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Baja California has long beendescribed as the 'Galápagos ofMexico'. From the Pacific-poundedshores of its western coastline round tothe sheltered blue waters of the Sea ofCortez, this 1,285-kilometre peninsula, oneof the world's longest, is home to adiversity of wildlife that could easily rivalDarwin's more famous islands over 1,600kilometres to the south. Flocks ofMagnificent Frigatebirds soar ominouslyoverhead, whilst lines of Brown Pelicansand Brant's Cormorants file over the sea'ssurface and hundreds of Sea Lions rest onisolated rocky islands. Inland, CrestedCaracaras sit atop the huge Cardon Cactiwhich cover much of the desert interiorand tiny hummingbirds sip nectar from avariety of colourful desert plants. Baja is, without doubt, a naturalist'sparadise. Yet there is one family of animalsabove all others in which it excels - thecetaceans. The rich feeding grounds ofthe Sea of Cortez and the sheltered baysalong the Pacific coastline combine toproduce one of the best whale-watchingexperiences anywhere in the world. Thisexciting holiday will take you down thewestern coastline of the Baja Peninsulaand then round into the deep blue watersof the Sea of Cortez. It will offer suchunforgettable experiences as eye-to-eyecontact with the Grey Whales of SanIgnacio, the chance to be surrounded bythousands of dolphins, and theopportunity to look for the mighty BlueWhale, the largest animal on Earth. Our tour begins with a flight to San Diego in California. Here we board the'Spirit of Adventure' or 'Searcher',American registered vessels thatcomfortably accommodate 25/26passengers. We cruise south from SanDiego, stopping en route to explore themany seabird colonies and Elephant Sealrookeries, and some of the isolatedislands such as Todos Santos and SanBenitos. On our third day we will arrive atthe world famous San Ignacio Lagoon,home to Baja's 'friendly' Grey Whales. Every year between 17,000 and 24,000Pacific Grey Whales make the 8,000-kilometre journey south from the cold,invertebrate-rich waters of the Bering andChukchi Seas to the lagoons and baysalong Baja's Pacific coastline. Here, in thewarm sheltered waters, they assemble tomate and give birth. Grey Whales arenaturally inquisitive creatures, especiallythe mothers and small calves, but at SanIgnacio they seem to genuinely revel inhuman contact; there is no need to lookfor the whales here, they will quickly findyou! There can be few more memorablewildlife experiences than being able tolook one of these gentle creatures straightin the eye as it raises its head out of thewater next to the boat; a truly movingmoment in a highlight-packed tour! Leaving San Ignacio behind, we continueour journey south. Off the coastline ofMagdalena Bay we hope to find suchcetaceans as Bryde's, Humpback and FinWhales, together with huge pods ofCommon Dolphins. The birdlife is equallydiverse, with Brown and Blue-footedBoobies, Black-vented Shearwaters, RoyalTerns and Pomarine Skuas feeding overthe sea, whilst areas of coastal mangroveshold Reddish Egrets, Tri-coloured Herons,White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbills and Long-billed Curlews. Rounding Baja's southern cape we enterthe deep blue waters of the Sea of Cortez,home to one of the world's greatestconcentrations of cetaceans. Here a mazeof submarine canyons and sea mountsdeflect nutrient-rich water to the surface tofeed blooms of plankton and other seacreatures. It is this rich food supply that attracts the cetaceans and we will spend the remainder of our holidayexploring this narrow sea in search ofwhales and other marine-life. In particular we will be on the look-out for the huge, 12-metre tall 'blow' of watervapour that marks the surfacing of themagnificent Blue Whale, an animal thatcan grow to over 27 metres (90 feet) inlength! A wide variety of other whalespecies share the Blue Whale's domainand, during our five days here, we willsearch for Humpback, Fin, Minke, Spermand Bryde's Whales, plus more elusivespecies such as Orca, Dwarf