underwater tour along the shores of Baja California Sur opens the doors to a world full of wildlife, adventure and prodigious settings.
From the air, the intense blues of the sea swirl in turquoise hues as we approach the shore, ready to land. Under the clouds, you can see islands between which fishing boats, yachts, and the occasional larger boat leave behind trails on the surface. Dawn shines its light on the heart of Baja California Sur when we touch land while the captain announces our arrival: “Welcome to Loreto.”
The sky is clear and the heatstroke welcomes us when we get off the plane, a pleasant sign that will facilitate what we come to do: dive into the waters that surround both coasts of the state to witness some of the sites with the greatest marine biodiversity in Mexico. So, with no time to lose, we left for the center of this Magical Town to meet Raffa Murillo, divemaster of the diving company Dolphin Dive Baja with more than 15 years of experience in the region and that, in addition to the diving service, offers ground transportation to more than 50 points in the entity to carry out dives.
After trying on the wetsuit, choosing the weights that will be used as ballast, and reviewing the operation of the equipment, it is time to delight in the local gastronomy and delicacies such as grilled chocolate clams, fish tacos, or a seafood casserole to hold on. the long journey that still lies ahead, as the first destination on this route for underwater adventure is located seven hours away by car, in the municipality of Mulago, on the north coast of the South Californian Pacific.
With a full stomach, we started the journey on the endless straight line that the road traces until we lost in the horizon, the only one that connects the north and the south of the peninsula. The rugged contour of the Sierra de la Gigantea accompanies us under a blazing sun that clearly draws the shadow of the vultures as they pass over the colossal cardines that dominate every corner of this arid landscape. Sometimes surprised by a hare, fox, or snake that crosses the road quickly, caracaras or crows that protect their nests at the top of the light poles, or the sudden appearance of a tigrillo next to the road, the route is a great way to admire the unique nature of the desert.
The pristine nights of the South Californian desert allow a clear sky of artificial light, which reveals the celestial vault fully.
As bays, beaches, and more and more cacti pass by, we make one stop or another to appreciate the panoramic views and, why not ?, prick my leg to announce my presence among the merciless bushes (be careful when walking through the mountains). With an inflamed calf, as if a porcupine had attacked me, the route offers a wonderful twilight until total darkness covers us and the stars begin to pile upon us, a spectacle that shines like in few places in the world.
Thus, after more than 10 hours of travel between air and land from Mexico City, we reached Bahía Asunción, in the middle of the El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve, a small fishing town in the north-western tip of the state. Why come here? The depths of the Pacific will answer that question tomorrow; meanwhile, to remove the remains of thorns from his leg and rest.
The sunrises on the beach, level with the horizon, are always impressive, but the location of Bahía Asunción –in the body of water that gives it its name– makes the town, despite being on the Pacific coast, look towards the east to receive both sunrises and sunsets over the ocean. With this postcard and a light breakfast, we finally get ready for the initial dive.
As its main source of livelihood, this fishing village specializes in the trade-in clam, snail, lobster, and abalone, a mollusk whose meat is prized and well valued in Asian markets, and which was on the verge of extinction during the decade of the eighties of the twentieth century. For this reason, in the small boat heading to the high seas, we are accompanied by artisanal fishermen willing to show us how they collect abalone in a sustainable way.
After a few minutes of navigation on the agitated waves of the Pacific, we pass next to Asunción Island, which is inhabited by a herd of sea lions that welcomes us with grunts and splashes as we approach. A few meters ahead, the captain and director of the Bahía Asunción cooperative, Román López, order the anchor to be dropped. Without even half of our gear ready to dive, local fisherman Vladimir Ornelas takes the lead and leaps head into the water with just his wetsuit, visor, and a regulator connected to a compressor. of air lying in the front of the boat. We rush to catch up.
With oxygen tanks, buoyancy vests, regulators, gauges, weight belts, visors, and fins, all reviewed by Raffa to perfection, it’s time to dive in. After the respective safety signals on the surface (first, the fingers of your hand pointing towards the top of the head to indicate that we are okay; then, your thumb down to start the descent), we submerged about 12 meters in warm waters (about 24 ° C) until reaching a seabed covered by thick and long algae that dance to the beat of the current.
The crystal-clear waters of the Gulf of California (below) not only preserve the vast biodiversity of the “world’s aquarium,” but also historic shipwrecks such as the C-54 Agustina Medgar (above).
This area full of sargassum and not very tall marine plants called cauliflower creates a kind of labyrinth formed by eroded rocks, a perfect refuge for a large number of fish and the occasional seal.
