Loreto is different. It’s a place where you can stand in the middle of a cactus jungle, ranging in size from a few inches to 30 feet high, dwarfing you in its shadows. Surrounded by the huge Giganta mountain range, this quaint town in southern Baja was once the capitol of California and is the host to the first of 21 missions, built in 1697. This island-studded haven that lies nestled along the Sea of Cortez has only recently began to grow into one of Baja’s more desired dive destinations.
This once sleepy little fishing village is now starting to awaken. Although new restaurants, hotels and vacation homes are slowly beginning to pop up, Loreto still holds its Mexican flavor and ambiance of years past. Good food, gift shops of local artisans, fishing, kayaking, snorkeling, and diving brings tourists annually.
The diving area around Loreto is comprised of five islands, all of which are now part of the protected marine park. They are Isla Coronado, 1 1/2 miles offshore; Isla Carmen, 8 miles; Isla Danzante, approximately 14 miles south of Loreto, and Monserrate and Catalina further out. The islands have quite a diversity of diving including shallow rocky bottoms, walls with deep canyons, a wreck site and reef systems, all teeming with colorful marine life. There are many pristine white sand beaches where one can relax, snorkel, or have a picnic. Water visibility ranges from about 50 to over 100 feet. The summer and fall months bring in warmer water—around 84°F. The water in the winter months can get considerably cooler.
Besides the local species of tropical fish, some seasonal game fish frequent these waters, the most common being schools of jacks, yellowtail, roosterfish, dorado and snapper. In the late summer and fall months the large six-foot humboldt squid pass through the channel between Carmen, Coronado and Danzante islands as they migrate to shallower waters to lay their eggs and mate. On your boat ride out to the islands, it is common to see schools of dolphins and mobulas (smaller manta rays) jumping from the water.
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.
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.
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.
Loreto has always been there but it seems like its gems are only now really beginning to be discovered. Its face is making more of an imprint on the map. The known dive sites are good, but one can only imagine what the undiscovered ones will be like. . .and best of all, it’s only a 1-hour, 45-minute flight from Los Angeles. It is virtually in our own backyard!