I arrived in Maxico's Cabo San Lucas on a sunny early April with excited anticipation. I'd already dived Galapagos a few years ago so was aware of what was install for me at the Socorro Islands in regards to the water temp, visibility and remoteness. I was particularly looking forward to a memorable experience with large animals, perhaps dolphins, whales or an enormous manta ray.
I wasn't disappointed; one awesome dive started with a visit by 7 bottlenose dolphins. They swam up as soon as we dropped and stayed with us for about 10 minutes. They positioned themselves vertically between the divers and rubbed shoulders with us. All to the mesmerising song of humpback whales in the near distance.
The Socorro Islands actually covers 3 islands that are situated in a large triangle: Socorro, San Benedicto and Roca Partida. Roca Partida was a 9-hour journey from the other 2. Socorro was about 40 km from San Benedicto.
The main draw of this area is the large marine life. And I can say that it didn't disappoint. It's also worth noting that there is an abundance of other life too; yellow-fin tuna, shoals of jacks and wahoo, moray and snake eels, parrotfish, triggerfish, steel pompano, octopus, spiny lobster, nudibranchs, and Clarion angelfish that are endemic to the area. It is fair to say that this national park is teaming with life. It's great to see the national park playing its part to preserve the area for us lucky divers.
We did spot humpback whales breaching on the surface from the boat and heard them singing in the water, but we weren't fortunate to spot them under the waves.
One of the features of a remote location is that it can vary so much throughout the day. The sea in the morning might be really clear, and then the afternoon very murky. Sometimes there's little current, and before you know it, it turns against you, and you're blown off. However, when it's good, it's great. We had the good fortune of seeing at least 3 or more types of shark on each dive: tiger, hammerheads, husky, Galapagos, silky, silvertips, whitetips, and mantas.
At Rocha Partida, the main draw was the hundreds of white tips that inhabit the rock. You'll see them all huddled away in small caves and crevices along the reef wall. Visibility on our day wasn't great so we didn't see anything in the blue.
At Cabo Pearce, we had some great bottlenose dolphin experiences. On the first dive a pod casually and inquisitively swam by. On the second dive they swarmed us as soon as we jumped in. This was an amazing experience. I know you shouldn't touch but they wanted hugging - they were that close. It's easy to be mesmerised by an experience like this and you do need to keep a watch on your depth as that can soon change when you're distracted. This area was also best for seeing walls of hammerheads. Unfortunately, they seemed to be always on the very edge of visibility. You could just about make out their hazy forms stacked vertically in the distance.
San Benedicto was our only experience with tiger sharks. They kept low (perhaps 45m) and were only spotted on their own. On one day we were accompanied by whale songs on each dive. You could see them on the surface but not under water. We had some great manta encounters on nearly every dive. Some would hover overhead and enjoy the bubbles. Others carried a small groups of cleaners, all the fish and critters working on them as they hovered near by. The largest one may have been in the 4.5-5m region.
The itinerary for the week was:
Day 1 – Boarded the ship at 2 pm, chilled in a local bar until 6 pm, then set sail to San Benedicto in the evening.
Day 2 – At sea – takes about 30 hours to get to San Benedicto. Met fellow divers, staff, and had various dive and safety briefings.
Day 3 - San Benedicto: El Canon
Day 4 – San Benedicto: El Boiler
Day 5 – Roca Partida
Days 6 and 7 – Socorro – Cabo Pearce
Day 8 – San Benedicto – El Canon
Day 9 and 10 – Travel back and dock in the morning.
At 125' (38m) long, the Valentina liveaboardi comfortably fits 20 guests, in 10 air-conditioned cabins. This was a budget boat, so the look-and-feel wasn't luxurious, but it was more than adequate. It's a vessel that proves that exceptional experiences need not come at an exorbitant cost.
The boat had a full complement of passengers, but it never felt too busy. When dining you could choose the air-conditioned dining room or the upper deck for an al-fresco experience. In the evening you could chill on one of the 3 decks.
The indoor saloon is perfectly comfortable with sofas arranged around a large screen TV. There are lots of tables and bench seats to sit in and chat, or view and edit photographs. Don't expect wi-fi in this remote location. However, it's nice to be disconnected from the humdrum of life for a week or so - enjoy it while it lasts.
The dining area was arranged around 2 long tables with bench seats. Most of the time it was buffet-style, where you helped yourself to as much as you wanted. However, desert was delivered at the table. Those with special food requirements (e.g. vegan, vegetarian) always had restaurant-style service.
The food was excellent and very well presented. There were some nice, well thought-out options for vegans and vegetarians. On a few occasions there was a themed evening meal (7 m), this included tacos, BBQ, and other Mexican favourites. Other than that, there was also a mix of Asian and Italian dishes to explore. I heard nothing but compliments from my fellow diners. When dining, the first alcoholic drink was free, then you paid for the rest (USD 5 each). All non-alcoholic drinks were free and limitless.
At breakfast (8 am after the first dive) you can expect a great selection of hot and cold foods, pancakes, fruit, omelettes, toast – you name it, they had it.
At lunchtime (2 pm) there was a great selection of hot and cold foods. Enough to keep you going until dinner. Throughout the day there was unlimited tea, coffee, water, soft drinks (including Coca Cola), crisps (chips), biscuits, fruit, and beer. Fancy coffees were an extra USD 2. There was certainly no need to ever go hungry. There was also a bowl of sea-sickness tablets in case of emergency – and they were needed by a few.
One tip, if you do have special dining requirements, do let them know on a daily basis as things did get lost in translation. For example, I am vegetarian, and I told them I didn't like peppers (on my application form and when I arrived); one evening I got a stuffed pepper for my main course.
