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.
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.
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.