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Travel Guide: When is the best time to visit & dive in Los Cabos
Cabo San Lucas is quickly becoming world renown as a legendary dive destination – even rivaling its brothers on the Caribbean coast. Playing host to everything from big animals and pelagic predators to playful sea lions, turtles, macro, and colorful reef fish it’s very easy to see why. Los Cabos seems to have something to make every diver happy. As Cabo’s notoriety in the scuba diving and freediving world continues to grow, more and more divers are looking to check it out themselves. Which of course brings a ton of questions about the destination. Whether it’s on social media, forums, or in person, there is one question I get asked almost nonstop. ‘When is the best time to dive in Cabo?’
My answer is usually something along the lines of; well, that depends on what you’d like to see. Unlike many other top diving destinations, Cabo’s marine life and water conditions change quite drastically throughout the year. In other words we have different seasons for seeing different animals, water temps, visibility, and so on. With there being so many different things to experience and marine life to encounter I thought it would be good to have an article written by a local that’s done thousands of dives in the Cabo. No marketing hype. No sales tactics. Just honest info from one diver to another.
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Locations to Dive in Los Cabos
Let’s start off with the geography of Cabo San Lucas and Los Cabos, as it plays a major part in understanding our marine life and water conditions. The Los Cabos Municipality is made up of a few regions that have diving. Cabo San Lucas is located right at the southern most tip of the Baja California peninsula. It is where the mighty Pacific Ocean meets the Gulf of California – also known as the Sea of Cortez. This meeting point of ocean currents combined with the areas steep walls & deep ocean waters being so close to shore creates a very special area packed with life & biodiversity. This uniqueness was recognized in 1973 by the then Mexican President declaring it a Marine Protected Area. Then in 2005 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Heading east from Cabo San Lucas along the coast we reach ‘The Corridor’. This area gets it’s name from the numerous hotels and resorts located along this coast (it’s short for ‘the tourist corridor’). The sites here are quite different than the Cabo San Lucas Marine Park. Most are shallower sights that tend to be much quieter. In my personal opinion they have a bit more ambience than the bay, but the bay has a lot more abundance of marine life & biodiversity. Continuing east we reach San Jose del Cabo. San Jose’s dive sites are reminiscent of the Corridor but in my opinion they lack some of the wow factor we see in the Cabo Marine Park or Corridor. The big exception to this is the infamous pelagic hot spot, Gordo Banks, where schools of hammerheads and many other pelagics can be found. Gordo Banks is located 9 miles offshore from San Jose del Cabo. However its location is quite easy to reach from both Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo.
If we continue north up the coast from here we’ll reach the famous and remote, Cabo Pulmo National Park. Pulmo is a shining star in the marine park world, and truly shows the great things that can happen when marine areas are well managed.
The diving conditions in Los Cabos change throughout the year. The warmest clearest waters are seen from late August through December. Temperatures in the autumn regularly reach 28C / 82F with clear blue waters hitting upwards of 30 meter / 100 feet visibility. The opposite of this takes place in the late spring with April & May being the coldest waters and lowest visibility. Temperatures during these months can dip down to 19C / 67 F with visibility dropping down to 5-10m / 15-30ft from the nutrient rich waters. But don’t write off this time of year, as you’ll see below the cold nutrient dense waters bring some really special marine life encounters. The rest of the year (summer and later winter) are a transition between the hot and cold seasons – which also bring their own special encounters.
Topside Cabo remains warm and sunny all year. The unofficial motto of Cabo San Lucas is ‘No bad days’ which comes from the city averaging roughly 350 days of sunshine a year and seeing rain on less than 10 days annually. Los Cabos semi desert climate also means it’s almost always quite warm & sunny during the day. Those 10 days of rain usually fall sometime during August and September, with the majority of storms taking place in September. Air temperatures fluctuate a bit through the year, with February being the coolest month. The coldest temps can drop to 15C / 59F, but this is only in the late evenings and early mornings. During the day it tends to be in the mid to high 20s C / high 70s – low 80s F. August tends to be the hottest month with mid afternoon temperatures sometimes reaching 40c / 120F.
Marine Life Seasons
Let’s start with residents that you can see all year long. At anytime of year you can find turtles, multiple different ray species (stingrays, eagle rays, cow nose rays, devil rays, etc), white tip reef sharks, turtles, different species of morays & other eels, schools (yes, schools) of different puffer fish, lobsters, nudibranchs, frogfish, sea horses, octopus, and tons of colorful reef fish including: Moorish Idols, angelfish, butterfly fish, barber fish, surgeon fish, and a bunch of others.
Side Note: Dive Ninja has a really awesome Baja Marine Wildlife Calendar you can view & download for free that covers Los Cabos as well as the rest of the southern Baja California peninsula. It’s a great resource for planning your trip!
Our winters are marked by the annual arrival of the hundreds of humpback whales that come to Los Cabos to find mates and raise their young. The humpbacks begin to arrive usually in November, but the official whale watching ‘tour season’ runs December 15 – April 15. However starting in November divers can already start to see them on their surface interval and be serenaded by their songs while diving. The water in the beginning of the winter tends to still be warm and clear making it a great time for easy diving.
In late November / early December we see the shorter (and much smaller) winter aggregation of Munk’s Devil Rays (Mobula munkiana). This aggregation season usually lasts only a couple weeks and while the schools can get up to a few hundred or even a thousand individuals it pales in comparison to the late spring/summer aggregations Baja is famous for.
