Snorkeling in Southern Baja

BY: RICK CASTAGNER

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Cabo San Lucas

Pelican Rock – Land’s End area

Pelican Rock is a safe, sheltered site for snorkeling that features sea bass, snappers, scorpion fish, puffer fish, moray eels and devil rays amongst its marine residents. Located near Lovers Beach, it's the best snorkeling spot in Cabo San Lucas.

It is also fun to climb Pelican Rock and jump off.

Access to this spot is by water taxi (pangas) from the marina or Medano Beach. The average cost for a round trip is $10 if you bargain or $20 if you do not, and the taxis will arrange a pre-determined pickup time if you want to spend some time on Lovers Beach. Pack a lunch, bring or rent snorkeling gear and a towel and you are ready for a great day of sunning, swimming at Lovers Beach combined with snorkeling.

Neptune’s Finger

Another snorkeling site at Land’s End is the tall rocky pinnacle of Neptune’s Finger. It rises up out of the sea between the Arch and Lover’s Beach. There are usually lots of colorful tropical fish here. Experienced snorkelers only here, the surge is unpredictable.

Playa Empacadora (the Cannery Beach) – Land’s End area

The Cannery Beach is called such because it lies in front of an old tuna cannery that’s long been abandoned. From puffers to parrot fish, angel fish to octopus, the most amazing creatures are here.

It is really fun to snorkel your way through the other smaller beaches on the way out to Lovers Beach from the West side of the Marina.

Today, the beach is also called Playa Publico (public beach) and is where the locals go on the weekend. The palapas and boardwalk that once lined the beach are gone following Hurricane Odile, but the beach and rock held strong and are more beautiful than ever.  

The Corridor

Whale's Head Beach Km 8

A safe swimming beach near another old lighthouse. This beach offers good snorkeling and a sandy beach for relaxing in the sun.

Shipwreck Beach Km 9

This is a great beach for swimming, snorkeling, relaxing in the sun and even surf fishing. Many tide pools offer the opportunity to explore marine life. Diving is also good here and many dive tour operators include this location in the destinations. Although swimming is generally safe, stay out of the water during times when the sea is rough.

Santa Maria Bay Km 12

Protected from ocean swells, the water is usually calm at Santa Maria Bay. The beach at Bahia Santa Maria is beautiful and perfect. This is another beach that the locals go to, so the best time to visit is mid-week. Of the many spots for snorkeling in Cabo San Lucas, this is one of my favorites due to the quiet setting and great rock outcroppings.

I haven’t spied Nemo here yet, but clouds of other candy-colored fish are plentiful at this lovely scallop-shaped bay. This spot is on most snorkeling tour boat circuits, but do-it-yourselfers who want to be independent and avoid the snorkeling crowds should get to Santa Maria Beach early by car or bus. A recent change that’s made snorkeling at Playa Santa Maria even better is that now there is a very nice restroom and outdoor shower area.

Chileno Bay Km 14

This clean, coarse, golden-sand beach is great for both beaching and snorkeling. The public beach offers clean toilets, showers and even a lifeguard.

This is another relatively quiet beach between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. Chileno Beach is larger than its neighbor, Santa Maria. Bahia Chileno has tide pools on two sides and it is great to explore on foot.  

When it comes to snorkeling, keep in mind that many of the booze cruises and snorkel excursions head to this bay, so out in the water, you’ll see lots of people. Similar to Santa Maria Beach, do-it-yourselfers who want to be independent and avoid the snorkeling crowds should get to Chileno Bay Beach early by car or bus. I recommend snorkeling the left side of the beach, fewer tour boats and bigger fish.

Tequila Cove Beach Km 19.5

This quaint cove is almost always swimmable. And, the closer you get to the jetty, the calmer the waters become. Enjoy a family-friendly day on the beach while you’re there.

The best snorkeling area of Tequila Cove is towards the left around the submerged rocks. Make sure to not snorkel right where the hook is located. This is because there are less fish and more jet skis buzzing around.

This beach fronts the Melia Cabo Real and Hilton hotels. A man-made breakwater makes for very safe swimming, snorkeling and water sports. Jet Ski and equipment rentals are between the Melia and the palapa-dotted beach. Easiest access is through the Melia Cabo Real.