We soon made out Vladimir’s regulator hose through the vegetation, so we swam over there. However, a pack of sea lions gets in the way. With their graceful and fast swim, the smallest and most curious approach even a few centimeters from the viewers (perhaps because in this area they are not used to humans), while the largest observe close to the surface as if taking care that Let us not represent a danger to their young. The scene in which we are immersed seems dreamy, almost heavenly, with the sunlight refracted through the water and the silhouettes of the sea lions gliding around us, like angelic creatures.
I don’t want to get out of this trance, but we soon realized that Vladimir had already advanced several meters through the seagrasses, so we hurried the swim until we reached him. Thus, we testify that, when it comes to the South Californian Pacific, it does not do its name justice, at least not underwater. As we approached Vladimir, who already had some captured abalone in his net, the currents began to increase in force, forcing us to hold on to the thick seaweed until we were part of his incessant swing.
With more than 206,500 hectares and five islands, the Bahía de Loreto National Park is one of the most biodiverse in Mexico. Photo: Sergio Inquired
The abalone tree seemed not to care about the underwater blender-type turbulence that made us wave from side to side like flags in the middle of a storm. When the course of the water allowed it, we advanced (or were we retreating?) Between the algae, letting ourselves be carried away by the sea in the background under a sensation of perpetual flight and then grabbing again on whatever was within reach (gloves were essential). So, we followed the fisherman a few more meters until he decided to surface. A quick decompression stops at about five meters, and back to the boat.
The shallow depth of the first dive allowed us to use the same tank again for the next one (learning to breathe slowly and slowly helps to stay underwater longer), so we headed to San Roque Island and one of its submerged caves to appreciate how the use of another basic resource for the economy of Bahía Asunción is carried out: lobster.
In front of the cave entrance, exposed to the open sea (intermediate/advanced diving), we dive about seven meters to enter between the rock formations until the light beams begin to fade into the darkness. The opening becomes narrower and narrower as you move forward; Suddenly, Vladimir’s lamp illuminates one of the walls to reveal dozens of lobsters pressed to the rocks. Since they are all juveniles, the fishermen make the decision not to take any fish in accordance with their sustainable management plans, thus ensuring the long-term supply and conservation of this valuable resource for both the local economy and the marine ecosystems of the region. region.
The barometer shows 100 bars (or 1,000 PSI, the recommended one to start the ascent), so we return on board to return to shore with some green turtles around. The sun falls behind us as we approach land, a splendid evening to close a magnificent day. After cleaning the diving equipment with freshwater, Román takes the net with the abalones to classify them in the laboratory, where the juveniles or in the reproductive stage will remain for their breeding and subsequent release, while those ready for consumption are sent to the local canning factory for trade in China and the United States.
Absolute tiredness, to have dinner and sleep in one of the small but cozy hotels in the community. The enveloping sound of the waves lulls under a starry sky that only a place so remote and free of light pollution can provide.
Gulf of California:
The return from Bahía Asunción through the El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve seems to be a totally different path from the one we did on the way. The salt flats, the desert, and the wildlife are constantly changing and offer different perspectives of the natural reality of the peninsula at every kilometer. Thus, the seven-hour journey quickly fizzles down the highway until arriving back at Loreto, the first capital of the peninsula and mother of all California’s.
As the first settlement of the Spanish in their attempt to colonize distant lands of what was then considered a huge desert island, Loreto is home to the first mission of the peninsula (Nuestra Senora de Loreto) and the cultural heart of the region.
The conqueror Hernan Cortés, the Spanish cartographer Sebastián Vizcaino, the American Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck, the Mexican journalist, and anthropologist Fernando Jordan and the French ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau – who invented the regulator for autonomous diving and named this area as “the aquarium of the world ”- are some of the characters that made history by being marked by the natural beauty and abundant diversity that adorns Baja Sur and its surrounding waters.
From the depths to the surface, and from the gulf (above) to the Pacific (below), Baja Sur’s natural settings are overflowing with beauty. Photo: Sergio Inquired
With recharged energy thanks to a long night’s sleep, we headed to the port to return to the aquatic world, this time in the Bahía de Loreto National Park, which, with more than 30 species of marine mammals, is one of the areas with the greatest biodiversity. marina in Mexico. On this occasion, we met with June Val Orozco, owner of Loreto Sea and Land Tours, one of the longest-running land and sea expedition companies in the region. We set sail for Coronado Island, where a rocky site known as La Libera shelters the largest colony of sea lions in the park.
