What better way could there be to escape from the pressures of daily life than to jump into azure waters and enter another world entirely? Snorkeling in Baja California offers travelers the chance to shed their land-legs and resist the pull of gravity while experiencing the exotic colors of living coral reefs and 600 dazzling species of marine life for a fraction of the price of a standard scuba diving tour. Best of all, snorkeling requires no special training or expensive equipment. If you can swim and breathe through a tube, you're all set to begin your first undersea adventure!
Many of the outstanding scuba diving locations that Baja California is famous for also make wonderful places to snorkel. From thriving kelp forests and cool water marine life in the protected Pacific-side waters south of Ensenada (from Punta Banda peninsula to La Bufadora) to exotic tropical creatures frolicking in the warm water of world famous Cabo Pulmo Marine Park (Sea of Cortez), there will always be something new and exciting for even the most experienced of snorkelers to enjoy. Beginners may choose to stay close to shore and explore rocky tidepools and craggy islands, while some advanced snorkelers can even try amateur free-diving!
A wide variety of snorkeling options in Baja California will fit the needs of all underwater enthusiasts. Many excellent companies (listed below) offer snorkeling packages or tours, some of which also include sea-kayaking and/or scuba diving. Other travelers may prefer to chart their own course through the Baja waters, either alone or with their family and friends.
Whether you choose to take the plunge on your own or as part of a guided tour, we at Baja Bound highly recommend that you grab a snorkeling buddy and a good pair of swim fins and dive into one of the following underwater playgrounds surrounding Baja California! You won't regret it.
Recommended Snorkeling Spots:
Not only does this small town south of Ensenada boast excellent boat diving in the Pacific Ocean, it also makes a fantastic spot for snorkeling in the right weather conditions. Snorkeling adventurers will be amazed by underwater kelp forests, vivid orange garibaldi, schools of sardines, sheepshead, starfish, sea urchins and excellent visibility to the ocean floor ranging from 25 to 50 feet below. Water temperature is similar to that of San Diego (mid-fifties to low-seventies) and weather is generally mild. Coastal camping is available.
Puerto Peúasco (aka Rocky Point) is a small fishing port and resort town located 60 miles south of the US border in Arizona. Long known for its abundant fishing, Puerto Peúasco is also gaining international recognition as a center for marine research. While the large tidal change in the upper Gulf of California (as much as 30 feet) does limit the diversity of marine life found near Puerto Peúasco, there are many intriguing rocky tide pools to explore where you will likely come into contact with several of the 2500 vertebrate and invertebrate species that populate the upper Gulf. Fortunate snorkelers in this area may also enjoy an increasingly rare opportunity to encounter two highly endangered species: the totoaba and vaquita, described in detail below (San Felipe). Puerto Peúasco offers wonderful camping areas in addition to coves and islands. It is easy to reach, thanks to a very modern four lane highway which stretches through the Piúacate Desert into Puerto Peúasco. With good accommodations and plenty of options for dining out, Puerto Peúasco offers plenty of relaxation and culture to round out any snorkeling adventure!
Dolphin lovers will be thrilled by the opportunity to snorkel in and around the waters of San Felipe, especially near the rocky islet of Rocas Consag where bottlenose dolphins feed and leap by the hundreds. However, conservationist adventurers may be equally impressed by sightings of two increasingly rare endangered species: the totoaba and vaquita. Vaquita, a species of porpoise first identified in 1958, are now found nowhere on Earth except in the waters off of San Felipe. In fact, scientists estimate that only about 400 of these beautiful creatures remain due to their tendency to become "by-catch" in mesh gill nets used by fishermen and shrimpers throughout the northern Gulf of California. Totoaba are 300 pound corvina fish that spawn in the upper gulf's shallow, sediment-laden waters, and like the vaquita live only off of San Felipe. Unfortunately, although formally protected by the Mexican government, they too get caught in nets before they have a chance to reproduce. With the population of each species dwindling rapidly, encountering a totuaba and vaquita may prove to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
San Felipe snorkelers will also take pleasure in viewing yellowtail, cabrilla, white seabass, snapper, squid, and countless other species endemic to the region. In summer months, snorkelers may be treated to unique views of other migratory surface species exploring the northerly limits of their ranges - including dorado, roosterfish, sailfish and even marlin!
