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Learn How to Sail on Vacation in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez

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Want to learn how to sail on vacation? Let me help! I recently spent one week on a liveaboard with Nautilus Sailing, learning to sail while exploring Mexico’s stunning Sea of Cortez.

Have you ever thought about learning to sail but didn’t know where to start? Or maybe you’ve daydreamed about a life on the water but felt overwhelmed by the how-to’s? 

The idea of sailing is romantic, but the reality of starting can be daunting. Where do you begin to learn the skills?

Enter Nautilus Sailing, which offers liveaboard courses that give you the skills and certifications to be a captain in just one week.

Their comprehensive course not only equips you with essential sailing skills but also instills deep confidence in navigating both calm and challenging waters. All while exploring some of the most beautiful places in the world.

To all the adventurers and life-long learners out there, this one’s for you. Whether you’re a complete newbie to sailing or just looking for a push to get started, joining a Nautilus liveaboard course is one of the best ways to learn how to sail on vacation.

What is Nautilus Sailing?

A group of sailboats in the ocean near a mountain.
My trip was kindly sponsored by Nautilus Sailing. As always, all opinions are my own.

Based in stunning locations worldwide like Baja California, Nautilus Sailing offers liveaboard sailing courses that give you the skills to sail and connect you with a fantastic community of sailing friends.

And you’re not just gaining experience; you’re earning internationally recognized certifications from the American Sailing Association (ASA). During the week, you’ll gain your ASA 101, 103, 104, and 114 certifications.

These aren’t just pieces of paper; they’re your passport to sailing opportunities worldwide, whether you’re chartering a yacht for a holiday, buying your own boat, or looking to start a career in sailing.

As their courses take place on liveaboards, you eat, sleep, and breathe sailing. Each day, you’re not just a student; you’re part of a crew, actively involved in every aspect of sailing life. This immersive approach accelerates learning and gives you a taste of the sailing lifestyle. 

And after the course; you become part of a community. Alum events, flotillas, and webinars keep you connected to a network of fellow sailing enthusiasts. It’s a support system that extends far beyond your course.

Sailing the Sea of Cortez

Arrival in La Paz

An aerial view of a marina with boats docked in the water.
La Paz Marina

My Nautilus Sailing journey began in La Paz, a beautiful coastal city in Baja California Sur.

I headed to the marina to meet our instructor and other students so we could get acquainted with the boat, which was stunning. 

A white catamaran is floating in the water.

I was joined on this adventure by a lovely father and son with no previous sailing experience, but the confidence to charter the same boat for a week after our trip.

It seems wild that you can learn to sail in just one week, but that’s what Nautilus Sailing is all about.

Our instructor, Troy, told the guys he would be honest about whether they were ready to sail on their own at the end of the week, and honestly, I’m not sure any of us could have predicted the outcome.

A woman standing on the steering wheel of a boat.

The catamaran had a spacious design, ensuring that everyone had ample room to move around, making it perfect for education and relaxation. There’s a maximum of four students, and each is afforded the luxury of a private room with an en-suite bathroom.

The area around the helm is spacious enough for group learning sessions, allowing every student hands-on experience while enjoying the open sea. The deck also offers plenty of room for relaxation, whether you’re sunbathing, enjoying a book, or just taking in the stunning ocean views.

A man sitting on the steering wheel of a catamaran.

On a typical week, you would spend the first night at the pier and head out to sail the next day, but due to high winds closing the port, we were delayed two days leaving La Paz. This wasn’t all bad because there was a beautiful beach club to hang out at and some fantastic restaurants.

The extra time meant we also got to explore La Paz. The town’s vibrant malecon and streets, lined with quaint cafes and local artisan shops, is another popular spot for digital nomads in Mexico.

A woman is sitting in a pool with palm trees in the background.

This week I joined was also a flotilla, which made the experience all the more special. This meant that we were sailing with five other boats, each manned by alums of Nautilus.

A flotilla, in essence, is a group of boats sailing together. It’s a communal sailing experience where individual boats, while navigating independently during the day, come together as a fleet, creating a unique blend of personal adventure and shared experiences.

