Scuba Diving Loreto
Diving in Loreto is characterized by some of the best island diving to be found in the Sea of Cortez.
Loretta is located on the coast of the Gulf of California, about 350 km (220 mi) north of La Paz.
Loreto is one of the oldest settlements in the Baja California peninsula, having been settled more than 300 years ago. This beautiful destination carries you deep into a Mexico of legends and colonial splendor, whether you’re wandering its winding streets, exploring caves and admiring prehistoric cave paintings, or enjoying a dip in the Sea of Cortez. The Sierra La Giganta mountain range, one of the tallest and most spectacular in Baja, overlooks the town of Loreto and creates breathtaking panoramic vistas. While, just off shore, are the stunning Coronado, Del Carmen, Danzante, Monserrat and Santa Catalina islands.
You’ll be amazed by the vivid contrast of the deep azure of the sea against the rich greens of island vegetation. There are many nooks and stretches of sand to explore along the beautiful bays, where those with a taste for extreme sports can choose between kayaking, snorkeling and sailing.
Nine miles from Loreto, you’ll find yourself in the Sierra la Giganta, whose caves are home to a stunning display of abstract figures painted in yellow and white tones, as well as the more usual black and ochre associated with cave paintings.
The Bay of Loreto National Park was created in 1996. The Marine Park covers 2,065 square kilometers in the Sea of Cortez ranging from Isla Coronado in the north to Isla Catalana in the south. It recently became a Sister Park/Reserve with the Channel Islands National Park in California, USA.
SCUBA DIVING LORETO
Loreto National Marine Park is home to over 800 species of fish, as well as invertebrates, Humboldt squid, sea lions, dolphins, sea turtles, whales, hammerhead sharks and whale sharks. There are also wonderful colored sea fans and black coral. The underwater cliffs of Los Candelleros, a triad of rocky mounts to the east of Danzante, drop precipitously to a rocky bottom at 200 feet.
Diving is mostly conducted around the five uninhabited islands across the bay from Loreto (Carmen, Coronado and Danzete are most visited, while Monserrate and Santa Catalina are farther south and require special-request trips), their 50-mile stretch making up the Loreto National Marine Park. Depending on wind and waves, the three islands closest to town take between 20 and 45 minutes to reach.
The islands are volcanic resulting in rocky shorelines, massive underwater rock formations, finger reefs of rock and coral and great wall dives. A good part of the dive sites are quite shallow making them ideal for the beginner. But that’s not all there is. For the more adventurous and experienced diver there are some spectacular walls that are covered in sea fans and sea mounts that rise to as shallow as 50 feet/15 meters.
In January every year the Loreto National Marine Park is home to 9 different species of whales.Humpback, Minke, Finback, Sei, Blue, Sperm,Pilot,Orcas, a few California Gray Whales and last but not least, large schools of Bottlenose Dolphins that sometimes show up in thousands. These wonderful creatures stay within the park until late March and sometimes don’t start their journey until May.
HIGHLIGHT DIVE AREAS
Carmen Island: The island of Carmen is over 18 miles long and once had a large salt mining operation on its backside. Now a ghost town, a 120-foot fishing boat wreck sits in its bay of BAHIA SALINA. In only 35 feet of water, the wreck has become home to a variety of marine life and schools of fish. This season, a whale shark even hung around it for a few days. It is a great site for photography. The boat trip is a longer ride out, but the tour of the ghost town and the wreck dive makes it worth it. PUNTA LOBOS sits at the north tip of the island. The depth begins at 20 feet and works its way down to an intermediate slope. One can find bass, parrotfish, angelfish and scorpionfish. This is also a more protected area from wind. Since Isla Carman is so big, there are many sites that make for good diving and snorkeling.
Danzante Island: The island of Danzante is much smaller and lies south of Carmen. FARO NORTE is on the northeast side of the island. The underwater terrain is a series of stair-stepped walls that eventually drop to over 100 feet. The deep canyons and crevices are lined with both soft and hard corals. The shallow block-like environment makes wonderful homes for both octopus and moral eels. PIEDRA SUBMARINO looks like a submarine from a distance. Located off the south tip of Danzante, this rock is made up of short walls with intervening crevices running back into the rocks. Parts of this rock drops off quickly. The ledges and undercuts provide a habitat for colorful murex snails, sea stars and if you look closely, the staghorn crab that looks like tiny bits of staghorn coral crawling around.
