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Big Animal Expedition in La Paz - Sea of Cortez Multi-day trip: Baja Shark Experience


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We have just returned from the "Big Animals Experience" in Baja California Sur in Mexico.

To say it up front - unfortunately it was quite a disappointment for us. Perhaps simply because there was such a stark difference between expectations and reality.


From the description of Bajasharkexperience by Evans Baudin https://bajasharkexperience.com/big-animal-expedition/, we read that we were looking for the big animals and then tried to get into the water with them and photograph them. In reality, however, we travelled 8 hours a day on a very small boat for $1,000 per person per day, but were actually in the water for a maximum of 90 minutes all-in-all over the 5 days. Of these, Mobulas totalled 40 minutes and the sea lion colony 30 minutes, the rest a couple of attempts to spot dolphins in the water (unsuccessful).
A little more detail: The original plan was to stay in a hotel in La Paz and look for animals from there. Shortly before the start of the tour, we were informed that we would now be staying in La Ventana (but only in a 3-star hotel instead of the 4-star hotel we had previously planned). The new hotel was intended more for self-catering guests, unfortunately with large cockroaches, water not always warm - we didn't like it. The water from the tap was not completely desalinated, so it was also difficult to soak the camera.

A little more detail: The original plan was to stay in a hotel in La Paz and look for animals from there. Shortly before the start of the tour, we were informed that we would now be staying in La Ventana (but only in a 3-star hotel instead of the previously planned 4-star). The reason was construction work in La Paz - Evans later told us that the reason was rather a lack of animals in La Paz.
The most difficult thing for us was that our boat was too small for 8-9 people (not enough sun protection and protection from spray) and that there was no plan B at any point - we were actually travelling non-stop, almost without seeing any animals.

Well - a small blue whale swam through the Baja, we never got closer than 500 metres. There was a small fin whale in the water that we got closer to. When we got within 50 metres, we were told that it was forbidden to go into the water with the whales. That was disappointing, of course, because that was the real reason why we came (besides the mobulas). If this means that "Encounter" is actually just whale spotting from a boat, then you can get this for a lot less money with a much higher chance of success elsewhere.

It was also a pity that the planned two days of Mobula only led to two brief moments in the water - we had expected much, much more. Fortunately, we still managed to take a few pictures.

In principle, there seems to be a chance of encountering orcas. Based on our experiences, however, I am sceptical as to whether you can realistically expect to go into the water with them. To summarise, I would not recommend the tour. I would prefer a few days of mobulas and possibly big fish as by-catch. 

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3 hours ago, Davide DB said:

Could it depends on the season?

We were in the middle of the advertised season… of course nature isn’t fully predictable but 

a) it should have been stated that there’s no swimming with the big animals 

b) the boat was insufficient 

and 

c) there should be a plan b, at least at this price tag… 

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8 minutes ago, fruehaufsteher2 said:

We were in the middle of the advertised season… of course nature isn’t fully predictable but 

a) it should have been stated that there’s no swimming with the big animals 

b) the boat was insufficient 

and 

c) there should be a plan b, at least at this price tag… 

 

Yes, i was reading their website, very vague. They never state that you will swim with the animals but they require snorkeling experience and a wetsuit.

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Posted (edited)

Ouch - sorry to read this. We worked in LaPaz up to 2018, and it's a complex environment.

 

Orcas are quite rare, and tricky to get into the water with if they're feeding on the mobulas (murky water, blood in the water etc) which is usually why they're around - some friends working there managed to do so later in the season, but it's quite rare, even for people working there.
 

Schools of Munk's mobulas themselves are more accessible but still really tricky as well, since they move around fast, and peak mobula season is usually when the water is quite murky. I did see them diving a few times, but this was really lucky, as encounter usually revolve around trying to chase the ball from the panga and getting in the waters with them for a few seconds, not the easiest...
 

Same goes for the whaleshark swims when it's whaleshark season in LaPaz - highly regulated activity (which is good, amazing work by CONANP), but green, plankton-rich waters, and a lot of time-constrained chasing feeding whalesharks on the surface in the boat's assigned area -  and feeding whalesharks  move quite fast (unless you're lucky to get one vertical feeding), so it's usually only a few seconds...

 

Other sharks (like the famous hammerheads of the El Bajo seamounts...) are pretty much gone, unfortunately, and while we did get a much applauded return of the mantas at La Reina a few years back, this is highly unpredictable.

 

Whales are also seasonal, and usually in murky green waters, and encounters regulated. They weren't at the time, but with the viz, the shop's photographer and myself never really managed to get footage (we would position ourselves ahead, but whales would just dive under us, in 5 meter visibility...)

 

Overall I would say  it's probaly best to focus on San Ignacio / Guerrero Negro lagoons for that (if you can get over the touchy-feely experience...).

Otherwise definitely look into Magdalena bay, which can offer some amazing bait-ball encounters, and has been the up-and-coming area for a few years now.

 

California sealions are amazing, but there's really no need to join an "expedition" to dive or snorkel with them at the Los Islottes / San Rafaelito colonies...

