NA, Cabo San Lucas, Baja, Mexico, NAn, undefined
This review is for a 13-day Explore Baja trip aboard the Quino El Guardian, in early October 2016.
This is a very unique dive trip, on a very unique boat. Divers looking for something different yet still a solidly good live-aboard experience should definitely consider it.
Our trip began in the North departing from Puerto Peñasco after an approximately 4 hour drive from Phoenix airport in the “Head Out to Rocky Point” shuttle van. The van was comfortable and there were several stops along the way to get out, stretch, buy snacks, etc.
At the docks we met some of the crew who helped get us and our gear aboard. There is a small shop a few blocks away for last minute purchases (let the crew know you are going) – very limited items but they did have some Don Julio at very reasonable cost :).
Departure was pretty quick for the overnight cruise to the first dive site. The passage was a bit rough, some of us tried to sleep on the top deck but had to come inside because of the salt spray from wind and waves. But this was the only time we had rough seas, all other days/nights were very calm and beautiful (and sunny!).
The divers on this trip were a diverse group, most of us had never met before. Lots of different backgrounds and personalities. But the nature of the Quino was to bring the group together. The 4-per-cabin arrangement, shared facilities, and smaller size of the boat contributed to this – to me it felt a bit like an adult-version summer camp, where one tends to make new friends and have great adventures. So I’ll say the size and organization of the boat, being smaller and less private than others, was actually a big plus – gave the whole trip a unique feeling.
I should also say the boat is completely adequate in size: comfortable dive deck with a good system for organizing the divers onto the dinghies, spacious and comfortable dining area, large shaded deck area (with additional non-shaded area for sun-worshipers), reading/relaxing/computer/TV lounge. It never felt crowded on the Quino – just fun.
Next I should mention the crew. Wow, best crew ever. These guys all work extremely hard to make the trip fun and comfortable, yet they are always personable and friendly. Lots of laughing and joking and interaction with the divers, but did I mention they work extremely hard to make the trip fun and comfortable? One thing I really appreciated is that every night the crew would deliver my mattress to the top deck, where I (and about half the other divers) could sleep out in the fresh air under the stars. I hadn’t done this since my early diving days in the South China Sea years ago – on this trip I slept every night on the top deck. Very fun!
Special mention must go to Pancho, our cook. The food was outstanding. Fresh, varied, flavorful, well-prepared, interesting presentation. I liked the fact that breakfasts were varied with lots of fresh fruit selections, and the two BBQ dinners on the top deck were outstanding (and really fun).
By now you must be wondering what the diving was like. OK, I’ll tell…
I brought a 5mm wetsuit + 3mm hooded vest for the diving in the north (first part of trip) and was glad that I did. A few of the dives had some pretty cold upwellings, most other dives were 75-79 degrees. Half-way through the trip I switched to a 3mm, which was perfect for the south.
Dives in the north were modest visibility. Not great but not terrible. Perfectly good for the kind of dives we did where there were lots of smaller creatures to find. In fact I really enjoyed seeing some new species that I’d never seen before, including signal blennies (very fun to watch), giant jawfish (amazing to look at when they come out of their holes), and others. Not the lush colorful reefs of Indonesia for example, but still plenty of interesting things to see and I can say that I enjoyed the diving.
Another interesting aspect of the North is the stark beauty of the landscape. Think: Mars meets ocean. Really enjoyed going on-shore and walking about a few times
One great aspect of this trip is that not only is there lots of diving, but there were also other fun things to do. For example an afternoon swimming with friendly Whale Sharks in a shallow bay (as much swimming with them as we wanted). Whale watching, including one encounter with Orcas. One evening walking about the small Baja town of Loreto and enjoying a marvelous dinner at a local taqueria (everything hand made and cooked over wood fires – you must try the Queso Fundido if you ever go).
The diving itself was very diverse. Lots of small things to see in the North, a number of dives with Sea Lions (some very playful), more and more fish and fantastic visibility as we moved toward the South, along with some beautiful reefs. Plus – for just about the entire trip we were the only divers (and in fact the only boat) anywhere in sight. We definitely had the dive sites, and it seemed the entire sea, all to ourselves.
Especially memorable in the South were our dives in the Cabo Pulmo national marine park. Google it and you will see pictures of giant schools of fish swimming around the divers. Yes – we saw that. Or I should say: we were in the middle of all that. Really fun. Another dive there was on a very beautiful reef, definitely artistic in its beauty.
