Getting in Ship Shape With Lindblad/National Geographic

Isla Partida, located in the Sea of Cortez, is full of marine life and ideal for water sports enthusiasts

Looking to get in ship shape? Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic debuted its new Base Camp Baja voyage in partnership with lifestyle brand Exhale this winter and we were able to experience the itinerary firsthand.

The new departures were a series of three- and four-day journeys in the Sea of Cortez, exploring Isla Espiritu Santo, Isla Partida and more. Sailings were aboard the 31-cabin National Geographic Sea Bird, and included activities such as guided hikes, snorkeling, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, beach barbecues and bonfires, photography classes — and plenty of yoga. 

Life Onboard: The approximately 60 passengers all met at Los Cabos International Airport; from there we were transported to La Paz via two coach buses. There were no children onboard, but passengers ranged from Millennials to Baby Boomers, with roughly an even mix of all generations. The trip takes a little over two hours, for which most of the travelers slept or enjoyed the views.

When we arrived at the boat, our luggage was brought to our cabins, which — being aboard an expedition ship — were rather small. The standard room setup has two beds, aligned like an L, meeting at the feet, with the bathroom’s sink and vanity located in the living space; the bathrooms themselves were just large enough to fit the essentials — a toilet and a shower. Storage in the room was more than sufficient despite the small space.

Good to know: Four of the 31 cabins — all located in the aft on the 200 Deck — can have their beds pushed together, with space for a third pull-out bed. However, with so many events planned each day, guests rarely spent more than the minimal amount of time in their cabins, so the size never proved to be a hindrance to the experience.

Bahia Bonanza, the largest beach on Isla Espiritu Santo, is a great place for hiking, kayaking, paddleboarding, and the occasional sighting of wildlife, such as mobula rays.

Rooms on the 200 and 100 level were accessed through an exterior walkway, which — although not wide enough for chairs or tables to be set up outside the room — provided the impression of having a balcony. With that said, the bow (located on the 200 level) had an observation deck with built-in benches, and the aft on the 100 level had a sun deck with plenty of chairs, loungers and tables. Both locations were the main hangout spots for guests at all hours of the day.

On the 300 level, which was entirely indoors, were several more cabins, the dining room and the lounge, where almost all guests, expedition team members and off-duty staff spent time together after dinner for drinks. The first night included a cocktail hour in the lounge, followed by a dinner in the dining room. We noted that many of the guests weren’t out too late in the lounge — perhaps due to the long day of traveling. That would change the following nights.

In some spots on the voyage, guests received cellphone service, but for those who needed Wi-Fi, two packages were available: $50 for 120 minutes and $200 for unlimited. Most guests enjoyed being “unplugged,” and only carried their phones for the camera.

Activities and Excursions: The itinerary didn’t vary too far from a typical Lindblad / National Geographic excursion. Our expedition was led by Rab Cummings, and his staff included Adrian Cerda, Linda Burback and Jeff Litton.

On the first full day (the second day onboard) of our four-day itinerary, we awoke in Ensenada Grande, a bay on Isla Partida. This bay, among several others along our voyage, was the center of the Sea of Cortez pearl fishery, which was functioning even before the Spaniards arrived in the 1500s. There were several excursions on tap for the day, but most guests were intrigued — impressively enough — with the strenuous five-mile hike to the opposite side of the island. 

Guests were warned that the hike would include climbing over boulders, which ranged in size from microwaves to refrigerators, and that if 10 people go on the hike, two or three may decide to turn back. With that said, nearly half of the boat set out on the hike. In the end, the hike didn’t prove to be too challenging for anyone (despite varying levels of fitness among the hikers), and everyone made it to the end: a 400-foot-high cliff on the eastern side of the island, looking over clear-blue waters shimmering in the sun. The only thing we loved more than the view were the several minutes the entire group took to sit in silence, reflect and enjoy the moment. The photographs we took were certainly Instagram-worthy, but the mental photos were even more precious. In total, the hike took between two and three hours.

Paddleboard yoga was a test of balance for guests, who began with lying-down stretches, and slowly worked their way to standing positions. 

After lunch onboard, the group was back out on the water for more activities; this time for snorkeling, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding or simply relaxing on the beach. Lindblad provides all snorkel gear, but several travelers who had their own, brought it. Peak season in the Sea of Cortez is January through April, and although it’s Mexico, the water was roughly 70 degrees, which is colder than you might imagine. Your go-to bathing suit may be fine for relaxing on the beach, but it may be a good idea to consider bringing a longer suit, especially if you know you get cold easily. In the water, a variety of fish, sea stars, clams, crabs and more were abundant. 

Following snorkeling, we took a shot at stand-up paddleboarding — a first for us. The good news is we didn’t fall and that we would definitely recommend / do it again. The less-good news is it’s pretty exhausting, having to focus on your balance at all times.

The third day — our second and final full day — began with a short trip from Isla Partida to Los Islotes, a group of tiny volcanic islands further north. This morning was, for most guests, the absolute best part of the trip and something every guest should sign up for. Right after breakfast, we set out in groups for snorkeling with adolescent sea lions. Dozens of California sea lions were relaxing and playing on the rocks. While the adults spend most of their time sleeping, the younger sea lions are apt to come play in the water. All you need to do is float in the water with your mask looking below you and sea lions will approach you — they’re very curious animals. Some of the smaller ones, which weigh around 80 pounds, came up to us and played with buoys we had and some even bit at the floating straps from our life vests and flippers. Others tossed rocks to each other in the water. Their disposition was very similar to a dog’s. It was an unreal experience. Several larger-than-human sea lions swam by, but they paid us no mind.

