Destinations: Sea of Cortez, Baja Mexico

  • Where can you sail, dive, snorkel, kayak and hike a 700 mile long peninsula with the sea on both sides?

  • Come and see such a wide variety of marine life that Jacques Cousteau called it the world’s aquarium!

  • Where can you snorkel and dive with playful Sea Lions?

  • Where is one of the best places in the world to snorkel with Whale Sharks?

And find all this in one place? Find the answers below!

Zeppelin welcomes you to the Sea of Cortez, Baja, Mexico!

The peninsula of Baja California in southwestern Mexico is 705 miles long, extending from the U.S. border to the tip at Los Cabos, its width varies from 30 to 150 miles, and the area is 28,447 square miles. The mouth of the Colorado River is located at its northern most end and it is the 10th largest state in Mexico.  The peninsula emerged from the ocean several million years ago and submarine valleys and canyons run along both coastlines, creating abysses up to 11,000 feet deep.

The Mexican state of Baja California Sur occupies the southern half of the peninsula and the north is the state of Baja California, the border between Baja California and Baja California Sur is located at the 28th parallel. To the south and west, the Baja is bordered by the Pacific Ocean, and to the east the Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California, which separates the peninsula from the Mexican continental mass.

The first inhabitants of the area were the Pericues in the south, the Guaycuras in the center, and the Cochimies in the north. Some members of the Cochimies still live in populations in the state of Baja California.

The Sea of Cortez is one of imposing beauty, dramatically framed by islands with broken edges and tall cliffs and sandy beaches, contrasting with the desert’s reflections and turquoise water surrounding them. Diverse shapes and colors compliment marine and bird life. The abundance of marine life associated with spectacular submarine views and water transparency make the area a divers’ paradise.

There is an incredible amount of migrating large animal marine life in the Sea of Cortez including Humpback, Pilot, Minke, Sei, Blue, Fin, and Sperm whales; as well as Orcas and multiple species of dolphins and porpoises; sea lions and seals; and hammerhead and whale sharks along with manta and mobula rays and countless species of fish and other marine life.

We will be operating in 3 different areas of the Sea of Cortez depending on the time of year.

  1. The Bay of La Paz in the south;
  2. Loreto National Marine Park mid-way up the peninsula;
  3. Bahia de Los Angeles and the Midriff Islands in the north.

 

See the tabs below for more details on each of the areas that we can take you to enjoy!

La Paz is the capital of Baja California Sur and is known for its seafront Malecón promenade with beaches, parks and art by Mexican and international artists. Many bars and restaurants overlook the water. In the city center, the 19th-century Nuestra Señora de La Paz Cathedral dominates the shady Velasco Garden. It was also the setting for John Steinbeck’s novel The Pearl.

The stunning islands in the Bay of La Paz range in height up to 2,300 feet as the highest and the longest of the islands is about 13 miles.

Of the many dive sites in La Paz, El Bajo is the most famous. Here you’ll find mobulas, turtles, hammerhead sharks and even whales. There are three distinct underwater peaks arrayed along a 300 yard line, the northern most rising to within 83ft of the surface, the central peak to within 52ft and the southern to within 69ft. The central peak, with its shallow depths and relatively flattop was one of the premier dive sites in the world for schooling hammerhead sharks a number of years ago. No one knows why but the sharks left the area for awhile, however they have been returning over the past few years. While schooling, hammerheads are not aggressive, and reassuringly enough they actually appear disinterested in divers.

As a seamount El Bajo is home to an abundance of sea life, mass schooling fish (amber jacks, tuna etc), octopus and impressive green morays. Aside from possible encounters with hammerheads frequent visitors to the seamount include whale sharks and giant pacific manta rays.

The Salvatierra is the most popular wreck dive in the area. It is not an artificial wreck but rather a ferry that struck a reef in the channel near Isla Espiritu Santo. The 300-foot (100-meter) hull lies in tact under 62 feet (19 meters) of water. Octopus, sergeant major and yellow polyp black corals make this wreck their home.

