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The Best of Baja 2020!

Whale Watching!

Up Close and Personal!

The Natural History of the Enchanted Peninsula

The Best of Baja Since 1966: Reserving Now! Expect the unexpected! 



March 21-April 1, 2020 

A New More Leisurely Itinerary Reserving Now!

Still the Great Value in  Personalized Natural History Travel

 $3395 per person, double occupancy

The Enchanted Peninsula's Central Desert is unexpected.

Your  Leisurely Natural History Adventure in Baja California

Go With Experience!


Don't Wait: Anticipate!  520-887-2340 (Tucson, Arizona) 


Small Group of 16 Guests is Now Reserving



Our guests admire a friendly 40' gray whale and her 16' calf beside our boat.

Are we sure to see whales?

We always have! 

BFT's guests look at  whales, not for whales!

This is the First Selfie with a Friendly Whale that we've seen in all our 50+ years in the Enchanted Peninsula! 

Our delightful guest, Cydney Gus, joined us with her equally delightful parents, Tom and Susan, in 2018. Cydney perfectly captured her own delighted smile and the enthusiastic blow from the very happy baby gray whale who had come to visit our guests with its Mom.

No PhotoShop here, we assure you. The friendly whales are up close and personal; if you're as quick and sure and level-headed as Cydney, your horizons will be on the level, too!

A few photos from 2018 in Baja 

Don't wait: Anticipate...We're signing up for 2020 now! Space is limited to the first 16 Guests.

Getting there along the Pacific Coast and through Baja's unique Sonoran Desert is great fun! During our journey south to meet the whales, Mary acquaints our guests with the peninsula's often unique desert botany. 

Photo opportunities abound!

During delightful desert picnics you will learn that these are not the saguaro cacti you may know from Arizona, but the far more massive Cardon found in Baja's desert forests. Can one Cardon balance the scales with a gray whale? Absolutely! 


The California Gray Whales migrate south from the Bering Sea each year to mate and return to bear their calves the next season. Most of the thousands of gray whales simply go about their natural business undisturbed by the half-dozen little boats permitted in Scammon's Lagoon during whale season. The Mexican Federal Government has carefully regulated activity on these waters during whale season since 1974. Beginning in 1977, slowly increasing numbers of gray whales have continued to exhibit what we call friendly behavior during their time in the Baja lagoons. They express themselves by people watching, by coming over to our boats and often reaching out to touch!

A common sight is a mother and baby (the smaller blow) swimming by, in this case they are exercising by swimming against the incoming tide near the lagoon's mouth. The baby whale, born in the quiet backwaters of vast Scammon's Lagoon, will begin its journey all the way up to the Bering Sea with its Mom soon. She brings her young 16' baby whale out for exercise!

Friendly whales live in a three-dimensional world of water, and that makes their choice to come over to people watch most obvious indeed! However, they generally do this gently - one might say respectfully. And they stay for minutes. Sometimes many minutes! Above left, 2 of our guests pet the whale who has chosen to visit. Above right, 3 guests share touches as the whale rises and lingers. 


The whales are expressive, though some guests are occasionally even more delighted than the whales appear!

On the left above, you see the very tip of the whale's rostrum, its very front end. There's about 40' of gray whale beneath the water as it rises carefully by our boat to exchange this gentle touch with our guest. Speaking of whale watching, the unusual image to the right above is a close photo of a whale actually watching me. Yes, that is the whale's eye and my shadow as I take the photo. We are looking right at each other!  Below, is a larger image from the same series of pictures.

Seeing Flipper on television is far more common than in Scammon's Lagoon! Occasional quick sightings do happen, yet this year we were played with and followed about the lagoon at first by 3, then by five more who joined in the fun. Some fun!


Jeff and Ann joined us in 2007 (you may find them elsewhere on this page) and delighted in the desert, whales and birds (not to mention the excellent hotels and totally memorable dining). This year, they have returned to share their adventure with their two kids, and of course with us, as we all enjoyed everyone's delight in new discoveries. 

Mary lugs our spotting scope as Jeff raises his camera for yet another great shot at a sea bird sanctuary.