Ensenada Grande

Once we were given the clear to head out from the port, we excitedly left La Paz. Maneuvering the boat out of the jam-packed La Paz pier is no easy feat, and right away, Troy had the guys pulling ropes and navigating, putting their new skills to the test.

After a successful departure, we sailed up the coast to Ensenada Grande, practicing sail trim along the way.

A group of people are standing on the deck of a sailboat.

We arrived in Ensenada Grande just before sunset, dropped the anchor, and headed out for a quick hike through the cactus forest, catching the last light of the day.

It was already turning into a lovely sunset, but I couldn’t believe what had happened when we came out of the cactus forest. The entire sky was lit into fiery shades of red and pink.

It was one of the most dramatic sunsets I’ve seen in Mexico, and the seclusion of the bay was an amazing setting. It was the perfect start to our adventure.

A red sunset over a body of water.

Sea lions & San Evaristo

The following day, we woke up early to motor up the coast to swim with the sea lions, which was an incredible wildlife encounter.

The moment we entered the water, we were greeted by hundreds of sea lions. They were curious, playful, and surprisingly graceful. Swimming alongside these amazing creatures, watching them dart with such agility and playfulness, was magical. 

After a blissful morning, we set course to sail up to the little fishing village of San Evaristo. I could already see how confident the guys were getting in their sailing skills, working together as a team with Troy to navigate the constantly changing winds.

We anchored off a white sand beach for lunch and enjoyed paddle boarding in the crystal-clear blue water.

An aerial view of a beach with sailboats in the water.

We arrived in the village of San Evaristo just before sunset, where a local restaurant named Lupe and Maggie’s was hosting a wonderful dinner for the entire flotilla.

After many fish tacos and margaritas, we enjoyed a peaceful night docked in the charming bay.

An aerial view of a beach with boats docked in the water.

Anchored in secluded coves, stargazing from the deck of our boat became a nightly ritual. Away from the city lights, the night sky’s clarity was incredible – it’s some of the best stargazing I’ve done in Mexico.

Bonanza Beach

A group of sailboats in a body of water with mountains in the background.
Our Flotilla

The following day, our flotilla left towards Bonanza Beach, over 30 nautical miles away. I hopped over to the boat led by the other instructor, JJ, who led the flotilla.

One of the benefits of participating in a Nautilus flotilla is the opportunity to embark on your first charter under the guidance of a Nautilus instructor.

The other alumni on the boat had all done Nautilus courses before, so this was an opportunity for them to gain more hands-on experience while enjoying another beautiful sailing destination.

It was wonderful to hear about their experiences learning to sail in other destinations, which were all overwhelmingly positive.

We had the fishing lines out from the back of the boat and were lucky enough to catch a huge mahi-mahi, which made for some delicious ceviche at lunch. To make the day even more special, a pod of dolphins playfully escorted our boat.

A barbecue grill on the ocean at sunset.

That night, we enjoyed a sunset BBQ dinner made on the boat grill, while anchored near a beach perfect for a bonfire.

Some of the alumni gathered driftwood and set up a fire under the starlit sky which created a dreamy ambiance, reminding us why sailing is so special.

Playa Balandra

By the last day, the students from my boat had taken the helm in every sense. They were in complete charge of charting, navigation, and sail trim. Watching them confidently navigate and manage the boat was inspiring.

A man is steering a boat in the ocean.

It was a vivid demonstration of how much confidence and skill they had gained in just a few days. Their transformation into capable sailors was a testament to the effectiveness of the Nautilus training and our wonderful (and patient) instructor, Troy.

Our last stop before returning to La Paz was Playa Balandra, a place often celebrated as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. And it’s easy to see why.

An aerial view of a beach in the gulf of mexico.

Since 2018, Playa Balandra has been a protected area, so no development is allowed. This preservation effort ensures that the beach maintains its pristine condition, with visitor numbers limited daily to preserve its natural beauty.

The beach is surrounded by remarkable hills, featuring bright sand and crystal-clear waters that are sometimes so shallow you can walk across to the other side.

As I jumped off the back of the boat into the sea, I found myself floating in the serene waters, soaking in the memories of an incredible week sailing on the Sea of Cortez.

