“Best day ever” is a descriptor thrown around haphazardly sometimes—yet there are few assemblages of three words that could more adequately capture the magic of our first day aboard National Geographic Venture as we set sail into the mythic Gulf of California from Loreto.

We woke up to a classically stunning Baja California sunrise, the La Giganta mountain range bathed in fiery light as we took our first sips of coffee. It wasn’t long before we saw our first great whale—a gray whale in fact, more typically observed along the Pacific side of the peninsula this time of year. We quickly turned our gaze to the East of Isla del Carmen, nestled within Bahia de Loreto National Marine Park. There we spent several hours watching the largest animal the planet has ever hosted, the blue whale Baleanoptera musculus. Five such whales in fact, drawn to plentiful krill and other planktonic foods produced this time of year by wind-driven upwelling in these deep waters.

We took our leave of the living leviathans shortly after breakfast and witnessed several pods of long-beaked common dolphins Delphinus capensis—hundreds of them! They seemed to be chasing baitfish over shoaling pinnacles, and we watched them as they bow-rode and wake-rode along our flanks while we gathered our snorkel gear for the afternoon’s “ad-Ventures.”

The dive team ducked out for a dive during lunch and greeted us again as we snorkeled along the bountiful reefs beneath the billowing and beautiful petrified sand dunes of Puerto Los Gatos—named for the whiskers found on once-abundant nurse sharks found in the shallow bay. Panamic sergeant majors Abudefduf troschelii, porcupine puffers Diodon holocanthus and king angelfish Holacanthus passer were among the “pi-scene,” but a few Panamic sunflower stars Heliaster kubiniji were a highlight. These once-ubiquitous creatures were nearly wiped out by a seastar plague in the last decade—quite the exciting moment to see a few still alive and well!

After snorkeling, we took off on kayaks, went on hikes into the Baja California desert, and enjoyed a delicious sunset with a side of beach BBQ and homemade margaritas, before heading back into the desert in search of blacklight-fluorescent scorpions. As we set sail for Los Islotes and La Paz, our memories banks couldn’t be fuller from our Baja adventure already—one could say that we blue (whale) our minds today!