Experience Baja California, Mexico's Personalized Natural History in Spring 2019, our 53rd Anniversary Season.

Including Boating with Scammon's Lagoon's Very Friendly Gray Whales.

Since 1966: Our Magnificent Natural History Learning Adventure!

The 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 tours SOLD OUT, thank you!

New features for your comfort & convenience!

Don't Wait, Anticipate!

Natural History & Friendly Whale Watching in the Enchanted Peninsula: 

Call/email for our Baja Brochure

Please scroll down for reservation information, and enjoy some photos along the way...

Space is Limited on our small group

Call Piet & Mary for The Baja Brochure & conversation...(520) 887-2340

Your detailed itinerary is in our Baja Brochure.

Good News for our Baja California guests!

Again for 2020, for your savings (often very substantial savings, depending on your age) and convenience we'll purchase The Group Protection Plan from Travel Insured International on behalf of each of our guests; this includes travel and trip cancellation insurance. Further, our friendly group is limited to the first 16 guests; enjoy our spacious seating comfort of only two people per wide three-person seat in the comfortable passenger vehicles. Everyone has their own window seat with a view! 
Did you know that Mary & Piet personally produce and operate each one of their learning vacations? And that they are your hosts and guides in Baja California? Piet first ventured into the Baja peninsula in the summer of 1962 and began BFT in Tucson four years later. You're invited to come along on BFT's next adventure and make Piet & Mary's long experience your own personal memory. Please call and discuss your interests with them at 520-887-2340.


We're not looking for whales, we're looking at whales! Scammon's Lagoon, located on the Pacific Coast of Baja California, Mexico, roughly 400 miles south of San Diego, California, is the largest and absolutely the best-protected and regulated of the California Gray Whales' calving and mating grounds.

These leviathans have traveled 3,000 miles from the Bering Sea to mate and to bear their young in the safety of these protected waters. They are at peace here. It is truly amazing to share their waters as they go about their natural business of life totally undisturbed. The fact that more whales and their calves come over to our boats to meet our guests every year is clear evidence that they are, indeed, undisturbed. Visiting us has become part of their natural, and obviously curious, behavior!

Our Best of Baja tour is easy-going, informal and especially created for natural history-oriented guests seeking a learning vacation. Informal natural and cultural history interpretation abounds, and is rooted in Piet's 58 years in Baja California (54 years since founding BFT) combined with Mary's decades of Sonoran Desert botanical and educational/interpretive experience. This unique learning vacation is personally operated by Piet & Mary Van de Mark with enough comfortable passenger vehicles to allow just two guests in each wide seat; everyone enjoys their own window seat! Guests find time off the beaten track to stop and smell (and photograph) the spring flowers and meander some of their favorite special spots in Baja's deserts and sea coast.

Very comfortable hotel accommodations are included throughout. Very fresh seafood, plus Mexican and American specialties are always available from very familiar restaurants we and our guests have enjoyed since most of them first opened decades ago.


Below you see a few photos of our very friendly whales enjoying the company of our equally delightful guests during our 2016 Learning Vacation Adventures!















Believe it or not, these friendly whales are looking at people, too! In the center of the photo (below) you'll see the eye of a 40' adult California gray whale looking looking right at the guest to my left! You know when they're looking at you!

This image was shot from our boat, looking through the water with a polarizing filter to cut the glare. Running at an angle beneath the large eye, the line of the whale's mouth is visible through the distortion caused by the water. Other distortions result from small ripples on the water's surface. White blotches are barnacles, which blend to result in the typical gray appearance of these whales.

These friendly whales are resting on their sides just beneath the water's surface and right by our boat. The images were shot looking almost straight down and very close to the boat. 

The smaller photo (above) shows the eye a young whale, this time looking right into the camera ! This is the eye of the small (16') whale (below) photographed 28 seconds earlier (by camera data) as it approached the boat; its head, but not its eye, is above the surface.

Both images have been sharpened and brightened with PhotoShop; because whales typically open their eyes to people-watch in the shade created by side of the boat; one might conclude that they find bright sun unpleasant, as they don't often expose their eyes to it for more than a few seconds. The eye is recessed into the side of the head, and has eyelids, eyeball and pupil like many other animals.


