Safari Quest - Sea of Cortez Cruise Off Baja Mexico

  • 01 of 10

    Overview of Safari Quest of Un-Cruise Adventures

    Safari Quest and Killer Whale in the Sea of Cortez
    Photo Courtesy of Kevin Martin/American Safari Cruises

    The 22-passenger Safari Quest of Un-Cruise Adventures is a small yacht sailing to interesting, off-the-beaten-path destinations. The captain and expedition leader often change the itinerary in order to take advantage of wildlife viewing opportunities or passenger interests.

    On the Sea of Cortez itinerary we sailed, passengers can enjoy a wide range of activities that include hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, water skiing, fishing, and trail riding. The Safari Quest has a small skiff that is perfect for taking passengers ashore or on exciting excursions.

    The Safari Quest has many similarities with other cruise ships. The food is excellent, the cabins are comfortable (although small), and the shower is terrific. Like most small ships, the per diem price is higher than a large ship, but the cruise fare includes all drinks and excursions. The atmosphere on the Safari Quest is relaxed and fun. All meals are casual, and passengers can help themselves in the bar at any hour if staff are not nearby.

    One of the biggest differences between the Safari Quest and larger ships is the personal service provided by the crew and the wonderful homey atmosphere onboard. For those who expect big ship amenities, the onboard entertainment is limited to watching one of the hundreds of DVD movies in your cabin. However, most passengers on a small yacht like the Safari Quest are not looking for karaoke or show tunes in the evening. I never heard anyone complain about the lack of entertainment or organized onboard activities.

    This article focuses on life onboard the Safari Quest and the things we saw and did on the Un-Cruise Adventures' Sea of Cortez itinerary.

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  • 02 of 10

    Safari Quest Cabins

    Safari Quest Mariner Stateroom
    Safari Quest Photo (c) Linda Garrison

    The 11 staterooms on the Un-Cruise Adventures Safari Quest are small, but very comfortable. All cabins have a private bath with a terrific shower and premium toiletries. The four admiral staterooms on the bridge deck feature king, queen, or twin beds and have a sliding glass door to let in fresh air. The captain stateroom on the main deck has a window and queen-sized bed. The Safari Quest also has a single cabin on the main deck with a window. The five mariner staterooms are on the lowest deck (the cabin deck). They also feature king, queen, or twin beds, but only have small elevated windows. Since daylight can enter, they are a little better than an inside cabin but not much. I love having a balcony or outside cabin, but on a small ship like the Safari Quest, it is not as important as on a traditional mega-ship. Even if your cabin is on the cabin deck, it's only a few steps upstairs to the main deck. We spent very little time in the cabin - just to sleep and watch a couple of movies on the nice flat panel DVD screen.

    One interesting fact is that since the Safari Quest is like sailing on a private yacht, the cabins do not have room keys. One less thing to keep up with, and we never felt like our belongings were insecure. The cabins can be locked from inside for privacy.

    The Safari Quest has eight crew members, and our cabin was always quickly cleaned in the morning. I think one of the two hotel staff ran downstairs and immediately cleaned our cabin as soon as she saw we were up for breakfast. All the passengers loved this personal attention - a great advantage a small ship like the Safari Quest can provide.

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  • 03 of 10

    Safari Quest - Common Areas and Cuisine

    Safari Quest Dining Room
    Safari Quest Photo (c) Linda Garrison

    Safari Quest Common Areas

    The Safari Quest is only 120 feet long, so it doesn't take long to tour the ship. You won't get lost or lose your mate on the Quest!

    The lowest deck has the five mariner staterooms.

    One floor up is the main deck with the dining room, galley, bar, DVD library, game table, salon, two cabins, and a wonderful open deck on the stern. The salon and bar area are the hub of the ship, and guests and staff enjoyed socializing, playing games, watching movies, or reading a book on the comfortable sofas. Passengers can also access the bow of the ship on the main deck.

    The next deck up is the bridge deck with the four admiral staterooms, library, bridge, and a small outdoor deck.

    The observation deck is up top, with a nice covered hot tub, exercise equipment, lounge chairs, hammock, and storage area for the kayaks.

