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Diving in the Sea of Cortez

The Aquarium of the World

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...Highlights: whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, shark action, dolphins, whales, manta rays, schooling fish & big pelagics...
...Sea of Cortez's diving environment: wall dives, drift diving, beginner and advanced divers...

The Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California, is a 700 miles (1,126 km) stretch of water sheltered from the Pacific Ocean by the Baja California peninsula. As a result, the swells of the Pacific have little effect here meaning the seas are often flat calm.

Within the sea there are thousands of islands, pinnacles and rocks around which are countless liveaboard dive sites. Show more

Dive Site Descriptions for the Sea of Cortez

La Vela, Angel Island - One of the first spots to dive on a northern Sea of Cortez liveaboard cruise is Angel Island. It is a great site for sea lions that may swoop and swim around you like the playful puppies of the ocean that they are. When at the surface the smell from the bird droppings that cake the rock of La Vela, meaning 'the sail', encourages a swift submersion.

You will descend to the base of the rock which slopes to deeper than 30m. While the Gulf of California is famed for large animal encounters, it also delivers on a macro scale. That is what makes diving in the Sea of Cortez special compared to other locations on Mexico's Pacific coast. Here you can spot various different nudibranchs such as Chromodoris baumanni, Elysia diomedea, Flabelliina iodinea and Glossodoris sedna which is indigenous to the northern part of the sea, although it has been introduced elsewhere. Unlike other places, you might spot dozens if not hundreds of nudibranchs of any one species. Show more

How to Dive the Gulf of California

While many of the sites close to shore can be dived as day trips, liveaboards operate here and provide the best means of experiencing all that this wondrous stretch of water has to offer. For more information on the tour options, and all the travel information you might need to visit Mexico, read our Sea of Cortez liveaboard section.

Depending on the liveaboard you choose, you will either board at Puerto Penasco on the Mexican mainland along northern coastline of the Sea of Cortez, or Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip of the Baja peninsula.

There are not many diving safaris operating here so it is common for yours to be the only one in the area. Of course this means you can be sure of avoiding 'diver soup' even at the more popular, closer-to-shore locations where liveaboards can overnight and have you in the water before any daytrip boats arrive.

Sea of Cortez Diving Season

July to November is the Sea of Cortez liveaboard season, although shore diving is possible year round. Temperatures can vary from site to site and are usually in the range of 70 to 82°F (21-28°C), although thermoclines can make the temperature gauge in your dive computer work hard. For further reading on the climate and water temperature at Puerto Penasco on the Sea of Cortez, visit HikersBayOpens in a new window. Although generally a sheltered stretch of water with calm seas, the surface can become choppy especially when the wind picks up.

Whales sharks are commonly spotted throughout the year with juveniles more frequent between late September and the end of November. At this time they come to feed on the plankton blooms so do not expect great visibility. Large adults are known to show up in the spring months of April and May which is also a time that sees large schools of yellowfin tuna, and schooling scalloped hammerheads.

Sea lions are present all year round. August and September is a great time for scuba divers to play with curious juveniles. In the months prior to that you may witness the birth of this new generation. Gray whales are most commonly encountered between January and March when they seek sheltered bays to mate and give birth. Winter months are also the best time for blue and humpback whales, and between May and July for mobula rays.

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Where is the Sea of Cortez and How Do I Get There?

Review our map below of Mexico, showing the location of the Gulf of California. Here, you will find information on how to get to the Sea of Cortez.

Map of Mexico (click to enlarge in a new window)

Reef Summary

Depth: 16 - >130ft (5 - >40m)
Visibility: 50 - 115ft (15 - 35m)
Currents: Usually mild, can be strong
Surface conditions: Usually calm but can be choppy
Water temperature: 68 - 84°F (20 - 29°C)
Experience level: Beginner - advanced
Number of dive sites: >40
Recommended length of stay: 8 days

Useful References

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... The advice we got from Dive The World was very informative and the staff we spoke to were very helpful. Talking to someone who is experienced with the dive sites and liveaboard operators also helped a great deal. Overall we were very satisfied with the service ... -- , Norway.  [More customer reviews]