Los Islotes is a favorite among snorkelers and divers alike for its healthy population of sea lions. These friendly animals perform a natural, underwater dance for all who visit. As this is a rookery, cute baby sea lions are often present as well. Diving through the center of this natural rock formation brimming with life one can expect to see dense shoals of silver sardines, blue and gold King Angel Fish and yellow surgeon fish amongst golden cup corals.

In 2010, the sculpture “Estancias Sumergidas” was sunk in Candelero Bay in the National Marine Park of the Archipelago of Espiritu Santo. The sculpture was conceived and designed so that, over the course of time, it will become another artificial reef, helping to generate plant and animal life on the seabed.

Rocas Lobos (Sea Lion Rocks) boasting a large number of coral heads, small caves and overhangs. A good night dive site, where one can see huge sleeping Parrot Fish cocooned in their own mucus hiding their scent from potential predators and upon waking, swim free of the cocoon. It was once home of a colony of Sea Lions who occasionally return to visit their old home. There’s a multitude of fish life and several species of ray buried in the surrounding sand.

Isla Gaviota (Seagull Island) is home to 2 sunken wooded boats with some penetration, which becomes home to anemones. Sergeant Majors and Lobster are among the abundant sea life to be found in and around the wrecks and the surrounding coast and its caves.

Isla Ballena (Whale Island) A small Island off the west coast of Isla Espiritu Santo featuring several dive-through caves one of which has a pocket of air allowing divers to surface inside the rock. Between the islands is a sand shelf containing a large “garden” of conger eels – these peculiar creatures feed by extending their bodies vertically from holes in the sea floor, swaying in the currents whilst waiting for passing morsels. Schools of Rays and pods of Dolphins can be seen passing this tranquil dive site.

Fang Ming & Lapas 03 – On the 18th November 1999, two Chinese metal vessels named Fang Ming and Lapas 03, of 56 meters and 36 meters of length respectively were sunk close to Isla Ballena. These vessels were confiscated by the Mexican government for the illegal transportation of immigrants, and remained in their possession until the golden opportunity arose of taking advantage of the situation to create an artificial reef.

Just around the corner from the Bay of La Paz is a remote island called Isla Cerralvo. La Reina (The Queen) is a rock islet just north of Isla Cerralvo with a lighthouse. This site is among the most beautiful in the area. In depths of 80ft (25m) a large reef is found populated by gorgonias of all types, brain corals, large schools of brightly coloured tropical fish, rays, green, zebra & jewelled morays.  This dive is subject to current, but is home to over 8 giant pacific manta rays.

La Reinita (The Little Queen) This small rock pinnacle located on the west side of Isla Cerralvo has a constant current in which schools of fish “hang” waiting for their dinner to pass. Large groupers, sea fans, brain corals and conger garden eels are among the attractions, which make this a favorite site.

Loreto with its cobble-stoned streets, quaint restaurants and colonial buildings includes the Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto, a 17th-century church. The first building of this mission began in 1699. The floor was laid in 1704 and the church was completed by 1752.This town was once the first European settlements in the California’s and served as the capital for 132 years for a territory that extended as far north as San Francisco.

Off the coast, the islands and waters of Bahía de Loreto National Park are home to dolphins, whales and pelicans. The city is backed by the Sierra de la Giganta mountain range, where trails lead to prehistoric cave paintings. The Bay of Loreto National Park was created in 1996, it covers 2,065 square kilometers in the Sea of Cortez ranging from Isla Coronado in the north to Isla Catalana in the south. It recently became a Sister Park/Reserve with the Channel Islands National Park in California, USA. The park includes the stunning Coronado, Del Carmen, Danzante, Monserrat and Santa Catalina islands just offshore of Loreto.

Carmen Island is over 18 miles long and once had a large salt mining operation on its backside. Now a ghost town, a 120-foot fishing boat wreck sits in its bay of Bahia Salina. In only 35 feet of water, the wreck has become home to a variety of marine life and schools of fish. This season, a whale shark even hung around it for a few days. It is a great site for photography. Punta Lobos sits at the north tip of the island. The depth begins at 20 feet and works its way down to an intermediate slope. One can find bass, parrotfish, angelfish and scorpionfish.  Since Isla Carman is so big, there are many sites that make for good diving and snorkeling.

