Diving Mexico's Sea of Cortez
Escape to the East Cape - Exploring Baja California Sur
Copyright Ken Knezick - Island Dreams Travel
 
Diving Mexico's Sea of Cortez

 

Life is About Choices - When exiting the San Jose Del Cabo (SJD) Airport, travelers are faced with an interesting decision. To the south lies the burgeoning tourist mecca of Cabo San Lucas. Super deluxe resorts hug the coastline of the brilliant blue Sea of Cortez, while high-rise condominium projects sprout beside the busy four-lane highway. Already host to 20,000 hotel rooms, with more under construction, Los Cabos is second only to Cancun in Mexico's large-scale tourism plans. But if, like me, your ideas of adventure range beyond $150 rounds of golf, tiresome time-share touts, and yet another Hard Rock Café or Planet Hollywood, then you may be tempted to turn in the other direction, north towards the tiny seaside enclaves of Cabo Pulmo, Buena Vista, and Los Barriles, known collectively as Baja California's "East Cape."

Riding Back in Time - The winding two-lane road leading to the East Cape is bordered by a thorny array of cactus plants and scrub brush, interjected occasionally by splashes of color from blooming acacia and bougainvilleas. Immediately beyond the airport, the terrain becomes a mix of convoluted canyons, wide dry arroyos, and the rare spring-fed stream. Cattle range freely, scrounging for their sustenance while squadrons of turkey vultures circle languidly overhead. Wild yet inviting mountains punctuate the distance. For a moment I fancy I'm a cowboy in a western movie. But the fortunate reality is that I'm riding in a fine new air-conditioned van, listening to a CD of lively mariachi music and practicing my Spanish with Manuel, the congenial driver providing my transport to the Buena Vista Hotel, 30 miles to the north, and world's away from the more predictable charms of Cabos San Lucas.

East Cape Entertainment - On the East Cape the attractions are first and foremost sport fishing. Anglers come from around the world to try their luck in the bountiful Sea of Cortez. Changing with seasonal migrations, the catch includes Striped Marlin, Blue Marlin, Black Marlin, Sailfish, Yellowfin Tuna, Dorado, Roosterfish, Mackerel and Wahoo. Both heavy tackle and esoteric saltwater fly-fishing are supported. As befits an ocean side paradise, other activities include scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, horseback riding, hiking, ATV tours, beach combing and good old fun-in-the-sun relaxing.

 
Schooling Jacks

 
Scuba Diving and Marine Life - Rather than on a hook, my preference is to catch fish with my underwater camera, so I recently visited the East Cape to assess its merit as a scuba diving destination. I'm pleased to report that I have come away very much impressed. It must be made clear, however, that the Sea of Cortez diving is much different than what you may have come to expect in the Caribbean or the Asian Pacific. Wide annual variations in water temperature permit only limited growth of hard corals in the Sea of Cortez; so much of the bottom strata are volcanic rock formations. Fortunately, the scarcity of corals is more than compensated for by the profusion of marine life to be found. Underwater attractions feature large schools of fish - jacks, snapper, mullet, pompano and the like. Sightings of manta rays, mobula rays, bat rays, eagle rays, and even whale sharks are not uncommon. On some dive sites, sea lions are routinely encountered. This trip, I spent a one-hour dive watching a pair of these agile 400-pound swimmers blaze through a school of 1,000+ jacks and twice saw them catch and eat fresh fish on the fly. The very next dive ended by swimming over a circling school of more than one thousand golden cow-nosed rays. Dive experiences undreamed of elsewhere become commonplace in the Sea of Cortez.

Vista Sea Sport - Such exciting diving merits a quality dive operation. Fortunately, this is to be found in Vista Sea Sport, positioned to serve all of the East Cape's lodgings. Owners Mark and Jennifer Rayor have lived in Buena Vista for 12 years. Both PADI instructors, they have assured that all staff members, including their excellent boat drivers, are certified to at least Divemaster status and are well trained in CPR and First Aid. Their fleet of dive boats includes a 31-foot cruiser; plus three "Super-Pangas," sun-covered, outboard-powered runabouts locally built and perfectly suited to the sea conditions. All boats are outfitted with radios, oxygen and first aid kits. Most importantly, Mark and Jennifer exhibit a solid knowledge of, and a deep love for, Sea of Cortez diving. After diving with them myself, I can recommend their services with confidence.

East Cape Hotel Options - Quite justifiably referred to as Baja's "hidden treasure," the East Cape still only has a few hundred hotel rooms in all. The community is supplemented by a recent sprouting of private vacation homes, some quite sumptuous, including those owned by big name celebrities looking for a quiet hideaway amidst natural splendor. The East Cape hotels range from plain to plush, though all seem modestly priced in relation to their setting and services. All feature full American meal plans that include three meals daily. Following are a selection of hotels that, during my recent inspection, I felt offered a superior combination of quality and value.

Live-Aboard Alternatives - The Sea of Cortez is also an excellent place for live-aboard diving. Dive boat options include the Sol Mar V, Baja Explorador, and the Rio Rita. Of these, M/V Sol Mar V is by far the most sophisticated option. Please contact Island Dreams for complete details.

Seasonality - This is a region where visiting at the proper time of year, and being prepared for prevailing conditions, is critical to the success of your holiday. If coming for warmer water scuba diving, you may expect good conditions June through November. Prior to June, water temperatures are relatively quite cold. By the end of November, the winds have changed direction and sea conditions will deteriorate. Barring a hurricane, prime conditions may be expected during August, September and October. However, divers who are prepared for colder water may also enjoy the Winter months. Although a heavier wet suit is required in the Winter, and the visibility may not be as good, the sighting of everything from huge pelagics to numerous nudibranchs can make it well worth the trip.

 
Sea Lion Hunting Jacks

 
Island Dreams Dive Travel

The Bottom Line - Baja California Sur offers a truly unique natural environment - I describe it as "Arizona by the Sea." For beautiful coral formations, visit Cozumel, Fiji, or Indonesia (for instance), but for big animal action your best bets are Galapagos, Ecuador; Cocos, Costa Rica; and Mexico's Sea of Cortez. Of these options, the Sea of Cortez is by far the most accessible and affordable. Seasonality is the key to a great trip, but truly inspiring diving await those who are ready for something new and exciting. I invite you to fly to San Jose del Cabo, and turn north to the road less traveled, as you too may enjoy your own "Escape to the East Cape."

Yours in diving, Ken Knezick - Island Dreams Travel


Rainbow


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Additional Resources: Island Dreams has dedicated color brochures for the East Cape Resorts and liveaboards. We can help to arrange your individual cruise, or perhaps you'd like news about other individual and group trips to this region. You are invited to call or e-mail for additional information, advice, or assistance with bookings and airfares.


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