Other memorable moments: The night dives we saw plenty of fun stuff, including one dive with bunches of mating sea hares all over the reef (where do they all come from???). Another dive we saw more moray eels than I can recall ever seeing in one site, including one hole with 14 of the big guys all packed in together. Lots of octopus, especially in the North where it seemed I saw at least one on every dive. Night dive with fighter squadrons of Mobula attacking the dense clouds of krill attracted by the light. And the several dives on submerged sea mounts were all very fun too.
Although currents can be strong in the Sea of Cortez, we were pretty lucky and at most only encountered modest current on just a few of the dives, most were without any current. I think the dive masters did a good job of planning sites in this respect.
Although I’m not a photographer, I can say Cat, our good friend, had a great time photographing new creatures he had never encountered before. Cat is an avid diver and photographer, seems that he spends more time diving than not, so the fact that he was so happy with his photographic results from this trip (and plans to come back again), says a lot for the photographic opportunities in the Sea of Cortez.
All in all it was a unique and very fun trip, I highly recommend it. Thanks to Dora and Lolo (owners/founders), and the entire Quino crew for making it a great experience.
Kuta Poleng Blok D-1, Kuta, Bali, Indonesia, 80361, undefined
Visited in May 2016 and the experience was truly over the top. First of all – it’s in the kind of remote and isolated location that experienced divers are always searching for. Yet getting here is easy and comfortable: fly into Bali’s international airport, stay at one of the many comfortable near-airport accommodations, then receive wonderful and personal service the next morning to take the 2.5 hour charter flight directly to the resort’s own airstrip (built and operated to international standards). A short boat ride delivers you to the resort’s jetty where a warm welcome awaits.
The resort itself: location, layout, accommodation, facilities, staff, is also outstanding. There is tremendous attention to detail in every aspect, clearly a lot of love and effort have gone into creating this wonderful place. I recommend taking the resort tour to see “behind-the-scenes” what it takes to build and run this kind of facility – quite amazing.
Lose some weight before coming here because you will surely gain a few pounds back. The food is on par with the best I’ve had at 5-star hotels & resorts, maybe even better. A wide selection of interesting dishes both western and regional, lots of variation day-to-day, and a very personable/responsive kitchen & wait staff always interested how they can make your dining experience even more special. Really fantastic.
I’ll make a special mention of the jetty bar. Perfect spot for sunset viewing, relaxing, and good conversation with other guests – don’t miss it!
I almost forgot to mention the diving since everything else was so great – but the diving was also tremendous. Our visit was just at the end of the warm-water season, and in fact the water was very warm (easily doable without a wet-suit though we used 3mm to stay entirely comfortable). Yet there was little to no evidence of bleaching on the reefs. In fact they were some of the healthiest, unspoiled, most colorful, and diverse reefs I’ve ever seen with a wonderful amount and variety of creatures & fish. And very clear water to see them through. Every dive was great – nothing disappointing. The warm water meant that some of the more unusual creatures were scarce (hiding out at greater depths), but still there was plenty to see and enjoy, and again the amount and diversity of life was really fantastic.
To be honest I was a bit apprehensive about diving here as I’d heard the dive sites described as “mostly wall diving” which is not my favorite. Yes there were walls, but in most cases the reefs were more sloping than purely vertical, and just about every dive site had a varied topography which also included canyons, ridges, sandy bottom areas, shallow reef areas, etc. I found all the dive sites to be very interesting/fun and would not describe the diving here as being strictly wall-diving. Should be described simply as “great diving.”
All in all I’d say this is the finest dive resort I’ve been to, definitely should be on every diver’s must-do list.
Sailed on the Seahorse for 10-day cruise in February 2015 from Tual to Ambon through Kei & Banda islands. This was a special trip as my wife and I were actually stranded on Banda 24 years ago after monsoon weather hit and the commercial air flights stopped – even worse we weren’t able to dive much at that time due to the weather and rough seas. There’s a longer version of this story but it requires some beers shared for the telling… At any rate I was really looking forward to this return and of course some great diving.
The Seahorse is a comfortable boat with decent cabins, a spacious main room (air-conditioned) for meals and hanging out, a good dive-deck with lots of preparation space, and a nice sun-deck with plenty of cushions, lounge chairs, and my favorite: sun deck bean bag lounge chairs (first and only time I’ve ever seen these)! With a full complement of 16 passengers it does not feel crowded.