 

Overall, I'd say that while the sea of Cortez / Gulf of California, especially the LaPaz area, can offer some amazing, one-of-a-kind encounters, it's also a bit of a hit and miss, especially on a single trip...

Edited by bghazzal
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Posted (edited)

The question to me is, whether this company did a bad job by (i) raising unjustified high expectations and in (ii) execution of the "expedition" (like no plan B, too many people in the boat, wrong season etc...)...

I have been just once in La Paz in the early 90ies for a week and remember very well the meetings with the sea lions (very easy and especially pleasing to encounter them (except the big dominant males, when they get jealous...:classic_laugh:)). The sea mountain with the hammerheads was not possible then, because of the weather conditions (=not the fault of the diving base). Whales were visible seldom from far on the way to or back from the diving sites, but none of them UW...

(I will not go there again as long as they have this strange rip off of UW-photographers at the border control, but as soon as this stops, we plan to be there...)

 

The last photo with the mobulas is fantastic. I wished I ever will have such an occasion. Such an occasion is certainly worth a lot of troubles, maybe better to see the positive side...

 

 

Wolfgang

Edited by Architeuthis
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Hi Wolfgang, 

 

fully agree: may be the expectations were to high - but boat and hotel itself would have already been a real downside even if there were more to see. 

 

But I tried to report neutral to give everybody the possibility to decide himself whether or not it is worth the risk or worth the money to try. 

 

For the border control there seems to be bad news:

 

Even in Mexico City they are now starting to search for expensive housings, domes and lenses. It seems to get worse, not better. 

 

We were lucky: We did all the precautions (not having suitcases that look like divers) but then there‘s always the red button: After asking us whether we had alcohol or cigarettes in our suitcases the border-control-lady told my wife to hit the button. Luckily it went green. 

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Posted (edited)
14 hours ago, Architeuthis said:

(I will not go there again as long as they have this strange rip off of UW-photographers at the border control, but as soon as this stops, we plan to be there...)

 

 

What’s this about?   I am planning a group trip to Socorros in June, and read something similar on the Nautilus website too, about photographers being harassed for their gear at customs on the way in.

 

Edit - I googled this.    Am surprised this exists in this day and age.     And it is vexing, especially if they are starting to do this in Mexico airport as well, which is where we will be flying in.    

 

Is this mainly for folks with big-ass housings, multiple cameras and huge dome ports?    Or are even folks with a single camera/housing in a backpack getting busted?   I carry my entire rig in a medium sized Lowepro backpack.

Edited by vkalia
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1 hour ago, vkalia said:

 

What’s this about?   I am planning a group trip to Socorros in June, and read something similar on the Nautilus website too, about photographers being harassed for their gear at customs on the way in.

 

Edit - I googled this.    Am surprised this exists in this day and age.     And it is vexing, especially if they are starting to do this in Mexico airport as well, which is where we will be flying in.    

 

Is this mainly for folks with big-ass housings, multiple cameras and huge dome ports?    Or are even folks with a single camera/housing in a backpack getting busted?   I carry my entire rig in a medium sized Lowepro backpack.

 

It's gotten quite bad now on all fronts from what I here - officers target pretty much anything they can - same goes for locals btw, but travelling UW image makers are an easy target, often with deeper pockets than most tourists - best advice is to stay discreet and hope for the best.
The trick officers were using at one point was to consider the housing as a second-camera (look in the regulations h, import-taxed upon googled retail value...
Unfair, but difficult to argue against if you end up in this situation...


You've probably seen this already, but there's a thread dedicated to the subject on the zombie WP site here, and an article on X-Ray here
Good luck!

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AFAIK they are targeting everything that could be in professional use and not an original part of the camera. 
so it goes for housings, ports, flashes and the tax is 16% of the original price. The look up serial numbers and there’s no way of escaping them. They are looking for all international arrivals. 
 

One of the participants of our trip crossed the border via taxi to avoid the risk. 
 

For me this is a reason not to return to Mexico even though the landscape is really beautiful! 

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Ugh.    That really does suck.      That’s $500-1000 in “fees” right there.   

 

Thanks for the clarification, folks.    Is making me re-think the trip and whether to pivot to Cocos instead.

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That whole trip sounds like an over-sold promotion. Very sad. You did make a couple of nice frames there, but I would be very unhappy riding around on a small boat all day without any promise of a time in the water with critters.

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On 5/23/2024 at 5:15 AM, Architeuthis said:

(I will not go there again as long as they have this strange rip off of UW-photographers at the border control, but as soon as this stops, we plan to be there...)

I would love to see a mass dive travel boycott to crush this rip off.

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10 hours ago, humu9679 said:

I would love to see a mass dive travel boycott to crush this rip off.

 

This wont happen. Scam is more likely to spread Cancun and other places like it did to Mexico City.

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4 hours ago, Sokrates said:

 

This wont happen. Scam is more likely to spread Cancun and other places like it did to Mexico City.

There’s too few of us to make a difference I suspect. 

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