A small arid desert enclave on the bay, the best beaches in Puertocitos are those just to the north and south of town. Although there are two camping locations in Puertocitos, snorkeling enthusiasts may wish to enjoy Puertocitos as a day trip and camp in the slightly more organized and better equipped San Felipe or Gonzaga Bay locations nearby. Novice snorkelers may enjoy poking around the rocks at the south and east ends of the harbor, especially during high tide. Experienced snorkelers sometimes hire local boat owners to take them out into the Sea of Cortez for a morning or afternoon, perhaps to Las Islas de las Encantadas located just south of Puertocitos. You can relax in local hot springs after a refreshing day in the sea. A word of caution: Bring your own snorkeling equipment with you! Due to its remote location and lack of major touring companies, it is better not to depend upon renting your gear in Puertocitos.
If you are camping out in the Puertocitos/San Felipe area, snorkeling off the coast may be a fun way to beat the summer heat. In all honesty though, snorkeling conditions in Puertocitos and San Felipe are not amazing when compared with other areas of Baja. For a candid first person account of marine life diversity and water visibility in Puertocitos and San Felipe, please click here.
Isla Angel de la Guardia
Although most of the northern Gulf of California is quite shallow (with depths less than 100 feet), it may surprise you to learn that a 4,800 foot deep channel ("Canal de Ballenas") divides the Baja California peninsula and Isla Angel de la Guardia. The warm, deep waters of this abyss boast an incredible abundance of marine life which feed off of local phytoplankton blooms otherwise known as 'red tides' which occur thanks to upwelling from below. Snorkelers in this channel and off the shore of Isla Angel de la Guardia will love spending time around "La Ventana"(window rock) where they can interact with Finback whales, California sea lions, Sargassum, and many brightly colored fish and invertebrates. As the largest of the 11 Midriff Islands, Isla Angel de la Guardia is actually a volcanic mountain top rising from the northern Gulf waters, and can only be reached by boat.
Only twelve miles ashore from wonderful snorkeling in the coves of Isla San Marcos, the bustling town of Santa Rosalia provides a commercial center for inhabitants of all towns in the surrounding area. In Santa Rosalia, you will find wonderful bakeries, schools, banks, restaurants, markets, a library, the ferry to Guaymas on the mainland, and a fascinating 19th century metal church designed by Gustav Eiffel. The town itself was once prosperous, established in the late 1800s by a French mining company and originally inhabited originally by Europeans. Santa Rosalia makes a great place for snorkelers to stop for equipment and supplies before hiring a local panga boat to reach rocky Isla San Marcos. One exceptional underwater attraction to look out when snorkeling near the island is the Humboldt squid, named for the Humboldt current off of Peru. This startling creature can grow to be 7 feet long and 100 lbs! The Humboldt squid has begun to replace local game species such as hammerhead shark, tuna and marlin whose numbers are rapidly dwindling due to years of overfishing. Although the squid feed mainly at night, they make an impressive sight under any conditions and may try to touch you with their tentacles! Important note: Avoid snorkeling at the beach right in front of Santa Rosalia, as there is very little sea life to view - perhaps due to the enormous quantities of copper ore slag dumped there in years past.
Mulegé heralds your true entrance into the snorkelers' paradise for which the Sea of Cortez is famous around the world. Among the stunning reefs you will find throughout the tranquil and warm waters between Mulegé and Loreto you are guaranteed to encounter wonderful species such as vividly colored angelfish and damselfish, starfish and sea urchins, green and brown moray eels, puffer fish, wrasse, dorado, sergeant majors, barracuda and sweet lips; as well as turtles, sea lions, manta rays, octopus, mobula, whales and even (infrequently) yellow bellied sea snakes! Both beginning and experienced snorkelers will delight in the highest levels of pelagic invertebrate diversity in the Gulf of California found from Bahia Concepción to La Paz.
