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Sunshine, white sand, lounge chairs under beach umbrellas and cocktails under little umbrellas. Sportfishing, parasailing, horseback riding, golfing, snorkeling, or just plain relaxing.

Divers get a safety
brief from Manta's Rodrigo.

For those fleeing the winter chill, Cabo San Lucas offers it all. For dive enthusiasts, Cabo San Lucas offers yet another chance to experience the wonders of undersea life.

While Cabo San Lucas has developed a reputation as a wild party retreat and a destination for avid sportfishermen, it also offers some of the best diving along the coast of the Americas. Located at the rugged and arid southern tip of the Baja, California where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean, Cabo diving features a rich and varied marine life, a result of the nutrient-rich upwelling from the deep Pacific waters. Local diving even minutes from the beach features schools of tropical fish, white tip reef sharks, moray eels, and sea turtles. Further from shore, for example near Isla Cerralvo, hammerhead sharks, bull sharks and giant manta rays with 12-foot wingspans have been seen.

Get certified in the Baja
when diving with the Manta!

My introduction to Baja diving came compliments of Manta Scuba Diving and Expeditions ( in Cabo San Lucas. A shuttle ride arranged for me by Manta ferries me in slightly more than 20 minutes from my condo in San Jose del Cabo to the dive shop in Cabo San Lucas, located just steps from the beach. When I arrive, the beach front cantinas are only just beginning to arrange tables and chairs for the day's crowd, and although it is still early, the air is already growing warm.

Eran Lavee's "Tanks Alot"
attitude makes for
grandiose Baja diving.

Eran Lavee, owner and manager of Manta, meets me at the door of his small but orderly dive shop and explains that conditions have been excellent recently and that I should expect some great diving. I learn that Manta offers not only local morning dives, but full-day expeditions to more remote locations as well. In addition, Manta is PADI certified and offers lessons from introductory resort courses to more advanced rescue diver and dive master courses. I was provided with a full set of rental gear in excellent condition, and inspired by Eran's contagious enthusiasm, I set off with several other divers toward the beach where the crew was loading our gear onto one of the skiffs used for local diving.

Cabo San Lucas is sheltered by a small crescent bay that forms part of the Sea of Cortez. The southern barrier of the bay juts out to the southeast, terminating with dramatic rock formations known as Land's End. Considered the official border between the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean, Land's End features Cabo San Lucas' most famous landmark, El Arco, through which can be seen either the Pacific Ocean or the Sea of Cortez, depending which side you're on.

Several excellent dive sites are located in this immediate region, including The Point, Neptune's Finger, Pelican Rock and Sand Falls, whose underwater sand cascades were first made famous in a Jacques Cousteau documentary.

Bask like a sea lion in the warm Baja sun; Or dive for dinner like the natives off Pelican Rock.

In addition, a local sea lion colony keeps divers company around the area. As we skimmed above turquoise water in the small skiff, our congenial dive master Rodrigo told of Cabo San Lucas' former life as a small fishing village with a tuna cannery, the growth of sport fishing in the area, and its subsequent development into a wild vacation retreat. We soaked this in while we soaked in the warm Baja sun, the warm sky overhead mirroring the warm water beneath us. Circling around Land's End and the sea lion colony which was only just beginning to stir, we dropped anchor at Pelican Rock. I was pleased by Rodrigo's mix of humor and professionalism as he thoroughly explained our dive plan- kind of a let's-have-fun-but-let's-be-smart-about-it attitude.

While the Sea of Cortez near Cabo San Lucas lacks the colorful corals of the Caribbean, it is one of the most prolific bodies of water on Earth, featuring more than 850 species of reef fish. Slowly descending through 70-degree water, the vibrant angelfish and barberfish visible from the surface are even more abundant. As I scan the distance for big pelagics, parrotfish meander by, their opalescent blue color catching my eye, their down-turned beak-like mouths piquing my sense of humor. Turning and focusing my attention on the massive rocks and boulders behind me, I find hundreds of sea fans lapping at the current, green moray eels with gasping, gaping jaws lurking in the shadows, and a solitary craggy rockfish perched quietly, invisibly.

Dive Master Rodrigo assures
diving fun, mixed with a
strong degree of safety.

Rodrigo spies a seahorse clinging to the rocks, his pointing finger dwarfing the tiny, orange creature. Continuing to snoop among the boulders, I spy the head of a white-tip peaking out from under the rocks, resting in the shadows. I make the shark symbol with my hand to catch the attention of the other divers to show them, but they are already trying to catch my attention, doing the same. When it finally dawns on me what they are trying to say, I turn around to see a 5-foot white tip lazily swimming back and forth behind me, keeping an eye on me, not difficult when visibility is pushing 60 feet.

After an hour surface interval which included a lap around the now-awake and rowdy sea lion colony, we drop anchor just off Land's End, somewhere between the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez. Swimming low against the sandy bottom, we follow two massive, morphing fish balls as they drift in and out of the murky distance.

Mackeral Fish Ball!

As we alternately kick and rest against the surge, the massive looming shadow of one of the schools slowly draws near, as if we are approaching a giant underwater seamount. It drifts over and around, the thousands of tuna zigging and zagging as if they are one living creature. I roll over onto my back and let the surge carry me at neutral buoyancy, arms spread, while the school envelopes me, completing clouding the shimmering surface 50 feet above. Then iGet Your Dive Gear Heren an instant, the school thins and opens as a sea lion slices through its center, weaving almost playfully within the ball. Instead of scattering in all directions, the tuna simply move out of the path of the sea lion as if they are magnetically repulsed. I can't decide if the sea lion is hunting for food or simply playing a game of tag.

Motoring back to shore after a morning of great diving with a dive staff that clearly loves its job sharing Cabo San Lucas' dive treasures, I look forward to relaxing on the beach with lunch and cold beverages. But as I pass tour boats packed with tourists leaning over the edge, straining to find treasures in the depths, I think about those who will only see the water from above today, and I think about all the things about Cabo San Lucas they will miss. - By Misha Troyan, San Diego Correspondent. Read Misha's Jetsetters Magazine feature, "Tanked For Thrills—San Diego Shark Diving!"

The Baja Adventure Book (Book) by Walt Peterson

The Baja Adventure Book (Book) by Walt Peterson

Detailed guide to outdoor activities: where to backpack, bike, climb, kayak, boardsail, etc; info on tourist cards, insurance, food, water, etc; kilometer road log for Transpeninsular Highway, too. 288 pages.

Lonely Planet: Diving & Snorkeling Baja California (Book) by Walt Peterson

Lonely Planet: Diving & Snorkeling Baja California (Book) by Walt Peterson

Includes dive sites on the Peninsula's Cortez and Pacific coasts. 158 pages.

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