Cabo Pulmo: A Hidden Paradise.
By Laura Tyrrell. Diving Instructor, Marine Park Guide.
A paradise exists in a hidden corner in the East Cape of Baja California Sur. It’s a place that can be found between a beach and a mountain valley, accessible only by dirt road, two hours from the nearest city, San Jose del Cabo.
The small traditional village of Cabo Pulmo is home to one of the oldest coral reefs in the northern hemisphere, while on land a variety of tropical flora and fauna thrives in the vast cactus fields that turn vivid green after the first rains. Humming birds dart from tree to tree, pollinating as they go and wild horses, road runners, hares and quail families roam the landscape in freedom.
Stars light up the night sky and the people that live there watch the Milky Way moving in cycles as the year passes by – unaffected by the city lights of Cabo San Lucas to the south.
Visitors are truly spoiled for choice here. Hiking, horse trekking and camping on Los Arbolitos beach can all be enjoyed on dry land, while water enthusiasts are in for a real treat: the snorkelling tours trump any in the surrounding area when the conditions are right, and scuba diving is an absolute must for the certified.
To dive here is a privilege. Out of 14 types of coral found worldwide, 12 have been identified in Cabo Pulmo. ‘Pulmo’ is derived from the Spanish word for lung, ‘pulmon’; this really is a life-giving reef. The seven main dive sites are 5 – 20 minutes by boat and relatively shallow (mainly 40 – 50 feet). A fishing ban since the 90’s has ensured a fish population growth of over 425%: icons of the park include schools of colourful grouper, a resident school of Big Eye Jacks that you can lose yourself in for the duration of the dive and a small colony of sea lions that let you get close enough for a good photo.
Photos by Cabo Expeditions
Shipwreck ‘el Vencedor’ is home not only to a school of snapper, pork fish and huge grouper hiding in the wreck, but also to a number of bull sharks cruising the shallow waters and taking advantage of the cleaning stations. Here you can witness the explosive thunder clap of a 50lb Amberjack going in for the kill, dispersing a million smaller fish at exactly the same time as a nine-foot bull shark cruises by in the background. National Geographic, The BBC and Mission Blue have all made documentaries here.
During diving surface intervals and snorkel tours come whale season (November to April) boat captains look for breaching Humpbacks: new mothers playing with their new-born calves. It’s common to see whales breaching just 100 feet from the boat and you’ll often hear a stunning variety of whale songs while diving or snorkelling at the reef.
CONANP (Comision Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas) regulate the park in a ground-breaking way. Reef restoration and diver interaction is taken very seriously, so it’s a pleasure to pay the daily $5 entrance fee when you see how well CONANP rangers police the entire marine park area – which extends seven miles out to sea. In addition, all guides are obliged to attend a two-day marine park course to learn about corals and encourage responsible dive practices.
Dive sites are subject to reservations so that no more than two dive boats arrive in the same place within a 20 minute period. No anchors or mooring lines are permitted in the park except for those at snorkel beaches where beginner divers practise until they have their certifications. The rangers often join dive groups in the water for a few minutes to evaluate diver behaviour. If a diver is touching the reef the group are taken out of the water and the guide gets a mark on their record.
It’s refreshing to see how much care is taken, especially when you consider that coral takes a year to grow an inch but can be destroyed in a second by a single diver. As a guide I’ve seen this 100 times, and following the marine park course I now make sure I do something about it.
At the time of writing there are three dive shops operating small boats or ‘pangas’ and there is a maximum limit of 6 divers or 8 snorkelers: no mixed boats. There is a basic dive resort where you can stay overnight and eat at the well-stocked restaurant and the other 2 dive shops have adjacent basic accommodations for rent. There is no air-conditioning, cable TV or 7 Eleven anywhere nearby and the nearest ATM is 45 minutes away in the town of La Ribera.
Cabo Pulmo is uniquely beautiful. If you have the chance to visit take it today, for it surely won’t be long before everybody hears about this the secret village paradise.