These 9 photos are taken with a motor driven camera over a period of two seconds, as an adult California gray whale comes to the surface while passing close by our boat and rises just far enough above the surface to begin its blow through one blowhole...

The first three little images illustrate the exhalation; water vapor condensing is blown out with great force in well under one second, as the droplets are frozen by the shutter speed of 1/1000 sec....

The next three little photos show the twin blowholes open wide as the whale inhales, again in less than one additional second...

Finally, the blowholes close independently and very quickly as the animal slips with hardly a ripple beneath the surface.

You'll remember the impressive sound forever!

The Best of Baja!

Whale Watching & Natural History  

Reserving Now!

Still just $3395 per person, double occupancy. 

Private rooms are available at $400 additional.

Join us for this leisurely-paced, comprehensive and diverse Natural History learning vacation. Experience those friendly California Gray Whales in one of the most storied places on earth!

Additionally, desert delights abound during the scenic journey between San Diego and fabled Scammon's Lagoon: breathtaking forests of Boojum and immense cardon cacti, graceful elephant trees, and, hopefully, brilliant spring flowers.

Enjoy two days boating on Scammon’s Lagoon, sharing the gray whales' largest and best-protected migratory mating and calving destination. In 2012, for example, biologists counted a new record number of 1198 newborn calves during our visit. In a rcent year over 900 calves were born in Scammon's Lagoon!

For many years, most of our guests have pet the friendly whales, yet now, as more and more whales enjoy people watching, everyone is touched by a whale!

Baja's Frontier Tours has offered our guests that up-close and personal Friendly Whale experience you've heard so much about ever since the first friendly whale approached our Zodiac way back in 1977. 

Piet & Mary Van de Mark, with their decades of Baja experience, will provide you with the optimum natural and cultural history learning vacation experience.

Baja's classic wilderness includes pretty places by the sea and great Sonoran Desert forests of often unique, bizarre and wondrous plants, offering ideal opportunities for leisurely exploring, learning, and photography. 

Birding in a nearby salt marsh and lagoon sanctuary provides rare and delightful views of North American herons and egrets, and many other residents and visitors to this area. 

Truly fresh seafood and very comfortable accommodations complete your learning vacation. Mexico's finest wines are created for you in Baja California Norte!

Your comfort is important to us! Our driving pace for 2020 is leisurely, generally on the road not more than half the day. During your scenic journey, you'll appreciate spacious and comfortable travel with each guest enjoying their own window seat, very pleasant hotels, and delightful restaurants featuring fresh seafood and lots more!

We've purchased deluxe group trip cancellation and travel protection for you. It comes with the trip! 

Enjoy delightful nightly hotels, four picnic lunches and knowledgeable nature interpretation throughout. 

The limited number of spaces available can sell out early. Please plan ahead and make your reservations now, so you'll be among the decisive people to anticipate and share this unique trip. 

Call Piet & Mary Van de Mark at Baja’s Frontier Tours in Tucson, (520) 887-2340 for detailed brochure, information and registration now. You may email: 

Please scroll on, we've prepared lots more photos and information for you.....

The Journey is the Destination!


When the rains come, you'll experience impressive spring flowers in Baja!  

The tiny white flowers of this rather ordinary-looking shrub (photo at the left) (euphorbia xantii) become a delight for the eye when its tiny flowers are viewed through a hand lens.

2007 Guests gather beneath one cardon cactus. 


hole in the rock

Savor the freshest seafood!

 Old friends in Guerrero!

Memories and music...


Many of us are touched by whales!

    A whale of a holiday card! Photo by BFT guests Stan & Mary Lou Holmes   

BFT's guests don't look for whales...

They look at whales!

This photo was taken in 1998; as the years go by, the whales are obviously enjoying people watching and are now friendlier than ever.

Generally all of our guests are touched by the friendly gray whales!

When a friendly California gray whale comes over to your boat to visit - even to hang out for a few minutes - you can actually watch (and hear!) her breath. Baleen whales have two independent blowholes at the top of their head. 


