Drive about two hours northeast of Cabo San Lucas, and you come to wild wonderful Cabo Pulmo on the unspoilt East Cape of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula.
Visiting Cabo Pulmo is one of the best Cabo day trips!
No crowds… Just the desert, sea and nature in all its glory.
In fact, you might be so seduced by the isolation and bountiful marine species you meet underwater that you’ll want to stay longer! (We talk about Cabo Pulmo accommodations at the end of this post.)
Cabo Pulmo National Park
A living coral reef, Cabo Pulmo is a national marine park in the fertile Sea of Cortez.
Estimated to be 20,000 years old, it’s the oldest of three coral reefs off the west coast of North America. Extending from Pulmo Point to Los Frailes Cape, the protected area is about 27½ square miles in size.
What’s special about Cabo Pulmo is that the waters are incredibly rich in sea life. So rich, in fact, that Jacques Cousteau described the Cabo Pulmo marine park as “the aquarium of the world.”
John Steinbeck also wrote about the teeming marine life in his 1951 book “The Log from the Sea of Cortez,” after a specimen-collecting boat expedition with marine biologist Ed Ricketts.
More than 200 marine species live in and around the reef, including leatherback sea turtles, moray eels, bull sharks, tiger sharks, unique orange grouper, bat rays and galaxies of colorful fish.
In winter, humpback whales are seen. The months of April to June bring hammerhead sharks to the marine reserve.
A colony of California sea lions also resides by a jumble of huge boulders, and you can swim, snorkel and dive with them.
Cabo Pulmo wasn’t always so pristine, however.
Decades of overfishing led to concerns by locals, in particular the Castro family, who had lived in Cabo Pulmo for a century. They spearheaded a community effort to preserve the reef, and in 1995, the Mexican government designated the area a national marine park. In 2005, Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today, it’s one of the most natural, undeveloped and special places you can escape to.
Getting to Cabo Pulmo
The drive to Cabo Pulmo (about 62 miles north of Cabo San Lucas) is very scenic – past giant cacti, hundreds of years old, growing out of the red-brown earth, their thorny fingers reaching for the vivid blue sky.
From Cabo San Lucas, you follow Highway 1 north, past the Miraflores and Santiago turnoffs.
When you come to a fork in the highway, you take the right branch to La Ribera. (The left branch continues as Highway 1 to Los Barriles.) Drive past La Ribera and follow the Cabo Pulmo road until you’re no longer on a paved road.
The last 6 miles or so, you’ll be driving on a rough dirt road, wondering where in the heck you’re going!
When you reach a cluster of campers parked in the sand, makeshift houses and cool off-the-grid, solar-powered houses, you know you’ve reached Cabo Pulmo town (population just over 100). Imagine what the Mexican Baja must have been like back in the 1970s – the vibe in the tiny village feels like this.
You might want to stop at a store to fill up on warm freshly-baked empanadas (like a meat pie) before continuing on to the secluded five-mile bay of Cabo Pulmo.
Cabo Pulmo snorkeling and other tours
Snorkeling is one of the best things to do in Cabo Pulmo.
See huge schools of shiny silver jackfish swarming about plus other tropical fish. And keep your eyes peeled for eels, sea turtles and rays.
You’re not likely to see sharks when snorkeling in Cabo Pulmo, so don’t worry about them. (But you can expect to see sharks when scuba diving in Cabo Pulmo.)
If you’re staying in Los Cabos and want to do a day trip, a guided Cabo Pulmo tour – snorkeling, sea kayaking or scuba diving – is the best way to experience this natural wonderland. You don’t have to worry about the drive and can just enjoy the day (which will be a long one, with an early start).
Tours often combine more than one activity, like kayaking plus snorkeling and visiting the sea lion colony.
Check out these good tour operators. We’ve taken Cabo Pulmo tours with all of them:
Cabo Outfitters offers a 9-hour, small-group day trip to Cabo Pulmo, with transportation from your hotel, kayaking, visiting the remote sea lion colony, snorkeling at two to three different spots and lunch. Here’s their best-selling tour.
High Tide Los Cabos:
For a fun jeep adventure, go with High Tide Los Cabos. You get to drive off-road and also snorkel in Cabo Pulmo. Lunch is provided.
Manta Scuba Divers:
Explore the electric colors of the Cabo Pulmo reef on a fabulous two-tank scuba diving trip with Manta. Their 10-hour tour includes van transportation from Cabo San Lucas to Cabo Pulmo. Once there, it’s a 10-to 15-minute boat ride to the dive spot(s).
This tour is offered from May to November.
Best time to visit Cabo Pulmo, Mexico
Be forewarned that Cabo Pulmo is wild in more ways than one.
In summer and fall, the waters of Cabo Pulmo are warm, glassy-calm and ideal for snorkeling, kayaking and scuba diving.
The beaches are beautiful for relaxing on too.
But between December and March, heavy winds can restrict water activities for days at a time.
Buffeted by wind, you could end up looking out at frothy whitecaps – and realizing that no one is heading out into the water that day.
For more information, see our post on when to visit Cabo (and why early summer and the late fall/early winter months are ideal for watersports and visiting Cabo Pulmo).
Hotels in Cabo Pulmo
So you think you want to chill in Cabo Pulmo for a little longer than a day trip. Good idea.
Now, where to stay in Cabo Pulmo? You have a few decent accommodation options:
Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort:
Backed by a family history in the area dating back 50 years, Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort offers accommodation in a collection of boho-cheerful casita rooms, bungalows and houses.
Some have outdoor showers; others have prime oceanfront locations.
The resort (a 5-star PADI dive resort) has a solar-powered, full-service dive center onsite and offers dive lessons and tours.
Its palapa-roof Coral Reef restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort: See the resort’s website
Baja Bungalows rents a few casitas and self-catered bungalows kitted out with kitchens, colorful tiles and Mexican decoration. Choose from a one-bedroom suite with hot tub and outdoor kitchen to a new palapa-roof house with tile floors and ocean views. The owner-operators live onsite.
Baja Bungalows: See the property’s website
Another good option for Cabo Pulmo accommodation is to book a house through Vrbo (Vacation Rentals by Owner), which is like Airbnb. It lists some charming homes in Cabo Pulmo, with Mexican art and hand-crafted furniture.
La Ribera accommodation
As an alternative to staying right in Cabo Pulmo, you can also look at staying in nearby La Ribera.
A small, rustic, laid-back Baja town, La Ribera is about 15 miles (a 30-minute drive) from Cabo Pulmo. (You drive past it on the way to Cabo Pulmo.)
Sportfishing, SUP, kayaking, walking the area’s white sand beaches and getting away from it all – along with access to Cabo Pulmo – are the draw.
With the new 1,000-acre Costa Palmas development on the outskirts of La Ribera, the town is getting more tourism attention.
Hugging two miles of untouched beach, the Four Seasons Resort Los Cabos at Costa Palmas is the place to go for uber-deluxe digs. Choose from rooms (many with private plunge pools) to large suites to a 3-bedroom villa.
Apart from the Four Seasons, other (less expensive) hotels in La Ribera include:
Photo Credits: 5, 6, 9 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 4 Cabo Outfitters | 8 High Tide Los Cabos | 10, 11 Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort | 12 Four Seasons Resort Los Cabos