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Puerto Vallarta 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 Puerto Vallarta.


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 waters.


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 of passengers.


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 boats.



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 recent marriage.


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.


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