Here the snorkeling is attractive due to the interaction of the sea lions with the people, however, descending with the diving equipment to depths of between five and 40 meters reveals a basalt wall with giant rocky blocks, full of cracks and starfish, culminating in a soft coral garden with fans and gorgonians. Stabilizing at 25 meters, we explored the rocks to discover the jaws of some moray eels, groupers the size of oxygen tanks, stonefish that magically camouflage themselves, and a pair of turtles that slowly wander off in our presence.
It is time to explore Las Tijeras, a site near the east coast of Coronado Island, which takes its name from the seabird (also known as the elegant frigate) that nests in this area. Due to the lava flows that emerged about a million years ago and that has been eroded by the wind, rain, and waves, there are ballast pillars and terraces that serve as shelter for invertebrates and a large number of parrotfishes, surgeons, burritos, goats, cabrillas and snapper.
With a maximum depth of 20 meters, the rocky area gives way to a plain of white sand where dozens of stingrays have buried that shoot out as we float over them. After about 40 minutes of exploration in waters close to 25 ° C, we ascend to make a decompression stop before boarding the boat and returning to the mainland.
A wood-fired pizza dinner and a couple of craft beers are a must for a good night’s sleep. When night falls, it is difficult to distinguish dreams from memories lived throughout the day. The underwater world invades the mind.
At dawn we are ready for a new underwater adventure, so we have breakfast to return to the port and get on the boat of Blue Nation, a family business run by the Mexican Mónica Chávez and the Spanish Yage Rodríguez. The first destination is a site known as Piedra Blanca (due to the guano deposited by coastal birds such as cormorants, blue-footed boobies, and pelicans), located on the west coast of Carmen Island, the largest in Loreto.
There is Neptune’s Finger, a thin rock formation that sticks out of the water as if pointing to the sky. We begin the dive between schools of sardines and a sharp-toothed barracuda that moves like a torpedo. Upon reaching the depth of 15 meters we find typical fauna such as horse mackerel, black corals, urchins, blende, and nudibranchs: tiny creatures like psychedelic colored sea slugs that glow on the seabed.
Under the water, the notion of time disperses as we continue our descent to almost 30 meters deep among the vivid colors of damselfish, cornet, porcupine, and little pigs. We swam next to a wall full of corals and the occasional eel until we noticed that, to our right, the seabed suddenly plunged until it was lost in the dark. It is important to stay close to the wall, as the currents can drag us into the abyss. Better not to detach from Iago.
Today’s water activities end soon because the next day we will close this underwater tour in an emblem of the national park: The C-54 Agustina Medgar, an old minesweeper that was shipwrecked near the coast of Puerto Escondido (Baja California Sur).
This last dive, in addition to being deep, is also historical. This is how Raffa Murillo, from Dolphin Dive Baja, points out when we meet him again in the port before setting sail for the last time towards the waters of the Gulf of California. And it is not an exaggeration.
Measuring 56 meters in length (length) and 10 in beam (width), this historic warship was built in the United States in 1944 and served at Pearl Harbour during World War II. He gained heroic fame when, in Okinawa, he rescued the crew of another ship that was hit by kamikaze attacks and others whose boats were hit by underwater mines. After being awarded three stars of service by the US government, the ship was sold to the Mexican Navy in 1962 and was finally sunk on purpose in 2000 for recreational use in diving.
At 25 meters deep and with a thin layer of coral that covers its hull and interiors, the C-54 Agustina Medgar today functions as an artificial reef for various aquatic species such as jellyfish, angelfish, gobies, and barbers that take refuge and sneak past deck and cabins. To follow their example, we do the same.
The labyrinthine paths that allow the entrances and exits of the ship make this an experience like no other. From the command bridge to the propellers, everything is an iron landscape covered by corals and inhabited by hundreds of multi-colored fish. Time is diluted until Raffa gives us the signal to ask how much oxygen is left in the tanks; we have consumed most of it without even noticing it, fascinated by the scenery and the various ways of scrutinizing the ship. To go up.
There are no words when we reach the surface, only a clash of palms between our group and the gratitude of being able to know this other world that, in addition to the desert, is also part of the Baja Sur. An almost unexplored and extremely fragile world that still preserves pristine ecosystems around this dreamlike peninsula.
How To Do It:
- Dolphin Dive Baja
- Loreto Sea and Land Tours
- Blue nation
- Although it takes place all year round, the diving season is from July to October, when there is greater visibility. In winter the waters fill with plankton and fish eggs that do not allow a good vision in the depths, but this attracts a spectacle of dolphins and whales in the Gulf of California.
- Always use ecological and marine life- friendly sunscreens, as there is a high risk of death from chemicals in species such as corals and abalones.