The blue whale is the largest animal to ever live on this earth and can grow to over ninety feet in length. They are also the loudest, a screaming blue whale can be heard for several miles underwater. Blue whales can be found in the Sea of Cortez during the winter months when the water is cool. They seem to favor the islands near Loreto and the deeper waters of the southern Sea of Cortez. They are normally found some distance from shore.

Coronado Island is one of our favorites – with some incredible looking formations. Huge volcanic rocks cover the island, many of which have been formed into majestic steeples. Las Tijeretas dive site on the southeast side has a small wall down to about 75 feet. It is made up of huge rocks, some appearing to be giant pillars standing up cemented together, creating a rock wall 40 feet high. There is a myriad of fish and playful sea lions that will usually be frolicking around you. Pufferfish hide in the rock fissures as does an array of invertebrate life.

La Lobera is also on the southeast side of the island is a great wall dive with a depth to about 100 feet. Beautiful sea fans and black coral trees blanket the wall. Small caverns dot throughout. Large grouper, moray eels and pargo hide out in the crevices. The exit on this dive is in a little cove where more sea lions like to hang out.

Piedra Blanca has massive boulders that appear to have toppled like dominoes down the declining wall. At 60 feet a steep drop-off starts, continuing down into the depths. This wall is fractured with deep slices and wide fissures, along with drooping overhangs. It’s a great spot for photography. At certain times of the year, expect to see schooling tuna and yellowtail.

Danzante Island is much smaller and lies south of Carmen. Faro Norte is on the northeast side of the island. The underwater terrain is a series of stair-stepped walls that eventually drop to over 100 feet. The deep canyons and crevices are lined with both soft and hard corals. The shallow block-like environment makes wonderful homes for both octopus and moray eels. Piedra Submarino looks like a submarine from a distance. Located off the south tip of Danzante, this rock is made up of short walls with intervening crevices running back into the rocks. Parts of this rock drops off quickly. The ledges and undercuts provide a habitat for colorful murex snails, sea stars and if you look closely, the staghorn crab that looks like tiny bits of staghorn coral crawling around.

 

Los Candelleros is a great area for diving around the huge rocky fingers that rise about 5 miles/3km southwest of Puerto Escondido and are characterized by vertical facades dropping to depths of almost 200 feet/60 meters. Deep crevices and lots of structural cover below the surface making a paradise for fish of kinds and sizes.

Punta Coyote is situated just outside of Escondido Bay. There’s a deep water drop-off to approximately 115 feet/35 meters of large rocks and boulders along a good length of the point. The rocky crevices are home to a lot of reef fish. Also typical of this dive site are the sea fans and gorgonians.

A World War II Minesweeper was sunk as an artificial reef about 1.5 miles south of Puerto Escondido. It lies about a half-mile offshore about 30′ below the surface, although portions of the vessel are 70′ down.

Las Galeras is north of Monserrate Island. The rocky outcroppings have steep walls typical of many of the great Loreto dive sites with boulders and large tabletop slabs of underwater rocks. Nearer the rocks themselves the waters are shallow but beyond, the waters drop rapidly to depths close to 100 feet/30 meters with finger reefs along the bottom providing excellent diving and photography opportunities.

The barren islands of the Sea of Cortez are as beautiful topside as they are underwater. These grandly sculptured land formations are home to rabbits, reptiles, rodents and thousands of seabirds. These include the graceful frigate, blue-footed booby (our fave), brown booby, masked booby, brown pelican, egret cormorant, blue heron, sandpiper and ten species of gull.

Bahia de Los Angeles was discovered in 1746 by Jesuit Father Fernando Consag. This was during an attempt was to find an easier and faster way to the Sea of Cortez to supply the missionaries that occupied the San Francisco de Borja Mission, which was located on the top of a mountain 35 kilometers from the bay.

