Dive sites of La Paz

The dive sites of La Paz include shallow coral reefs, deep sea-mounts good for pelagic life, the pleasure of diving with California sea lions and a large diversity of invertebrate and fish life. There are also four shipwrecks to dive, two of which participated in World War Two.

Suwanne Reef

Between the mainland of La Paz and the island of Espiritu Santo lies the San Lorenzo Channel, a shallow area with flat sandy bottoms and scattered rocky reefs. These shallow depths allow for large coral colonies to grow, creating complex reef systems with a large variety of fish and invertebrates. There are three dive sites in this area, all very different from each other.

This trip is the shortest of all our dive trips, approximately 4-5 hours in total. Divers have the option to dive two of the three sites or to dive all three on a 3 tank trip. We recommend that one of the dives you choose be the wreck of the Salvatierra, a converted World War II landing ship tank.

LST-63 in Salerno, ItalyIn June of 1976 the Salvatierra was navigating the San Lorenzo channel at night and struck Suwanee Rock, tearing a 12 foot long 1 foot wide gash in the engine room. The engines quickly succumbed to the seawater and without power or lights the ship drifted into the channel and sunk in 18m/60ft of water on a sandy plateau. The crew and passengers escaped in the life boat with minor injuries. There was a salvage attempt which failed, you can read more about it here. The ship lies on it's port side with the bow facing south. The stern and bow are largely intact but there are no areas for safe penetration. The special part about this dive site is that it is a real wreck, not sunk intentionally to make an artificial reef. The Salvatierra has a long history, including landings in Italy and France during World War Two. Designated HM LST-63 and commissioned into England's Royal Navy, she participated in the invasion of Europe, including Normandy. You can read more about her history on this naval history page. It has a healthy population of reef fish and a large diversity of invertebrates both on the wreck itself and the sandy areas surrounding it.

trapezia guard crabSuwanee Reef lies on the northern side of the channel and at it's shallowest point almost reaches the surface. The reef is spread over a large area but the growth is the most abundant close to this shallow point. The reef is dominated by Pocillopora coral species, a thick branching stony coral that grows in large semi-circular clumps. These coral colonies provide a safe haven for many species of fish and invertebrates. Look among the branches for guard crabs, coral hawkfish, pistol shrimp and the flattened shrimp. These creatures don't just get a free ride, their job is to keep the corals clean from sediment and ward off any crown of thorn starfish who might try to make a meal of the coral. Damselfish, schools of Chromis and Sergeant majors a a common sight just above the reef as well as several species of adult and juvenile wrasses. Suwanee Reef is a macro lover's delight, seahorses, nudibranchs and many other invertebrate species can be found here with ease. Sea lions frequent this reef and many species of triggerfish and rays can be found inhabiting the sand surrounding the reef. The reef is circular and can be fully explored in one dive due to it's shallow depth.

San Rafaelito is a small rocky island south of Balandra Bay and home to about 30-40 sea lions. It has one of the most impressive shallow water colonies in La Paz on its east side and a deep wall on the west, making for an interesting dive and a chance to see some different types of reef on the same dive. The sea lions are just as playful as those at Los Islotes and you can observe them while diving in the shallow grotto's of the island.

Isla Ballena

Isla Ballena lies on the western side of Isla Espiritu Santo and has a few dive sites which offer shallow underwater caverns to explore, a large colony of garden eels and a good chance to see mobula rays, stingrays and turtles. Nearby are three shipwrecks to dive, the wrecks of the Fang Ming and Lapas N03, two confiscated Chinese vessels and the C59, or USS Diploma.

underwater caverns - Isla BallenaThere are three islands off the east coast of Isla Espiritu Santo, Isla Ballena, Isla Gallo and Isla Gallina. All three have dive sites but for most divers Isla Ballena is the most interesting. It is possible to dive anywhere along the cost of the island but the most interesting areas are the western and eastern points. The north-eastern tip of Isla Ballena is ringed with large boulders which slope to a depth of 18m/60ft and as you swim east there is a large sandy plateau, home to a large colony of Cortez garden eels (think garden eels on steroids) which can grow to over 2ft long. The sand is also a good place to spot rays which can be seen feeding here quite regularly. In among the boulders you will find lobsters, a few different species of moray eels and large schools of Cortez barracuda and grunts. The underwater topography is quite interesting with numerous shallow caverns to explore and a unique ambience as you swim among massive boulders under the shadow of the island. The Western tip makes for a good drift dive, there is a shallow sandy basin which leads to a steeper wall than those found on the east side.

