Exploring the Sea of Cortez: A Living Sea & Desert Isles (NG Quest)

Exploring the Sea of Cortez: A Living Sea & Desert Isles (NG Quest)

From AUD $8,220


Designated by UNESCO as a marine world heritage site and dubbed by Jacques Cousteau, “the world’s aquarium,” the islands of the Sea of Cortez are places of legendary biodiversity. On our expedition of pure discovery, we sail through these islands that lie in close proximity to the Baja peninsula but have a palpable feel of rugged isolation. This geographic isolation is the major factor resulting in the long list of endemic plants and animals, many of which we may encounter.

The Sea of Cortez, itself, rich with nutrients brought to surface waters by the columnar upwellings from the depths, is host to an incredibly diverse population of marine mammals and seabirds.

And, we know where to find them. We rely on our 40 years of experience in the region and expert local knowledge of wildlife movements as we seek out encounters with the marine life of the gulf. Part of the joy of an expedition is standing on deck with binoculars in hand on the bow of our ship or from our expedition landing craft, watching for wildlife — often visible from some distance away. We watch for swirling groups of plunge-diving brown pelicans, blue-footed and brown boobies as elegant terns and Heermann’s gulls wheel overhead. It is this concentration of frenetic aerial activity that frequently alerts us to pods of dolphins. If we see them, we may postpone our scheduled hike for a bit so we can linger among them with our cameras at the ready capturing images from the ship.

While our encounters with the marine world are spectacular, over our long history of exploration, we have come to know the rich terrestrial biodiversity on the islands of the Sea of Cortez. Seen from offshore, the island landscape appears as a uniform brown in color, rugged and rocky. As we approach land in our Zodiacs into the intertidal zone and step ashore, within minutes we come to know the color and variety of life inhabiting these islands. We observe the big and the small of the desert world, from the cardon cacti to the tiny Costa’s hummingbirds, from the endemic San Esteban chuckwalla to the giant barrel cactus. Here, you’ll be able to hike through the deserts and canyons, joining whichever naturalist you choose (there are no assigned groups). You’ll also have the option to kayak the fertile shoreline. In addition, there are opportunities to take Zodiacs along the shore to observe and capture images of magnificent frigatebirds as well as the elegant red-billed tropicbirds, trailing long streamer tail feathers in their wake.

A focused but flexible itinerary designed to follow the wildlife
We have designed this expedition to be a focused exploration of the region which allows for much more than a surface-level experience. This is truly an expedition designed to immerse us into the natural history of the Sea of Cortez and its islands. And, the built-in flexibility of the voyage allows us the freedom to explore some of the 44 major islands, and to optimize sightings of the marine and terrestrial wildlife.

Travel in excellent company
And, you will travel with exceptional expedition staff who are on hand to share their vast knowledge of the area as we explore under the sure guidance of an expedition leader, six veteran naturalists, including two National Geographic certified photo instructors and an undersea specialist, plus a wellness specialist. Their knowledge and passion for Baja California is the key to your once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Trip Name
Exploring the Sea of Cortez: A Living Sea & Desert Isles (NG Quest)
Vessel Type: Expedition Ship Length: 72 metres Passenger Capacity: 100 guests (in 50 cabins) Built: 2017 Designed with decades of expedition experience in the region, National Geographic Quest more than comfortably accommodates 100 guests in 50 cabins. Her twin expedition craft landing platform allow us to rapidly get on and off the ship to take advantage of wildlife sightings and to ensure we maximize our time off the ship exploring. Created with a shallow draft, Quest draws only nine feet of water allowing her to sail into places where much larger ships cannot go. PUBLIC AREAS: Global gallery; fitness centre; LEXspa; lounge with full service bar and facilities for films and presentations; observation deck; mudroom with lockers for expedition gear, and a partially covered sundeck with chairs and tables. Our ‘open bridge’ provides guests an opportunity to meet our officers and captain and learn about navigation. MEALS: Served in single seatings with unassigned tables for an informal atmosphere and easy mingling. Breakfast is a wide selection buffet and dinner is served family-style. Menu emphasises local fare. CABINS: All cabins face outside with windows or portholes, private facilities and climate controls. Some cabins have balconies. EXPEDITION EQUIPMENT: Expedition landing craft, a fleet of 24 kayaks, Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), hydrophone, splashcam, underwater video camera, video microscope, snorkelling gear for all guests (where applicable). SPECIAL FEATURES: Guest internet access, elevator, National Geographic certified photo instructor, a video chronicler and undersea specialist. WELLNESS: The vessel is staffed by a Wellness Specialist and features a gym with an elliptical machine, treadmill, exercycles, handweights and resistance bands. Treatments in the LEXspa are available by appointment.


