Espíritu Santo and Isla Partida Island
In the Sea of Cortez, 45 minutes by boat from the busy hub of La Paz, you will find the enchanting islands of Espíritu Santo and Isla Partida: a fascinating 80.763 km/31.183 square-mile rock formation whose origins can be explained by a series of cataclysmic earthquakes shaking its minerals to the surface. A geologic rainbow of pink, brown and beige rows reveal the secrets of its birth as volcanic ash and lava residing in its ancient walls.
A shallow channel separates Espíritu and Isla Partida and this is sometimes, in the right tide, shallow enough to wade across. Espíritu Santo is the twelfth largest island in Mexico. Nobody inhabits the island. The area is protected as part of the Area de Protection de Flora y Fauna – Islas del Golfo de California and is an important eco tourism destination. UNESCO declared the island a protected biosphere reserve and Ensenada Grande beach, on Isla partida, was voted the most beautiful beach in Mexico by The Travel Magazine. With its white sand, turquoise waters and rustic back-drop you can really see why.
If you choose the popular embarkation point from the bay of La Paz your captain will stop off at a charming bird-poo covered Island. At first an unimpressive and slightly whiffy experience. As it turns out, this is one of the largest blue-footed booby colonies and very impressive once the birds come into sight. They screech and squawk, sometimes close enough for photos.
Crossing over to the Island you can expect to see pods of dolphins, rays swimming around near the surface and sea lions out and about looking for fish to eat. Whales have been known to put in an appearance once or twice.
Your captain will decide your route around the island depending on conditions. The winds can prevent entrance to the east side at certain times of the year. If you’re lucky enough to explore this side you will enjoy sheer cliffs of said geologic rainbow: an image I had never seen before. The ocean on this side is deep so snorkeling is saved for a small third island in the north, ‘Los Islotes’, and the beautiful beaches when returning down the west side.
Los Islotes is a sea lion colony. It’s huge. Mating season is June to August and a pleasure to swim and play with females and pups during this time. Up until a few weeks ago it was possible to snorkel with them at a respectful close distance. Unfortunately some tour companies got too close and sea lions were being harassed at a time when they are busy protecting their young. So at the time of writing (mating season 2017) there is a temporary ban for snorkelers. Still, 100% worth a visit to hear the territorial barks of the large males and watch the playfulness of females with their young from the boat.
The west side boasts views of beautiful beaches and waters filled with life. There is a cove with the famous rock formation ‘La Mascara’ where a haunting image of a face stares out into the blue. In the late 1800s Espíritu Santo was home to the world’s first pearl oyster farm, producing a vast quantity of pearls, as well as mother of pearl shell. The Queen of England has this in her crown to this day. A disease attacked the oyster population during the mid-20th century and no this industry was no longer viable. A huge colony of frigate birds resides on the old oyster pearl breeding bed. Well worth stopping to see on your way back to La Paz.