Diving and Snorkeling
La Paz has one of the largest scuba diving communities anywhere in Mexico. The islands offshore from La Paz present divers of all skill levels with some of the most interesting underwater topography in the Sea of Cortez as well as opportunities to spot some of the largest pelagics in the sea.
Sea lions frolic at Los Islotes, while hammerhead sharks school around the El Bajo seamount and giant mantas cruise against the current. From the surface, you may see flying mantas, schools of dolphins, and giant bait balls.
Unlike the reef and wall diving in Cabo Pulmo and Cabo San Lucas, where dive sites are a 5- to 15-minute boat ride from shore, long, choppy boat rides (45–60 minutes) are the norm here—hence the higher rates. Remember to take your seasickness medicine the night before. (Many divers swear by Bonine, found over the counter in the United States and Mexico.)
A day of diving typically begins around 7–8 A.M. and finishes in the late afternoon. Lunch is usually included at no extra cost.
Most operators require a minimum of at least two divers to send a boat out to the islands. Some require four divers to visit the more remote sites.
Most boats frequent about a dozen different sites around the islands offshore from La Paz. A sea lion colony at Los Islotes (7–15 meters) provides loads of underwater entertainment. Also suitable for beginners, the Salvatierra wreck (18 meters) presents an opportunity to explore the remains of a cargo ferry that sank in 1976. If conditions permit, advanced divers might request a trip to the El Bajo seamount (18–30 meters) in hopes of encountering a school of hammerhead sharks as well as giant mantas, whale sharks, and towers of schooling amberjacks and tuna.
In business since 1992, Buceo Carey (Legaspy and Topete, tel. 612/128-4048, toll-free U.S. tel. 877/239-4057, www.buceocarey.com) is one of the more respected dive centers in town. A staff of local captains and international dive guides leads one-day and multiday dive trips to Espíritu Santo sites for US$85 a day, and to El Bajo and Isla Cerralvo for US$95. The cost includes lunch, transportation, guide, unlimited sodas and beer, weight belt, and two tanks. Rental equipment includes regulators, BCDs, wetsuits, masks, snorkels, fins, tanks, weight belts, booties, and portable air compressors. The company has a second office at Marina de La Paz. Inquire about accommodations packages.
The largest dive operation in La Paz is Fernando Águilar’s Baja Diving and Service (BCS. 11/Carr. a Pichilingue, past the ferry terminal, tel. 612/122-7010, www.clubcantamar.com). Based at the Club Cantamar Resort and Sports Centre on the Pichilingue Peninsula, the company operates a fleet of eight vessels, including some of the largest dive boats on the Sea of Cortez, holding more than 20 divers. Its custom-built 53-foot Liberación features air-conditioning and hot water, two heads, and a pleasant sundeck for warming up after each dive. The boat accommodates 30 divers for day trips and 10 divers as a liveaboard.
They also run pangas for divers who consider the larger boats to be too much like cattle cars. Besides the sheer scale of the operation, shorter boat rides are a significant advantage of diving with the Cantamar staff. Boats typically depart at 8:30 A.M. and return by 5 P.M. For divers who aren’t staying at the resort, a shuttle service is provided at no additional cost.
Dive rates are US$119 per person per day for two or three tanks, depending on conditions. Day trips include transportation, boat ride, lunch, and drinks. The resort has an ultralight plane used for spotting whale sharks (extra charge of US$20 pp). Shorter boat rides also make the more distant dive sites like Las Animas and the San Diegito Reef more accessible for day-trippers (extra charge of US$25 per diver for trips to these sites).
Dive packages for 3–14 nights, lunch and breakfast included on dive days, cost US$400–1,705; Nitrox and rebreather dive packages are also available at additional cost. Round-trip airport transfers are also included.
Rental gear is available (snorkel set US$7/day, dive gear US$23/day). Certified divers can also get nitrox refills for US$8–12 and rent rebreathers for US$65. New divers can get certified in the resort’s own pool (US$420, includes two days of open-water dives) or try an introductory Discover Scuba course (US$157). Advanced certification costs US$370. Nitrox certification is US$220. In case of a dive emergency, the Cantamar has the only recompression chamber in La Paz. For more information or to make a reservation, drop in at the Cantamar’s downtown sales office (Paseo Obregón 1665-2, Plaza Cerralvo, near the Hotel Perla, tel. 612/122-1826, 9 A.M.–8 P.M. daily).