Day 1 - DAY 1: Home/Loreto/Embark
Arrive into Loreto and transfer to National Geographic Venture to set sail on the Sea of Cortez. (D)
Day 2 - DAYS 2-7: Exploring the Sea of Cortez
As writer and longtime Lindblad naturalist, Stewart Aitchison describes it - “The Sea of Cortez – it’s a romantic name that conjures up visions of fiery sunsets, leaping dolphins, and deserted beaches.”It is all this and so much more. Our routing is designed with flexibility in mind, to maximize opportunities for wildlife sightings. It will most likely include the islands and activities listed below, although the order may vary. (B,L,D daily)Isla San Esteban and San Pedro Mártir:Walk up a desert wash, to search for desert songbirds such as the handsome black-throated sparrow, listen for the cascading song of the canyon wren and search for the endemic pinto chuckwalla—a plump, harmless desert lizard. Later visit Isla San Pedro Mártir, a 1,000-foot-high guano-covered island that is home to thousands of seabirds: brown pelicans, magnificent frigatebirds, Brandt’s cormorants, and California sea lions. Isla San Marcos:At Isla San Marcos there is a beautiful shoreline for swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking. In the afternoon we are again in rich waters, near the mouth of Bahía Concepción. Here we are on the lookout for pods of dolphins – with common and bottlenose dolphins being the most frequently encountered species. With luck these beautiful animals may join us as we go, riding the bow wave, sometimes twisting and turning, and sometimes leaping from the water. Isla San José:One of the larger islands in the Sea of Cortez, San José offers several landing possibilities depending on conditions and the whim of the moment. Photograph the ochre cliffs of the island’s eastern shore, hike an enchanted, cactus-laden arroyo and visit the abandoned salt works to the west. Snorkel with sea lions and discover rare wildlife among desert islands. Bahía Loreto Marine Park:This morning we’ll search for the waters south of Isla Carmen, an area offering the possibility of encountering fin whales which researchers have recently concluded may be part a resident population. Bottlenose and common dolphins are frequently encountered. In the afternoon we visit one of the islands of Bahía Loreto Marine Park, with ample time for kayaking, snorkeling, stand-up paddleboarding and possibly hiking. In the evening, enjoy a beach barbecue under the desert sky. Los Islotes and Isla San Francisco:At Los Islotes, don flippers, a mask and snorkel (which we’ll gladly provide) and swim with curious sea lions. We have a leisurely afternoon to swim, kayak or hike at Isla San Francisco. Look skyward for yellow-footed gulls, brown pelicans, and blue-footed boobies.
Day 3 - DAY 8: Disembark/Loreto/Home
Disembark and explore Loreto where we will have the opportunity to visit the first mission in Baja California, as well as the nearby museum to learn more about what makes this town so special. Enjoy free time to explore quaint shops and vibrant side streets. After lunch, transfer to Loreto Airport for flights home. (B,L)
Day 4 - Please note:
All day-by-day breakdowns are a sampling of the places we intend to visit, conditions permitting.

Trip Dates

StartEndPrice FromRoom Type
12-04-202019-04-2020AUD $8,220Category 1
12-04-202019-04-2020AUD $9,000Category 2
12-04-202019-04-2020AUD $9,630Category 3
12-04-202019-04-2020AUD $10,740Category 4
12-04-202019-04-2020AUD $11,820Category 5
12-04-202019-04-2020AUD $12,330Category 1 Single
12-04-202019-04-2020AUD $13,530Category 2 Single


    • Experience a voyage of pure discovery in a UNESCO World Heritage site, with a flexible itinerary and sites chosen by the region’s most knowledgeable staff, based on conditions and to maximize wildlife sightings.
    • Search for large pods of dolphins and a variety of marine wildlife including sea lions and with luck leaping mobula rays, flapping for a moment before belly-flopping back in the water.
    • Explore water-level caves by kayak, hike uninhabited beaches, snorkel among fish and acrobatic sea lions.
    • Photograph the landscape as the light changes, and the golden hour approaches with its deep red hues that seem to engulf the desert environment.
    • Conditions permitting, visit Isla Rasa. Composed of Pleistocene and Holocene basalt lava flows, this is where 90% of the world’s Heermann’s gulls and a large population of elegant terns, come to breed.
    • Visit the old mining town of Santa Rosalia, with its wooden homes and historic steel church, designed by Gustave Eiffel.