    Safari Quest Dining and Cuisine

    Dining on the Safari Quest was a pleasant surprise, given the small size of the galley next to the dining room. The chefs created many delightful and delicious dishes from that galley. I knew we were in for a treat the first night, when they served green salad with strawberries, nuts, and blue cheese; shrimp pasta or prime rib with garlic mashed potatoes and fresh asparagus; and a macadamia tart topped with coconut ice cream. At the conclusion of each meal, we ordered the next one so that the chefs could cook accordingly.

    I love hot breads, and fantastic muffins, hot from the oven, were the first thing greeting us each morning. Each day's muffins were different and delicious.

    On the small ship, we could usually get a hint of the good things to come by the tantalizing aromas emanating from the small galley!

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  • 04 of 10

    La Paz, Mexico

    La Paz, Mexico on the Sea of Cortez
    La Paz Photo (c) Linda Garrison

    Since we had never been to Baja Mexico, Ronnie and I went to La Paz three days before our Sea of Cortez cruise on the Safari Quest. The city is geared towards tourism and has a marvelous boardwalk stretching for miles along the harbor. La Paz has many nice restaurants, and dining outside is always a treat for us. We stayed at the Hotel Los Arcos right on the water and went fishing for two days before our cruise. The March weather could not have been better--warm, dry, and not too windy. The amazing desert and marine life we saw from our fishing boats was an exciting preview of the days ahead.

    We took a taxi to the meeting point for our Safari Quest cruise--La Fiesta Inn, which is about five miles from downtown. The luggage was transferred to the ship while we gathered in an outdoor restaurant with our 14 fellow cruisers for a get-acquainted drink and snacks. Kevin Martin, our expedition leader, explained that they would design the cruise to do whatever we wished. They adjust the schedule as necessary to maximize wildlife viewing and our interests, with the goal to be in Loreto the next Sunday as planned.

    Our group of new friends boarded a bus for the transfer to the Safari Quest, which was docked in downtown La Paz. My first impression of the ship was how lovely it was. Our luggage was already in the cabin, and we quickly toured the ship before settling down on the deck for a drink with some of our new "family" for the next week.

    The Safari Quest left La Paz in the early evening, and we enjoyed the first of many good meals. Kevin briefed us on the next day's events, which will include our first snorkeling expedition.

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  • 05 of 10

    La Paz to Isla Partida - Day 2

    Isla Partida in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico
    Sea of Cortez Photo (c) Linda Garrison

    Our first full day on the Safari Quest was a great one. After a good night's sleep, we awoke to the smell of some amazing hot cranberry muffins. Like the other days we had been in Baja, it was almost cool outside on the back deck, and the "early birds" enjoyed hot coffee or tea as we watched the world come alive around us.

    After a delicious breakfast, most of us put on swimsuits, skins, and wet suits for our first snorkeling trip. We piled into the skiff and went to a nearby reef. The water is only 68 degrees, and when you first went in, it was amazingly cold and breathtaking. Fortunately, within a couple of minutes it was warm. I was pleasantly surprised by the large number of skins (zip up long john things) and wet suits in all sizes. You couldn't swim/snorkel in this water without one. We came back to the ship in about an hour, put our shorts back on, hung out, and enjoyed the scenery as we sailed. Some folks got into the hot tub, others had the first beer or margarita of the day.

    Lunch was a yummy vegetarian Mexican soup and salad, followed by Key lime pie. We ordered our supper – choice of grouper or pork tenderloin and sailed for a couple of hours towards Isla Partida.

    About 2:30, we took the skiff ashore to hike across the narrow island. The hike was mostly on flat land, and interesting because we had the trail lined with mangroves (saltwater plants) on one side and cacti on the other. Although the side of the island where we anchored was very sandy and flat, the opposite side was a rocky cliff overlooking the bay.

    After a couple of hours, we returned to the ship for warm chocolate chip cookies. We cleaned up for the cocktail hour (hummus and fresh pita bread), followed by dinner. The fish was especially good, but the chocolate cake was the highlight of the meal (for me).

