but it’s totally different than other destinations they visit, like Alaska, Hawaii, or even Costa Rica and the Galapagos.
Hopefully, you’ve now seen and read enough to decide if UnCruise Baja is right for you. I was very happy to set off on an(other) adventure with UnCruise and would love to answer any questions you have about the trip. But first…
UnCruise Discount Code
I’m delighted to share that after this third cruise, I’ve finally been granted a golden ticket: an UnCruise discount code for you!
If you’re sold on visiting, use code VAL500 to get $500 off per person on your Baja UnCruise (or any other UnCruise itinerary, including Alaska and Hawaii!).
You can provide this when inquiring online or if you call to book over the phone – and it’s good forever. (If you hear otherwise when booking, please let me know so I can figure out why it’s not working.)
Have any (other) questions about my UnCruise Baja review, or whether this cruise is right for you? Let me know in the comments!