Sea of Cortez

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(7 REVIEWS)

 

Sea of Cortez in a nutshell

Including La paz & Cabo  

The Sea of Cortez and is home to sea lions, whale sharks, manta and mobula rays, dolphins, huge schools of fish and some fascinating macro life. It is one of the easiest "big animal" destinations to reach and enjoy. La Paz, Cabo, Loreto, and the northern Sea of Cortez all have excellent diving.

 

Intro to the Sea of Cortez

 

The Sea of Cortez is a special place situated between Baja, Mexico and the mainland. Water of all shades of blue sits against an airid desert backdrop and an assortment of islands. The Baja peninsula is home to unique flora and fauna that have evolved in near isolation, so it's no surprise that the Sea of Cortez features magnificent marine life.

Cabo San Lucas is home to Land's End, a narrow stip of land where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez. There is a famous arch, several unique dive sites and accomodations for all sides of the nightlife spectrum. For divers, La Paz is the most popular destination. It is the capital city of Baja California Sur, Mexico and is situated on the coast about 2 hours north of Cabo San Lucas, on the Sea of Cortez side of the peninsula. Cabo Pulmo is a very small town located between Cabo and La Paz, with diving on Mexico's only living coral reef. Cabo Pulmo is also a protected marine park. Moving North into the Sea of Cortez we find Lorteo, a much smaller destination than La Paz, but also with excellent diving.

The cost of diving on the Sea of Cortez is much more affordable than many other destinations where divers look for the same large marine life, and short flights from the southwestern United States make travel easy.

 

Typical Sea of Cortez Dive

 

Pangas (classic Mexican wood and fiberglass boats) are the norm for resort diving. These versatile, outboard-powered craft provide smaller groups with fast, easy access to the dives dive sites.

Several operators have larger, more "traditional" dive boats. Liveaboards will dive from their tender boats. Dives in the Sea of Cortez can be a shallow "fishbowls" with fantastic vis or deep dives in stiff current looking for hammerhead sharks, so there are options for everyone.

 

Sea of Cortez Marine Life & Photography Subjects

 

The Sea of Cortez has a reputation for whale sharks. During the summer and fall, divers flock to the Sea of Cortez for a chance to swim with the largest sharks in the world, which generally move south as the season gets later. Another shark also put La Paz on the map in the '80s, when divers could see massive schools of hammerhead sharks off El Bajo and Las Animas, but unfortunately these schools have been replaced with occasional hammerhead sightings. During the winter months, mobula rays are common. Manta rays are also sighted on occasion. Another main attraction for diving La Paz are the sea lions, which frolic and play with divers, presenting amazing photo opportunities. Sea Lions are found in a number of places in the Sea of Cortez, but none beat the sea lion colony of Los Islotes.

 

Other Sea of Cortez marine life includes huge schools of jacks and baitballs, as well as tuna, wahoo and lots of other fish, dolphins, eels, jawfish, rays. Macro life can also be good, including nudibranchs, shells and various crabs and shrimp.

 

Underwater GoPro Video of Los Islotes Sea Lion Colony

 

 

 

Best Time To Dive the Sea of Cortez, Water Temps And Visibility

 

July - December has the best visibility, often approaching 80 feet (25 meters). We're fans of visiting the La Paz area between September and November, which is prime season for whale sharks. The whale sharks are generally found in the bay feeding on plankton, so visibility will be significantly less during these snorkeling sessions. The whale sharks are near Bahia de Los Angeles during July-August, often dived via liveaboard.

December - March brings sightings of grey and humpback whales as well as mobula rays, however the water is colder with poorer visibility than the summer and fall. Temperatures range from 65F in the winter to 86F in late summer. It can also be windy during the winter months.

The Sea of Cortez and Baja Peninsula get hot topside during the summer, but it's a dry heat and the refreshing Sea of Cortez is never more than a few steps away.

 

Getting There

 

La Paz is serviced by Manuel Márquez de León International Airport (LAP), with most flights arriving from Mexico City, Guadalajara or Los Angeles. Once on the ground it's a quick shuttle ride to the dive resorts. Divers visiting Cabo Pulmo can fly into Los Cabos International Airport (SJD), which is about an hour away. This is also the airport for Cabo San Lucas. Loreto has an international airport, however flights are more limited than in the larger cities.