Loreto National Marine Park is home to over 800 species of fish, as well as invertebrates, Humboldt squid, sea lions, dolphins, sea turtles, whales, hammerhead sharks and whale sharks. There are also wonderful colored sea fans and black coral. Sea temperature ranges from 60 to 85 degrees F, and visibility ranges from 30 to 60 feet in colder months and 50 - 120 feet in the warmer season. Popular snorkeling locations include Puerto Don Juan, Isla Del Carmen, Isla Danzante and Nopolo Beach, all of which are nearby and easily accessible by boat ride from Loreto. For those who would rather stick closer to town, in good weather you can enjoy fun snorkeling just off of the Malecón sea wall in the center of the city.
It is widely agreed that the most phenomenal underwater habitats of Baja California can be found in the lower Gulf of California, from La Paz to Cabo San Lucas. In this tropical marine environment, coral bottoms are common. Set against the Sierra de La Giganta, lucky snorkelers in the Sea of Cortez will definitely come across moray eels, sea lions, dolphins, manta rays, and a wide variety of tropical fish and other marine species. You may even enjoy sighting hammerheads and whale sharks; blue, gray and orca whales! The further offshore you go, the more likely you are to increase your odds of experiencing a high diversity of habitats and organisms. While the Bay of La Paz does not offer much, your snorkeling experiences will continuously improve as you go out to the end points of Playas Tecolote and El Coyote, and offshore islands Cerralvo, Espiritu Santo and Los Islotes.
The Cabo San Lucas region offers wonderfully diverse marine life. Cabo Pulmo (only a 2 hour drive from Cabo) has the only living coral reef on the Pacific Side of North America. Fishing is not allowed in the Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park, ensuring that snorkelers will enjoy swimming through 10 miles of pristine waters while viewing the golden, green and rust colored coral outcroppings often described as looking like "huge heads of cauliflower". Amid large forests of seaweed, you will see and interact with whole schools of tropical fish including puffers, angelfish, spiny blowfish, needlefish, eels, damselfish, parrotfish, fluorescent fish and game fish. In addition, there are many rays, turtles and pristine beach coves to explore. Water temperature in the area (approx 70 degrees F) stays fairly constant year-round and happily for those who would rather not take a tour or boat, much of this incredible reef is accessible directly from shore.
Companies Providing Excellent Snorkeling Tours and/or Equipment:
Baja Blue Diver
Phone: +52 (646) 120-3040
Baja Blue Diver offers basic instruction for first timers and and a variety of snorkeling tours that include all the necessary gear and even lunch.
Sun n'Fun Dive Shop
Phone: +52 (638) 383-5450 or Toll-Free from USA 1-888-381-7720
Widely recommended by experienced snorkelers, the Sun n'Fun Dive rents and sells complete snorkeling equipment and arranges boat tours. Babysitting for children 6 years or less may be arranged for fee.
San Felipe and Puertocitos
Charters Mar de Cortez
Phone: +52 (686) 577-1278
Located at El Dorado Ranch, 5 miles N of San Felipe
Contact Mike Sullivan in advance for reservations
Enchanted Island Excursions
Phone: +52 (686) 577-1431
Isla Angel de la Guardia
Isla Angel de la Guardia is the largest island in the Sea of Cortez, located in Bahia de los Angeles. Although there are no official rental places for snorkeling gear in Bahia de los Angeles, local hotels can arrange equipment rental for you. For information on hotels located in Bahia de los Angeles which provide these services, click here.
