Blue heaven: Kayaking off Isla Espíritu Santo in the Sea of Cortés

That Floating Feeling

Pristine nature and a dose of fitness buoy a cruise in Baja California Sur.

Virtuoso Life, September/October 2018.

IT’S 6 AM SOMEWHERE ALONG THE COAST OF MEXICO’S ISLA SANTO IN THE SEA OF CORTES, AND I’M PULLING ON YOGA TIGHTS AND A T-SHIRT. In the early-morning dark. I can barely make out my flip-flops when I step out on deck. I help myself to coffee in the lounge and carry it up to the aft bridge, expecting to find the usual handful of early risers — three or four of us, tops, for dawn yoga. Instead, I spy a grid of purple yoga mats — 30 of them! — and hear whispered preparations, like, “I bet we can squeeze in another one here."

It's the first morning of my preview of Base Camp Baja, a new five-day wellness cruise launching in December aboard Lindblad's 100-passenger National Geographic Venture, the latest addition to its fleet. Equipped with dozens of kayaks and paddleboards, as well as Zodiacs, the ship is geared toward getting travelers out into the wild — and get out into the wild they do. My fellow expedition cruisers are enthusiastic, fit, and game. I find a spot just in time and stretch into a series of downward dogs and warrior twos as our instructor calls out cues and the sun rises over Ensenada Grande, where we’re anchored in a beautiful cove.

"Baja is a magical place and has really good energy. Enjoy it! Breathe it in through your skin!” says Michelle, one of our trip's four wellness specialists, a licensed massage therapist who also leads qigong and meditation, as we zip ashore in Zodiacs after breakfast. The water is wind rippled, and I watch a frigate bird soar past on the breeze. It's a sparkling day to be exploring a UNESCO-protected biosphere reserve, and when 95 percent of the group charges off for a five-mile round-trip trek to the far side of Isla Partida, I opt to hang back for the smaller-group nature walk instead.

Maybe I do feel some of that good energy: There’s power in the striking contrast of wind-sculpted cliffs against turquoise-blue water, brown pelicans diving, canyon wrens singing, and, as we make our way up the arroyo, a surprising array of Sonoran Desert plants thriving in this arid landscape. We spy vivid-green mangroves, towering cardon cacti — even agave plants in flower. With the shimmering Sea of Cortes in the background, Michelle leads us in a few minutes of silent meditation.

"'We wanted to combine short wellness trips with the rugged beauty of Baja’s most beautiful island, Espiritu Santo,” says Lindblad CEO Sven-Olof Lindblad of his company’s new Base Camp Baja sailings. Twenty-two of Venture's 50 cabins have step-out balconies, and the dining room has floor-to-ceiling windows, so you won’t ever miss a whale sighting. Passengers can sign up for SUP yoga, yoga on deck, serious hikes, kayaking, snorkeling, and core-fusion boot camp — all while exploring a pristine shore that Jacques Cousteau once famously described as “the world's aquarium.”

Wellness travel, once limited to destination spas, is a growing cruise-industry trend — especially aboard smaller expedition ships — and it's fascinating to witness these first forays afloat. Lindblad is experimenting with trips that amp up the activity level, but always with a focus on the natural world.

When I wake early the next day, I skip dawn yoga and go for coffee on deck instead. A handful of passengers are sitting hushed on the bow and, inspired by Michelle’s prompt, I join them in an attempt to be more mindful. We’re motoring past Los Islotes, a group of sheer volcanic islands at the northernmost point of Isla Partida, with outcrops frosted in white guano. The rocks are noisy with barking sea lions — arf, arf, arf! — and as the sun rises, mobula rays start leaping out of the water like popcorn. It's hard to imagine many planned activities that could compete with this scene. But maybe that’s the point of combining wellness and nature.

Coincidentally, the day’s morning activity does exactly that: We'll be snorkeling with sea lion pups. As I pull on my wet suit after breakfast and dash out to the Zodiac, I can think of few other ways I’d rather get my wellness. The water looks cold and choppy, but this is our chance to dive deeper into Baja, so I strap on my mask and tumble into the sea.

The Sea of Cortes contains more than 900 species of fish, and I’m thrilled to discover how many of them are here. Bur the sea lions steal the show. It's impossible to resist a sea lion pup. Especially when he swims up to you with his big brown eyes, then darts away. My heart jumps at the encounter. As I float nose to nose with another pup who circles back for grins, I shiver in my wet suit, but can't help smiling. Wide-eyed wonder, I realize, is a sure path to wellness.

By Kim Brown Seely.  All rights reserved.