Underwater or on land, Cabo Pulmo is a visual splendor.
Below us were fish that looked transparent. Then there was this incredibly lovely lavender and teal one that was about 18-inches long. The black and yellow striped ones were like underwater bumble bees. The solid white with either black or purple or blue dots were their own unique fashion statement. Some had orange tails, others yellow. A sting ray and sea turtle added to the day’s visual bounty.
Some fish were solitary swimmers; some were in schools. They wanted nothing to do with us as we bobbed overhead with our snorkel gear. They zigged and zagged among the coral, which in itself was a kaleidoscope of awe.
Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park on the East Cape of Baja California Sur was founded in 1995 as a way to reverse the damage overfishing and other human impacts had brought to the area. Since commercial fishing was prohibited, the number of fish has quadrupled. In 2005, it was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
More than 800 marine species travel in these waters, including 14 types of sharks, five species of sea turtles, and humpback whales. Not more than 100 feet from shore in Bahia Los Frailes we saw rainbow chub, guinea fowl puffer, gulf grouper, a green sea turtle and much more.
While there is a concerted effort to preserve this area, including signs saying not to drive on the beach, plenty of drivers ignored the directive. It was disconcerting to see this, as well as people camping so close to this protected body of water. Without a barrier and clear signage, there was nothing to stop people from doing potentially destructive beach activities.
This is the only rocky coral reef in the Sea of Cortez. Some of the coral were small, some large – all colorful – maroon, green, yellow and rust.
Even though coral looks like a rock, it isn’t. It’s a living organism made up of invertebrates called polyps. Coral reefs improve water quality, are home to some of the most diverse ecosystems, and they protect coasts from damaging waves. The problem is they are dying at a rapid rate, in part because of climate change (warming water), and in part directly from humans (pollution, trash, overfishing).
A November 2018 report by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences says by 2050 most reefs in the world will have been exposed to bleaching on an annual basis. According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “When water is too warm, corals will expel the algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white. This is called coral bleaching. When a coral bleaches, it is not dead. Corals can survive a bleaching event, but they are under more stress and are subject to mortality.”
In January, we would not have survived long without a wetsuit. Thankfully where we were staying, Baja Bungalows, wetsuits and other gear are part of a night’s stay. We brought masks and snorkels, but the fins were welcome. (The stay there was great. The only negative is we booked the room with the hot tub for that purpose. There was no water in it and no chance to get a discount.)
Had it not been so windy, we would have taken their kayak out as well. Our kayak day became a hiking adventure instead. What a delight. We took the lodging manager’s recommendation to go up the Bench trail, which when we got to the top had a couple benches that provided panoramic views of the sea and hills.
A variety of cacti, some starting to bloom, filled the terrain. In one direction it was the vast expanse of the Sea of Cortez, in the other rolling, rugged hills.
Signage was wonderful. Hiking could have kept us busy for days, which AJ wished we had done.
In town, such as it is, is a map for other hiking trails. We started on one, but never saw another sign. Still, we made a short jaunt through an arroyo and found a trail back to the road where our room was.
This East Cape destination is easy to get to from Todos Santos or the Los Cabos area. Definitely make it an overnighter or two or three. Dining recommendations include La Palapa right on the water, and Coral Reef above the dive shop. This is definitely a paradise for divers and snorkelers, with lots of outfitters to choose from. Unfortunately the nice looking visitors’ center with signs saying it is open every day never was when we were there.