Mexico: Wildlife Destinations
Sea of Cortez
Sea of Cortez star species: Blue whale • Fin whale • Humpback whale • Common dolphin • Mobula ray • Whale shark
Join an expedition cruise to the Sea of Cortez (also known as the Gulf of California) and you will be entering seas that support one of the world’s greatest concentrations of cetaceans. They’re attracted here by plankton blooms sustained by nutrient-rich upwellings from a submarine maze of canyons and sea mounts. It’s all eyes on deck as you scan the deep azure waters for the 12m-tall spout of surfacing blue whales and the blows, breaches and flukes of fin, humpback, minke, sperm and Bryde’s whales. Common dolphins can often be seen in superpods 1,000 or more strong, while more elusive cetaceans include dwarf sperm whale, pygmy killer whale and orca. As well as whale watching, you may encounter huge 'swarms' of mobula rays (with individuals leaping out of the water) or stop at remote islands to visit fur seal and sea lion colonies. There will be opportunities for sea kayaking, snorkelling and birdwatching (desert specials include the gila woodpecker, crested caracara and Xantu’s hummingbird). For divers, meanwhile, there’s the chance of unforgettable encounters with manta rays, turtles, hammerhead and whale sharks.
Several operators offer wildlife voyages in the Sea of Cortez, including Naturetrek and WildOceans. Diving live-aboards include the Solmar V.Sea kayaking holidays in Loreto Bay and Isla del Carmen are run by Sea Kayak Adventures and Ecosummer.
Monarch Butterfly Sanctuaries
The 3,000m mountains of Michoacán province in central Mexico provide a winter refuge for hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies between October and February. Coating the branches of oyamel fir trees in shimmering cloaks of orange, black and white wings, the insects cluster together in a state of torpor. Come early spring, however, and the monarchs start to twitch and flutter as lengthening days and warmer temperatures cue their 3,000km migration north to the United States and Eastern Canada where females lay their eggs on milkweed plants. In late summer/early autumn, the insects return to Mexico again, completing the only annual, two-way migration in the butterfly world. Accessible from the town of Angangueo, El Rosario and Sierra Chincua monarch butterfly sanctuaries are two of the best places to witness the overwintering masses.