La Paz Trip Report 2022 - Bluewater Dive Travel
La Paz Trip Report 2022

La Paz Trip Report 2022

La Paz, Mexico Sea of Cortez Trip Report – October 15th to 22th, 2022

Incredible Encounters with Sea Lions, Sardines, and Mobula Rays DURING BLUEWATER TRAVEL'S LA PAZ 2022 UNDERWATER PHOTO WORKSHOP

Trip Leader: Nirupam Nigam   |   Photos by Nirupam Nigam & Group


La Paz, Mexico is eden for the humble sea lion. Sardines flitter through golden, ethereal rays of light and azure water - like a shower of silver coins. The occasional cormorant pierces the surface tension of the sea, on the hunt for a passing snack. And large supercilious sea turtles swim lazily past curious divers. The southern Sea of Cortez laps up onto desert shores dotted with large Cardon cactus - the perfect backdrop for an underwater photography workshop.  

La Paz 2022

A Sea Lion Pup greets our trip leader, Nirupam Nigam at the arch in Los Islotes under a postmeridian sun.
Photographed with the Canon EOS R10 , dual Ikelite DS 230 strobes, and the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens


Every year, Bluewater Photo & Travel returns to La Paz to swim with sea lions, sardines, and mobula rays in crystal clear tropical water that reaches 86 F. Diving with sea lions and their pups never gets old. Their boisterous disposition and curious nature yield incredible experiences - from blowing bubbles in our faces and tugging on our fins to playing with sea stars and rocks. It's an adventure that every diver should have at least once in their lives. This year, 7 lucky guests joined us to experience the magic and learn a little bit about underwater photography along the way. They ended up being some of the best dives I've ever done in La Paz.


La Paz 2022  La Paz 2022

(Left) A beautiful over-under photo of sea lions at Los Islotes by Carmel Vernia.

(Right) Amarillo snappers hunt sardines at the Sea Lion colony of Los Islotes.
Photographed with the Canon EOS R10 , dual Ikelite DS 230 strobes, and the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens


The Underwater Photo Workshop

Usually our theme for the La Paz photoworkshop is wide angle photography. La Paz is the perfect place to practice wide angle shooting with clear water, huge schools of fish, and lots of great opporunites to photograph marine life behavior. However, many of our guests were interested in finding the small, macro jewels of the sea, so we spoke a lot about macro photography as well - particularly photographing signal blennies - the creme de la creme of macro photography in the Sea of Cortez. It wasn't until this year, that I learned many of the same macro critters we visit on our Northern Sea of Cortez photoworkshop, are also found in La Paz! We found signal blennies, blue spotted jawfish, browncheek blennies, and even an orange throat pike blenny. 


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Our trusty vessel of the trip


La Paz is a land-based photoworkshop, centered at the Hyatt Place La Paz with Fun Baja as the dive operator. The diving is easy, wth an 8AM departure right from the hotel and a 1-2 hour boat ride to the dive sites. After 2-3 dives in a day, we return for an hour long photoworkshop presentation and image review where we discuss topics ranging from wide angle & macro photography to gopro video to photo editing. While you don't need to be a photographer to attend the photoworkshop, it can teach you new ways of looking at the underwater environment and improve your skills as a photographer. We welcome photographers of all levels and cameras; this year our guests cameras included the Olympus TG-6, the Canon R5, the Nikon D800/D850, and the Canon 5D Mark IV.  I was shooting the new Canon EOS R10 - a prototype we were testing for the first time. 


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(Left) A signal blenny photographed by macro afficienado Syndey Hoerler. (Right) The Hyatt Place La Paz photographed from the dock - our port of departure


Day 1: Diving Corralito, Los Islotes, and the Fang Ming Shipwreck

Our first day was ambitious, with three dives accross the archipelago that extends from La Paz. The first dive was a checkout dive at Corralito. It was nice to jump into clear, 83F water. Though it may not have been the most exciting dive, I did manage to find one rare signal blenny - forshadowing the rest of the trip. 