If renting a car, make sure to avoid Thrifty car rental agency as they have a large reputation for scamming visitors.

 

Non-Diving Activites

 

Sea of Cortez dive resorts offer activities like fishing, kayaking, snorkeling, sandy beaches, dining and lounging by the pool. Keep in mind that swimming with whale sharks is limited to snorkels and no tanks, so it's a great opportunity to bring non-divers on an ocean adventure. Non-diving activited on liveaboards are limited to snorkeling and enjoying the sun decks.

 

Sea of Cortez Resort And Liveaboard Options

 

There are several dive resorts in the Sea of Cortez along with a few liveaboard options. Divers will find the most resorts in La Paz, which is easy to reach. Cabo Pulmo offers limited options and is also easily reached. Beyond that, divers can explore options at Loreto.

Liveaboards provide extended range and offer different itineraries depending on time of year and marine life seasons - a great way to experience the Sea of Cortez.

 

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REVIEW OF DIVING LA PAZ, BAJA

The Sea of Cortez is one of my favorite dive destinations to date.

The whale shark snorkeling was phenomenal. Whale shark season I've been told is fall to winter. Both of my days snorkeling with them did not disappoint. Everyone is on the lookout on the boat for the whale sharks and when one is spotted, small groups get into the water one at a time to go swim with them. Encounters can be variable. Sometimes the whale shark will be just cruising and can be surprisingly hard to keep up with - being a fast swimmer will certainly behoove you in such cases. However, sometimes you will get lucky and the whale shark will stop to feed, assume a vertical position and suck water like a giant vacuum cleaner. If that happens, be prepared for the most amazing experience ever. We swam with little baby whale sharks only 8 - 10 years old and massive ones (the bigger ones are easier to keep up with!). At one point, I counted at least 5 whale sharks feeding in an area at once. Most encounters are less than 10 min at the time, but at the end with 5 in the water feeding, everyone spent at least 1 hour in the water with them. As if whale sharks aren't exciting enough, there is a high chance you will run into some Bottlenose dolphins and if they are curious, you can get to swim with them as well. The water temperature was ~ 87 degrees F and calm in late September, visibility was ~ 60 feet.

Los Islotes, the Sea Lion colony was equally as amazing. This was a 1.5 hr boat ride out, it is a rock outcropping with a huge colony. The topography above water is amazing and there is a famous arch which makes for really nice wide angle photos underwater. The sea lions were so friendly! Maybe a little too friendly!! They love to bite fins and the Styrofoam floats on strobes and maybe even a butt or two! (But they are playful nibbles). We saw tons of pups in late Sept. They are so cute. Aside from sea lions, tons of bait fish underwater, amazing viz, and beautiful sea fans make for wide angle photos that are absolutely stunning. There can be quite a bit of current in the morning, I recommend listening carefully to instructions during the dive briefing. Once you get over to the little cove, current is minimal, it is just getting over there that can require quite a bit of swimming. Surf can also be up sometimes. In the afternoon, conditions tended to calm down. If conditions are good, I highly recommend taking the route around the point as that was probably my most favorite dive of the trip.

The reef diving was also very nice, though the viz at times was not the best and there can be some current at many spots. We also did a wreck dive - Fang Ming which was a nice easy wreck dive.

This trip was definitely heavy on the wide angle but there is plenty of macro opportunities as well. Lots of little blennies everywhere.

I didn't spend too much time in town but La Paz is a very nice city with many nice restaurants. I had a fantastic meal at the Costa Baja resort.

I booked this trip rather last minute and I am 100% glad I did.

