Story and photos by Kaia Thomson
In and on the Sea of Cortez with The Cortez Club
It is like swimming in an aquarium… the best in the world!
The SCUBA diving and snorkeling areas around La Paz consist of islands, islets, seamounts, coves and white sandy beaches. Some of the best time in the water is during the summer and fall months, when sea life abounds in the warm clear water. The main attraction, at most sites, is the numerous array of inhabitants, full of color and diversity, that abound just a panga ride away from La Paz. Whether you are a swimmer, diver or snorkeler, spending a day, or several, with the Cortez Club in and on the Sea of Cortez is an amazing experience!
Balandra Bay is located near the tip of the La Paz Peninsula. This beautiful turquoise bay is great stop for lunch between dives or a snorkel trip around the famous “mushroom of Balandra Bay,” one of La Paz’s most photographed natural monuments. The rocky reef that extends off the peninsula is home to many colorful fish and eels, as well as several species of puffer fish that like to hang out in the sandy areas further into the bay.
Bonanza Beach, located on the southeast side of Isla Espiritu Santo, is a great beach to go snorkeling or for beginners, an easy “walk out” dive site from the beach where huge red crabs sit on the rocks and fish, eels, starfish and sea urchins decorate the reefs.
El Bajo is 8 miles or so to the east from Los Islotes, and is famed for a chance to swim with the “big stuff!” Advanced open water divers find many amazing sea creatures on and around the 3 seamounts, located about 60 feet below the surface. Hammerheads, giant mantas, large schooling fish and even a close encounter with a whale shark is possible here. Octopus, colorful eels and colonies of huge green Panamic moray eels almost seem to piled on top of each other in the crags and crevasses of these pinnacles rising up from the ocean floor.
Fang Ming Wreck: At 70 feet maximum depth sits the Fang Ming. She was sunk in 1999 off the west side of Isla Espiritu Santo to create 185 feet of artificial reef and marine habitat for hundreds of fish and mollusks. Quite often a sea turtle takes up residence on the bow. This is a great site for divers, photographers, students and those who might just like to hang around on the conning tower 20 feet below the surface and watch the world swim by.
Isla Ballena (Whale Island) is the largest of 3 islands sitting to the west of Isla Espiritu Santo. Around the entire island, that resembles a sleeping whale on the surface, are many dive and snorkel sites. Surrounded by inlets, caves and huge boulders that taper away from the island, this is a great site for all to enjoy and explore.
La Reyna, a small rock islet, is located north of Isla Cerralvo and is home to several sea lions, giant manta rays and numerous schools of brightly colored fish. Below the surface are several slight canyons that are host to zebra and jeweled moray eels as they make their way through the gorgonian fans and large structures of brain coral.
La Reynita is directly off the coast of Isla Cerralvo. This mini-pinnacle has a constant current flowing around it that attracts schools of fish that utilize the constant flow of water for feeding. Small canyons, arches and walls that rise from the sandy floor create even more habitats for a diverse group of underwater residents.
Los Islotes is where the underwater circus comes to town! Complete with sea lions, sardines and swim-throughs, Los Islotes is famed for nonstop action and fun. Located about a half a mile off the northern tip of Isla Espiritu Santo, these two large rock islets offer endless possibilities for divers and snorkelers. Large schools of blue and gold snapper, King Angels, orange-gold cup corals and chocolate chip sea stars are all right there for your viewing pleasure accompanied by the playful sea lion pups.
Punta Lobos, on the east side of Isla Espiritu Santo, offers divers a chance to explore some of the biggest boulders underwater as they slope away from the island to a depth of around 90 feet. Here amongst the rocks, octopuses, lobsters and giant sea horses are found and the faces of the boulders are covered in colorful gorgonian fans. Don’t forget to look up now and then to enjoy the huge schools of manta mobula passing overhead.
Salvatierra Wreck, located in the San Lorenzo Channel between the tip of the peninsula and Isla Espiritu Santo, is the remains of the Salvatierra cargo ferry that is still very much intact after striking Swanee Rock in 1976. No lives were lost when the 320 foot ferry went down in about 65 feet of water that has now become a haven for sea life on this thriving artificial reef. Cortez Angels abound, tiny fish and crustaceans hide and even giant groupers are spotted hovering in the remains of the tires and trailers surrounding the wreck.
Swanee Reef, fabulous! From 6 feet below the surface to 35 feet deep, Swanee Reef has some of the most diverse sea life, all in one place, than any other site and seems to be buried in millions of fish. Spot tail grunts school by the hundreds while “herds” of Mexican goatfish work their way through the sand with their whiskers. Gorgonians, zebra moray eels and stone scorpion fish sit like sentries on the rocks watching the schools of barracuda swim in lazy circles above the sand. At certain times of the year the male Sergeant Majors lose their yellow stripes as they turn bright bluish purple creating colored nests on the rocks, waiting for their harem of mates to show up.
Whale Shark Expeditions: Generally, the world’s largest fish, the whale shark, tend to hang out in the shallow waters off of El Mogote sand across the bay from La Paz. Swimming with these gentle beautifully speckled creatures can be the beginning or the ending of a perfect day on and in the Sea of Cortez. ¡Disfrútalo!… and don’t forget your camera!
Please visit www.cortezclub.com for more information on the many ways to experience the underwater realm of the world’s largest natural aquarium. In addition to offering the best SCUBA diving, The Cortez Club also is fully equipped to take you on a variety of water sports adventures. Go kayaking, water skiing, windsurfing, wave running, sailing or head out for a day of sport fishing with the world renowned Mosquito Fleet. Open and operating year round with two locations on the Carretera a Pichilingue at Km 5 as well as La Paz’s newest resort and spa facility, Marina Costa Baja.
Tel: +52 (612) 121-6120, +52 (612) 121-6121 or from the US call 1 877 408 6769.
Skype: ‘the cortez club’ email: firstname.lastname@example.org