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(Left) A curious sealion captured by Lance Fesler. (Right) Sardines photographed by Lance Fesler


After our checkout dive we were ready to visit the main attraction of La Paz - Los Islotes. Los Islotes is a small, rugged island with towering cliffs, hidden archways, and secret caves. It has a large resident sea lion colony with playful pups first entering the water in Autumn - right around when we arrived. Sea Lions take after their canine cousins, and indeed, in Spanish, their name Lobos Marinos translates to "sea wolf." Surrounding this pack of wolves is a thick silver ring of sardines that encircles the island. The school drifts not in the ocean currents, but by the whims of its predators. 

Our knowledgeable dive guides brought us first to "the archway." Although it is not visible by land, the arch is actually a narrow cut through the island that allows you to swim from one side ot the other. Through the center of the cut, rambunctious pups play with divers. Some of the more aggressive pups would tug on our fins like playful dogs. The shy pups would lie on the bottom and eye us with curiosity before finding a sea star or a rock. They would carry their toy to the top of the water column, drop it, and watch it float to the bottom. After spending an hour play with pups, we witnessed our first glimpse of the sardine school in the distance before heading back to the boat.


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(Left) A beautiful sea turtle captured with the Olympus TG-6 and FCON-T02 fisheye lens by Jane Bryson. (Right) Jane Bryson capturing the photo above.


After a motor back towards the hotel, we made one last stop at the Fang Ming shipwreck - famous for its many sea turtles. Elsewhere in the Sea of Cortez, sea turtles fear humans due to a history of us turning them into stew. On the Fang Ming, however, the turtles are quite used to divers and seem to be more tolerant of our presence every year. They let us get quite close and practice our photography.


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(Left) The same turtle photographed by trip leader, Nirupam Nigam. (Right) Group dinner after a great day of diving.

After a long day we headed home and had a nice group dinner just outside the hotel. 


Day 2: Diving the Salvatierra Ferry Wreck and swanee reef

The second day of diving was more relaxed. After a short boat ride, we did our first dive at the Salvatierra Shipwreck. The Salvatierra was a ferry that sank in the channel outside of La Paz. You can still see the trucks tht were loaded onto the ship. The highlight of the Salvatierra are the schools of fish that swim around the propellor and the large, curious balloon pufferfish. 


We finished the day with a shallow dive on the most beautiful and most extensive hard coral reef in the Sea of Cortez - Swannee Reef. The reef is a special place, and one of the few places in Baja that feels like Carribbean reef diving. With a max depth of only 30 ft, the majority of the coral structure is quite shallow. Large schools of many different species of fish often swim around the reef's edge while rare macro critters are scattered throughout the coral. The dive began with two sea horses and a few eels and ended with a field of signal blennies. What more could we want?


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(Left) A large, curious balloon pufferfish photographed by Nirupam Nigam. (Right) A rare seahorse photographed at Swanee reef by Michael Johnson


Day 3: LA reina

La Reina is a small rocky outcropping sitting in the sea, far from the Baja Peninsula. With a 2 hour boat ride, La Reina can be a lot of work to dive, but often this effort reeps rewards. When we first arrived to the island, the conditions did not bode well for us - we were met with a lot of other boats and swirling current. The crowds are the site were likely there for manta ray sitings that had been reported the day before. While a few of our group saw mantas and schools of fish on the first dive, the large number of divers in the water caused us to seperate. It was a lesson learned, and we moved our boat further away from the divers for the second dive. 

The second dive of the day was much better. We liesurely drifted among a shipwreck, photographing its beautiful structure and countless moray eels. More of our group saw the manta rays in the distance, and it was a pleasure to see so many healthy fish. After a long ride back, it was nice to relax and talk about how to photograph the sealions on the next day.


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(Left) A school of fish swimming in the current at La Reina. (Right) Lots of fish swimming at the shipwreck at La Reina


Day 4: SeaLions and Sardines at Los Islotes

A trip to La Paz isn't a trip to La Paz if you don't spend a full day diving with the Sea Lions of Los Islotes. Today was the day. Our first jump into the water yielded a spectacular scene. The sardines were so thick that the dive site darkened as they blocked out the sun. We watched them undulate through the water for an hour as sea lions and snappers chased after them. I was enthralled by the shapes the sardines produced. The holes in their formation where the snappers had been were brief histories of battles for me to capture on camera. 


