Sea of Cortez

4.39285714286
(7 REVIEWS)

Scuba Diving in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico

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Sea of Cortez Diving Highlights

The 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.

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!


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 (7)

  • Top Reviewer
Huntington Beach, CA
United States
5
5
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5

Sea of Cortez is my go to destination for diving close to California where the water is warm and clear. The flight from Los Angeles to Los Cabos is just over 2 hours and easy to access. There are live-aboards and dive destinations both in southern Baja from Loreto to LaPaz to Cabo. I have been able to dive the full length of the Sea of Cortez on a live aboard and loved it all from the stark but beautiful landscape to the clear water filled with abundant sea life. The people of Southern Baja are friendly and welcoming, and the prices are very reasonable.

MIDRIFF ISLANDS

In the northern part of the Gulf, the Midriff Islands offer walls, multiple rocky area with myriad critters and sometimes encounters with Whale Sharks, Dolphins and other Big guys. The Diversity underwater is combined with beautiful deserted beaches and amazing sunsets.

LA PAZ

In the LaPaz area, an all time favorite is Los Islotes where playing with the sea lions is the norm. This dive consistently makes me smile and results in great photos to share later. In cruising the full Sea of Cortez, I found there was something to explore all along the way from macro critters in the rocks, jawfish coming up to peak at us, octopi, and all sorts of Angels, surgeonfish, and damsels.

CABO SAN LUCAS / CABO PULMO

The National Park along Baja's East Cape, just north of Cabo San Lucas is well worth time to visit and dive. Cabo Pulmo Parque Nacional has healthy coral reefs teeming with fish. Schools of puffers, groupers, grunts, snappers, and bright yellow porkfish punctuate the reef areas between healthy corals, fans, and all sorts of critters. The schools of jacks are amazing, you can descend right into the middle and they adjust to swim with you and around you by the thousands. I have been personally diving in Cabo Pulmo for over 5 years and it truly gets better with more and more fish each time I visit. I will continue to return to the Sea of Cortez as often as I can manage it.

Visited on 12/2013 - Submitted on 02/21/2014
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5

WHALE SHARK EXCURSION, LA PAZ

Whale shark trip out of La Paz. WOW! what can I say but WOW!. 5 minute boat ride from the beach to the nearest site. There we found "baby" whale sharks, only 25' long. The animals were very approachable and seemed completely unaware of our presence. Very calm water and easy to approach the animals. The only down was that these were in very shallow water near the beach so visibility was limited. This made things exciting because all of a sudden this behemoth would appear out of the silty water.

Bigger whale sharks were available further offshore. You could SCUBA with these. Clear water allowed photo/video from many angles. Animals were easy to approach but shunned contact.

Did I mention WOW! Diving with whale sharks must be on every diver's bucket list. I can't believe I waited 40 years to do it.

SEA LION ADVENTURE, LA PAZ

Wonderful dive for beginners or someone who has never been up close and personal with friendly sea lions. 40ft - 80ft sand bottom with a rounded rock wall barrier. Excellent visibility, slight current on surface and shortie dive most of year. Broad range of sea life on wall and various rocks. Excellent photo and video opportunity of sea lion pups and young adults. These animals will nuzzle with you if you let them. No snorkels, the sea lions try to steal them.

The sea lion colony was an add on to a whale shark snorkel. This trip did not get 5 stars solely because of the long, small boat ride from La Paz to the colony. I'm too old for that kind of excitement. But even so the scenery is breathtaking on the way. La Paz is a beautiful town with lots of things to do and access to a broad range of diving.

Highly recommend visiting the sea lion colony.

Visited on 11/2013 - Submitted on 02/22/2014
5
4
5
5

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
5
3
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5

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
4
4
3
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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