– Los Candelleros which is a great area for diving around the huge rocky fingers that rise about 5 miles/3km southwest of Puerto Escondido and are characterized by vertical facades dropping to depths of almost 200 feet/60 meters. Deep crevices and lots of structural cover below the surface making a paradise for fish of kinds and sizes.
Coronado Island: The island of Coronado has some incredible looking formations. Huge volcanic rocks cover the island, many of which have been formed into majestic steeples. LAS TIJERETAS dive site is on the southeast side has a small wall down to about 75 feet. It is made up of huge rocks, some appearing to be giant pillars standing up cemented together, creating a rock wall 40 feet high. There is a myriad of fish and playful sea lions that will usually be frolicking around you. Pufferfish hide in the rock fissures as does an array of invertebrate life.
– La Lobera is also on the southeast side of the island is a great wall dive. Entering on the north side of the site (current permitting) you will head south with the wall at your right side with a depth to about 100 feet. Beautiful sea fans and black coral trees blanket the wall. Small caverns dot throughout. Large grouper, moray eels and pargo hide out in the crevices. The exit on this dive is in a little cove where more sea lions like to hang out.
– Piedra Blanca is at the north end is an excellent dive site. The current can pick up but the panga (Mexican boats) drivers follow the bubbles and will pick you up, as it is usually a drift dive. Massive boulders appear to have toppled like dominoes down the declining wall. At 60 feet a steep drop-off starts, continuing down into the depths. This wall is fractured with deep slices and wide fissures, along with drooping overhangs. Purple gorgonian sea fans and clumps of black coral grow more profusely in the deeper water. Rock scallops are scattered across the ledges along with a variety of invertebrates. Triggerfish, angelfish, sergeant majors, and other reef fish, along with the large bumphead parrot fish can be seen. It’s a great spot for photography. At certain times of the year, expect to see schooling tuna and yellowtail.
Few more dive sites worth visiting in Loretto.
Punta Coyote is situated just outside of Escondido Bay. There’s a deepwater drop-off to approximately 115 feet/35 meters of large rocks and boulders along a good length of the point. The rocky crevices are home to a lot of reef fish. Also typical of this dive site are the sea fans and gorgonians.
World War II Minesweeper: was sunk as an artificial reef about 1.5 miles south of Puerto Escondido. It lies about a half-mile offshore about 30′ below the surface, although portions of the vessel are 70′ down.
Las Galeras is north of Monserrate Island. The rocky outcroppings have steep walls typical of many of the great Loreto dive sites with boulders and large tabletop slabs of underwater rocks. Nearer the rocks themselves the waters are shallow but beyond, the waters drop rapidly to depths close to 100 feet/30 meters with finger reefs along the bottom providing excellent diving and photography opportunities.
DIVING SEASON: Year-round, however, many people believe that the best diving season is February through April. This is when the humpback and sometimes even blue whales may be spotted. October is also recommended as a superb time to visit because the high heat of summer has passed but the water is still warm with excellent visibility.
In winter, surface water temperatures drop to 65 to 70F. Seas can kick up to two to three feet, and vis drops to an average of 30 to 50 feet due to plankton blooms. On the plus side, gray whales and occasionally blue whales move into the sea in winter to feed and mate, increasing your chances of an encounter.
VISIBILITY: Summer time visibility peaks at 60 feet (18m) or more. During the winter months the vis drops to an average of 30 to 50 feet (9-15m) due to plankton blooms.
WATER TEMPERATURE: During the summer, surface temperatures hit a toasty 85-90F. It’s still cold enough below the thermocline that most divers opt for full 3mm wetsuits. In winter, surface water temperatures drop to 65 to 70F, so you’ll need a 5mm or 6mm full wetsuit with hood and gloves.
WEATHER: Temperatures can soar to the high 90sF in summer, but the average is more like 95F. In the winter, expect daytime highs in the low 80Fs. The sky is usually cloudless and the sun intense, so don’t forget the sunscreen.
SKILL LEVELS: Dives for all diver skill levels are readily available.
WHAT TO EXPECT TO SEE: dolphins, whales, sea lions, lobsters, sea turtles, and several bird species, including pelicans and seagulls Pufferfish, sharks, dolphins, whole fleets of stingrays, angelfish, mahi mahi, wahoo and tuna.
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