Amigos Del Mar
This establishment is Cabo San Lucas’ self-proclaimed original dive shop.
Manta Scuba Diving and Expeditions
Commission: 15 percent
When to Go: The best diving conditions are from June to October, when the water temperature is bathtub warm and visibility extends up to 100 feet.
What to Know: Manta is a safety-conscious, PADI-certified dive operation, specializing in personalized, small group service.
A school of pork fish swims through Cabo Pulmo. // © 2009 Janice Mucalov
Jacques Cousteau marveled at the variety of sea life he discovered in the Sea of Cortez, just off the Baja Peninsula, purportedly describing it as “the world’s aquarium.” Clients, too, can experience the joy of this vibrant underwater world when holidaying in Cabo San Lucas. Schools of candy-colored tropical fish, eels, comical puffer fish, sea turtles, hammerhead sharks and giant manta rays with 12-foot wingspans all cavort in the waters offshore. While the Sea of Cortez is not known for the colorful corals that are found elsewhere, it boasts prolific marine life, with more than 850 species of reef fish.
Several snorkeling and scuba diving sites are located around the cluster of dramatic rock formations at the southern Baja tip, called Land’s End, which is just a short boat ride from the bustling Cabo San Lucas marina. Many sites are suitable for beginner divers. For example, at Neptune’s Finger, the largest of two famous underwater sand falls begins at around 100 feet. And at Pelican Rock, a local colony of inquisitive sea lions often greets divers underwater.
I dove two spots here on a morning outing with Manta Scuba Diving and Expeditions. Our group’s dive guide, Luis, pointed out the first wild sea horse I’ve seen — a well-camouflaged Pacific sea horse, clinging to a sea fan. It was a tiny thing, no more than two inches long and, as Luis indicated by his hand signals, it was pregnant.
With his experienced eyes, Luis also showed us a small octopus hiding in a crevice, as well as a poisonous stonefish, both of which blend in so well with their surroundings that they look like sand-covered rocks. A fellow diver also spied an eagle ray, but it glided away before I could turn around to catch it.
While Land’s End is a fine introduction to sea life, it doesn’t compare to the diving in the national marine sanctuary of Cabo Pulmo, which is superb. We cruised out of Cabo San Lucas on Manta’s new, high-speed, 38-foot dive boat, used for diving Cabo Pulmo. It’s a two-hour boat trip each way, but it’s the fastest way to reach the remote and renowned diving destination. It also allows divers to complete a total of three dives.
The alternative offered by most other dive operators involves a three-hour drive each way (including a bone-rattling stretch along bumpy sand tracks), launching a panga or wooden skiff off the beach and putting forth a herculean effort to climb out of the water and back into the panga after one’s dive. By then, there’s usually only time for two dives.
Before our first dive, Luis told us, “We’re looking for sharks.”
Descending below the surface, we scanned the distance beyond the sandy bottom for the prized creatures. It wasn’t long before we were rewarded. Luis pointed out a pair of bull sharks that circled us quickly before veering off as another bull shark zipped in closely.
Back on the boat, we chattered excitedly.
“That one shark must have been at least eight feet long,” someone exclaimed.
“No, he was 10 feet for sure,” another replied.
Everyone agreed we wanted to see more sharks, so our second dive was also focused on this goal. This time, we saw a magnificent, huge tiger shark gliding by, affording us a leisurely look at its distinctive black stripes and blunt snout.
Our third foray was a wonderfully easy “aquarium” dive along a reef chock-full of sea life. We drifted by hundreds of hovering puffer fish and plump moray eels snaking among the coral. Unique, bright-orange grouper, found only in Cabo Pulmo, were also spotted, as were a field of tiny garden eels fluttering in the sand. Schools of yellow-and-gold-striped pork fish were so thick that I could touch their soft sides as we swam among them.
Afterward, it was time for a lunch of sliced meats, cheeses, breads, salad, fresh guacamole and fruit. Later that afternoon, we returned to Cabo San Lucas, tired but happy, with memories of our special day exploring this beautiful underwater paradise.