One of the things I like about this boat are the itineraries if offers into less-traveled parts of Indonesia. While it isn’t the only boat with trips in this area (Tual-Kei-Banda-Ambon), there don’t seem to be many others. In fact we spent the prior week in Raja Ampat and saw live-aboards literally scattered about, but I don’t think we saw any other live-aboards during this cruise on the Seahorse. It felt like we had the vast expanse of ocean, islands, and reefs all to ourselves. Our previous Indonesia live-aboard trip was also on Seahorse to Cenderawasih Bay in 2013, with a similar situation (no other dive boats around).
Meals are consistently great – a nice variety of dishes individually prepared and served (no buffets) with good options for those with dietary restrictions (be sure to inform the staff at time of booking and again on the first day of the cruise). I especially enjoyed the fresh vegetable salads (most lunches) and tasty soups (most dinners). Some of the deserts were irresistible!
The diving operation is well designed: the crew loads up the dingys in advance with the divers’ tanks, BCs, fins, and camera gear – the divers need only stroll a few steps from the dive deck down some stairs to board the comfortable dingys. Equipment is put on at the dive site while seated with assistance from crew members, a simple back-roll later you are in the water. Exiting the dive back into the dinghy is equally easy – equipment can be taken off in the water and handed to the crew (or not – if you prefer going up the ladder with everything on) and the ladders (2 per dingy) are very easy to climb. I dove with a knee recovering from surgery and had no problems the entire trip.
I’m not a photographer so can’t comment on the camera room other than to say it seemed to be adequate for all the divers with camera gear, which was the majority on our trip.
Regarding the itinerary and diving I can say that it was great – pristine reefs, lots of life, and some of the best visibility ever diving on the 1988 lava flows of Banda Api volcano. Let’s see if I can find some time to write a full blog about this trip…
Tel: +628118000511 (WhatsApp) ,+6281319770760 (WhatsApp)
Pantai Pinsilim, Kamp. Yenwaupnor, Kec. Meos Mansar, Indonesia
Stayed for a week in February 2015, not long enough!
Tunc (Managing Director) and his partners have worked very hard to build and operate a resort highly focused on their guest’s comfort and enjoyment of Raja Ampat, both above and below the ocean surface, and they have been able to impart this same sense of focus on the guest throughout their great staff. None of this is easy in such a remote area, but Papua Explorers does an outstanding job of meeting the challenges.
Tunc and his team make themselves readily available to the guests throughout each day, and ensure any issues are quickly resolved.
Dive operation is well run and groups kept small with good guide-to-diver ratio. Our group of 18 was put onto 3 boats (6 divers each) with 2 guides per boat, so diver-guide ratio was 3:1. Boats were spacious enough, comfortable, and fast. Schedules for the boats were arranged with good forethought to ensure all guests experienced all the highlights but without over-crowding any one site. Of course there are many live-aboards in the area plus other land based resorts, but for most dives we felt like we had the sites to ourselves.
Papua Explorers is in a good/central Raja Ampat location, able to reach most of the area’s dive sites within their usual schedule: Go out after breakfast for 2 morning dives, come back to the resort for lunch, then out for one more afternoon dive, and night dive on the house reef if desired. Excursions to sites further afield are offered with additional charge, so one has access to most of Raja Ampat from this resort.
The dive center is at the end of a long jetty and has secure rooms for dive gear and camera equipment. Lots of space on the deck and generally easy access into the boats. Nice equipment rinse tanks are right there when exiting the boats, along with showers and drinking water. I’m not a photographer but camera room seemed decent and there were several large white-boards for briefings and indicating daily schedules for each of the groups. Nice touch was a board with photos/names of all the staff to help us remember!
This is Raja Ampat – our diving expectations where high and they were completely met with generally outstanding dives along with several completely exceptional dives. One at Cape Cree was loaded with more big fish of more different varieties than I’ve ever seen in one place ever – it was amazing and probably a right-time right-place thing. Lots of Mantas at the manta sites, plus other occasional mantas at other sites. Stunning reefs exploding with life and color everywhere… House reef right off the dive center dock provides a nice night dive – found a blue ring octopus the first night, along with colorful scorpion fish, cuttlefish, nudibranchs, lots of crabs, etc.
Tunc advises that November-April are months with more plankton in the water, thus lower visibility but this brings mantas into the area. It’s also more rainy during these months, our week in the 2nd half of February was generally overcast with a few half-days of sunshine, afternoon showers most days, with about 2 days being generally rainy. June-September has less rain, clearer water, fewer mantas (maybe none at times), but generally equal amount of fish and other life on the reefs. May and October are the transition months, with October being the driest month of the year but with what Tunc describes is a “wonderful breeze.” We plan our next visit to Raja Ampat to be in October, looking forward to those nice clear and sunny diving days.