In 1995, 88 Chinese citizens boarded the Fang Ming in an attempt to Emigrate from their home country. On April 18th, 1995 they were discovered by the Mexican Navy after two months at sea. The confiscated vessel was moored at Puerto San Carlos soon to be joined by the Lapas N03, a similar vessel with 79 Chinese emigrants aboard. After a few years of study and preparation the boats were sunk as artificial reefs near Isla Ballena, on the western side of Isla Espiritu Santo. The wreck of the Fang Ming lies in 70ft of water in an upright position. It was sunk on the 18th of November, 1999 and was the first wreck to be sunk in la Paz as an artificial reef. The wreck is 56 meters long, with bow and stern intact, including the propellers. It has been prepared for divers with numerous large holes cut into the floors and walls to allow for penetration. Many routes exist that will allow divers to explore a large amount of the interior of the ship. The ship itself has been colonized by a few different coral species, most notably the black coral species (Antipathes galapagensis) and in the interior of the ship by the darker, bushier black corals.

USS Diploma in World War TwoThe C-59 wreck is actually the USS Diploma (AM221), an Admirable class-minesweeper which was awarded three battle stars for her service in the Pacific during World War Two. She was actively involved in mine-sweeping and escort activities from January through July 1945 in Okinawa, Guam, Saipan and the Japanese mainland. In 1962 she was sold to the Mexican navy and renamed the ARM DM-17 and than later in 1994 renamed ARM Cadete Francisco Márquez (C59). In 2004 she was sunk as an artificial reef here in La Paz. She lies on her port side, ranging in depth from 70ft/20m to 30ft/9m.

Los Islotes sea lion colony

Los Islotes is located at the northern tip of Isla Partida, at the north end of the Isla Espiritu Santo UNESCO biosphere reserve. There are two main dive sites in this area, the Los Islotes sea lion colony and El Bajito.

The underwater typography at Los Islotes is amazing, with one of the islets forming an arch that divers can pass through that is often filled with silver sardines, a shimmering mass of small bait-fish that makes for excellent photographs and a fun swim through. The north side of Los Islotes is littered with large boulders and drops down to about 30m/100ft into a flat, sandy bottom. In the shallows you will see many sea lions and in the deeper reef a chance for large diamond stingrays, white-tip reef sharks, turtles and mobula rays. The southern side of Los Islotes is a shallow sandy basin with more hard coral growth and shallow reefs where juvenile sea lions are tended by the adult sea lions. 

Nearby El Bajito is a shallow sea-mount that attracts large numbers of cleaning fish with the chance to spot bigger pelagics, sea turtles and the hunting techniques of the sea lions. The dive sites for this trip are highly flexible; we can combine a dive at the sea lion colony with any other dive sites on the west side of Espiritu Santo.

Punta Lobos - Candlestick

The prevailing winds here in La Paz are easterlies, these winds have eroded the landscape on the eastern side of Isla Espiritu Santo and created some very interesting formations, both above and below the water. The reef is dominated by extremely large boulders,   some the size of a small house, but quickly drops off to over 30 meters/100 feet. The dive site Punta Lobos is located near the middle of Isla Espiritu Santo and was once a sea lion colony. It's thought that the weathering of the site led to less space above the water for the sea lions and they moved on to Los Islotes. Candlestick is named for the rock formations above the water and below, these columns descend over thirty feet under the water in some places. Diving along the deep wall offers a chance to see the pelagic species of La Paz, including Wahoo, Dorado, schools of Mobula rays and Eagle rays. These dive sites are among the less dove places, mainly due to the prevailing winds in La Paz which make the west side of the island more sheltered than this area.