Punta Pamilla Km 27

Punta Palmilla beach is set on a long wide bay perfect for swimming with good snorkeling near the fishing fleet. There are no facilities other than shade palapas to the right and left of the fleet, this beach is great for families. Here you can enjoy the natural beauty and view the catches of returning fishing boats in the afternoon. The swimming conditions are so good, in fact, that Playa Palmilla hosts the swim leg of the annual Ironman Los Cabos half-triathlon. Snorkeling, fishing and kayaking are good here, and the beach is likewise a congenial spot for sunning or scenic walks. Located at the Palmilla exit off the main highway, follow the signs to the main beach. Public parking is available and palapas are on hand for those seeking a bit of shade.

San Jose del Cabo

Blue Coast Beach (Costa Azul Beach) Km 29

One of the signature beaches in the San Jose del Cabo area, Playa Costa Azul offers sun, sand, snorkeling and surf, plus plenty of great food and drink at Zipper's Bar and Grill. The best surf breaks are found at Zippers and the Rock, with the beginner-friendly Middle Break frequently used for lessons. Zippers surf break is the site of the annual WSL sponsored Los Cabos Open of Surf, and gets crowded during the summer months. Despite the fact this is a good place for snorkeling and swimming, be alert, otherwise, you could be run down by a rogue longboarder. Located through the arroyo at Costa Azul Bridge.

Cabo Pulmo National Park

This is a premier snorkeling destination which is around a two-hour trip from Cabo San Lucas, one hour from San Jose del Cabo. The best shore for snorkeling here is Los Abolitions Beach. It is 2 miles south of the small town.

The tours generally take you to the Sea Lion Colony, Mermaid Cove, and 1-2 reefs which are used by scuba drivers.  Be careful though, during windy times, the water can be choppy and many reefs are shallow.

Nothing beats Cabo Pulmo! And of course, how could it? Jacques Cousteau said this is the aquarium of the world and he could not have been more right.

Cabo Pulmo and Land’s End are the best snorkeling spots in the Los Cabos area. Cabo Pulmo has at least 226 fish species that live in the park, and it is home to the only living hard coral reef on the Pacific coast of North America. The reefs of Cabo Pulmo have long been considered a treasure of the Baja California peninsula.

The waters of Cabo Pulmo are the clearest in the Los Cabos area, with visibility sometimes exceeding 100 feet between June and December.

I have sunned, snorkeled and dove here many times.

East Cape (Sea of Cortez side)

Buena Vista and Los Barriles

Highway 1 brings you to the twin towns of Buena Vista and Los Barriles, along the edge of Bahía de Las Palmas. Baja’s quintessential beach community, this area is made for ocean lovers and fisherman. There are many great beaches, several small resorts and RV parks, the Buena Vista Beach resort, an expatriate community, and water sports galore. In the winter months, windsurfers come from everywhere to play here. In the spring, summer, and fall, it offers the best in fishing, diving, snorkeling, kayaking and lately, pickleball.

La Paz

While La Paz might be the capital of Baja California Sur, the state in which Los Cabos is located, the city is not all hustle and bustle like its counterparts in Mexico’s other states. Instead, La Paz leans into its tropical paradise status, with long stretches of beach, perfect water and just the right kind of climate for a laid-back holiday.

The many islands near La Paz are snorkel heaven.

In the winter, majestic goliaths call these waters home, the huge Whale Sharks – the world’s largest fish – glide around the reefs. Snorkeling next to these gentle giants is an incredible and unique opportunity. Despite their size, the creatures are completely harmless to humans, instead, they feed on plankton that they filter out of the water with their enormous mouths. That means you’re able to get right up next to the sharks as they continue their feeding, but keep your eyes peeled for the range of other rays, sharks and fish that are swimming around the area. This excursion is a must do in La Paz.

West Cape (Pacific side)

Playa Los Cerritos (Cerritos Beach) Km 67

 Located about forty-five minutes north of Los Cabos, just before the artist colony of Todo Santos, Cerritos Beach is a beautiful, sweeping expanse of pristine beach, famed for its surfing, snorkeling, and whale watching. The snorkeling is on the right end of the beach. This beach has always been my favorite over the years in Southern Baja.

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