Here is a close look down at a gray whale's blowholes, open wide to draw in air. The other objects on the whale's skin are barnacles and large whale lice that blend together to give the animal a gray appearance at distance.


Simply The Best of Baja Whale  Watching and 

Sonoran Desert Natural History

This very friendly and curious little California gray whale was born in Scammon's Lagoon in 2009, just a month or two before this picture was taken.

It's Mom has brought it over to our boats and given her OK to come close, perhaps to share her curiosity about the people in the boats who have shown themselves to be friendly. 

Friendly whales sometimes interact with boats in a manner comparable to...

...interaction frequently observed with their own species when they seem to be at play. 

The baby's youth - just a couple of months - is distinguished by the pickle-like dimples on its rostrum, the front of its stubby head.

The eye is visible just to the left of the point where the line of the whale's mouth enters the water; the eye is partially open and just above the waterline after taking a quick glimpse of us in the boat.

Our specialty Since 1966


The Birds of Baja!

Ellen, our guest from Tucson, writing about Pacific Coastal Birding on her 2005 trip with us -

It was marvelous - and if you got tired of watching the whales, you could watch the seabirds: a Caspian tern, more gulls and pelicans and cormorants, eared grebes, snowy and great egrets. After several hours when our boatman headed us back to the launching dock, we passed by bobbing channel markers and huge metal mooring buoys used by salt barges, covered with lounging sea lions or pelicans, and sometimes both. Several early evenings we went bird-watching along the shore and tidal inlets. Here’s where my bird list took a great leap. There was a lot of marshy grass and little islands with great numbers of birds feeding. 

We saw willits, godwits, and whimbrills with their curiously long beaks, a blue-footed booby, reddish egrets, long-billed curlews, cormorants with their wings spread to dry, pintail ducks, greater and lesser yellowlegs, red-breasted mergansers, semi-palmated and Western and least sandpipers, common goldeneye, brants, lesser scaups and American widgeons. In the long grasses, we saw tricolor herons, yellow-crowned and black-crowned night herons, little blue and great blue herons, each spaced equally apart for nesting. At the lighthouse point closer to the sea, we saw black-bellied plovers, oyster catchers and Western gulls.


We were struck by the number of ospreys on nesting platforms built all around town, including two within view of our motel. Since it was spring, some chicks were ready to fledge but were still being fed by their parents. It became a daily ritual to check on the two nearby nests. There was great excitement when one of the youngsters finally flew, a sense of shared accomplishment among us, even to delaying our departure one morning. The great shaggy chick looked like an improbable flyer, but fly he did from nest to telephone pole while we stood and applauded. There was another osprey platform near the bakery we frequented and there was as much interest in that nest as in the contents of the bakery.

We have purchased the Group Protection Plan on behalf of all travelers.



520-887-2340 (Tucson, Arizona)

The Best of Baja 2020

Experience the Natural History of the Peninsula's Unique Central Desert and Pacific Coast, plus the Gray Whales on the very protected waters of Scammon's Lagoon!

 Exciting Daily Discoveries and Very Comfortable Nightly Hotel Accommodations. Plus the freshest seafood you've enjoyed in a very long time! 

For your savings and convenience, we have purchased Travel Insured International's Group Protection Plan on behalf of each of our guests. This includes travel and trip cancellation insurance and more. 

Further, our personalized group is limited to just 16 guests, and seating is only two people per three-person seat. Now everyone has a window seat!  You're invited to join us! Please call Mary and Piet to discuss your interests and determine if this program is just right for you?

Personally produced, operated and hosted by

Piet & Mary Van de Mark.

Reserving Now:

$3395 per person, double occupancy. 

Please call/email.

Private rooms are available at $400


Your $300 deposit assures your reservation now!


The Baja Brochure is your for the asking!

Call us at 520-887-2340 (in Tucson, Arizona)


Please call us with your questions and let's talk about the details of our learning vacation.


Travel with Confidence

and Save Money.

We have purchased Comprehensive Travel & Trip Cancellation Group Protection Plan from Travel Insured International on behalf of each of our guests!

Comfortable travel roundtrip from  San Diego, California; two guests per spacious three-person seat; 16 guests; everyone enjoys a window seat!