A great big thanks to Luigi and his assistant Herman in preparing the food to a very high standard. It was nice to see the dive leaders getting involved and helping the kitchen staff.
The cabins were mainly adorned with dark wood fixtures and fittings, with a small en-suite bathroom. My cabin was equipped for 2 people. There was a top single bed bunk and a very small double bed on the bottom. The floor space in the cabin was no more than 1 sqm but there was space under the bottom bed for suitcases. I shared a cabin with a lovely guy from Switzerland. He was as silent as a mouse, so it suited me perfectly. You never know when you travel alone who you're going to get paired up with, so I was very thankful.
The deck was very well organised and there was plenty of room to manoeuvre. Nitrox readers where available and you were encouraged to record the percentages. There were 2 large freshwater tanks for cameras and computers. There was one communal toilet, and it was kept very clean throughout the week.
The dive manager gave an excellent safety briefing on the way to the first dive site. This included a detailed explanation about the process, deco chamber, GPS kit, etc. One sobering thought, we would be about 450 km from the mainland, so if we needed medical attention, it would be slow.
Since we had 20 divers (American, English, Swiss, Dutch, Belgians, Danes, Thai and Singaporean) we were split into 3 groups. We had 2 inflatable RIB boats, so 2 groups would go out together, and the third would join the rest about 15 minutes later. Each day, a different group would jump first, second or last. It made getting ready on the dive deck and coming back very easy.
Entry to the RIBs was from the side of the boat. Fins were already on the RIB, and cameras were handed to you once you were sat in position. It took 5-10 mins to get to the dive sites, and you did a reverse entry. Once you hit the water you were encouraged to drop quickly.
The time of the dive was based on how busy the site was, and which boat had arrived first. This meant that the first dive could be 7, 8 or 9 am. This had a knock-on effect to other dive times throughout the day. The dive duration was a maximum of 50 minutes. This was more than enough time as all dive sites were in the 20-30m range. The policy was no deco stops. Each diver had to carry their own SMB, whistle, and each pair had a GPS device.
The dive boat staff were very attentive and helpful. You weren't hanging around at the surface for long before they spotted you and rushed over. Then taking it in turns, you handed over your weight belts, fins and BCD before climbing up the ladder. When back to the vessel, you just needed to get yourself off the boat and get dried. The communal showers took some time to warm up. If you didn't want to hang around and wait your turn, it was easy to go back to your cabin and use your en-suite; they always had hot water. As all your kit was numbered, it was put back in position by the dive team for the next dive. After each dive there was hot and cold drinks and snacks if needed. None of the dives were at night and you weren't allowed to take a torch unless it was attached to your camera.
I was collected from Los Cabos International (SJD) airport with a bunch of Belgian divers and taken directly to the boat. The boat was moored in Los Cabos marina. It took about 30 minutes, if you're interested in making your own way there.
Once you get on board the staff will do the paperwork. They'll request your passports, immigration cards, dive insurance, dive certification and nitrox certs (if needed) before departure. Once that's done you can make your way to your cabin and settle down. As it was just 2 pm, the divers that had arrived early went back on shore and chilled at a local bar.
Before the boat left, we checked we had all the right gear, and everything was working correctly. There was a dive shop nearby for any last-minute purchases.
It was early April, and the air temperature was about 25C during the day but felt nearer 18C in the evening. I suggest you take a long-sleeved top for the evening if sitting outside. Although it didn't seem that hot, a few divers got badly sunburned, so it shows that the sun was still very intense.
Water temperate varied between 24 and 26C. Most divers wore a 5 mm wetsuit. Some of the older and slimmer divers had a 7 mm wetsuit. Some even brought drysuits. Most divers wore hoods and gloves.
Don't be surprised if visibility is down to 10m at times. However, on most dives the visibility was around 15 to 20m. Currents can be quite strong so it's worth doing some swimming training to help build up some stamina. I know you don't normally swim against the current, but there are times when you need to put your head down and push through.
The journey aboard the low-budget Valentina liveaboardi to the Socorro Islands in April 2023 reveals a truth that transcends the constraints of budget: adventure knows no bounds. This expedition proves that even without lavish expenditures, it is possible to immerse oneself in the wonders of the ocean, exploring vibrant underwater worlds and forging unforgettable connections with marine life. From the functionality of the boat to the comfort of the cabins, from the culinary delights to the meticulous dive preparations, every aspect of this voyage is a testament to the power of passion, innovation, and determination.
The Valentina reminds us that while luxury may enhance an experience, it is the authenticity, the people, and the shared moments that truly define a journey. As the waves of the Socorro Islands continue to lap against the shores, they carry with them the echoes of laughter, the thrill of discovery, and the indelible memories created by those who dared to venture beyond the horizon, all aboard a vessel that proves that the depths of the ocean are accessible to all those who seek them.
Finally, a word about the fantastic staff. It was a super team effort. The dive leaders (Lorenzo, Diego, and Cesar) did an excellent job dive leading. They were also involved in serving food, cleaning toilets (not at the same time), and answering any dive-related questions. The cleaners, engineers, bar staff were all very friendly. A big thanks to the RIB drivers (Assenti and Christian) who helped us in and out of the water. They must have been tired at the end of the day.
Written by Elliott Hey, April 2023
CUSTOMER TESTIMONIALS OF DIVE THE WORLD
... This is the second time I booked thru Dive The World (Fiji and Malaysia) and the services I received both times were prompt and excellent. ... -- Ann Lee, USA. [More customer reviews]