Wait, Will I Really be Ready to Sail After This?

A group of sailboats on a beach at sunset.

Embarking on a sailing course, especially one as comprehensive as Nautilus offers, can indeed transform you from a novice to a confident sailor.

It’s a ‘zero to hero’ course, and as with any educational experience, the more effort and dedication you put in, the more you’ll get out of it.

Most students successfully complete the course, and the instructors are not only skilled but also honest and straightforward about assessing your skill level.

I witnessed this transformation firsthand during my course. The two guys with me started as complete novices and, by the end of the week, had progressed remarkably.

A group of sailboats in the ocean near a mountain.

It was truly impressive to see their journey to becoming confident sailors. They even charted a boat the next day after the course, and Troy was confident they were ready to do so.

The course is intensive and requires a good grasp of the theoretical knowledge provided in the books, which Nautilus sends out beforehand. I highly recommend dedicating time to reading these materials.

Additionally, this video course provided by Nautilus is an excellent resource, offering a concise and clear summary of the key concepts.

One of the greatest advantages of doing a sailing course with Nautilus is the ongoing support and community you become a part of. As an alumnus, you’ll have access to a network of fellow sailing enthusiasts.

This community aspect means you can find sailing buddies and join flotillas for more hands-on experience. Flotillas are especially beneficial if you feel you’re not quite ready to charter your own boat independently.

Other Destinations You Can Learn How to Sail on Vacation

An aerial view of a sailboat in the ocean near a hill.

While sailing the Sea of Cortez, with its rich marine life and stunning landscapes, is an incredible place to learn how to sail on vacation, Nautilus Sailing offers sailing courses in many other destinations, each with its unique charm and challenges.

From the serene waters of the Abacos in the Bahamas to the historic and vibrant coasts of Mallorca, Spain, and Trogir, Croatia, they offer a fantastic collection of sailing destinations.

Imagine navigating through the islands of the Caribbean or experiencing the South Seas’ perfection of Tahiti, with its dramatic peaks and turquoise lagoons.

For those who have learned to sail but wish to gain more confidence on the water, joining a Nautilus flotilla in one of these destinations is an excellent option.

It’s an opportunity to refine your skills, meet fellow sailing enthusiasts, and explore new destinations with the support of a like-minded group.

An aerial view of a sailboat on a beach with mountains in the background.

How Learning to Sail Can Help You Travel the World

Learning to sail with Nautilus Sailing isn’t just about getting a certification; it opens up a new world of travel opportunities.

Sailing skills open doors to working on charters around the globe, allowing you to combine your passion for adventure with a unique way of life. While visiting Antigua and Barbuda, almost every person I met worked for a boat (including some impressive super yachts).

Imagine navigating the Mediterranean, exploring the Caribbean, or sailing across the Pacific – all while working and living on the sea.

During our course, one of the students, captivated by the sailing life, expressed a desire to work on a sailboat. Our instructor, recognizing his potential and enthusiasm, was not only supportive but actively helped him pursue this dream.

He connected him with opportunities for an upcoming trip, showcasing the power of the Nautilus community as a launching pad for new careers in sailing.

A man is standing on the deck of a boat looking at the water while he learn how to sail on vacation

Final thoughts: Learn How to Sail on Vacation

Embarking on a sailing course during your vacation is the perfect way to combine the joy of travel with the benefits of learning a new skill. It’s an experience that goes beyond the typical holiday, offering personal growth, adventure, and the chance to connect with nature.

The Nautilus Sailing blend of professional instruction, stunning destinations, and a supportive community creates an ideal environment for both beginners and experienced sailors looking to enhance their skills.

Whether it’s the Sea of Cortez or any of their other destinations, each course is a unique blend of vacation and education that leaves you with new skills, unforgettable memories, and perhaps even a new direction in life.

Learn how to sail on vacation with sailing boat and mountain in backdrop



  • Lora Pope

    Lora is a full-time digital nomad on a quest to visit every country in the world and pet as many dogs as she can along the way. Over the last 15 years, she has traveled to 70+ countries and six continents solo. She currently calls Puerto Vallarta, Mexico home and enjoys ending each day with sunset and tacos on the beach.

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