Isla Cerralvo - La Reina - La Reinita

The island was officially named Isla Jacques Cousteau in 2009 but local residents still use the name Isla Cerralvo. There is an abundance of marine life here due to the prevailing currents which attracts large numbers of game fish, large pelagics and is one of the places to spot the Reef Manta which can grow up to 6m across.

Isla Cerralvo is the southernmost island in the Sea of Cortez. It is for the most part uninhabited and approximately 16mi/26km long and 4mi/6km wide. When the island was discovered by Spanish explorers it was inhabited by a tribe of natives called the Pericues. Extensive oyster beds were found on the western coast and Isla Cerralvo became one of the largest producers of pearls during the pearling era. The northern tip of the island submerges into a reef that extends over 1/2 mile and averages 60-70 feet in depth. This reef is fed by cold water currents from the deep submarine trench nearby, ensuring an abundance of marine life.

There are two main dive sites, Islote de la Reina (seal rock) and La Reinita. La Reinita is a small rock pinnacle found on the West side of Isla Cerralvo, this dive site drops down to 30m/100ft+ and is subject to consistent currents making it a magnet for schooling fish and home to a large amount of soft corals. La Reina is a rocky islet on the north-west side of Isla Cerralvo, home to a large population of hard and soft corals, schools of reef fish big and small and a few species of moray eel and stingray. This area is also the best place to spot the giant manta which can grow up to 7m/25ft. across and can be spotted in the late summer and fall.

El Bajo

Home of the famous schooling hammerheads of La Paz. Every fall large numbers of scalloped hammerheads gather at the seamounts of El Bajo. Join us in the search for one of the most amazing things to experience while diving here in La Paz.

El Bajo is a group of underwater sea mounts located roughly twenty seven nautical miles from La Paz and about ten nautical miles from Los Islotes, the sea lion colony off the north side of Isla Partida. Also known as the Marisla Seamount, it was named after a dive-cruise ship Marisla II (Mexican Flag), formerly USCG Cutter Columbine, owned by Maria Luisa Adcock and Richard M. Adcock. Richard was the first known sport diver, using SCUBA gear, to dive on the Seamount in 1957. This sea-mount is famous for its schooling scalloped hammerhead sharks, which occur in large numbers at certain points of the year. The dive site is made up of three different pinnacles running north-south with the northernmost pinnacle rising up to 24m/80ft, the middle 15m/50ft and the southern pinnacle 18m/60ft. Depths quickly drop off around the pinnacles reaching 550m/1,800ft within 800m / half a mile from the dive site.  

The center pinnacle (shallowest point) is the most popular, the south end is a vertical wall from 15m/50ft to 30m/110ft, at the base a large sandy channel frequented by pelagics. The top of the peak is a series of channels in about 20m/65ft of water, channels big enough to swim through and inhabited by large numbers of panamic moray eels, colorful gorgonians and small sea fans. There are several small caves at the base of the seamount (100') and larger soft coral colonies found in the deeper depths. Due to the cold water up-welling from the depths this dive site is a magnet for large schools of fish and pelagics, including marlin, jacks, dorado, tuna, manta and mobula rays.

The hammerhead sharks that frequent these pinnacles are Sphyrna lewini, the scalloped hammerhead. They can occur in large schools or be spotted individually, typically the late summer and fall is the best time. Scientists are not positive why they exhibit this schooling behavior but the most popular theory is mating. The schools of hammerhead sharks can be seen throughout the year, perhaps there are more sightings in the late summer and fall simply because that is high season for scuba diving in the La Paz area.

El Bajo is an advanced dive site with depths over 30m/100ft and is subject to open ocean conditions. Scuba diving trips to this dive site are weather dependent.