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  • 06 of 10

    Isla Partida to Isla San Francisco - Day 3

    Snorkeling with Sea Lions in the Sea of Cortez
    Photo Courtesy of Kevin Martin/American Safari Cruises

    We motored in the early morning to a small island covered with sea lions. The night before, the chef had said we were going to have a late brunch instead of breakfast/lunch, with an early evening barbecue. So, we all boarded the inflatable skiff and rode around the island, marveling at the sea lions basking on the rocks and swimming up to our boat.

    We returned to the ship, donned our skins and wet suits and went back for snorkeling. Ronnie and I have done a lot of snorkeling, and this was definitely one of our best days. The young sea lions swam all around us and almost played "chicken" - swimming straight for us and then bearing off at the last minute. It was a little scary! I was especially enthralled to see two sea lions underwater playfully fighting over a clam or some other type of shellfish. One large mama kept an eye on us, and Kevin intentionally took us away from the area where the large bulls were sunning. As we were leaving, we could see why the captain was so anxious to get us off the ship early - three other small boats were pulling up at the island as we left.

    We returned to the ship and found bloody marys, mimosas, and brunch ready to be devoured. After brunch, we motored to Isla San Francisco and the crew got out the sea kayaks. We paddled around the bay and enjoyed the beach. At around 4:00, we went ashore and hiked to the top of one of the mountains. It was very steep, but the view was worth it. Our group then walked along the ridge back down – much less steep. The beach was gorgeous on this island - crescent-shaped, with white sand. When we got back to the beach, some of the crew had brought snacks and drinks ashore. It was fun, and a good prelude to the delicious barbecue back on the ship. The next day we would visit the fishermen of Isla Coyote.

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  • 07 of 10

    Isla Coyote, Whales, and Dolphins - Day 4

    Leaping dolphin in the Sea of Cortez
    Photo Courtesy of Kevin Martin/American Safari Cruises

    We started the day by going ashore at Isla Coyote. This island was settled by a fisherman in 1919, and his descendants still live there. The island has no fresh water, so the Safari Quest provided some of our fresh water. Each of the half-dozen homes has one electric light bulb powered by solar panels, and one family even had a TV with an antenna that picked up the La Paz station. The 10-20 residents still make their living by fishing. They trade fish for ice, which they bring ashore to pack the fish in after they are gutted. The island had an exhibit of whale bones, and the women made some beaded jewelry for sale. The island is tiny, and we could walk the whole thing (including climbing to the top of the rock in about 15 minutes. It was fascinating to see another way of life.

    We returned to the ship and sailed along the San Jose Channel during lunch and the afternoon. A little after lunch, we heard the first call - whales! For the next hour or so, we watched giant blue whales blow and roll, along with a couple of humpbacks. While watching the whales, the crew served blackberry crumb cake to all of us on the deck.

    Following the live whale show, Kevin did a slide presentation in the lounge on cetaceans. In the middle of his presentation, the captain called out - dolphins. Expecting to see a handful of dolphins, we all quickly scurried up to either the bow or the top deck. Instead of a handful, thousands of dolphins surrounded the ship, and we kept up with them as they raced down the channel. We watched them for a long time, and then decided to get in the skiff and follow the gigantic pod of speeding, leaping dolphins. We zipped along with them, and they jumped, dove, and rode the wake of our small boat. I've never seen so many powerful, beautiful creatures at one time in the ocean. More was to come.

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  • 08 of 10

    Sunrise at Puerto El Gato, Whales, and Orcas - Day 5

    Sunrise Over the Sea of Cortez
    Sea of Cortez Photo (c) Linda Garrison

    The Safari Quest anchored for the night at Puerto El Gato, and since the sunrise promised to be spectacular, six of us opted to take the skiff onto the beach and watch the sunrise show. Seeing the sun come up over the ship and the ocean and hit the gorgeous sand stone rocks was quite a treat! After breakfast, Ronnie and I took out a kayak and paddled around the bay. We got very close to a brown pelican drying its wings. In the clear water, we could see many brilliantly colored sea anemones, most of which were burgundy or purple.

    Back on the Quest, Kevin suddenly announced that the captain had seen orcas in the distance, so we set off in search of them in the skiff. It was great fun, and the calm waters made spotting the killer whales easy. We zipped along, and the animals didn't mind our small boat at all.

