Diving in Southern Baja

BY: RICK CASTAGNER

The Baja peninsula has plenty of fascinating marine life and underwater features, which makes for interesting snorkelling and diving in both the waters of the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez.

Cabo San Lucas

The waters around Los Cabos are a wonderland to dive and snorkel. Many of these sites were first discovered by the famous underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau in the 1970s. 

The Bay of San Lucas is a Marine Protected Area so take only pictures and leave only bubbles.

Map provided by Chris Sands

Pelican (Anegada) Rock, the Walls, Sand Falls and the Canyon

Depth: 15 - 130 ft (3,000 ft Submarine Canyon)

Level: Novice to Experienced

Access: 5 min. by boat

This site is on the west side of the bay, situated between Lover's Beach and Pelican Rock ... on the sandy bottom at 20 ft, schools of barberfish, goatfish and angelfish and all kinds of tropical fish move back and forth on the shallow side of Pelican Rock.

The barberfish are  “cleaner” fish that provide cleaning stations for a variety of fish. They remove dead skin and parasites from all comers. These cleaning stations and many other aspects make Pelican Rock an important ecosystem area.

Over the sandy 20 ft ledge at Pelican Rock is a wall, which drops down 3,000 ft into a submarine canyon. There are many kinds of sea fans on the wall and many eels in the crevices. Sometimes there are tunas, bonitos, schooling of mobulas and groupers patrolling the wall. You can see the depths of the great submarine canyon when the visibility is good (usually Aug-Nov).

At 90 ft there is one of the famous Sand Falls where at certain times of the year, large amounts of sand cascade downward into the canyon. The Sand Falls look like waterfalls but are composed entirely of sand. Here you can also see an abundance of colorful parrotfish, eels and lobster.

Great opportunity to see an array of local tropical fish. The Pelican Rock dive and snorkel site is a must for all underwater photographers and videographers! Great spot for night dives also.

Neptune's Finger

Depth: 30 - 130ft

Level: Intermediate to Experienced

Access: 6 min. by boat

This is a good area to look for large fish. Several kinds of rays (Modula, Eagle ray, Stingrays, etc.) swimming around the pinnacle. This area is alive with tropical and invertebrate life and huge numbers of sardine bringing with them schools of bonitos and tunas. The largest of two famous Sand Falls begins here at 100 ft.

Guide recommended and beware of unpredictable currents.

Land’s End

Depth: 25 - 75 ft

Level: Intermediate to Experienced

Access: 6 min. by boat

Years of wind and waves have hollowed out a huge archway through which the waves of the Pacific Ocean break, joining the waters of the Sea of Cortez. Giant angular rocks cascade down to a depth of 60 ft where there is a sandy bottom. The short walls along the rocks are full of small ledges, which create homes for large eels, reef fishes, and sea turtles alike. In this area, a sea lion colony is located and you can have a fun experience with these usually playful sea lions.

The pinnacle on the outside of Lands End is a great place for pelagic life. Huge schools of cortez grunts, mobulas and other fish can be found here.

There is also a small cave there that hosts eels and lobster.

For experienced divers, there are a few deepwater canyons that are fun to explore and access to one shipwreck. The ship was sunk by a hurricane in 1953 and uncovered by Hurricane Odile a few years ago.

Guide recommended and beware of unpredictable currents.

The Socorro Islands

Depth: average depth is 57 ft

Level: Intermediate to Experienced

Access: overnight by boat

Live aboard diving in the Socorro Islands offers divers Mexican Pacific diving at its best. The Socorro Islands, or officially known as the Revillagigedo Archipelago, is a group of four, volcanic, islands located in the Pacific Ocean about 400km (250mi) off the coast of the southern tip of Baja Sur; a southwestern state of Mexico. This is a paradise for many large species of pelagic species, such as many species of sharks including hammerheads, silky, silver tip and white tips, humpback whales, dolphins, and they are also especially known for the many large Manta Rays which inhabit this area.

The Giant Pacific Mantas of Socorro are known to be the friendliest mantas in the world. It is not uncommon for them to dive with you during the entire dive. The mantas allow the bubbles exhaled from divers to tickle their bellies as they hover above the divers.

These are 8-10 day trips out of Cabo San Lucas, it takes 24 hours to get to these islands.

Diving around the Socorro islands hunting for encounters is a must-do.

The Corridor

Along the 18-mile tourist corridor between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose Del Cabo there are 5 great dive sites. The topography of these sites is very different from the ones at the Cabo San Lucas Marine Protected Area. The boat ride to the sites takes anywhere between 20 and 30 minutes from the Cabo San Lucas Marina. Schools of dolphins, whales and jumping mobulas are often seen on the way to the dive sites. The Corridor dive sites are also less crowded than the ones in Cabo San Lucas because so many people choose to dive the Capes area.