Another multiboat operation is based at the La Concha Beach Resort. The Cortez Club Dive Center (Km. 5, Carr. a Pichilingue, tel. 612/121-6120, www.cortezclub.com) has 12 dive boats, its own classroom for dive instruction, and a private jetty and ramp. Rates are a little higher than other shops.
Day excursions aboard Baja Expeditions’ 45-foot Don Cano or 48-foot Pez Sapo cost US$125 per day (Mar.–Dec.), which covers three dives, breakfast, lunch, snacks, and happy hour (tel. 612/125-3828, toll-free U.S. tel. 800/843-6967, www.bajaex.com).
If viewing underwater marine life is the focus of your trip to La Paz, consider a multiday trip aboard one of these custom-designed dive boats. Packages typically include the first and last nights in a La Paz hotel. Rates shown here are for double occupancy. An additional fee often applies for single occupancy.
Baja Diving and Service (tel. 612/122-7010, www.clubcantamar.com) runs several liveaboard trips through the summer and fall months on the Sea Escape. An eight-day/seven-night trip to Socorro Island (with eight days of diving) costs US$2,850. A seven-day/six-night trip to Cabo Pulmo is US$1,900.
Buceo Carey (Legaspy and Topete, tel. 612/128-4048, toll-free U.S. tel. 877/239-4057, www.buceocarey.com) runs multiday trips on two boats: Marco Polo holds 6–8 divers and offers six days/five nights for US$1,399.
Baja Expeditions (tel. 612/125-3828, toll-free U.S. tel. 800/843-6967, www.bajaex.com) offers liveaboard trips on the air-conditioned, 80-foot Don José. Trips are booked out of the U.S. office, but you can sometimes sign up in La Paz if the boat isn’t full. An eight-day trip aboard the Don José (offered June–Nov.) starts at US$1,625 per person. Three eight-day whale shark–viewing trips take place in May and June (from US$1,795 per person). The boat holds 16 divers. The Don José has a loyal following, since the staff allows divers to go on their own schedule by running constant shuttles to many different sites.
Deportiva La Paz (Mutualisimo, tel./fax 612/122-7333) sells scuba diving equipment and fills air tanks but does not run dive trips.
Most dive and kayak outfitters also run snorkel tours. Less-expensive trips visit the beaches along the Pichilingue Peninsula; the more expensive ones go to the islands for the day. For example, Buceo Carey (Legaspy and Topete, tel. 612/128-4048, toll-free U.S. tel. 877/239-4057, www.buceocarey.com) offers snorkeling trips for US$65 to Playa Encantada and the sea lion colony.
Baja Diving and Service (tel. 612/122-7010, www.clubcantamar.com) at the Cantamar does local snorkel trips for US$65. One of the best values among organized trips is the snorkeling trip to Espíritu Santo run by Azul Tours (Paseo Obregón 774, tel. 612/125-2596, www.azultourslapaz.com, azultours [at] gmail [dot] com). The staff is knowledgeable, well equipped, and safety-conscious. The adventure takes the better part of a day and includes a delicious lunch, prepared by its sister restaurant, Palapa Azul, for US$65 per person.
El Tecolote Restaurant/Bar/Playa (tel. 612/127-9494) transports snorkelers to Espíritu Santo in pangas for US$40 per person. The price includes gear and lunch. Boats depart between 10 and 11 A.M. for a four-hour tour. Stop by the booking office, just off the plaza next to the Hotel Miramar, for more information. El Tecolote also offers WaveRunners, kayaks, banana boats, and waterskiing.
Marlin Adventures (Obregón 460, at Ocampo, tel. 612/125-7842, cell tel. 612/137-4495, www.marlin adventures.com, 8 A.M.–7 P.M. daily) offers snorkeling tours as well as diving, instructor certification, whale-shark tours, fishing, and kayak rentals at Playa Tecolote (US$60 for a four-hour tour, including lunch and gear). It has three 28-foot pangas, which are fully insured and have oxygen and first aid on board.
© Nikki Goth Itoi from Moon Baja, 9th Edition