    Upon our return, it was time for a late lunch as the Quest cruised the bay, watching for whales. We saw some more blue whales and watched them for a while. Suddenly we heard the cry - orcas ahead! The large mammals were everywhere. We could tell the babies from the adults by the size of their fins. They came very close to the ship and bumped the skiff tied behind the Quest. We were all running around on the decks from side to side and front to back, pointing them out and watching them swim almost everywhere.

    Kevin suggested we go out on the skiff, and he didn't have to ask us twice. What followed was a "once in a lifetime" event for all of us. The orcas swam under, around, behind, and in front of the skiff. A couple of us almost (but not quite) got to touch one of the beautiful creatures. We could even see their teeth! I got some great photos, but finally gave up taking pictures and just enjoyed the ride.

    We returned to the ship after an hour or so, raving and reliving the experience.

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  • 09 of 10

    Trail Riding at Agua Verde - Day 6

    Bay at Agua Verde on the Sea of Cortez
    Sea of Cortez Photo (c) Linda Garrison

    I woke up extra early the day after our "orca experience" and slipped upstairs as soon as it was a little light. Was I lucky! I had the marvelous sunrise at Puerto Agua Verde and warm chocolate chip/coconut muffins all to myself.

    This day, we rode into the desert with a local rancher, who provided the burros, mules and horses. We rode in two groups. Alejo, the rancher, assigned us to our mounts, and we were off up the trail from the beach. It was a fun ride of about an hour and a half. We rode slowly along rocky trails over hills and along the beach. It was fun to see the desert on the other side of the mountains surrounding the shoreline without having to hike! Returning to the beach, we paused at the top and had a beautiful view of the sea below. The ride down was a little scary, but our sure-footed steeds made the trek without incident.

    After lunch a group of us donned our skins and wetsuits and took the skiff out to a big solitary rock at the entrance to the harbor and went snorkeling. The water was just as cold as we remembered, but we quickly got used to the chill as our wetsuits warmed up. It was a little windy, so the water was a little murky. We saw all sorts of starfish—blue, purple, red, and one called a "chocolate chip". We also saw some small, colorful sea slugs. Kevin warned us not to touch them since them were poisonous. It was fun seeing the fish and other creatures in the crevices, canyons, and tidal pools. The rest of the afternoon, some of the passengers jumped from the observation deck into the cold ocean water, swam, or used a rope swing out over the water. I watched - too cold without a wetsuit for me!

    The next day was our last full day, and we crossed the Baja to Magdalena Bay on the Pacific Ocean. The bus ride up and over the mountains and across the desert went by quickly. Our goal was to see gray whales.

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  • 10 of 10

    Gray Whales of Magdalena, Loreto, and Home - Days 7 and 8

    Petting a gray whale in Magdalena Bay, Mexico
    Photo Courtesy of Kevin Martin/American Safari Cruises

    Gray whales come to Magdalena Bay to breed. After riding for two hours across the Baja, we boarded two small pangas for the trip into the bay.

    We rode along groves of mangroves and beautiful sand dunes, watching for whales and birds. Not long after we got into the main part of the bay, we saw a momma gray whale and calf. The two whales came up to our small boats (and between the boats) again and again - surfacing for us to pet them, blowing, and rolling. We slapped the water with our hands, and they came up to check us out. What an experience!

    I was a little conflicted about coming so close to the whales and "petting" them. However, the boat drivers were very careful, and the whales actually came over and sought us out, once we got in the general vicinity.

    Before returning to the Safari Quest to pack for home, we enjoyed lunch at a local restaurant.

    Our final night on the ship was fun, with a delicious captain's dinner followed by a slide show of the best photos Kevin had taken during the week, many of which he shared with me.

    Disembarkation and Loreto
    Our last morning we rode into town after breakfast and went to the most important spot in Loreto - the old 17th century mission. Then, we had some time for shopping before gathering at a very cute restaurant for brunch, which included lessons for making our own tortillas and cerviche. It was a great ending to our cruise.

    Ronnie and I loved the casual, family atmosphere on the Safari Quest. It was truly like sailing on our own yacht, and we had wildlife experiences we will remember always.

    As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary cruise accommodation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.