Cabeza de Ballena (Whales Head)

Depth: 20-70 ft

Level: Beginners

Access: A 20-minute boat ride from the Cabo San Lucas Marina

This shallow dive site starts in only 5 feet and ends in a sandy bottom at 50 feet. The coral growth is superb and is complemented with large numbers of tropical fish. This spot is also known to be home of a school of spotted eagle rays which are very relaxed and quite often get up close and surround the divers. A wide range of marine life can also be found here including sea turtles, octopus and moray eels. It is sometimes possible to find large schools of pork fish and snappers on the sandy bottom next to the reef. Furthermore, you can often enjoy the sound of humpback whales singing underwater.

Santa Maria

Depth: 10-45 ft

Level: Intermediate-Advanced

Access: A 25-minute boat ride from the Cabo San Lucas Marina

This site starts on the southern side of the protected Santa Maria bay in only 10 feet and gradually drops down to 45 feet. The shallow reef is teeming with marine life like surgeon and angelfish, porcupine fish, pufferfish, groupers and hogfish. Also, Snappers, moorish idols, nudibranches, flatworms and several species of rays have made this site their home. In general, there is no current but sometimes divers feel the surge from the waves.

El Gavilan

Depth: 5-100 ft

Level: Intermediate-Advanced

Access: A 25-minute boat ride from the Cabo San Lucas Marina

Between “Santa Maria” and “Chileno” there is a small bay with a beautiful reef in the center. The top of this reef is only 5-30 feet down and covered in coral. This is probably the best coral reef in Los Cabos. Most noteworthy are the lobsters, angelfish, groupers, several types of rays, white tip reef sharks and much more.

Chileno Bay

Depth: 5-60 ft

Level: All levels

Access: A 25-minute boat ride from the Cabo San Lucas Marina

This is a lively, protected reef that starts at 100 yards off the shore of “Chileno” Beach and extends out into the bay for about a half of a mile or so. The reef is covered with sea fans and sometimes you get to see mantas, large sea bass, sea turtles, white tip sharks and huge schools of jacks, mobulas, and machete. Invertebrates like Starfish, Flower Urchins and Hydroids are also common. Here you will experience very shallow and calm waters making it accessible for all types of divers or snorkelers. It is a very healthy coral reef on the outside, although not reachable by the common snorkeler,

Blow Hole

Depth: 40 - 100 ft

Level: Intermediate to Experienced

Access: 30 min. by boat from Cabo or San Jose

This great site got its name from a small blowhole in the cliffs nearby. Massive boulders and crevices form the reef of this spectacular and also exciting dive. The backside of this huge formation forms a wall that is filled with twisted crevices, rugged tunnels and deep ravines. Red and Yellow Gorgonians along with Sea fans cover the area. Hard encrusting coral blankets the Rock. Hogfish, surgeonfish, balloon fish, and sea turtles can be found at this site. There is also a small wall on the northern side which drops from 50 to 100+ ft.

San Jose del Cabo

Gordo Banks

Depth: 110 - 130 ft

Level: Experienced

Access: 30 min. by car from Cabo San Lucas then 45 min by boat from La Playita

Season: May - Nov.

 Located 5 miles from Punta Gordo is an underwater seamount that comes to within 110 ft of the surface. There are black coral bushes on the top of the seamount and around here you see schools of amber jacks, tunas, snappers. Depending on the seasons and currents, you see sharks, manta rays, marlins and whale sharks. Due to the depth and unpredictable currents, I recommend this site for experienced divers only.

Cabo Pulmo

Depth: 25 - 60 ft

Level: Novice to Experienced

Access: 2 hours by car from Cabo San Lucas and 5 to 10 min by boat to each dive site

Season: May - Nov.

Cabo Pulmo National Park has been deemed the most successful marine park in the western hemisphere. Established in 1995 to protect one of only three coral reefs on the west coast of North America, this national park is currently home to 6,000 marine species.

Decorated with coral clusters in hues of green and gold, this is home to lots of coral reef animals and marine vegetation. The reef is made up of short walls that drop from 25 ft to 60 ft. Hundreds of garden eels, stingrays, snake eels and almost every type of tropical reef fish are found there. In season you can see whale sharks, manta rays, eagle rays and sea turtles. Cabo Pulmo is most notably known for its huge schools of jacks and bull sharks. Even the sand here is filled with life, you will see thousands upon thousands of garden eels moving in the surge.

The wreck at Cabo Pulmo, El Vencedor, has a plethora of life. The wreck is filled with thousands of yellow fin snappers and baitfish everywhere.

Life is short. Find that dive spot of your dreams.