Squid Eggs Green Sea Turtle and White tipped Shark

La Paz, Sea of Cortez

By Amy Kurtenbach and Scott Boyd
 Playfull Sea Lion at Los Islotes
The Sea of Cortez is located along the eastern side of the  Baja California (Sur) Peninsula.  La Paz, means “Peace” in Spanish.  The town is about the size of Olympia and is very clean and quiet.  There are very few tourists and the locals greatly out number the few tourists that you see.   It is a peaceful community with only a few resorts and some great restaurants.  We ate very well (too well in fact). Fresh seafood was readily available and the Mexican faire was delectable. 
There is a relaxed atmosphere in town.  We stayed in Las Gavatios Hotel and the staff was very friendly and always ready to help. From the balcony of the hotel, we looked over the Malecon (or boardwalk), and out onto the Sea of Cortez.   La Paz is well known among the yachting crowd and we often saw beautiful yachts from all over the world, slowly cruising into and out of the harbor.  The weather was very hot, averaging around 100 degrees; but there was a nice breeze off the ocean, a pool at the resort, air conditioning, and nice cool water in the Sea of Cortez to provided salvation for us cold-blooded northwestern natives.
The two premier dive sites are El Bajo and the Sea Lion Colony (los islotes).   Other dive sites we visited included a 40 year old wrecked ferry called the Salvaterria, Swanie Reef, and the Lorraine Lighthouse.  We splashed a total of only 8 dives, in water that averaged around 76 degrees on the surface and 64 degrees below the thermo cline.  A 5mm wetsuit was comfortable (the hooligans 3mm was do-able but chilly).  Visibility varied from 20’ to 50’.  We were told that as the water warms up in the summer (80+ degrees) that the visibility improves through October.
BalloonfishThe dive site, El Bajo, is a pinnacle that rises out of the Sea of Cortez. The top of the pinnacle is around 60’.  The bathymetry of the site is very similar to the Pinnacle in Hood Canal.  The rock substrate was occupied with hundreds of puffer fish, healthy schools of mackerels, grunts, and amber jacks.  Every nook and cranny in the rocks hid a green moray eel, and in the larger cracks it was not uncommon to see 15 to 20 eels side by side.  In one crack John and Scott stopped counting when they reached 30+ eels because behind the one looking at you there were three more hiding behind it.  Near the surface were, shy, hammerhead sharks swimming in 20’ to 30’ of water.  
The sea lion colony at Los Islotes was on two small islands that were once the tip of a larger island that had eroded away.  The sea lions would bask in the sun on the rocks, or lay on their backs in the water spread eagle with all of their fins out of the water.  The pups were very friendly and would play with you until the big bull decided enough was enough.  He would charge by like a bomber, barking and grunting.  However, as soon as he would pass, the show would start over again.  Puffer fish in the Sea of Cortez are like gobies in Puget Sound.  They are everywhere and they have no fear.  They are in cracks, sleeping on the sandy bottom, or just swimming around. 
The variety of coral is limited. We saw many different types of fish and invertebrates. Notables included: bulls eye stingrays, leopard rays, barracuda, razor surgeonfish, porcupine fish, garden eels, slipper lobster, soldier fish, damsel fish, blennies, scorpionfish, dolphins, hammerhead sharks, sea lions, etc.  Scott and Janet both felt that the species of fish in this area were very similar to many of the species seen in the Galapagos Islands.   Fishing is the primary tourist attraction in this community.  At all of the dive sites we shared the waters with fishing charters but we never did see a fishing line while diving.
The dive operator we used was the Cortez Club.  They were one of three dive operators in the area. The limited competition and long boat rides allows the operators to charge a LOT of money for diving, and as is usual for many parts of Mexico, they operate in a rather disorganized manner.  Our boat for the week was a 24’ inflatable with twin outboards, at least one of which was working at any given time.  The Dive masters rinse your gear for you as well as setting it up for the next day's diving.  However, they really were not very good in the water.  Neither divemaster we dove with had any idea where he Hammerhead sharks were at El Bajo.  After watching them swim in circles (lost, no compass) for several minutes, we would swim off on our own.  Twice the Gringos were able to locate the hammerheads.  The DM's were 0 for 4.

If asked if we would go back……probably not due to the poor service at the dive shop, which is really too bad, because the reefs and the critters were beautiful to see (when you could see it), the diving was challenging, and the flight to La Paz is a pleasant five hour journey.
 For more underwater images from La Paz, please see our La Paz photo gallery!