Space is limited to the 1st 16 decisive guests.

Please reserve early and savor the anticipation!












The Best of Baja is a comprehensive and diverse natural history vacation created for guests with a wide range of ages and interests. Desert delights—Boojum forests, immense cardon cacti, brilliant spring flowers, plus the lovely Pacific seashore alive with marine and bird life—are but a part of the fascination you’ll experience on this leisurely learning vacation. 

Piet (who pioneered Baja eco-tours in the 1960’s) and Mary Van de Mark (with 20 years at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum's Education Department and Tucson Botanical Gardens) will personally share their passion for Baja’s natural history with you throughout this comfortably paced vacation. You'll also enjoy two days with boating on Scammon’s Lagoon, always with many hundreds of California gray whales; and this has been the case for a very long time! For example, during our visits in 2004, biologists counted over 2,000 gray whales in Scammon's Lagoon! Such numbers are common now and were back in the 1960's when BFT first began. In recent years, most or all of BFT's guests actually exchange touches with one (often many more!) of these magnificent mammals. 

This is the gray whales' migratory destination; we're not looking for whales, we're looking at them! They have always been there for our guests in great numbers since Piet began whale watching tours a half-century ago. You'll have time for leisurely exploring, photography and always-optional walks about Baja's springtime desert and shore. Picture pristine places by the sea and great desert forests of the peninsula’s wondrous plants!

This very personally hosted learning vacation features comfortable travel with your own window seat in brand new air-conditioned passenger vehicles (just 3 to 7 guests in each spacious crewcab, van or SUV) round-trip from San Diego, nightly hotels, several picnics, knowledgeable nature interpretation and the most outdoor enjoyment and learning you'll find anywhere! The rear seats are generally removed from our vans for comfort and luggage, and radios connect each vehicle for sharing information en route. This program is limited to the first 16 congenial guests. Reserve now. Call or e-mail Piet & Mary in Tucson at (520) 887-2340. You may also email us at

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Dennis Winsten photo

Mary Van de Mark's more than three decades of Southwestern natural history education experience include her fourteen years at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum's Education Department plus six years with the Tucson Botanical Gardens. BFT's guests are always assured of both an enjoyable comfortably paced itinerary and a professional interpretive focus by the Van de Marks, and outside of Baja by a selection of the very best guest interpreter/scholars. Mary's informative nature interpretations continue to be enjoyed by everyone. Piet Van de Mark’s passion for Baja California, Mexico's natural beauty bloomed on a personal odyssey in the summer of 1962. Baja's Frontier Tours began as memorable and adventurous four-wheel-drive camping expeditions in Baja's dirt road days of 1966. Over the years, paved roads and hotels slowly came to Baja California, and BFT gradually evolved into the hotel-based Personalized Natural & Cultural History Learning Vacations that Mary & Piet share today in the Baja peninsula and other selected locations in the American Southwest. 
  From our guests about The Best of Baja
"I just want to say what a really wonderful trip it was.  You made the trip so personal.  It was like going with a group of old friends.  Seeing the whales was an amazing, unforgettable experience, but also so enjoyable were the walks in the desert and on the beaches, the picnics, and driving to and from.  I loved it all.  Just got my pictures back, so I enjoyed it all over again!  You guys know how to do it!  Thanks for sharing your  love and knowledge of Baja so generously." Best regards, Gail, San Francisco.
"I know we told you how much we enjoyed our time with you but thank you again for beautiful memories.  We want you to know that if you ever write a book, we will be one of the first to buy it.  Bob and I place this tour at the top of our list as being the very best."  Thanks again. Nancy & Bob, Indiana.
"The arrangements were great—fun hotels and wonderful food! We were amazed at the lushness and beauty of that part of Baja, and the wild flowers were incredible!! And the whales—We were so lucky to encounter two friendlies right off the bat! We just couldn’t imagine seeing so many whales, and so close. It was fantastic!" Bobbie & John, Arizona.   
"The Baja trip was by far one of my best! Great folks interested in science! I have a new puppy…her name is BOOJUM! Never stop exploring!" Kathy, Wyoming  
"We want to thank you for a marvelous Best of Baja trip. We enjoyed it immensely and were especially appreciative of your efforts to acquaint us with Baja—from its people and history to its plants and whales. You gave us wonderful memories of delicious picnics, beautiful canyons and beaches, and good fellowship." Ivan and Venice, Arizona
"I have relived my whale-petting event many times--each time I tell it. Thanks for the wonderful adventure." Carol, Colorado  

Who’s Watching Whom?