Visited on 09/2015 - Submitted on 10/06/2015
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Location: Cabo San Lucas

Cabo is home to some amazing diving. Most of the diving here is around the Land's End peninsula that pushes out into the sea of cortez. All of the sites around land's end are just a short boat ride from the Cabo marina. The water is clear and there is a huge amount of marine life. My favorite dive here was Land's end, which is the very tip of the peninsula. It's one of the deeper dives here so it's usually done first. Here you will see huge schools of fish, sting rays, as well as mobula rays. Pelican rock is another good dive site and is a little shallower so sometimes it is done as your second dive. Here you will see angel fish, sea horses, schools of bait fish, and the rock itself is covered in nudibranchs. A unique feature you will see while diving in Cabo are sand falls. Sand from the beaches and surrounding desert wash into the ocean and build up on ledges, once enough has built up it begins fall off the ledge into the deeper water and it creates an effect that looks like a water fall. It's cool to see and can be found at numerous sites around the peninsula. There are a number of dive ops to choose from, and most of them do day trips to Cabo Pulmo and the Gordo Banks as well. I would recommend skipping the Gordo Banks and doing Cabo Pulmo if you are looking for a day trip. Gordo Banks rarely has the schooling hammerheads that you are going there in hopes of seeing. It is a blue water dive where if there isn't sharks, which there usually isn't, then you end up just floating around in the water column looking at nothing. On the day I went we didn't see sharks, but we were lucky enough to see a couple of mobula rays, and a large marlin during our safety stop.

Topside: Cabo has great restaurants and is famous for it's night life. It has excellent bars and clubs. Cabo has great beaches as well. Cabo is also world famous for it's sport fishing, and fishing for a day on a panga is a must. There are few places where the fishing is so good for such a cheap price.

Cabo makes a great dive vacation. If you are looking for a good inexpensive dive trip, and are looking to change it from somewhere in the Caribbean, Cabo is a great choice.

Visited on 10/2012 - Submitted on 09/14/2015
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The marine life was excellent in La Paz for whale sharks, sea lions and bait balls. For macro and fish portraits the area was below average. If wide angle is your desire the marine life would score high. The conditions were mostly calm with some current on a few dives. Top side I did not leave the resort . The malecon looked nice . I suspect that there is not much to see topside. My favorite dive site was the lighthouse with Islotes a close second. At the lighthouse there were large bait balls with sea lions. With a dome port pelicans could have been added to an over/under shot. Islotes had many playful sea lions that were used to people.

Visited on 10/2014 - Submitted on 10/29/2014
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I booked a trip to Los Cabos last September, staying in Cabo San Lucas and diving with the local operators there. I booked this trip alone, then had a new friend add on at the last minute. Let me tell you - She does NOT regret going on this dive trip, and it's often referred to as, "The trip of a lifetime" and "Best Vacation Ever!!!!". Needless to say, the diving didn't disappoint. On the first day we dove the sites: Santa Maria, Chilleno Bay, and Land's End. Santa Maria and Chilleno are both considered "Across the bay" trips by boat so you can expect a 20 minute boat ride. They're easily accessible by shore if you have a car, but renting gear for a beach dive is tough since most dive shops will prefer you reserve their boat's services and won't let you take rental gear off-premesis. The conditions were very nice at Santa Maria with 60' viz and there's a fantastic swim-through canyon just a couple hundred yards from shore. At Chilleno, the conditions were a little more surgy, and the bottom more rocky, but the diving was still great. We found BEAUTIFUL angels, hordes of schooling baitfish in the area, polyp and brain corals, and even a lively octopus! Due to the surge and rocky bottom, I wouldn't suggest this site for novice divers to attempt from shore -- Better to hire the guide boat, which will run you anywhere from $50-$80USD, depending on your bargaining abilities. ;)

Two dives down, and we were off to Land's End. Our guide told us we'd have a chance to see sea lions there and we did! The surge was incredibly strong and there's a west-to-east current there that can be nearly impossible to swim against, but overall this is one of my favorite sites in Cabo and the leeward side of the rock provides some shelter from the currents. We were lucky enough to have the sea lions play with us in the shallows and saw many snapper, filefish, morays, butterfly fish, and even a flounder in the deeper water (about 80' max depth near the rock). Again, this might not be the place for beginners due to the surge and currents, but after three incredible dives - we couldn't wait for more!

Overall, the dive guides were very friendly and accommodating, with the exception of one who was very new and a little bossy. The "local" sites are so close to the marina that I don't think it matters too much which operator you choose to dive with, so shop around for the best prices. We were there during the low season, and found the pricing to be somewhat negotiable -- That might not be the case during the winter high season? We dove a second day on the local sites; doing Neptune's Finger, Pelican Rock, and attempted Land's End again - But the conditions were too rough and we diverted to more or less drifting back to Pelican Rock. Neptune's Finger and Pelican Rock did not disappoint, either, with good visibility, mild currents, and lots to see for the Macro photographer.