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(Left) A swirl of sardines by Nirupam Nigam. (Centre) A giant hawkfish sitting among the sea lions by Nirupam Nigam.
(Right) A school of yellowtail surgeonfish by Nirupam Nigam


After the initial shock of seeing so many fish had worn off, many of us drifted to the shallow rocks where the sealion pups and parents were eyeing us with curiosity. We played with them to our hearts desire for three dives total. But words don't describe the bliss of these dives, so here are some photos.


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(Left) Two playful sealions photographed by Sydney Hoerler. (Centre) SeaLions in the sun photographed by Sidney Hoerler.
(Right) Sardine and sea lions in the sun by Nirupam Nigam


Day 5: The Lighthouse, Lost IsLotes Part III, and the Mobula Ray Night Dive

On day 5, we slept in as the plan was to do a night dive later in the evening. After such an incredible experience at Lost Islotes, we didn't think it could get any better. We were wrong. The first dive at "the Lighthouse" was a bit of a dud due to bad visibility in La Paz bay. But on the next dive, the Sea Lions came out to play in their true numbers. As we approached Los Islotes, we decided to go to a side of the island that I had never gone to before. We noticed a ton of pups were playing in the water among the shallow rocks and short cliffs of the island. When we jumped in, we were not disappointed. Everyone in the group spent a long dive playing with dozens of playful sealion pups. And they were riled up! At one point, three pups were teething on the hand of one of our group members like dogs! Each pup enjoyed looking at their reflections in our domes and posed for us the whole afternoon.


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(Left) Sea lion pups playing with Jane Bryson. (Centre) A curious sea lion pup photographed by Mike Johnson. (Right) Resting sea lions by Carmel Vernia.

As the sun set over the Sea of Cortez, we moved our boat to a secluded bay to have tamales and relax. We decided that we wanted to try a unique dive. On this dive, our dive guide Edgar would hold powerful lights in the water. These lights attract plankton and in turn, mobula rays that feed on plankton. Mobula rays are the faster, smaller, and more energetic cousins of manta rays. Attracting them is not as easy as it sounds, and the dive can often be hit-or-miss. Luckily for us, it was a huge hit. As soon as we enterd the water, dozens of mobula rays were speeding accross the sandy bottom of the sea floor towards Edgar's light. It was amazing to see them disappear into the darkness and reappear in seconds to feed on plankton. I practiced slow shutter motion blur photos to accentuate the chaos of the moment. After an hour of sittng on the sandy bottom and watching chaos unfold, we slowly drifted up into the surface to watch the delicate light of the milky way.


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(Left) Attracting mobula rays at night with light. (Centre) Mobula rays photographed by Geoffrey Fallon. (Right) A school of mobula rays feeds in the dark by Nirupam Nigam.


Day 6: Fang Ming Shipwreck and Swanee Reef

While we were sad to be entering our sixth and final day of diving, I was quite content that we had seen many of the highlights of La Paz. I wanted to let everyone decide which sites they wanted to repeat, and ultimately we decided to play with sea turtles and signal blennies. With guarunteed sea turtle sightings at the Fang Ming and gaurunteed signal blenny sightings at Swanee Reef those were our sites of choice. It was nice to spend some time relaxing and practicing our photos with newfound skills learned during the workshop sessions - a perfect way to end a trip. 


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(Left) A curious turtle swims by. (Centre) Another nice turtle shot by Stephen Hoerler. (Right) A signal blenny flashing its colors.


After two wonderful dives, we went into town with the crew and had an excellent dinner at their favorite restauraunt - Los Magueyes. And with that we were on our way back to Cabo and beyond the next morning.


La Paz 2022

Perfect conditions at Swanee Reef by Stephen Hoerler



OCTOBER 14 - 21, 2023 (7-NIGHTS)

Watch sea lions, cormorants, rays, and huge schools of fish before your very eyes. Get in the water with multiple whale sharks and interact with playful sea lions. See dozens of mobula rays feed during a very unique night dive. Potential to see turtles, mobula rays, octopus, giant morays, dolphins, beautiful nudibranchs, giant jawfish, frogfish, stunning blennies, and seahorses. This is the best time to dive La Paz, with warm water, great visibility, and possible whale sharks. 

Click Here to find out more



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