by R.J. Archer
If you’ve ever visited Cabo San Lucas, or even seen pictures of the city, you’re no doubt familiar with the famous Los Arcos (the Arches) that stand majestically at the tip of the Baja Peninsula on a finger of rock and sand known as Land’s End. This area is easily accessible by the many pangas and glass bottom boats that fill the Cabo marina and the mini-peninsula includes a sea lion colony and the famous Lovers Beach – a wide strip of sand that connects the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean. These two attractions alone make a trip to Land’s End a rewarding day trip, but if you’re a scuba diver, there are many more reasons to visit. For divers of all skill levels, Land’s End provides some awesome dive sites and there are several dive operations around the marina that can get you out to see them. Some of the more popular sites (see map below) include:
1. North Wall (15’ – 120’) is just outside the entrance to the Cabo marina. The shallows provide a smooth, sandy bottom perfect for diving classes but it gradually slopes off to 30′ where a wall dramatically drops hundreds of feet. Along the top of the wall you’ll find a large variety of marine life, including large coral heads, moray eels, puffers, tropical fish, octopus, hermit crabs, urchins, cone-head crabs and lobster. Farther down, you might see diamond and bulls-eye rays, eagle rays, mantas, sea turtles, an occasional whale shark or even the local white tip shark.
2. Sand Falls (15’-140’) was originally discovered by Jacques Costeau forty years ago and is situated on the edge of a deep submarine canyon. The falls start at about 90′ where sand gathers on the slope and eventually begins to slide under its own weight descending down to depths of up to 400′. Sand Falls is home to more than 300 species of marine life including octopus, schools of barracuda, rays and large fish coming in from the nearby deeper water. This is an excellent night dive sight.
3. Pelican Rock (20’-120’) is the perfect dive site and it’s an excellent choice for every level of diver, from beginner/resort diver to the more experienced. The shallows provide a smooth, sandy bottom in 15′ of water – perfect for dive classes. More experienced divers can drop down the face of the wall to 90′ and view the deep hidden pinnacle rocks. The depth creates almost perfect visibility and provides a glimpse of pristine fan corals and gorgonians on the underwater edge of the Cabo San Lucas Bay. Intermediate divers may want to stop at 50′ to 70′ and explore the base of the main pinnacle. This area is home to the same variety of marine life found at Sand Falls and the North Wall: Mexican parrot fish, porcupine fish, box puffers, Mexican clown fish, octopus, goat fish, surgeon fish, yellow snapper, buttercups, and many others. In addition, it’s not uncommon to see eagle rays, mantas, sea lions, white-tip reef sharks, sea turtles and an occasional whale shark lurking along the face of the deep wall.
4. Middle Wall (100’) is a deep site for advanced divers only. This area provides a look at pristine fan corals, gorgonians and large schools of fish deep along the wall. It is common to see large grouper, sea bass, yellow snapper and countless other species here.
5. South Wall (90’-120’) is deep and only for advanced divers. The depth provides a look at the amazing geology of the Cabo San Lucas Bay. Very similar to the Middle Wall, it is home to large amounts of marine life and pristine coral formations.
6. Neptune’s Finger (30’-120’) is located off the edge of Lover’s Beach and is a great spot for exploring the deep ridge along the edge of the Cabo San Lucas Bay. The ridge starts at about 80′ and drops down to more than 600′. This is a good location for watching passing schools of manta rays, exploring small Sand Falls and enjoying the macro life present in the shallows along the rocks that create the finger. Countless species of life can be witnessed here. This is a deep dive, for advanced divers only.
7. Sea Lion Colony (20’-70’) is a dive that gives even the novice diver an excellent opportunity to join and observe the sea lions in their own habitat. The sea lions are playful and active creatures. The females are very friendly and often seem to show off, swimming in circles and spirals in front of divers while the larger males keep more to themselves. You’ll also see lots of other marine life, including eels, angelfish, parrotfish, garden eels, spotted box fish puffers, giant hawkfish and barberfish. You might also see tuna, barracuda, herring, turtles and schools of jack.
8. Shipwreck (50’-70’) is a small shipwreck that gets smaller every year due to erosion and the constant motion of the Pacific current. This boat used to bring people back and forth from Mazatlan to Cabo San Lucas. This is a newer dive site and it’s located outside the bay in the Pacific Ocean.
9. Land’s End (20′-80′) is the name given to the place where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific. This site may experience currents, especially in the shallower areas. Large bait schools the size of a football field can sometimes be found here. Mackerel, barracuda, sardines and other species congregate here attracting sea lions, bonita, yellow-fin tuna, roosterfish and other predators in search of easy hunting. Large mantas pass by periodically.
Because the dive sites are so close, many Cabo dive operators run several trips per day to Land’s End, so you don’t even have to get up early to enjoy an incredible dive ! For a complete list of dive operators serving this and other Baja dive destinations, visit http://www.bajadivers.com and click on the Dive in Baja link.
by R.J. Archer
With all the incredible diving around Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, why would anyone get on a boat and travel 240 miles south of the peninsula’s southern tip to dive? Well, it turns out that there are some really big reasons! Big – as in whales, sharks and huge manta rays. For divers seeking some adventure, a live-aboard trip to the remote island of Socorro is a must.
The Revillagigedo Archipelago, known world-wide as the Mexican Galapagos, is a group of four volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean recognized for its unique ecosystem and large concentrations of pelagic species. Most of the dive activity in the Archipelago occurs around Socorro, an island that rises abruptly from the sea to 1050 meters (3,445 feet) above sea level at its summit. The Mexican government is heavily involved in preservation efforts, making Socorro Island an ideal location for diving.
