is one of the World's BEST places to see the whales!
Were we watching
the whales, or were they watching us?
James M. Lewis
Cleveland Plain Dealer Reporter
That's the question I asked myself on
each of the three occasions I saw them
frolicking in their winter stomping grounds
in the Pacific.
The first, several years ago, was in
Hawaii, off the coast of Maui. More recently,
I was on whale-watching charters in Mexican
waters off the Baja peninsula and off
The best experience was in Puerto Vallarta's
Banderas Bay, where the hump- backs my
son Zach and I saw one afternoon were
so active they rocked and sprayed our
eight-person boat - and made serious eye
contact with us.
"He looked right at me and smiled,"
said one woman as a young whale swam by
and raised its head.
"Over here!" someone would
shout. "Now on this side!" We
found ourselves running from one end of
the boat to the other all afternoon for
the best views.
Each year, the humpbacks spend December
through March in the well-protected, 40-mile-wide
bay on Mexico's central Pacific coast.
They come to give birth, nurse their
young and cavort in the waves. After all,
they're on vacation from colder, northern
During our five-hour January excursion,
it seemed they were giving us a private
performance. The best act in the show?
Definitely the "breaching" maneuver,
when they leap high out of the water and
crash-land on their side or back with
a gigantic splash. It was also exciting
to watch them skim the waves alongside,
nearly close enough to touch, looking
as if they were inspecting us.
For inexperienced boaters like myself,
it was at first a little unnerving when
everyone shifted to one side of the 27-foot
boat. I thought we might tip. But we were
all wearing life vests and the shoreline
was on the horizon, so I relaxed and got
the hang of it.
One man in our group didn't enjoy himself:
He spent most of the trip lying on a cot
below deck, seasick.
My two other whale-watching adventures,
one off Cabo San Lucas at the southern
tip of Baja and the earlier one off Maui,
were a little more sedate, as both were
on much bigger vessels offering "sunset
cruise" excursions for large groups
There are trade-offs on that style of
tour - you get to see the whales in a
more relaxed setting, but it's not as
up-close and personal as on the small
Anyone considering a whalewatching venture
should try to do so in early or midseason.
My wife and I saw the fewest whales in
April off Baja but then learned that was
because it was near the end of the season.
They are more plentiful and active in
December through March.
In addition to the best whale viewing,
Puerto Vallarta was special for two reasons:
It was my last father-son adventure with
Zach, during his first vacation from his
first job out of college and before his
Second, Puerto Vallarta is simply my
favorite spot on Mexico's western coast.
The quaint city is near the center of
the crescentshaped bay, next to towering
cliffs, with small-town colonial charm,
good restaurants and entertainment.