Top 10 Reasons to Dive the Sea of Cortez

From the big stuff to the small, the Sea of Cortez has a bit of something for everyone.
By Aaron Halstead and Nirupam Nigam

Intro to Sea of Cortez

With the nickname “The Aquarium of the World”, it’s not surprising that the Sea of Cortez boasts over 900 species of fish, including numerous endemic species found nowhere else on the planet. Dive into schools of jacks, tuna and mobula rays, hunt the reefs searching for macro subjects like well camouflaged frogfish, seahorses, or a variety of personable blennies and colorful nudibranchs.  

The Sea of Cortez is also well known for its larger animals, including gray and humpback whales, whale sharks and of course, the friendly and playful sea lions.  Sharks and manta rays are also a possibility.

With over 2,500 miles of coastline, quaint seaside villages, and over 900 islands, it’s a fantastic destination to explore on a liveaboard or from a resort.


Top Ten

1. Whale Sharks

Whether you’re diving from a liveaboard or a resort, whale sharks are frequent residents in the Sea of Cortez. With whale sharks reaching lengths of up to 40 ft, an encounter with the largest fish in the sea will be sure to leave you speechless. Perhaps one of the best locations to see these creatures is La Paz, a small town towards the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula. Whale sharks frequent the La Paz Bay from September through November and March through May in order to feed on the abundant plankton. Although the presence of plankton can lower visibility, snorkelers can often approach these huge sharks fairly close – a very humbling experience. When photographing these animals, it can become apparent that even though the sharks move slowly, their large size yields a lot of speed. Be prepared to swim!

See also: Our Top 5 Whale Shark Destinations


2. Sea Lions

A trip to the Sea of Cortez wouldn’t be complete without visiting some of the local sea lions. The infinite energy and curiosity of these sea lions make an encounter entertaining and fun to photograph. It is easy to spend hours watching them speed through the water, zipping around divers, swimming loops, blowing bubbles, and causing an endless ruckus. Though sea lion dives yield endless fun, be wary of the large, territorial bulls! Perhaps the best locations to see these animals are the rookeries in the Midriff Islands and the Baja Peninsula. 


3. Humboldt Squid

Humboldt squid are renowned for their aggressive behavior and relatively large size – with mantle lengths reaching 4-5 ft (not including tentacles). Though they live in deep water during the day, Humboldt squid migrate to shallower depths to feed at night. Some liveaboards will attempt to lure them to the surface for closer view using deep-water jigs and lights. Because of their aggressive behavior, you can’t get in the water to photograph them, but you can lean over the side of the boat or use a pole cam. 


4. Nudibranchs

Although known for its large animals, the Sea of Cortez has its fair share of macro subjects – so bring your macro lens! There is a surprisingly wide diversity of nudibranchs. One of the highlights is the Tambja – common but beautiful! 

See also: Best Compact Cameras for Macro Photography (2019 Edition)


5. Colorful Reef fish

Although the reefs of the Sea of Cortez don’t quite match up to Coral Triangle standards – the reef fish are no less beautiful! Colorful angelfish, hawkfish, damselfish, and blennies are everywhere, waiting to be discovered and photographed. 

See also: Top 10 Coral Reef Destinations


6. Desert Hikes and Deserted Beaches

The Sea of Cortez is surrounded by Mexico – a country with beautiful and unique terrain. The Baja Peninsula is home to a desert with characteristically large cacti, ranchers with donkeys, and rugged hills. Where the desert descends into the sea, there are beautiful sandy beaches with clear turquoise water – a nice contrast to the arid landscape above. There are many opportunities to hike in search of ocean views and many secluded beaches that can be had all to yourself. 


7. Baitfish

Schools of baitfish can be mesmerizing to watch. Their silver shines with the light as they undulate in formation in the blue water. It can be especially entertaining when sea lions swim through attempting to catch a quick afternoon snack. 


8. Seahorses 

Many would be surprised to know that seahorses can often be found year-round in the Sea of Cortez. They make great photographic subjects so be sure to keep an eye out!


9. Blennies

Blennies are another surprisingly common and diverse macro subject in the Sea of Cortez. Some of the common blennies to look out for are Orangethroated Pikeblennies, Signal Blennies, Barnacle Blennies, and Panamic Fanged Blennies. Look out for exciting behaviors – especially from the Orangethroated Pikeblenny!


10. Great Resorts and Liveaboards 

The Sea of Cortez has been made accessible to divers and underwater photographers by a number of excellent dive operations. Diving on a liveaboard is an excellent way to reach remote locations, and handpick an itinerary that suites your photographic desires. Popular liveaboards include the Rocio Del Mar, MV Valentina, and Quino el Gaurdian. The Baja Peninsula also has a number of nice dive resorts – particularly in Loreto, La Paz, and Cabo San Lucas.



 Sea of Cortez: Underwater Photo Workshops 2019

Join us for sea lions, fascinating macro, whale sharks and sperm whale on the Rocio Del Mar. Led by Renee Capozzola, Mark Strickland, and Mark Hatter respectively. 

July 27 - August 3 / August 3 - 10 / August 10-17, 2019

Fore more information and to book visit Sea of Cortez Photo Workshops 2019 page or email

 Explore Baja: Open Boat Trip 2019

Join us on a unique 12 night itinerary hitting ALL the Sea of Cortez dive locations from south to north, aboard the incredible Rocio Del Mar.

Sept 21 - Oct 3, 2019

For more information and to book visit this Explore Baja Trip 2019 page or email



Already booked for the year?

Our sister companies Bluewater Photo and Travel run numerous group trips and photo workshops to top dive destinations around the globe all-year-round! Check out the full trip calendar and email with any questions. Hope some of you can join us!



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