The Gateway to Big Animals Thrills
The Baja Peninsula is the launching point for some of the most electrifying big animal encounters on earth. Boats depart from Cabo San Lucas for cruises to the Socorro Islands, where undersea pinnacles attract giant manta rays, silky sharks, bottlenose dolphins and hammerheads. Divers may be immersed in flashing shoals of jacks and yellowfin tuna, or catch a glimpse of migrating humpback whales. Farther to the north, La Paz is the starting point for trips into the rich waters of the sea of Cortez, where sea lions and seal frolic. Out in the Pacific, Guadalupe Island provides a rare and unforgettable opportunity for cage dives with great white sharks in cerulean blue waters.
- Best for: Experienced divers comfortable with big animals, open water and liveaboard protocols
- Best season to visit: December to June for Socorro trips; year-round in La Paz, with peak visibility in summer; August to October for Great Whites at Guadalupe
- Weather: Winter and spring air temperatures in the Socorro islands range from 70 degrees to the low 80s, with frequent sunshine. Similar surface conditions are found at Guadalupe Island in late summer and fall
About Diving in Baja
Access to big animal encounters off Mexico's Pacific coast is by liveaboard. The Soccoro Islands offer little in the way of shallow sites or colorful corals and the emphasis is on the larger marine life that congregates near the rocky slopes and pinnacles that rise from the deep water. Water temperatures drop from the low 80s in November to the mid to low 70s in February, then warm by April. These barren islands are not suited for shore excursions, and some sites may be exposed to swells and currents. Liveaboards move to sheltered leeward shores at night. La Paz serves as the starting point for day and overnight trips to coastal sites and the nearby barrier islands. Shark diving at Guadalupe Island takes place in cages set at shallow depths. Water temperatures at Guadalupe range from the high 50s to the low 70s.
Diving in Baja Tips
Trips to and from the Socorro islands and Guadalupe Island will begin and end with a long boat ride. If inclined to motion sickness, eat light, limit caffeine and alcohol, and relax in your bunk to give yourself time to acclimate to the motion.
Best Places to Dive in Baja
On San Benedicto Island, mantas congregate at the cleaning stations of The Boiler, while The Canyons add sharks to the mix. The soaring red cliffs of Cabo Pearce provide a dramatic backdrop for encounters with playful encounters, while Roca Partida is an open-ocean oasis of life that attracts massive fish shoals and is visited by ten species of sharks. In Cabo, Sand Falls is a local favorite, while the sea mount at Gordo Banks offers exciting blue water diving.
What to Pack for Diving in Baja
A 5mm wetsuit for the Socorro's, with a separate hood, as needed. For shark diving at Guadalupe Island, a 7mm wetsuit or drysuit is most often paired with a hood and gloves. Shorts and T-shirts are comfortable topside wear but include a light windbreaker to ward off cooler evening sea breezes. Bring favorite reading material or entertainment media for the boat rides to and from.