Watching the California gray whales in Baja was first widely reported to the outside world by that prolific writer of mysteries and passionate Baja aficionado, Erle Stanley Gardner, in his 1960 book Hunting The Desert Whale, an account of his early adventures at Scammon's Lagoon. Named after a 19th-Century American whaler, Scammon's remains  the largest and best protected destination for the gray whales' awesome 6,000-mile migration from the Bering Sea. This spectacle was witnessed by very few until 1967, when Baja's Frontier Tours began land-based tours to Scammon's Lagoon.  Another turning point in BFT whale history came a decade later with a simple act of trust by one curious whale: she swam over to Piet's Zodiac filled with people and watched — and she touched our outstretched hands! Other whales must have been watching her, for each succeeding year has blossomed with more friendly whale encounters. The story of Baja's Frontier Tours' early encounters with Grace, the friendly whale appeared in National Geographic World in 1978 and in Newsweek in 1979, and resulted in BFT's memorable participation in the production of PBS's TV special The Great Whales.  While we cannot assure that a touching encounter with a friendly whale will be yours—acts of nature are not guaranteed, are they?—now, virtually all of our guests do share this most memorable experience. And the whales have always been there when we are! On our tours, two boating journeys are planned on the waters of Scammon's Lagoon with lots of gray whales — often over 2000 animals! They can be seen relaxing, playing, mating and caring for their young. Photography can be breathtaking! Our guests find many memorable experiences with us in Baja both on and off Scammon's Lagoon!  For most of our guests, while their expectation is that whale watching may be the journey's high point, they do find that getting there with Mary & Piet on The Best of Baja is even more than half the fun! For many, the journey is the destination! Comfortable accommodations, the freshest seafood you can imagine, and traveling companions who truly get along  and make fast friends, characterize the BFT experience. We hope you'll join the fun and learning on our next adventure during the heart of the whale season. Please feel free to call  to chat with Piet and Mary about your questions and your interests.

Custom Whale Watching for your group?

Whale Watching can be a wonderful custom program for your club, group, institution or your extended family and friends. Please plan as far in advance as possible. Call, write or email us to discuss options.

Boating Excursions with Baja's California Gray Whales on Scammon's Lagoon!  

SUV and van travel is available for both small and large groups.

Contact us for details for your group

Custom Whale Watching Trips feature the magnificent California gray whales including two or more days that feature up-close observation outings by boat on famous Scammon’s Lagoon. Experience the whales’ largest and best-protected migratory destination lagoon, where adults often number two-thousand or more and many hundreds of calves are born each season! Most of our delighted guests actually share a touch with a friendly whale and often their baby—truly one of life’s most memorable experiences! 

This is a fully escorted learning vacation and it can represent a terrific travel value in education, comfort & fun! This all depends on the details you choose. Comfortable hotels and wonderful food are enjoyed by all. This can be quicker  and simpler than our leisurely Best of Baja, yet an easy-going educational program. Just relax and enjoy the unique beauty of Northern and Central Baja’s Pacific seacoast, deserts and villages passing by outside your window. 

Your custom trip can be simple or complex, and may begin with your hotel on the evening of the first day in San Diego (or your chosen location), and normally ends there on the last day. This escorted eco-tour includes nightly hotels, two (or more) whale-watching boating adventures on Scammon’s Lagoon and your choice of meal plans.  Please make your plan and reservations well in advance. Call or e-mail for more information. We're here to help you.


 Contact Piet & Mary Van de Mark by phone:

520-887-2340 (Tucson, Arizona)

©Baja's Frontier Tours LLC Tucson, Arizona 2005 & 2009 & 2014 & 2019

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