Socorro is approximately 386 km (240 miles) south of Cabo San Lucas and 600 km (372 miles) west of the Mexican mainland. It is only accessible by long-range, live-aboard boats which depart Cabo San Lucas November through May when the seas are the calmest. Tours typically last from 8 to 9 days and include 6 or 7 days of diving because the crossing between Cabo and the island takes about twenty-four hours.
The live-aboard vessels that serve Socorro range from 33 meters (110 feet) to 35 meters (116 feet) and offer all the luxuries a diver could want including resident chefs, air conditioning and comfortable state rooms. The diving is considered intermediate level but less experienced divers are welcome on most dives.
Water temperatures at Socorro range from 28 C (82 F) in November down to 21 C (70 F) in February and rise back to 25 C (77 F) by mid-May. Visibilities vary, but they can be as much as 40 meters (130 feet) in the strikingly blue waters.
Okay, so why go to the Socorro area in the first place? As mentioned above, there are a number of large species that inhabit the waters around the island and they are often found in large quantities. One of the most amazing creatures you will see is the Giant Pacific manta ray, which can grow to 7.5 meters (21 feet), wingtip to wingtip. These gentle giants are diver-friendly and up-close-and-personal encounters are quite common.
Bottlenose dolphins have always been spotted at Socorro, but until recently they were “shy” and kept their distance. However, according to Mike Lever, captain of the Nautilus Explorer, all that changed about three years ago when they began imitating the mantas by interacting with divers and “…even hanging on ascent lines with divers at their safety stop. There is nothing quite like seeing a dolphin hanging at a safety stop with the ascent rope tucked underneath its pectoral fin!”
At least seven species of sharks inhabit the waters around Socorro, including Silky, Galapagos, Hammerhead, Whitetip, Silvertip, Reef and Tiger. Whale sharks, a long as 13 meters (40 feet) can be seen in the early part of the season and the winter months bring more than 1,200 humpback whales to the area to breed and calve.
You can also expect to see large yellow-fin tuna (the world record was caught near Socorro), wahoo, turtles, octopuses and large schools of jack. It’s little wonder that Socorro has become known as the best big animal diving spot on earth! For underwater photographers and videographers, Socorro is a true paradise. Check out Jason Heller’s recent expedition to Socorro aboard the Solmar V at http://www.divephotoguide.com/articles/video__dpg_expedition_report__socorro. He’s a professional underwater photographer and he’s posted some great photos from his trip.
For more information about the fabulous diving available around the Baja Peninsula, please visit our main Baja Divers site.
by R.J. Archer
For more than 100 years, scattered reports have told of Great White sharks up and down the Pacific coasts of North America. In the 1970s a rash of attacks on California surfers alerted the public to the presence of deadly predators that shared their precious surf. A few years later, researchers discovered that a large and stable population of adult Great Whites returned year after year to feed on Northern Elephant seals and tuna in the waters around Isla Guadalupe, 160 miles off the north-central coast of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. These sharks, sometimes reaching 19 feet in length, surged up from the depths and attacked the catches of long-range sport fishing boats who visited Isla Guadalupe in search of world-class tuna.
Free-lance writer Jenna Rose Robbins describes her experiences on an expedition led by Patric Douglas, the CEO of Shark Diver, in her own words:
“And then it appeared. Like a phantom shadow, the shark approached from below, slowly swishing its massive tail side to side as if it had all the time in the world. This was nothing like spotting a shark confined in an aquarium’s tank. With our cage dangling over the side of the 88-foot MV Horizon, my cage-mates and I were well aware that we were but visitors in the shark’s domain.”
“As the behemoth approached, we determined it was a female, and as she glided past just inches from our cage, her length was so great it seemed forever before she passed. I’d heard that great whites could reach such lengths — and longer — and for better perspective, I’d told myself I’d be seeing creatures roughly the length of a VW bus. What I hadn’t counted on was the girth. I’d joked to landlubber friends that I was going to ride a shark, but after seeing how wide a female could grow, there was no conceivable way I could have saddled one, even had I been suicidal enough to try such a ridiculous (and illegal) feat. The six-foot-wide creature slid past, her black eye so close we could see the pupil, which made the shark even eerier than when she appeared to have two black, unseeing orbs.”
Although companies such as Shark Diver offer extreme adventure dive trips to the public, they are also very involved in the conservation, protection and study of the Great Whites. Shark Diver, for example, provides both financial and practical aid to a number of shark conservation groups and all responsible shark dive operators realize that their continued success is dependent on the viability of the shark populations they view and study.
One such group, the Guadalupe Island Conservation Fund, was established in early 2006 by the International Community Foundation (ICF) in close collaboration with members of the scuba diving and eco-community to support and raise money to help the Government of Mexico protect the endangered shark population of Isla Guadalupe and to channel money from growing white shark tourism into local conservation-related projects on the island. This fund is managed by the International Community Foundation, a registered 501c3 not-for-profit organization which is dedicated to expanding charitable giving internationally with an emphasis in environment and conservation grant-making in Northwest Mexico.
While shark diving isn’t for everybody, it certainly provides marine enthusiasts with an opportunity shared by few others. Even non-divers can experience the thrill thanks to special onboard training and equipment offered by many operators. Shark “season” runs from September through November and Isla Guadalupe is well known for its warm waters and 100-foot visibilities. For more information and some incredible videos of shark diving, please visit the Web sites listed below.
(415) 233-4951 or (888) 328-7449
M/V Nautilus Explorer (departs from Ensenada, MX)
(604) 657-7614 or (888) 434-8322
M/V Horizon (departs from San Diego, CA)
For more information about diving Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, visit www.BajaDivers.com