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Diving in Baja
The 700-mile-long Baja Peninsula separates the Pacific Ocean from the Sea of Cortez, creating a nautical crossroads at Cabo San Lucas, its southernmost point. These fish-rich waters have much to offer divers and fishermen, but even greater things await to the south. Some 230 miles from Cabo lies the Revillagigedo Archipelago, a group of uninhabited rock islands which included Socorro, Clarion, San Benedicto and Roca Partida. These islands are sometimes called the Socorro's because it is easier to pronounce. But, no matter what you call it, this is one of the world’s hot spots for big animals and giant manta encounters in open water. Mantas can be seen at a majority of dive sites around the area, with one of the best being a cleaning station at San Benedicto Island where mantas show up for grooming with predictable regularity. The undersea landscape of the islands presents a series of volcanic slopes, steps and ridges near the shoreline, along with offshore pinnacles. Visibility often ranges between 30 and 60 feet, but can sometimes reach 100. In addition to mantas, these remote islands also attract passing pelagics, including large pods of dolphin, schools of jacks and yellowfin tuna and a variety of whales that includes humpbacks, false killers and pilot whales, plus a showcase of sharks that includes white tips, silver tips, silkies, hammerheads, Galapagos, threshers, and occasionally tigers. Closer to Cabo San Lucas there’s underwater opportunities for all levels of divers. Sites just five minutes from the harbor feature encounters with curious sea lions, schools of Moorish idols, giant moray eels and sea turtles. Top sites include Land’s End, Sand Falls, and Neptune’s Finger. Further out is Gordo Banks, a seamount about 8 miles from shore that delivers schooling hammerheads, whale sharks, mobula and manta rays, dolphin and bait balls pursued by marlin. The Sea of Cortez plunges to depths of more that 14,000 feet and is one of the richest and most active seas in the world. Gray whales migrate to the San Felipe area to calve, and whale sharks make the sea a regular haunt. At the marine reserve of Cabo Pulmo, you’ll find large schools of fish and legions of eels, while islands such as Espiritu Santo near La Paz are home to playful colonies of seals and giant sea lion rookeries. On the Pacific side of the peninsula, not far from the US border, the small volcanic profile of Guadalupe Island sits 150 miles offshore. Here divers are provided a rare chance to view great white sharks in clear oceanic waters, and more than 170 individual sharks have been known to visit the area.
Passport and/or Visa Requirements
Entry Requirements: All U.S. citizens are required to present a valid passport. Visas are not required for stays of less than 180 days.
Exit Requirements: All persons leaving Baja, pay a Government Departure Tax of approximately USD $45, which should be included in your International ticket.
Vaccinations are not required for entry into Mexico. Check with your doctor and the Centers for Disease Control on recommended vaccinations for travel at Health Information for Travelers to Mexico.
Culture and Customs
There are two distinctly contrasting social facets to the Baja Peninsula—one traditional, the other international. Most visitors know the vacation pleasures of the cape, where sun worship and nightly celebrations set the tone, and the party never stops. This is one of North America's favorite getaway destinations, home to every manner of indulgence and recreation. But venture beyond the cantinas and shops of Cabo San Lucas, and the posh resorts and golf courses of San Jose Del Cabo and you will discover a very different side of this sunny land. Here. the traditional culture of Baja is shaped by the region's remoteness, arid landscape and ties to the sea. These factors have forged a people who mix proud self-reliance with a spirit of cooperation and generosity. Here, in coastal cities such as La Paz and quite fishing towns, strangers quickly become amigos, the small details of life are celebrated each day, and even hardships are met with a smile and a shrug. Glimpses of this lifestyle are revealed with a walk along the Malecon in La Paz. Here, families gather in the evening to enjoy cool sea breezes, which may carry the sounds of music from the town bandstand and the scent of fresh-grilled fish or lobster offered from a street vendor’s cart.
Electricity, Phone and Internet Access
Electricity in Mexico is 120 volts, 60 cycles, no adapter will be needed for U.S. visitors. The country code or Mexico is 52. Check with your mobile provider for long distance plans and costs. Internet service is available at many hotels, restaurants and shops.
Most restaurants and bars in tourist locations use purified water. Outside of resorts, be cautious with ice in drinks or vegetables which have been washed in tap water. Bottled water is available for purchase and is recommended for drinking and brushing your teeth.
Language & Currency
Spanish is the official language of Mexico, but English is widely spoken in the populated areas. The local currency is the Mexican Peso (MXN). Merchants and businesses are no longer allowed to change U.S. dollars to pesos. That may be done at a currency exchange office. U.S. Credit Cards are widely accepted for purchases in stores and restaurants.
Baja is on Mountain Time and observes Daylight Savings Time. Baja is 7 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (-7 GMT during Mountain Standard Time or MST) and 6 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (-6 GMT during Mountain Daylight Time or MDT).
Location, Size and Population
Baja is the northernmost and westernmost of the 31 states of Mexico. It has an area of over 27,000 square miles or approximately 3.5% of the total land mass of Mexico. The mainland portion of the state has the Pacific Ocean to the west, California to the north and the Gulf of California to the East.
The population of Baja is 3.32 Million (2015).