Sperm Whaleand Pygmy Killer Whale. Once againBottlenose and Common Dolphins aboundin these waters, pods of the lattersometimes numbering in the thousands!In addition to the whale-watching, therewill be daily excursions onto remoteislands and into coastal habitats in searchof Guadalupe Fur Seals and birds such asGila Woodpecker, Black-throated Sparrow,Crested Caracara, the endemic Xantu'sHummingbird and perhaps even the rareand exquisitely beautiful Red-billedTropicbird. There will also be plenty ofopportunities for snorkelling in search of turtles, rays and some of the other 650 species of fish that inhabit the Sea of Cortez. At the end of our journey we must sadlydisembark at Cabo San Lucas, Baja'ssouthernmost community and, withmemories of whales and other wildlife thatwill last a lifetime, we begin our longjourney home. Baja California & Sea of CortezA 14-day whale-watching and wildlife holiday, including an 11-night cruise down the western coast of Mexico's Baja Peninsula and round into the Sea of Cortez. Thursday 21st February - Wednesday 6th March (Searcher) Cost: £3,895Saturday 23rd February - Friday 8th March (Spirit of Adventure) Cost: £3,695Saturday 23rd March - Friday 5th April (Searcher) Cost: £3,995Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationCALIFORNIAARIZONAUNITED STATESMEXICOBAJA CALIFORNIAGULF OF CALIFORNIASEA OF CORTEZPACIFICOCEANPACIFICOCEANSAN DIEGOTODOS SANTOSISLANDSAN MARTINISLANDSAN BENITOSISLANDSAN IGNACIOLAGOONMAGDALENABAYTODOSSANTOSLOS FRAILESCABO SAN LUCASLA PAZSANFELIPECOLORADO RIVEROutline itineraryDay 1Fly San Diego. Day 2Board 'Searcher'/'Spirit ofAdventure'.Day 3Todos Santos Island.Day 4San Benitos Island. Day 5/6San Ignacio Lagoon.Day 7Magdalena Bay.Day 8/12Sea of Cortez.Day 13Depart Baja California. Day 14Arrive London.AccommodationFor these voyages we have charteredthe 'Searcher' and 'Spirit of Adventure' (see page 278for additionalinformation). In San Diego we use acomfortable tourist motel.FoodAll included in the price, except forlunches and dinners in San Diego.GradingA. Optional, and generally easy, day walks. FocusWhales, dolphins, other mammals andmarine-life, plus birds.LeaderTim Melling or Lee Morgan, plus localguide.Single room supplementNot available.Web quick search: MEX01273EXCLUSIVENATURETREK CHARTERGrey Whale Humpback-watchingBlue Whale

The island of Spitsbergen is adramatic land of huge glaciers, snow-covered mountains and steep-sidedfjords, separated from the North Pole by amere 965 kilometres of frozen ocean. Thisis the true 'High Arctic', an extreme landgripped by ice for over eight months of theyear and by darkness for over four. Winterbegins to loosen its grasp in May,however, and during the brief Arcticsummer Spitsbergen is transformed into aland of perpetual daylight, covered by aflower-filled tundra grazed by herds ofReindeer. Towering sea-cliffs crowded withmillions of seabirds guard the land, whileoffshore lies a crazy paving of pack-iceupon which Polar Bears hunt and Walruses laze.For our 2013 Spitsbergen voyageNaturetrek has exclusively chartered the106-berth MV Ortelius to operate adedicated wildlife cruise. Free from theshackles of having to visit non-wildlifesites, our cruise will only include the verybest of Svalbard's wildlife and scenery.Our holiday is timed for July when the sunnever sets and the pack-ice has usuallymelted sufficiently to allow our ship toexplore the fjords, towering cliffs andtundra of Spitsbergen and Nordaustlandet.We begin, however, with a spectacularflight over the ice-dotted Arctic Ocean toLongyearbyen, the capital of Svalbard.Here we will board our vessel and beginthe 9-night voyage through an icywilderness almost entirely devoid ofhuman life. Birdlife on the other hand isabundant, and even in Longyearbyen itselfSnow Buntings fly around the rooftops andPurple Sandpipers pick for insects alongthe meltwater streams. Blue phaseFulmars wheel around our anchoredvessel together with Glaucous Gulls andArctic Terns, the latter fresh from their'other summer' in the Antarctic. LeavingLongyearbyen