The resort staff were great at accommodating and even suggesting special requests – part of our group did a sunset dive at a particular location (not the house reef) where Flasher Wrasse were known to live, and a few flashes were seen!
The pace was just right. We had a planned schedule each morning and afternoon, but if the morning’s dives had taken a bit longer than expected then staff would adjust the afternoon’s schedule to ensure guests had enough time for lunch and a bit of relaxing before the next dive. We never felt rushed, but had plenty of great diving.
Guides did a great job canvassing sites before sending everyone in, and were willing to adjust plans or even change sites if things didn’t look good. 3 big live-aboard groups chasing one lone manta at a manta site? No worries, guides switched our schedule around and we had a great first dive with no other groups at our planned 2nd site (where we saw plenty of fun stuff), then came back to the manta site for our 2nd dive and had the site to ourselves with over 10 mantas (they weren’t there initially but our guide Hervil had a hunch that they would show up – which they did).
Most dives were not difficult, either no current or we drifted with the current. However current is what brings so much underwater life to Raja Ampat and a few of the dives required modest fining to stay with all the fish action. There were no marathon fining sessions however.
Several of our group elected to do some bird watching, the resort offers several different options and the outings were successful in spotting both the Red Bird of Paradise and the Wilson’s Bird of Paradise. There is rumored to be a special rock where lots and lots of parrots congregate every sunset, unfortunately weather prevented a boat trip to see this, so it’s something on the to-do list for our next visit.
The food is great! Wake up to home-made bread and a variety of rolls & pastries each morning, along with made-to-order eggs/omelets, crepes, juices, and a good variety of fruit. There are several different coffee choices: standard brewed, instant, and what I think is the best: local style finely ground coffee which you need to let settle to the bottom of the cup before drinking. Snacks, fruit, coffee, and tea are served on the dive boats (usually on an island beach) between the 1st and 2nd dives, then lunch back at the resort (except for a few of the longer excursions to more remote dive sites). Lunch and dinner are buffet style with very tasty western and Indonesian dishes, everyone in our group really enjoyed the variety and quality. Beer, wine, and hard liquor are available for purchase.
WiFi is offered in the main area – it’s slow (as it is everywhere in this part of Indonesia) but it works. Cellular service is usually available but sometimes not due to weather conditions.
The resort has power 24 hours.
My wife has been to other land-based dive resorts in the Raja Ampat area which had lots of mosquitoes to contend with. At Papua Explorers, in the bungalows and sea-facing bungalow decks there are virtually none! I saw perhaps one mosquito in the bungalow the entire week, none on deck – making it a wonderful place to relax, nap, etc., without being bothered by bugs. Similarly there were no mosquitoes in the main/dining area. This was a very nice surprise.
Bungalows are nice and very spacious. We had a king bed, a sitting area with sofa, a desk, a nice large bathroom, and a outside deck facing the sea with 2 reclining lounge chairs, a hammock (my favorite!), and a stairway down to the water in case we wanted to do any snorkeling directly from the bungalow. The mosquito nets deployed by housekeeping staff each evening hardly seemed necessary given the lack of mosquitoes, but the nets were of the large variety, creating a room-within-a room surrounding the bed, so that reading lights and even a small auxiliary fan were inside the netting – this was a very nice and comfortable design. The room also had an overhead ceiling fan.
The resort uses a very eco-friendly body-wash/soap product as everything from your sink and shower drain directly into the sea. This soap is OK but can leave a sticky feeling on the skin and hair. Consider bringing some eco-friendly product of your own for a better experience, I recommend Dr. Bronner’s – what we use when backpacking. It’s highly concentrated (you don’t need to bring a lot), very biodegradable, and readily available (at least in the USA where I live).
The resort has 2 larger boats for transfers to/fro Sorong which takes 2-2.5 hours (perhaps longer if conditions are rough). Half of our group riding to the resort in one of these boats saw a whale shark, an orca, and lots of dolphins. I saw many jumping dolphins and some pilot whales on our return trip. Staff greets you at the airport (or your hotel if you happen to stay a night), and gathers guests as they arrive in the comfortable lobby of a local hotel, then departure to the resort is at about 11AM.
This is a gem of a resort in a very isolated location with some of the best diving in the world, you will not be disappointed!