Monday, May 20, 2024

Los Cabos’ best dive site is also its greatest conservation story

This article contains exclusive discounts for readers. Mexico News Daily is not affiliated with Cabo Adventures. 

In the early 1990s, the effects of overfishing caused the residents of Cabo Pulmo, a small fishing village in the municipality of Los Cabos, to take an unprecedented step: they asked the government for help. In 1995, they received it, and Cabo Palmo became a marine Protected Natural Area (ANP), and fishing within the borders of its 7,111 hectares was prohibited. 

What happened next is one of modern history’s most remarkable conservation stories. In a single decade, Cabo Pulmo’s depleted fish diversity and lack of large predators were restored. Beyond restored. Between 1999 and 2009, marine life grew by a staggering 463%, the largest such increase ever measured. Today, Cabo Pulmo boasts the greatest abundance of any area in the Sea of Cortés, with over 800 species of marine life present. 

By 2000, this recovery had been recognized, and Cabo Pulmo was elevated to the status of a national park in Mexico. Five years later, UNESCO named it a World Heritage site, and in 2008, it was declared a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. 

Of course, it isn’t just the incredible density and diversity of fish that has made Cabo Pulmo one of the world’s most acclaimed dive sites. Did we mention the living coral reef? At 20,000 years old, Cabo Pulmo’s remarkable offshore reef system is the oldest of the three found along the Pacific coast of North America.

Cabo Pulmo: Where is it and how do you dive there?

Cabo Pulmo is on the East Cape of Los Cabos, a belly-shaped coastal arc that extends over 70 miles from San José del Cabo north to Los Barriles using the old Camino Cabo Este. Cabo Pulmo is about 45 miles from San José del Cabo via this rugged scenic route, or 60 miles if you take Highway 1 to La Ribera, then south. The latter route may be longer, but it’s faster because the roads are better. 

The entrance to Cabo Pulmo requires graded dirt road driving from either direction, but less of it is necessary via La Ribera. That’s why dive operators from Cabo San Lucas go this way when bringing divers for day-long adventures. Cabo Pulmo remains a small village, with only about 120 residents. Yes, it is possible to stay here, as solar-powered vacation rentals and Airbnb properties are available for laid-back beachfront sojourns. Snorkel and dive equipment and guides, meanwhile, are provided by respected local companies such as Cabo Pulmo Divers.

Getting there from Cabo San Lucas 

By far the most popular option, however, are day trips from Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo and the Tourist Corridor which connects them. This is where the highest concentration of hotels and resorts are found and premier local activities companies like Cabo Adventures and Adventures in Baja will pick up guests from their accommodations option of choice, transport them up to 80 miles to Cabo Pulmo for snorkeling or diving expeditions and then return them to the lobby of their hotel. 

Cabo Adventures, for example, typically picks up guests at about 7 a.m. and returns them by 5:30 p.m. About half of this eight-plus-hour adventure is spent getting there and back, with a box lunch served on the way. 

Premier dive sites in Cabo Pulmo

Cabo Pulmo’s reef system is extensive, with numerous offshore dive sites at varying depths. Highlights include El Vencedor, which features the remains of a tuna boat sunk 85 years ago that has since become a haven for a rich variety of marine life; El Bajo, a long reef bar home to 12 of 14 of the world’s coral species as well as sea turtles, mobula rays and other denizens; Los Cantiles, a favorite for shark sightings whose name references its cliff-shaped rock formations; and El Islote, famed for its incredibly colorful sea fans and white gorgonian, as well as colorful tropical fish like angelfish and Moorish idols. The so-called “tornado of bigeye jacks,” where these fish breed, is also notable for its sheer density.

What more can divers expect to see in the way of marine life? Bigeye jacks and tropical fish; five of seven extant species of sea turtles; bull and blacktip and whitetip reef sharks; eels; and mobula, cownose and eagle rays are all commonly seen, but the animals you spot can vary according to the season. Bull sharks, for example, are currently less visible due to the presence of transiting orcas, confirms Karen Bradfield, guide and owner of Adventures in Baja.

What sustainable tourism looks like in Cabo Pulmo

Cabo Pulmo is now a top international dive destination, and steps have been taken to ensure it remains a sustainable one. According to Armando Martínez Perea, scuba diving manager for Cabo Adventures, visiting divers can visit Cabo Pulmo without a guide, and only about 20 dive shop operators in the region are credentialed to provide them. Only small groups no larger than six divers are permitted, with the total number of allowable divers per day and month constantly being evaluated by park officials. Individual dive sites are also evaluated to ensure the most popular locations aren’t oversaturated. Guides are informed on a daily basis of which of the myriad underwater sites they may visit. 

Yes, you must be a certified diver to dive Cabo Pulmo, but nearly every regional dive operator offers credentialing programs. Snorkeling is an alternative option, although it’s not nearly as magical.

How much does it cost?

Adventures in Baja charges US $295 per person for two tank dives, with transportation and lunch included, although a minimum of two divers is required. Cabo Adventures offers a similar rate, at least normally. A 35% discount is currently being offered to Mexico News Daily readers who use the code MEXICONEWS35 when booking via the agency’s website at least three days in advance of their dive trips.

Lower rates still are available in Cabo Pulmo, of course, since the cost of transportation doesn’t have to be accounted for. There is a national park fee, too, though it’s less than US $4. However, you have to figure out a way to get there first, which will likely include renting a car with four-wheel drive to handle the dirt roads into Cabo Pulmo. There is no bus service or other public transportation that will take you there.

But no matter how you get there, rest assured: it’s definitely worth the trip.  

Chris Sands is the Cabo San Lucas local expert for the USA Today travel website 10 Best, writer of Fodor’s Los Cabos travel guidebook, and a contributor to numerous websites and publications, including Tasting Table, Marriott Bonvoy Traveler, Forbes Travel Guide, Porthole Cruise, Cabo Living and Mexico News Daily. His specialty is travel-related content and lifestyle features focused on food, wine and golf.

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