Topside, there were plenty of reasonably-priced restaurants and I can't necessarily speak of the night life: It was almost nonexistent during the time we were there and many clubs would close early due to lack of clientele, but I can imagine it's hoppin' during peak tourism seasons. Scenery in Los Cabos is gorgeous, and I highly recommend getting a car and making the drive to Cabo Pulmo (where the diving is supposedly better but weather prevented us from getting wet). Nonetheless, we enjoyed the scenic drive there and this place is so far off the beaten path - You have to trust your directions! Haha - Twice we considered that we must've been led astray, but finally found the tiny seaside village right where the locals told us it would be. :) Cabo Pulmo is a little less than halfway to La Paz, so if you're headed that direction, it's a beautiful day of driving just to tour the area's scenic mountain roads. Of course, there's diving in La Paz too but call ahead to check conditions and schedules. You'll also find some good dining options in La Paz, which has quite a Metropolitan feel as it's a much larger city and less "resort-like" than CSL. Rounding out the day's trip, (and saving some time), we circled back through Todos Santos on our way back to Cabo San Lucas. (Todos Santos holds the site of the original Hotel made notoriously famous by The Eagles' song, "Hotel California".) Safety was never a concern and we found the locals to be more than helpful when we asked for advice/directions, although it definitely helps to speak a little Spanish and just plain be nice. ;)

If you're thinking about a trip to Los Cabos and the Sea of Cortez - Book it! This place was awesomely affordable with plenty for the adventurous diver to do and see. Oh - We also hopped a fishing charter and landed a 47" Mahi Mahi on our last morning there!

Visited on 09/2013 - Submitted on 02/26/2014
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REVIEW OF CABO SAN LUCAS

Cabo San Lucas. It's Cabo. The topside activities and food is superb. If you are a geezer like me don't go at Christmas or Spring Break. But go to Cabo.

The diving ranges from very simple to fairly challenging. I want to rave about the easy snorkeling and diving less than 5 minutes by boat from the marina (the marina is the starting point for pretty much everything). Pack a small cooler, sun tan lotion and mask fins snorkel. Catch a Panga ($10 round trip) to Lover's Beach. Tell the panga driver when you want to be picked up and he will be there. As soon as you hit the water you see critters. Snorkel about 100 feet and you come to some rocks with one large primary rock.

Snorkel around this rock and the sea life changes every 20 feet or so laterally as well as vertically. Completely different sea life in each area. Sea horses, to turtles. Blinney's to Lumphead Parrot fish. The area is roped off so boats can't get any closer than about 30 feet. A beginer photographer's dream.

You can get out of the water and walk up to the "arch." From there you can walk from the Sea of Cortez to the Pacific Ocean on a sand beach. Lots of caves and rock formations to look through too.

If you want the easiest dive of your life, visit Manta Dive Shop and have them take you to the Arch and pinnacle rock. (You can rent gear and hire a panga but then you have to lug every thing around). Pinnacle rock is much like the snorkel rock mentioned above just far less traffic. And the sea lions will check you out. The rock sits in about 80' with a sand bottom and the environment changes at every depth depending if you are on the Pacific side or the Cortez side. You can start at 60' and just corkscrew around and up the rock. When we were there a school of wahoo swam by and the sea lion pups followed us most of the dive. Saw barracuda and a small shark.

You can not ask for an easier dive. Manta is the shop in Cabo to do your open water dives after doing your classroom/pool stuff somewhere cold. I have been diving since the '70's (yes I am 60 years old) and I am very selective of my dive shop. Checked them all and Manta was the best. Not really a shop per se as a resort gear rental-trip shop. Though they do have a training pool upstairs over the shop.

I gave conditions only 4 stars and it has nothing to do with the diving. From the minute you set foot, and I mean literally, when you walk out of customs into the airport someone is trying to sell you something. Everywhere you go, everything you do, someone is trying to sell you some craft or hat or beads.

Most all hotels/resorts are an easy walk to the marina. All directions are based on "from the marina you go...."
I really like Cabo for a lot of reasons. Chief among them is the diverse diving options.

Visited on 10/2013 - Submitted on 02/25/2014