In January the beginning of the blue shark and mako shark season kicks off on the offshore pelagic safari type tours. But if chumming for sharks isn’t your thing, there is usually tons of life on all the dive sites from Cabo San Lucas all the way to Cabo Pulmo.
In February the waters begin to cool off and the ocean currents begin bringing more nutrients into the bay. Dive guides usually mark the changing of the seasons by the spotting of the first banded guitar rays because this species only visits when the water gets cooler. If you’ve never seen one before, they’re super cool creatures that look kind of like a mix between a shark and a ray. Funny enough, the species we have in Cabo is technically known as a Banjo Ray, but is commonly called a Guitar Ray, guitar shark, or guitar fish.
Spring Wildlife in Los Cabos
February and March are my favorites for whale watching, as well as for getting super lucky and seeing whales on scuba dives at Gordo Banks, Lands End, Whales Head, and some other sites if you’re super lucky! By this time, the young calfs are much more curious and playful and the mothers are starting to let them explore a bit more. So we usually see them breaching a lot! The hammerheads at Gordo Banks also tend to be in full force as the water cools, bringing them closer to the surface.
April and May are the coldest temperatures underwater, but these cool nutrient rich waters bring in all sorts of amazing creatures. For one they kick off the largest aggregation of rays on our planet – Baja’s annual mobula ray aggregations. These schools can number upwards of 10,000 individuals. The schools won’t arrive in Cabo until a bit later, but I highly recommend checking out a Mobula Ray Expedition to go spend a few days with the rays at a secret spot. I have yet to find another encounter on earth that even rivals being in the water with thousands of mobulas rays peacefully gliding through the waters. It will honestly change your life. Mobula ray season is also a great time to spot Orcas as they come in to hunt the rays.
The cold nutrient waters kick off all an incredible chain reaction of life from giant schools of jacks and snapper to even some of the largest creatures on earth. In Cabo, during the cold months I’ve had all sorts of rare encounters with weird creatures from massive spider crabs roughly 1 meter (3ft) wide, small tooth sand tiger sharks, oceanic manta rays, horn sharks, sailfish, and even massive whale sharks cruising past Pelican Rock 20m (70ft) underwater. April is also a good time to spot the elusive smooth hammerheads on open ocean safaris and the bull sharks in Cabo Pulmo National Park. The bull sharks can be seen almost all year long in Cabo Pulmo, except in the autumn when the waters get really warm. During this time the bull sharks will tend to head a bit deeper looking for cooler waters.
Summer Wildlife in Los Cabos
Summer kicks off with the mobula ray (Munk’s Devil Rays) aggregations arriving in Cabo and the water beginning to warm up and become clearer. The rays show up in force and can be seen jumping all around the coast lines. If you couldn’t make one of the Dive Ninja Mobula Ray Expeditions earlier in the year this is a good time to check out their sunrise tours to see them.
The summer time is when most of our salty sea pups (California Sea Lions) head north for mating season. June & July also see the mating aggregations of silky sharks off shore where sometimes you can have 50+ sharks around the boat. Starting mid summer we begin seeing an influx of sea turtles on the dive sites as they come into the area to nest. By late august the waters are back to being in the mid to high 20s C/ high 70s F /. As we enter September we start to see some of the hottest temperatures topside as well as our ‘wet season’. The wet season is when we have the highest chances of seeing a rain storm or hurricane coming through the area – but keep in mind Los Cabos only sees only a few days of rain each year, while averaging only 25cm / 10 inches of total rain the year. So even though it might be technically our ‘rainy season’, most of the month is dry. September is one of my favorite months for diving in Los Cabos because it’s the low season in terms of tourism – meaning all the dive sites and areas are pretty quiet and the water is already warm and quite clear.
Autumn Wildlife in Los Cabos
Fair weather divers love the autumn season in Los Cabos since it’s when the waters are warmest and clearest. Most divers are fine in a rash guard and shorts or leggings in the autumn. The sea lions return from mating season to their colony at Land’s End in Cabo San Lucas. We also usually see massive schools of sardines and other fish arriving with the warm waters. This kicks off some awesome actions as the sea lions, birds, and larger fish all come in to hunt them. Some years the sardines will line the coastline inside the bay in such big schools that it makes the water look black from above. The water isn’t actually black, instead what you are seeing is the massive amount of sardines just below the surface.
The warm crystal clear waters this time of year really let Cabo shine underwater. All the bright colored reef fish and red fan corals seem to come to life. Out at Gordo Banks it’s a great time to spot hammerhead sharks and other pelagic marine life. The hammerheads are there all year round, but the clear blue waters makes it super easy to spot the big schools as the cruise by out in the blue. Over in Cabo Pulmo it’s an amazing time to see the gigantic schools of jacks. Plus the warm waters all around the peninsula just make it super nice for diving.
For underwater photographers this is one of the best times to shoot in Los Cabos because the water clarity is near perfect. Once we start seeing the return of the humpbacks and mobula rays in late November we know the winter season is returning. The water will remain pretty warm into January, then begin to cool down.
Best Time to Visit Los Cabos Quick Recap – TL:DR
Dive Season: All year long.
Warmest/Clearest waters: Sept – Dec (28c/82F +)
Coldest waters: April & May (21c/70F on average)
Marine Wildlife Calendar: Click Here
Whale Watching: Dec 15 – April 15
Shark Diving: All year, but less in early autumn
Sea Lions: September – June
Macro Critters: All year
Big Animals: All year, but less in early autumn
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