Sea of Cortez Cruises Archives - TravelQuest International
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Sea of Cortez Cruises

Stargazing at sea has a long history tied to navigation. During ancient times, knowledge of the constellations, and the rising and setting points of numerous bright stars, played a key role helping guide sailors when they ventured out of sight of land. Today’s sailors use GPS, satellites, compasses, and other modern devices to keep them on course as they sail Earth’s oceans. Even so, it’s fun to stand near the bow of a ship, contemplate a dark, star-filled night sky, and imagine what it was like to navigate the ocean thousands of years ago.

At TravelQuest, we specialize in astronomy-themed excursions. So it’s natural that we’d create a stargazing cruise, but one with the additional attraction of whale watching. While we may not offer stargazing cruises every year, when we do, one of our favorite places to sail is the Sea of Cortez.

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Cruising the Sea of Cortez

The Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California, was named by the Spanish explorer Francisco de Ulloa when he reached it in 1539. He named it the Sea of Cortés in honor of his patron, Hernán Cortés (“Cortez”). What Ulloa actually discovered was a gulf, flanked by Mexico to the east and the peninsula of Baja to the west. Spanish conquistadors referred to the peninsula and much of the American west coast as “California.” Eventually, Catholic missionaries in the 1700s divided the territory in two and called the peninsula Baja California. In 1930, the Mexican government split the peninsula into two states: Baja California in the north and Baja California Sur in the south.

TravelQuest’s Baja California Cruise takes place on either side of the southern part of the peninsula. On the Pacific Ocean side, off the western coast of Baja California Sur, thousands of California gray whales pause during their cyclical migrations to birth and nurse their calves in sheltered lagoons. In the Sea of Cortez off the eastern coast of the peninsula, the waters support an amazing variety of marine life including reef fish, sharks, sea lions, and whales. The sea is also home to a significant percentage of the world’s marine mammal species.

Baja California cruising with Lindblad and TravelQuest also comprises a number of shore excursions. These include hiking desert islands in the Sea of Cortez, and birdwatching on an Isla Magdalena beach. There are numerous opportunities to snorkel, kayak, or use a stand-up paddleboard. Plus, we’ve added a special activity—stargazing.

The peninsula of Baja California, with the Sea of Cortez on the right and the Pacific Ocean on the left. (Photo by Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC)
During our late-winter cruise, the magnificent constellation of Orion, the Hunter, will be well placed for viewing. (Photo by Joseph Vary)

A Cruise to the Stars

A stargazing cruise is one of the most enjoyable ways to see the stars. When a ship is at sea, the only light anywhere comes from the ship itself. On a stargazing cruise, the captain will dim as many of the ship’s lights as is legally permissible. On the ocean, the night sky is incredibly dark. The stars, constellations, and even the Milky Way blaze forth, much as they did in ancient times before the advent of modern lighting.

The towns in Baja California Sur are few and far between. This means the night skies over southern Baja are quite dark, and it’s even darker on the sea surrounding the peninsula. We plan to have several nights of stargazing from the ship as it plies the waters of both the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez. Of course, shipboard stargazing requires clear skies and calm seas. But the odds of success are excellent during the late winter months—our preferred sailing time to take advantage of the migrating whales.

In addition, we hope to have one or two stargazing sessions on land, weather permitting. Baja California Sur is an excellent observing locale, thanks to the peninsula’s clean, dry air and its minimal light pollution. For land-based stargazing, we’ll bring our telescope to compliment everyone’s binoculars and have a star and constellation identification session.

Zodiac excursions to islands in the Sea of Cortez often yield highlights of the cruise. (Photo by Ralph Lee Hopkins/Lindblad Expeditions)
On an outing in Magdalena Bay, touching a whale is an amazing possibility. (Photo by Ralph Lee Hopkins/Lindblad Expeditions)
The night-sky viewing deck area on the bow of Lindblad’s National Geographic ship. (Photo by Lindblad Expeditions)

Experience an Amazing Night Sky

To help you make the most of the night sky portion of our whales and stars cruise, TravelQuest’s trip astronomer will prepare you beforehand by describing the stars and constellations you’ll be able to spot that evening, weather permitting, of course. The ship is in motion, so using a telescope onboard isn’t practical. Instead, we encourage everyone to bring binoculars for stargazing and, of course, to birdwatch and check out other wildlife during the cruise.

From the deck of our cruise ship, our astronomer will lead observing sessions of the spectacular night sky, outlining the constellations, identifying the bright stars, and pointing out where to aim your binoculars. Away from city lights, we see the unspoiled splendor of our Milky Way galaxy, the amazing celestial dome of stars, and many remarkable sky sights that are too dim to be seen in light-polluted city skies. We’ll be exploring the late winter night sky—in weather more conducive to shorts and short-sleeve shirts than the usually required parkas and long underwear! We might start with Orion, the Hunter, then slide our gaze south to Sirius (the brightest star in the night sky), and on to Canopus, a bright southern star. If we have clear skies to the south as we round the tip of the Baja peninsula, and if you’re willing to stargaze at 2:00 am or so, you’ll be rewarded with a glimpse of the famed Southern Cross, Alpha and Beta Centauri, and the magnificent globular cluster Omega Centauri.

The Sun sets behind Isla Rasa in the Sea of Cortez. (Photo by Jay Dickman)

Join Us for Whales and Stars

Our cruise along the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur and in the Sea of Cortez is a unique blend of whale watching and stargazing. Lindblad’s National Geographic ship is an intimate expedition vessel with a mere 50 client cabins. In addition to our TravelQuest astronomer, the ship’s staff includes an expedition leader and naturalists, a full-time doctor, an undersea specialist, and an expert photographer. The ship boasts a fleet of eight Zodiacs, used to land in places that would otherwise be inaccessible. Snorkeling gear, wet suits, kayaks, and more are available for use by everyone.

If the idea of a whale watching and stargazing vacation appeals, join us for an extraordinary voyage. Our preferred travel time is late winter, because the best time to see gray whales along the Pacific coast is between January and March. In the Sea of Cortez, humpback whales and whale sharks are present in large numbers during this time. It’s also a birder’s paradise, with an amazing variety of both land and sea birds. And in the night skies overhead, we can enjoy the magnificent constellations of winter in warm comfort. So if seeing a star-filled night sky from the waters off the southern Baja peninsula appeals, contact TravelQuest to learn about our next whales and stars cruise.

Header image by Ralph Lee Hopkins/Lindblad Expeditions