The Seas Spell
Famous explorer Jacques Cousteau once said, “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder
forever.” Prepare yourself to fall under the spell of the
Sea of Cortés
The Sea of Cortés—or the Gulf of California, as some people know it—is an amazing body of water that spans 68,000 square miles and borders the Mexican states of Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sonora, and Sinaloa. It is home to some 900 islands and islets, which have been called a natural laboratory for the investigation of speciation.
As one of the world’s newest seas, the Sea of Cortés is also one of its richest. Experts estimate it is home to more than 800 species of fish and some 2,000 types of invertebrates in addition to the whales, sea turtles, sea lions, and dolphins that attract millions of visitors each year. This sea life is supported by more than a quarter million hectares of mangroves and some 600,000 hectares of wetlands. In fact, the sea is so rich that this is where you’ll find 70 percent of the country’s fisheries.
The 2,500 miles of Sea of Cortés coastline have proved to be an amazing place for people to snorkel, scuba dive, kayak, paddleboard, fish, and explore. For divers and marine naturalists, the sea has reached the rank of legendary. John Steinbeck wrote a book about his 1940 voyage as part of a marine specimen-collecting boat expedition—The Log from the Sea of Cortez is a must-read any adventurer or would-be adventurer—and marine explorer Jacques Cousteau famously called it “the world’s aquarium.” Cousteau’s much-repeated quote was inspired by the incredible biodiversity he would see during every dive, saying it made him feel as though he were in an aquarium tank. Still other biologists refer to the Sea of Cortés as the “Galapagos of North America.”
What makes this particular sea so hospitable? You could say the marine life is attracted to some of the same features that entice millions of travelers from across the world. First, there’s the mingling of cold water currents coming down from California and the warm water from México’s Pacific Ocean. The region typically receives more than 12 hours of sunshine a day, allowing for strong production of phytoplankton, the starting point of the food chain for fish that range from teeny, tiny to extraordinarily large (the world’s largest fish, the whale shark, feeds on plankton as well as krill, fish eggs, and other small creatures).
And, in addition to attracting countless snowbirds each year, the Sea of Cortés welcomes many migratory species, including but not limited to humpback whales, gray whales, orcas (commonly known as killer whales), giant manta rays, leatherback sea turtles, and the world’s largest mammal, the blue whale. It’s notable that fin whales, sperm whales, and the critically endangered vaquita porpoise reside year-round.
Reading all of this, is it any wonder the Sea of Cortés has become one of the world’s premier playgrounds for adventure-seeking tourists? And Los Cabos is an excellent starting point for anyone wanting to explore the Sea of Cortés and its wonders.
Here you’ll see five of our favorite things to see each fall and winter in Los Cabos. For a complete list of activities and activity providers, visit “The Directory” on page 54.
Whale sharks: The Sea of Cortés is by far one of the best places in the world to see and swim with these gentle giants. Two of the top spots are Bahía de Los Ángeles and La Paz; the latter only a 95-minute drive from Cabo San Lucas. Tours can easily be arranged from Los Cabos, and the season for swimming with whale sharks lasts roughly from October through May.
CaboPulmo: While reefs across the world continue to experience dramatic losses of life, CaboPulmo has enjoyed a 460 percent increase in the total amount of fish there since it became a protected site in 1995. The two-hour drive from Cabo San Lucas there can get a bit bumpy, but believe us when we say it’s worth it. There are excellent sea views along the way, and once you get there, the diving and snorkeling views are even more spectacular. This is one of only three coral reefs on North America’s west coast and the northernmost coral reef in the eastern Pacific Ocean. In The Log from the Sea of Cortez, Steinbeck wrote: “The complexity of the life pattern on Pulmo Reef was even greater than at Cabo San Lucas. Clinging to the coral, growing on it, burrowing into it, was a teeming fauna. Every piece of the soft material broken off, skittered and pulsed with life, little crabs and worms and snails. One small piece of coral might conceal 30 or 40 species, and the colors on the reef were electric.”
Whale watching: Baby moons have become quite a trend among expectant parents in recent years, but whales have been escaping to Los Cabos ahead of giving birth for centuries. Eagle-eyed observers may catch glimpses of fin whales, orcas, or sperm whales throughout the year, but winter is when gray whales and humpbacks arrive from the north to mate, enjoy Baja’s warmer temps, and give birth. The humpbacks are a particularly bodacious bunch as they wow with their acrobatic moves. Expect to see them from mid-December through early April.
Espíritu Santo: The Sea of Cortés is dotted with islands, each one a gem in its own right. But only one is known as “the pearl of the Sea of Cortés.” Espíritu Santo is actually an archipelago that UNESCO designated a biosphere reserve in 1995. A short boat trip from La Paz, Espíritu Santo is the world’s only known habitat for the black jackrabbit. It also boasts a ridiculously friendly sea lion colony (prepare for playful nibbles on your snorkeling fins), excellent diving and snorkeling conditions, and Ensenada Grande, which Travel Magazine declared the most beautiful beach in México back in 2011 (it also ranked among the world’s top 12).
Sportfishing: Los Cabos is known as one of the premier places to fish black and blue marlin, and each fall it hosts tournaments with some of the biggest purses in the world.