Top Tip: Bring a waterproof camera or case for your camera / phone. A photo of a large-eyed adolescent sea lion swimming below you is hard to beat.

During lunch on the ship, we traveled back south to Isla Espiritu Santo. We stopped just off of Bahia Bonanza, the largest beach on the island, where guests had the option of another five-mile hike (although much flatter and easier than the previous day’s), kayaking, paddleboarding or just enjoying the beach. This afternoon most couples or small groups went their own way and spent more time relaxing after a day and a half of pretty intense activities.

Wellness Options: Wellness activities were in partnership with Exhale Spa, “a well-being destination,” according to its website. It offers barre, cardio, yoga and HIIT classes, as well as massages, facials, acupuncture and more. Our instructor was John Nelson. He led yoga sessions every morning on the sun deck. Classes began in the dark and ended with the sun in the sky. We’re not early-risers but the ship-wide 6:15 a.m. wakeup announcement was more than enough to get us up and ready for yoga at 6:30 a.m. (If you so choose, you can turn off your speaker.) For those who haven’t tried yoga, we suggest packing anything you would normally go to the gym in. It can be cool in the morning, but the sun and stretching will start to warm you up. We loved that the sun deck was filled with travelers opting for sunrise yoga — many of whom were far from yogis, some never having even done yoga before. There were plenty of great bonding experiences during the voyage, but something about exerting yourself that early with a bunch of other people who are also a bit out of their comfort zones was one of the best.

At Ensenada Grande, the group was fascinated by the strenuous five-mile hike to the opposite side of the island.

In the afternoon on the second day, guests had the chance to do barre yoga before dinner. This was definitely more difficult than the morning as it incorporated two- to three-pound hand weights. Nonetheless, it was a great opportunity to stretch and unwind after the day’s activities before hitting the shower, and then dinner. On the third day, we had options of two different yoga sessions — beach yoga or paddleboard yoga. We, unfortunately, did not partake in the latter. There were only 12 paddleboards, and the class filled up almost instantly. To adjust to the paddleboard and the uneven surface, the group began with lying-down stretches, and slowly worked their way to standing positions. The fear of falling in the water was an exciting element, we were told, but nonetheless most of the group still took a dip — on purpose or not. Beach yoga had most of the usual suspects back at it. 

Yoga classes lasted about 45 minutes to an hour. Maybe it was just in our minds, but we could’ve sworn we got better by the end of the voyage, despite the short time onboard.

Lindblad also had two of their own wellness specialists onboard, Michelle Brugiere and Amy Sobesky. Massages, and body, facial, hand and foot treatments are all available. You can sign up for treatments once you’re on board. Additionally, available on the sun deck is a small selection of exercise equipment, including yoga mats, exercise bands, light hand weights, stationary bikes and more.

Food and Beverage: Dining options were largely the same as standard Baja voyages. The good news is the offerings already include healthy choices such as a salad bar and vegetarian options with each meal. Lindblad locally sourced as many ingredients as it could. These included local produce and sustainably caught fish. We were told by Hotel Manager Lindsey Murad that several farmers outside of Los Cabos always come to meet the Lindblad / National Geographic team with their latest harvests, and that the ship is stocked with items mostly from their farms. 

Snorkeling with sea lions was one of the highlights of the Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic voyage.

At Ensenada Grande, we were treated to a beach barbecue and bonfire. Options included salad, rice and beans, barbecue chicken, salmon and more. Mexican beer and margaritas were served with dinner. Seats were arranged in a semicircle facing the bonfire with the bay as the backdrop. Tip: On our way back to the Sea Bird from the beach, our expedition leaders would turn off the Zodiacs and all the lights, so we could experience the bioluminescent phytoplankton. With the motor turned off, they let us get on our knees, hang over the side and drag our arms through the water, as the wake created glowing waves.

The final night was the only meal that wasn’t served buffet style. Guests have to sign up during the day for the meal of their choice. Local wines were served with dinner. All of the food was great; however, our favorite was a skirt steak with chimichurri sauce we had for lunch the first day. 

Guests on our voyage were treated to an open bar but we’re told this isn’t standard. Expect this to not be offered on voyages through the 2018-19 seasons. Joe, our bartender, made fantastic drinks and set a great mood for all the guests.

What We Loved: Simply, everything. However, we especially loved the availability and the genuine enthusiasm of the expedition staff. Whatever your question was, the staff was able to answer. And on the rare occasion that they weren’t, they would check the library, located in the lounge, and take the time to look it up with you.

What to Pack: We had fantastic weather, averaging in the 80s, with almost entirely clear skies. Casual clothing such as shorts, jeans and T-shirts are great for time onboard or hiking, if you’re comfortable doing so. Walking / hiking shoes are a must for those planning to partake in the hikes; backpacks — especially those with straps across your torso — are also great for hikes to hold water bottles, sunscreen, cameras and more. A bathing suit or two is also a good idea. Hats, whether baseball caps or sun hats, are recommended, as most of the days are spent off the boat in direct sunlight. Be sure to bring sunglasses and sunscreen. Binoculars aren’t necessary as they’re supplied onboard but cameras, GoPros and waterproof cases are definitely worth bringing along. Sandals are another good footwear option for transportation on the Zodiacs, spending time on the beach and kayaking.

Snorkeling with sea lions 

Keep an eye out for additional wellness voyages in 2019. Lindblad tells us they are continually identifying opportunities to make wellness a larger part of the expedition experience. Next season, Lindblad Expeditions / National Geographic will offer five Base Camp Baja departures, all of which will be four days / five nights. However, from the sound of it, there may be a few other destinations to receive the wellness overhaul. 

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