The bay is a semicircle about 2.5 miles diameter and 12 miles long, with its northwestern side opening to the Sea of Cortez, and is located inside of the Marine Reserve that is referred to as High Gulf of California, at Baja California’s east coast. This marine reserve is in one of the world’s highest primary productivity areas, with large populations of fishes, marine turtles and at least 14 types of whales and dolphins, in addition to clams and crustaceans. Its flora and fauna are originally from the central tropics and South America, and from the temperate coast of California.

In this northern part of the Sea you can enjoy whales as a frequent visitor to the outer bay. In the summer and fall months, the area is visited by whale sharks, which are actually the biggest fish in the sea. A close-up encounter with a 30 foot whale shark is something that will not soon be forgotten. There are sixteen islands in and around the bay so the snorkeling, diving and just plain exploring are fantastic with some of the islands housing large populations of sea lions. The males are very vocal and will come after you if you get close to his harem of females!

Punta La Gringa is a shallow dive with sandy bottom and cobble rocks and small reef patches. It is a good snorkeling area for finding shellfish, flatfish and various tropical fish. In these shallow waters divers can find chocolate clams, tiger paw and bay scallops and occasionally horse conch. Stingrays and flatfish are commonly seen as are occasional angel sharks.

Isla Smith has large boulders teetering on each other spilling into colorful reef structures with depths to 90 feet. This rocky terrain has crevices and small chimneys which give way to streams of flickering sunlight. In the deeper crevices we see schools of bright orange glasseyes, soldierfish and cardinalfish in the darker pockets of the reef.

Calaveras Rocks is a shallow dive with a gradual slope and known as Sea Lion Rock. The sea lion colony hangs out here which is fun with the curious and playful pups come and play. Fish life, shellfish and beautiful shades of purple, red, white and orange gorgonian sea fans are sprinkled along the sides of the rocks slowly waving to divers.

Isla Ventana & Isla Cabez de Caballo has a reef between them called Marcelo which harbors an abundance of shellfish including the large pen scallop that can reach up to 12 inches along with schools of yellowtail and jacks along with king and cortez angelfish, barberfish, surgeonfish and wrasses.

Isla Angel de la Guarda has depths that vary up to 200 feet and is the largest of the offshore islands and furthest away from the Bay. This island peaks at 4,000 feet high and is 42 miles long. The almost surrealistic pinnacles of white and black rocks protruding from the water’s surface in Refugio Cove form the most majestic backdrop. Isolated reefs begin in about 30 feet and slope down to deeper depths where we can see schooling jacks, yellowtail, grouper, and 4 types of lobsters. A large pinnacle about a half mile away has a series of sharp walls that stair step down to around 90 feet and the marine life is very abundant here.

Gray Whale Encounters January through March

Going to Baja, the slow way! Every year, the California gray whales set off on the longest migration made by any mammal. They are on their way to Baja to spend a few months enjoying the Pacific lagoons along the Baja coast. The gray whales were once hunted to near extinction in the very waters they work so hard to visit. They are now protected in the U.S. and México, it is thought that the population is now over 20,000 strong.

Enjoy being on a whale watching boat and interacting with the Gray whales on the Pacific side of Baja in the lagoons where they mate & give birth during January through March. It is an incredible experience and not to be missed. The whales usually come right up to the side of the open pangas and you can pet them, they like the human contact.

Package Including Whale Encounter

We offer this as a 3 day land based excursion going from Loreto over to the other side of Baja to Bahia Magdalena and back by van, with accommodations, transportation and the whale tours may be included as part of any 8 day / 7 night or longer liveaboard charter package. We take care of all the arrangements for you, contact us for more details.

Package with Add-on Whale Encounter

If you prefer to do this as an add-on before or after your liveaboard charter at an extra cost, there are 3 different lagoons with several tour operators offering various packages. Due to the variety of options available we recommend that you look at the information for each operator and choose the one that best suits your requirements. We have recommended tour operators for each of the locations and can provide you with contact information to book your whale watching encounter with them directly.