If you’re an eco-friendly scuba diver that likes to encourage responsible tourism then you need to head to the Sea of Cortez in Mexcio and visit the beautiful, remote Cabo Pulmo. Here you will find a marine reserve with world heritage status that’s protected in ways not seen in many other dive spots thanks to Mexico’s ‘Comision National de Areas Naturales y Protegidas’: CONANP. Voted as one of the best scuba destinations in the world we take a look why.
The Magic of Cabo Pulmo
The fishing families of Cabo Pulmo realised their fish stocks were depleting. In an attempt to rescue any kind of livelihood they made the wise decision to ban fishing and protect the reef by turning it into a marine park for visitors. Pulmo has enjoyed a fishing ban since the 1990’s and now the fish are abundant and huge in size. Pioneering, influential and all-round awesome female chief scientist of NOAA, Dr Sylvia Earle, has labelled Cabo Pulmo one of Earth’s few ‘Hope Spots’: an area where the communities have been integral to the survival of a thriving marine environment.
Cabo Pulmo Dive Regulations
With all this comes responsibility. There are regulations and diver limitations in place to maintain and protect the reef. Dive guides need to take a course and build a logbook of experience before attaining their credential. The park guards monitor guides and partake in in-water observation to check that their divers are keeping 6ft off the reef. Dives are 45 minutes long and only two dive boats are allowed at the same site at one time. You have to reserve your desired dive site by radio and arrive there at the time you request or you lose your spot. It’s refreshing and it’s amazing.
The Best Dive Sites in Cabo Pulmo
El Vencedor 45ft/15m
This site is named after a small cargo boat that sank there 35 years ago. Now it sits on the ocean floor as a reef, a cleaning station and the most predictable place to see the bull sharks mentioned in the opening paragraph. The dive site is small so the idea is to hover-in-wait for the sharks. If the sharks don’t appear (they often leave in autumn when the water is 30c/86f) there is a huge school of yellow snapper, huge dogtooth snapper, groupers, golden groupers, giant moray eels, amber jack, skip jacks and the seafloor is covered with more garden eels than I have ever seen.
El Bajo 30ft/10m – 60ft/18m
This is, in my opinion, the nicest reef in the park. Out of 14 coral species worldwide you can find 12 of them here. The varied collection of coral species provide a beautiful home for every kind of tropical fish family. You can see angelfish, families of puffer fish, 5 different type of eel, rays, creole, hawk fish, scorpion fish, snapper, grunts… the list continues. A good drift dive.
Meros 30ft/10m – 60ft/18m
This is the most northerly reef in Pulmo. It is an extension of El Bajo (the full name of the two being El Bajo de los Meros) so the reef is very similar. You tend to see more turtles on the Meros reef however.
El Cantil Norte 45ft/15m
Another shallow drift dive. The north side has more schools of fish and the rocky entrance provides some small coral cave homes for interesting residents. Big schools of dogtooth snapper can be seen here as well as the fish families found on el Bajo. The topography is very unique; lots of small canyons and reef walls entice the diver to look deeper and see what lies beneath the cracks and crevices. Reef shark are often seen here.
Jacks: Depth Varies
A dark patch floats around miscellaneously at the surface and only a captain’s sharp eye and some decent polarised sunglasses will spot it. This is where you will find a huge tornedo of thousands upon thousands of big eye trevally. If you’re even luckier, they will be swimming above one of the reefs of the park where you can combine 2 dives in one and see Cabo Pulmo at its most spectacular. Lose yourself in this huge school for 45 minutes.
There are some deeper, less frequented, dive sites on the outer reef called ‘Esperanza’ and ‘El Cien’. It’s possible to encounter larger pelagic game fish, nurse sharks, bull sharks, rumoured tiger sharks and huge schools of jacks, grouper and snapper. If want to check these out, consider hiring a private dive guide to take you there. Regulated boats in Pulmo are small style pangas that are occupied by dive groups of mixed ability and so these dive sites are not suitable for all.
When to Go and How to Get to Cabo Pulmo
You should visit Cabo Pulmo between the months of July and January where the north winds aren’t affecting departures and the water is 25c – 30c.
Bring reef safe sunscreen and reusable water containers. Make sure you stock up at a local store before arriving if you don’t want to eat out at one of the 4 restaurants – there are limited food shops.
Cabo Pulmo can be accessed via dirt road a little way after leaving La Ribera town. You can also take a day trip from Cabo San Lucas with reputable dive company.
The village has a selection of camp sites, basic accommodations and a few high-spec rooms. The village runs with solar electricity and well-water. At the time of writing there is only one room with AC with its own generator. Forget about hair dryers! You will also be asked to conserve water as much as possible.
The beautiful village Cabo Pulmo is a jewel in a crown of stones. It’s a unique place that prides itself on conservation, limiting human impact and maintaining nature. The difference compared to neighbouring Cabo San Lucas is stark. Please visit and please learn from their example.
About the Author
Laura is from the UK and has been traveling the world as a dive pro for almost 10 years. She is now living in Baja California with her partner and 2 year-old son where she operates a diving and adventure snorkelling tour company; Cabo Private Guide.