BAJA CALIFORNIA, Mexico (Money Magazine) -
Baja California, the 1,100-mile-long Mexican peninsula jutting south from California, has long been a playground for the adventurous. But until recently it was mostly Southern Californians who crossed the border, and they often limited their sojourns to day-trips in Tijuana or weekends in Cabo San Lucas.
That's no longer the case. Today Baja's mountainous desert landscape, miles of secluded beaches and strikingly blue waters are attracting more and more vacationers. And winter months prove to be the the most lively.
Water activities of all kinds are popular. But perhaps Baja's primary and most distinctive attraction is its amazingly rich marine life. The Sea of Cortez, on the peninsula's eastern side, is year-round home to dolphins, sea lions and a dozen whale species, including the blue whale (at 100 feet, the largest animal on the planet). Come February, Baja is a breeding ground for yet more whales, including the Pacific gray.
And all this can be experienced up close in a whale-watching boat or, preferably, a sea kayak. In fact, Baja's considered one of the best places in the world for sea kayaking -- and not just for enthusiasts: The region's relatively calm waters welcome beginners. Plenty of outfitters offer convenient, all-inclusive packages at reasonable rates. Most have stateside offices and use the cities of Loreto or La Paz -- both on Baja's gulf side and serviced by international airports -- as points of departure. Sea Kayak Adventures (800-616-1943), for example, offers a seven-day kayaking trip to the Sea of Cortez coast, transportation from Loreto, accommodations, meals, guides and all equipment for $995. We also like Montana-based Sea & Adventures (800-355-7140), which sends a trained naturalist and local bilingual guides (many of whom are marine biology students) on every trip. A 10-day trip combining sea kayaking around Espiritu Santo Island and whale watching in Magdalena Bay, with meals and accommodations, costs $1,200 per person in February. Shorter trips, including three- and four- day "Quick Getaways," are $350 to $575 per person.