Santa Rosalia is not particularly oriented to tourism and has no established boat or snorkeling tour company. (It also lacks sportfishing companies, despite the enormous wealth of game fish near the island!) The best way to get to Isla San Marcos and Isla Tortuga is to contact Cortez Explorers. They have a boat to take you there!
Cortez Explorers will rent you complete snorkeling equipment (including wetsuits and sunscreen) for up to three days. They offer guided boat tours for those interested in snorkeling with sea lions around Santa Iúez and other nearby locations, and will gladly help you to arrange accommodations in the Mulegé area for any budget.
Phone: +52 (613) 135-1134 or Toll-Free from USA 1-888-649-5951
Baja Outpost offers snorkeling trips year round, and is proud that approximately 50% of their guests come to snorkel with sea lions, dolphins and manta rays in the beautiful Loreto Marine Park. Snorkelers who participate in a Baja Outpost tour visit between 2 and 3 reefs in a day. Their boats follow the snorkelers 50ft back, so you can always rest whenever you need to. Trips are suitable for children and senior citizens, instruction is offered by experienced guides, and life vests are provided for your safety.
Dolphin Dive Center
Phone: +52 (613) 135-1914
Although the Dolphin Dive Center is a full service PADI scuba diving center caters mostly to scuba divers, they also offer complete equipment rentals including mask, snorkel and fins for up to three days. Co-owners Susan Speck and Bruce Williams authored "Diving and Snorkeling the Sea of Cortez".
Baja Adventure Company
Phone: 1.877.560.2252 USA or Mexico +52 (612) 124-6629
Baja Adventure Company is an eco-conservation company offering a variety of snorkeling adventures created around your travel goals. You can snorkel throughout the day and then unwind in the evening in the laid-back city of La Paz, or you can come on a "liveaboard" snorkeling adventure. Their trips have a fun, "learning" atmosphere in addition to exciting encounters with live animals. Destinations include the Los Islotes sea lion colony and Cerralvo Island.
Phone: 1.877.408.6769 USA or +52 (612) 121-6120 International
Cortez Club is Baja California's only National Geographic PADI 5 star Gold Palm IDC Resort and Watersports Center. They offer a special snorkeling tour to swim and play with the California brown sea lions of Los Islotes, which includes the opportunity to see and interact with schools of fish, coral reef, manta rays, and sometimes even large species like dolphins and whales. Lunch is taken on the beach of Isla Partida. Tour includes all equipment, sandwich or burritos, water, sodas, fruit, snacks. Important note: The Cortez Club does not allow collection of live marine species on their tours.
Cabo San Lucas
Nomadas de Baja Mexico
Phone: Mexico +52 (624) 146-9612
Highly recommended by their former clients, Nomadas de Baja offer three once-in-a-lifetime snorkeling adventures to the Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park, Santa Maria Bay and Chileno Beach. All snorkeling tours include roundtrip transportation, complete equipment including mask, fins and snorkel, wetsuit and life jacket, certified guides trained in First Aid and CPR, lunch, purified water and sodas. Snorkelers are encouraged to feed the fish, take underwater photos, swim and relax. There will be beach umbrellas and (in some locations) local shopping nearby in case you want to wander and explore. Important note: A 4 person minimum is required for each tour.
Baja Bound Snorkeling Article Sources:
- http://www.mexonline.com/amigonews/00december.htm, "10 Reasons to Love Baja", by Ann Hazard, cited on May 15, 2007
- http://www.mexicoguru.com/puntabanda.php, "Punta Banda, Baja California" cited on May 15, 2007
- http://www.bajaexpo.com/cities/puntabanda.htm cited on May 15, 2007
- http://math.ucr.edu/ftm/bajaPages/MarineBiology.html, "Common Fishes and Invertebrates of Baja California", by Dr. Benjamin Victor, cited on June 1, 2007
- http://www.desertusa.com/magoct97/oct_cortez1.html cited on May 29, 2007
- http://www.mexfish.com/sros/sros.htm cited on June 1, 2007