A Mexican Nautical Hijink!

Cabo San Lucas One: Snorkeling and Nautical Hijinks

By the time we arrived in dusty Cabo San Lucas regional Airport, we had crossed 2,500 miles, two time zones, three airports, one duty free shop and two rings of people near the final exit gate attempting to sell us things we didn’t need, before we knew we didn’t need them.

We emerged into a searing and humid 90-degree mid-day on the Baja Peninsula…which truth be told was not greatly different than the searing, humid 90 degrees we had left behind in North Carolina. But other differences were quickly apparent.

Rolling wearily up to the shuttle bus stop with our suitcases, we could not help noticing that we passed two bars – and several men selling Corona’s from ice filled buckets on the curb. And this was less than 100 yards from the airport.

We located our contact at the stop, a young man named Luis in a panama hat and the bright orange jersey of the tour company operator. “You didn’t buy anything from the people inside, no?” He asked. And then assured us, “The shuttle will be here in ten minutes. You can wait here…or, you can go over to the bar. Don’t worry, you may take your drink with you in the shuttle if you want.”

“You can do this, because…” He smiles. “This is Mexico.”

And so it was.

We had come to Cabo to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary…and celebrate it right. We tied the not in a civil ceremony in Raleigh but did not take a significant honeymoon until after our church wedding (which, due to unforeseen circumstances, happened two years later.) Brian was not entirely happy with how our honeymoon – a western Caribbean Cruise — transpired.

Some things worked out okay, others did not, and in general Brian soured on cruises entirely (events led to Carnival Cruise Lines and the entire nation of Belize being declared legally Dead to Brian.) He felt he paid too much, got too little value for his dollars spent, and would have made different choices about the trip if he knew then what he knew now.

Since then we have planned much better tropical vacations (Maui a few years back for example.) This time were looking to do things just right.

We had chosen a well-regarded, all expenses included resort, choosing to pay money up front rather than risk being surprised later. To keep costs down we had decided to travel outside of peak season. This to some degree limited what we could do, since it would be hotter than the prime tourist season, and many migrating animals such as whales would not be in the area. But we would still avoid the rainy season by a couple weeks, with clear sunny skies expected virtually every day.

View from our room. Though considered a ‘partial beach view’ it looked plenty beachy enough for us.

We hung around the resort for a couple days before embarking on the first of three planned excursions. Sylvia had talked about snorkeling, and so Brian, though he floats poorly, decided to accompany her on a snorkeling.

Snorkeling in the Sea of Cortez, no less – If Nautical Hijinks be what you’re after, this is as good a place as any. Jacques Cousteau himself once called this “The World’s Aquarium.”

The resorts of Cabo San Lucas face the Pacific Ocean with its booming surf. Swimming here is impossible most of the year; it certainly was during the entire time we were there. The waves are large and powerful, flinging bucketfulls of gravel onto the beaches with every wave, and the impact sounds like cannon fire. Worse yet is the undertow of the rip currents, easily able to drag even the most powerful swimmer out to sea and drown them.


However, just a couple hours to the Northeast, the crunching Pacific surf transforms itself into the calm turquoise waters of the Sea of Cortez. Protected from the ocean at large by the Gulf of California, the Sea of Cortez more resembles a gigantic tropical lagoon than a sea. Here, swimming, boating, diving, paddling…any water sport you can think of can be indulged in with ease.

Our tour began with a 40-minute shuttle bus ride, followed (after a short wait at the tour facility) by a bus ride of some two hours to reach the boat. The ride was long but comfortable, though we both would have preferred there were some way to block out the movie they insisted on showing at full volume (The Transporter on the way out, Ready Player One on the way back.)

We both very much enjoyed the boat ride out to the first snorkeling destination, Espiritu Santo Island. This uninhabited thirty one square mile island is home to Ensenada Grande. No, not her…the beach, widely considered among the world’s most beautiful. Alas, much to Sylvia’s dismay, we did not stop for any beach combing on this trip.

Espiritu Santo Island (circled in red) is on the Gulf of California side of the peninsula.

The island, by the way, was saved from a casino developer by the actions of concerned local citizens, including tour guides. Its status as a marine preserve today is owed mostly to their actions.

The boat draws near to Espiritu Santos Island.


Admiral Brian surveys the barometer for the likelyhood a beer is brewing. The forecast seems positive!

Our tour boat anchored off a small island called Chandelier Isle, which…SORT of looks like a chandelier. You must use your imagination on this Nautical Hijink.

You can sort of see a chandelier here, right? Like, a big one shaped like a rock…
Espiritu Santo Island and the bay we anchored in, indicated by the artfully drawn red arrow.

Brian had hoped to join Sylvia in the water, but the lagoon proved too deep and rocky for an ungainly, land bound white guy. Sylvia ventured in while Brian provided emotional support from the boat…and helped himself to a couple cans of Pacifico Clara.


Sylvia enters the water!
Sadly, Brian’s duties as ‘dive support technician’ confined him to the boat.
Ahoy on deck! Admiral Brian has discovered America!

Sylvia took a tour around the rocky island observing the wildlife. She declared the snorkeling here to be middle of the road, but a great break from the heat. She spent much of the time attempting to swim away from the expedition’s official photographer, since we had no intention of purchasing any ‘exit thru the gift shop’ prints on this tour.

The blue lagoon
The waters of the Gulf of California are calm enough for kayaking, swimming…or SUP.
Sylvia returns to the boat

After recovering all the divers (none were lost) we had lunch. The food on this boat proved pretty good. As we ate, we talked to a man who quite astonishingly lived in the next town over from the one Brian lived in when he met Sylvia (Roanoke, Texas.) Small world…getting smaller every day it seems.

After lunch the boat moved to a different and more sheltered bay, this one on the peninsula of land that extends out from the city of La Paz toward Espiritu Santo Island. It is directly across from Balandra Beach, which is somewhat famed for its mushroom rock formation (“The Mushroom of Balandra.”)

Hongo = mushroom. Red arrow indicates the cliff we anchored off.

The mushroom, or hongo, was not the destination, but a large cliff face was. Sylvia pronounced this location to be superior to the first, and her underwater GoPro footage confirms her opinion. Alas, the current here was even stronger than in the first location, and Brian was once again relegated to support team status (and a few more cans of Pacifico Clara.)




Playa (beach) can be seen in the distance.

After the snorkeling our boat stopped near a very small island (a house sized outcropping of rocks is more like it) to view a very small colony of sea lions. Alas it was breeding season, or the tour would have taken us into the water to swim with the lions. Apparently, the lions are too territorial in mating season for this to be safely attempted, though it didn’t stop some obviously cheapo tour operators in small boats from risking it.

Sea Lions, kind of hard to make them out but Brian is getting tired of circling things with his red pen.


These tourists are way too close.

The area reminded me a little of another Nautical Hijink we have blogged about – that being the Islas Ballestas in Peru. The Islas Ballestas face the full fury of the Pacific surf and one cannot possibly snorkel in those waters. But the cliffs and rock formations there are MUCH more impressive, and the amount of sea life (including sea lions AND penguins) far more abundant. If Nautical Hijinks be what you’re after, my advice is…check out Paracas, Peru and the Islas Ballestas.

After the tour of the Sea Lion colony we returned to base, followed by the 2 ½ hour ride back to our resort. The total time invested was more than 10 hours…but we were happy. We’d had a fine Nautical Hijink and before the trip was over, we’d have one more.

But first we planned on an adventure of a more terrestrial sort.


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