Small but Mighty
Sixty-two miles north and east of Cabo San Lucas is one of the great “Hope Spots of the World.” It is a sparsely populated area connected by dirt roads on the East Coast of the sea. For 20,000 years just offshore, this region’s reefs evolved to become home to hundreds of aquatic life species, some of which have become endangered globally.
In 1951, the American writer John Steinbeck wrote in The Log from the Sea of Cortez, “One small piece of coral might conceal 30-40 species amid electric colors of life. Clinging to the coral, growing on it, burrowing into it, was a teeming fauna.” Steinbeck is not the only artist to be inspired by the reef’s beauty and flora and fauna. In fact, few animals have captured the imagination of artists young and grown than the sea turtles that thrive in Cabo Pulmo.
However, by the 1990s, over-fishing and neglect had almost killed the reef; many had left it for dead. Having made a living off the sea for almost 100 years, the Castro family had watched their catch steadily decline and decided to do something about it.
Saving an Ecological Wonder
Unwittingly, the Castros followed the dictum of Margaret Mead, a well-known anthropologist, and explorer, “never underestimate that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
They lobbied the Mexican government, organized locals, and got support from environmental preservation organizations to protect the reef and its fish. After 14 years of protection and care, every group of fish had returned to Cabo Pulmo. It is now a refuge for many endangered species, including the gigantic Gulf Grouper that can grow to 800 pounds, massive rays, humpback whales, sea turtles, and sharks.
Cabo Pulmo National Park became a national marine park in 1995 and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005. It was named a “Hope Spot” by the great American marine biologist and explorer Sylvia Earle. Dr. Earle, known as “her deepness,” has lived underwater for a week and walked on the ocean floor 1,250 feet below the surface, deeper than any other human.
From leaping rays to lounging sea lions, the sea has returned from the dead. The Cabo Pulmo marine reserve has become the Earth’s most robust marine park. In the last two decades alone, the area has seen a boom in fish and living environment of over 400%. It is real living proof of what individuals can do to change the course of environmental decline.
Eco-Tourism at Its Finest
With a generation of renewal behind it, now is the time to visit the reef. If you like adventure and seek a destination far off the beaten path this snowbird season, rent a car in Cabo San Lucas (Cabo) and drive out to Cabo Pulmo. The drive takes roughly 2.5 hours, depending on traffic conditions. The main roads are in good shape, and the dirt roads off the main highway are reliable but dusty.
Plan on filling up your car at a gas station on the way and bring cash, a swimsuit, sunscreen, and moisturizer as the coldest days in Cabo Pulmo are rarely below 80 degrees Fahrenheit. You will have little access to stores and services once you venture off the main highway en route to Cabo Pulmo, and do not try to navigate at night as there are few streetlights and signs.
The “East Cape,” as it is referred to locally, offers lots of choices of places to stay, from hammock-style to five stars. The only suggestion to keep in mind is to stay on the beach or a bluff with stairs to access the shore, as the water is the defining element of the region. It is best to find a sheltered place, meaning an inlet or small bay with less wave action if you seek that early morning or sunset swim or traveling with kids. The average water temperature varies from a balmy 72 to 80 degrees.
Cabo Pulmo itself is a small town, essentially off the grid. It is inhabited by a small group of Mexicans and ex-pats who operate dive shops, accommodations, and restaurants in town. Staying out of town in a well-furnished hotel located on or above the beach, as mentioned, is a more scenic option than staying in the town proper.
More Things to Explore and Do
There are many places to snorkel or dive just offshore. Divers and snorkelers can see turtles, dolphins, parrotfish, angelfish, damselfish, manta rays, and several species of sharks and whales.
The area is home to the oldest of only three coral reefs on the West Coast of North America. In fact, it is the northernmost coral reef in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. The reef has several fingers of hard coral atop rock outcroppings that run parallel to the coast, occurring in progressively deeper water offshore.
If you travel south of town a couple of miles, you will find Los Arbolitos, a good beach for snorkeling. If you do not have your own mask, snorkel, and fins, be sure to rent them in town before you venture out. This is a good place for kids. There are basic bathrooms and shower facilities, and you will need a couple of dollars to park your car.
Spread out your Turkish towel for a no-waste packed lunch during this outing, and check out a boat trip to the reef with a small group for a couple of hours. Life jackets are provided.
Other dive or snorkel sites include Playa La Sirenita, which can be reached by walking path from Los Arbolitos or kayak. Look for a great spot to snorkel around the rocks just offshore. Los Frailes has a long sunny beach and shore diving at the beach’s north, rocky point. Strong winds can come up in the afternoon, so mornings are best.
When you do make it to Cabo Pulmo, remember to honor the sustainable practices that saved the reef. When snorkeling, diving, and swimming, leave the coral untouched by keeping your arms by your side, and if you should feel inclined to fish, try catch-and-release. You will feel great about keeping this natural wonder pristine for the next generation of wanderers.
And, if you can’t make it to Cabo Pulmo soon but would love to support conservation efforts for sea life, check out the work being done by Sea Turtle Conservancy and their Loggerhead Turtle Tracker campaign on ziggie.com. You can donate up to 10% of your purchase directly to this cause, helping to ensure you will see these marvelous creatures on your next snorkeling or diving adventure.