we will head north, pastgroups of Little Auks, Black Guillemots,Puffins and Brünnich's Guillemots, skitteraway across the water's surface as westeam past, whilst the occasional Bearded or Ringed Seal may pop a head out of the water to watch us motorby; all this to a back-drop of spectacularjagged mountains.Our voyage will take us into glass-likefjords backed by huge glaciers, such asthe Monaco and Hamilton Glacier, and onto polar deserts where only a few lichensand other low-lying plants eke out anexistence in the almost waterlessenvironment. One advantage of travellingaboard an ice-strengthened vessel is thatwe can make our way deep into the pack-ice, the summer haunt of the true king ofthe Arctic, the magnificent Polar Bear. Ameeting with a Polar Bear is one of thoseheart-stopping experiences you neverforget, made all the better by seeing themin their own realm wandering around onthe ice floes with pack-ice stretching to thehorizon. This ice is also home to the hugeWalrus which may be seen hauled out onthe ice alongside its smaller cousins, theBearded, Ringed and Harp Seals. Here toowe will look for the ghostly white Ivory Gulland, if fortunate, maybe even a Ross's Gull as these begin to pass throughSvalbard in July. Returning to the coastline we willboard inflatable Zodiacs to viewthe towering cliff faces that arehome to thousands ofBrünnich's Guillemots. We will also visit colonies of Little Auks where thousands of these tennis ball-sized auks wheelaround the mountain-tops like mosquitoesover a pond. Always on the look-out for ameal, Arctic Foxes patrol the base of thesecolonies, whilst out on the tundra Brent,Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese all breedalongside King Eider, Grey Phalarope,Red-throated Diver, Long-tailed Duck,Purple Sandpiper, Arctic and Long-tailedSkuas and Ptarmigan. Of these breedingbirds, it is only the latter that also bravesthe harsh Arctic winter.Although primarily a wildlife voyage, wewill have opportunities to learn aboutSpitsbergen's fascinating human history,much of which is closely tied to the veryanimals and birds we have come to view.Abandoned whaling stations such as the17th century Smeerenburg (Blubber Town)stand testament to the impact of earlywhalers on the islands, whilst the remainsof the camps of early explorers such asthe Swedish balloonist André remind us ofSvalbard's appeal to past adventurers.Once back at Longyearbyen a spectacularflight over huge glaciers, braided rivervalleys and snow-capped peaks will bringus back to mainland Norway, from wherewe must continue our journey south awayfrom the roof of the world and back home.Spitsbergen - Realm of the Polar BearAn 11-day wildlife expedition to the high Arctic, including a 10-day voyage around the island of Spitsbergen in search of breeding seabirds, Polar Bears, Walrus and spectacular scenery.Sunday 7th July - Wednesday 17th July Cost: from £4,795Outline itineraryDay 1 Fly Longyearbyen/Oslo.Day 2/10Spitsbergen voyage.Day 11Fly London.AccommodationFor this voyage Naturetrek hasexclusively chartered the 106-berthMV Ortelius (see page 277).Twin/double-bedded cabins withprivate facilities are included in theabove cost of the holiday; superiorcabins and suites are available at anextra cost starting at £595 perperson. Please refer to the TripItinerary for a full price list. InLongyearbyen/Oslo we use acomfortable tourist hotel with privatefacilities.FoodAll included in the price with theexception of meals inLongyearbyen/Oslo.GradingDay walks only. Grade A. Easy andoptional.FocusBirds, mammals, flowers andSvalbard history.LeadersAs well as an expedition leader andguides, you will be accompaniedby two Naturetrek naturalists. Single room supplementTo be advised.Web quick search: NOR05274Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryVIBEBUKTABARENTSØYABELLSUNDEDGEØYAISFJORDENNORTHALESUNDMONACOGLACIERBARENTSBURGLONGYEARBYENPRINSKARLSFORELANDNORDAUSTLANDETSPITSBERGEN80° NORTHSTORFJORDEN HINLOPEN STRAIT 14th July Glacier, KrossfjordenEXCLUSIVENATURETREK CHARTERPolar BearWalruses