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"The Aquarium of the World"
By Tony Griffitts
Cabo Pulmo is a National Marine Park in the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California), located around 60 miles (100 km) Northeast of Los Cabos International Airport (Southern tip of Baja, Mexico). Jacques Cousteau once called Cabo Pulmo "The Aquarium of the World." Cabo Pulmo is the largest coral reef in the Eastern Pacific. At the end of August 2007 Tom Waltzek and I took a SCUBA diving trip to Cabo Pulmo to see this reef in person.
From the airport you drive North on Highway 1 till you see an exit to the right for Cabo Pulmo. Once you enter the town of La Ribera you take a fork in the road to the right. This will take you to Cabo Pulmo. Most of the road is paved and in very good condition, except for the last 6 miles (10 km) is dirt road. Watch your speed while driving, top speed limit we encountered on Highway 1 was 90 KPH (55 MPH) with much of it below that. Some small town speed limits were only 20 KPH, and often had police waiting to catch someone. Speed bumps (Topes) are common in small towns along the way to Cabo Pulmo. Have your camera ready as you drive, as there is lots of wildlife and great scenery to photograph on the drive to Cabo Pulmo.
Average daytime temperature in August is around 95° F (35° C) with humidity to match, so renting a car with A/C will give you a welcome relief from the daytime heat. Summertime is tropical storm season for Southern Baja. Just before we got there they had a tropical storm come through, so we ended up driving through quite a few mud puddles on the paved and unpaved roads to Cabo Pulmo.
Cortez Angelfish (Pomacanthus zonipectus) are common at Cabo Pulmo.
Unfortunately, because of the storm that just came through before we got there, the SCUBA diving visibility on all the dives we did was only 10 to 20 feet (3 to 6 meters). Snorkeling was even worse, with visibility of only 3 feet (1 meter). Surface water was very warm, around 82 to 84° F (28 to 29° C), but very cool at 50 feet down around 72° F (22° C). The abundance of fish was absolutely amazing, with huge shoals of Porcupine Puffers, butterflies, jacks, snappers, groupers, Spotted Surgenfish (Prionurus punctatus), and King Angelfish (Holacanthus passer). In some areas the King Angelfish were so thick on the reef there were 6 to 9 in just one square meter. Out of all the places I have dove, I have never seen so many angelfish from the Holacanthus genus in such abundance. Three to four foot (90 to 120 CM) Green Morays (Gymnothorax castaneus) were common on the reef. Several species of parrotfish, triggers, wrasses (including the beautiful supermale Cortez Rainbow Wrasse (Thalassoma lucasanum), damselfish, and gobies were everywhere. Guineafowl Puffers (Arothron meleagris) in both the common black with white spots form as well as the golden form were common. The Spotted Sharpnose Puffer (Canthigaster punctatissima) could be found darting in and out of the reef. Electric Stingrays (Diplobatis ommata), Moorish Idols (Zanclus canescens), and Cortez Angelfish (Pomacanthus zonipectus) were common, and if you look closely at the reef you may find a small Redhead Goby (Gobiosoma puncticulatus). Spotted Coral Hawkfish (Cirrhitichthys oxycephalus) were always found around Pocillopora coral heads. Because Cabo Pulmo is a National Marine Park, no fishing is allowed, and boats are not allowed to drop anchor (to protect coral). The only disappointment with the diving was we did not see any Manta Rays or Whale Sharks, but jumping Mantas and a Hammer Head shark were spotted from the dive boat.
A few photos from Southern Baja, Mexico. Cabo Pulmo Beach, California King Snake, Desert Iguana, Tarantula, cactus flowers, waterfall West of Santiago, and a dry river bed with mountains in the background.
Southern Baja is also a great place to see wildlife. While the climate creates a desert landscape, there is still plenty of things to see. We took a side trip to see the waterfall West of Santiago. Tom Waltzek found a thriving population of guppies (Poecilia reticulata) in the pool below the waterfall as well as several species of aquatic plants.
While at Cabo Pulmo we stayed at the Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort. We rented the deluxe bungalow with air conditioning. What they don't tell you on the web site is that the air conditioning and the refrigerator/freezer are turned off at night at about 9:30pm and don't come back on until about 10:00am. During the day, much of the power comes from solar panels, and at night a generator powers the lights. Bugs where everywhere at night, so you had the option of opening up the windows and letting in the bugs, or sweating out the night with the windows closed. The room came with a queen size bed and a "single bed with bolstered couch". Mosquito netting was only provided for the queen size bed. Luckily we did not have a problem with mosquitoes until the last two nights. The bungalow had no ceiling just a palm frond thatched roof, allowing bugs and geckoes free access to our bungalow. Forget about room cleaning service, fresh towels were only provided once, and they were just dropped off outside the bungalow. Additional clean towels had to be asked for at the registration office. At night the resort village is very dark, so bring a flash light so it is easier to walk to the Coral Reef Restaurant. The Dive Center was well equipped and the dive masters where very helpful. Cabo Pulmo is somewhat remote, cell phone service is non-existent, and internet service can sometimes be accesses at Pepe's. Make sure you bring lots of cash, as there are no ATM's for miles.
While the abundance of fish at Cabo Pulmo is second to non, the stony coral is pretty much limited to Pocillopora. They have a saying about Cabo Pulmo diving, "it can be your best, or your worst." It could have been some great diving for us if the visibility was much better.