Sea of Cortez

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(9 REVIEWS)
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Scuba Diving in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico

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Sea of Cortez Diving Highlights

The scuba diving in the Sea of Cortez and La Paz is all about sea lions, whale sharks, manta and mobula rays, dolphins, huge schools of fish and fascinating underwater macro life. It is one of the easiest "big animal" destinations to reach and enjoy from the United States.

La Paz, Cabo Pulmo, Loreto, and the northern Sea of Cortez all have excellent diving. You can dive the Sea of Cortez via liveaboard or a dive resort.

Read more about Mexico's best dive destinations.

View the Sea of Cortez's Location on Google Map

 

Intro to  DIVING 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 arid 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 diving features magnificent marine life. Cabo San Lucas is home to Land's End, a narrow strip of land where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez. There is a famous arch, several unique dive sites and accommodations 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.  

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Diving Information 

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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 whale sharks. These gentle giants generally move south as the season gets later.

Another shark that also puts La Paz on the map in the '80s was the hammerhead shark. Divers used to be able to 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 quite commonly seen in the Sea of Cortez, especially on night dives.

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.

The Sea of Cortez also offers great macro photography opportunities with critters like nudibranchs, snails, jawfish, pikeblennies, signal blennies; and various crabs and shrimps to photograph.

Check out this amazing underwater video taken by Dan McGanty during our 2018 Explore Baja trip!

Love the diversity of the Sea of Cortez but fancy a change? Have a look at Raja Ampat dive trips.


Diving Conditions

  • Water Temperatures: 68 - 84°F (20 - 29°C)
  • Visibility: 50 - 115 feet (15 - 35m)
  • Depth Range: 16 - 130 feet (5 - 40m)

 

Typical Sea of Cortez Dive

Pangas (classic Mexican wood and fiberglass boats) are the norm for resort diving. These versatile, outboard-powered crafts 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.

 

 

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Travel Information 

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How to Get 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.

Sea of Cortez liveaboards depart from La Paz, or you can take van ride from Phoenix to the northern tip of the Sea of Cortez.

 

How to Dive the Sea of Cortez

There are several dive resorts in the Sea of Cortez along with a few liveaboard options. Divers will find most of the dive 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 like the Rocio del Mar, the Quino el Guardian, and the Nautilus Gallant Lady provide extended range and offer different itineraries depending on the time of year and marine life seasons - a great way to experience the Sea of Cortez.  

 

Best Time to Dive Sea of Cortez

July to December has the best visibility, often approaching 80 feet (25 meters). We're fans of visiting the La Paz area between October and November, which is prime season for whale sharks and offers warmer waters. The whale sharks are generally found in the bay feeding on plankton, so visibility will be significantly less during these snorkeling sessions. These whale shark swimming sessions are only allowed between October 1-April 30! The whale sharks are also near Bahia de Los Angeles during July-August, dived via liveaboard.

December to 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.

As an additional note, if you're visiting La Paz to dive with the sea lions on Los Islotes, please be informed that the colony is closed for mating season each year from June 1-August 31. 

 

Topside & Non-Diving Activities

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 activities on liveaboards are limited to snorkeling and enjoying the sun decks.

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SEA of Cortez Liveaboards

Find a liveaboard in the Sea of Cortez and book online with the help of our travel experts. Live chat support available. Best price guaranteed!

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Please contact us for the latest availability of  MV Valentina.

 

 

Other Useful Information 

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Practical Information

  • Currency: Mexican Peso (MXN)
  • Language: Spanish is the official language in Mexico but most people today learn English as a second language
  • Time Zone: UTC-7
  • Electricity: 127 V 60 Hz

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Reviews (9)

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5

Cabo itself is a great place to visit. We went over Spring Break, so there was plenty of night life. Had fun and good food at Cabo Wabo. Enjoyed the Giggling Marlin and El Squid Roe for a little night life. Had a great diner at La Central Los Cabos and watched all the boats coming in to dock.

We only had time for one day of scuba diving. We went around 7-8 meters for the most of the 3 dives. We aren't used to the cold water diving even in the 7mm suit. The dive was still fun and worth it!

Pelican Rock:

Interesting rocky, underwater mountain dive site. Good visibility - 15 meters, water temp was cold - 22 degrees celcius. Saw lots of fan corals, star fish, lobster, puffer fish, stone fish, nurse shark, spotted sea snake, eels, and lots of school fish.

Land's End:

Started off with a sea lion, sandy bottom dive with lots of rays. Also went by an old sunk boat, but the visibility wasn't as good there. Saw flounder and a few nudi branch as we came up a rocky wall. Lots of eels. Small cave at the end.

Neptune's Finger:

Sandy bottom start with rocky wall at the end. Saw large schools of fish, but visibility wasn't great. Saw lots of rays and eels. Pretty fan corals with lots of color. Nice butterfly ray, electric rays, and guitar rays. Puffer fish and nudi branch on wall.

Visited on 03/2020 - Submitted on 05/29/2020
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Probably one of my top dive trips. I dove with dolphins and their babies, schools of mobula's , crazy big whale sharks. massive schooling fish, and the most inquisitive sea lions I've ever met. It was none stop diving and every dive was exciting. I'd love to go again. As a side note I got some great photo advice.

Visited on 05/2016 - Submitted on 05/01/2020
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4

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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4

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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3

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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