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Snorkeling at Santa Maria Beach, Cabo: All You Need to Know

So you want to go snorkeling at Santa Maria Beach, Cabo San Lucas? Great idea!

It’s one of the best places to snorkel in Los Cabos.

And guess what? You might even see whales. Seriously!

But let’s start this fishy-sounding tale from the beginning…

’Coz the whales are just the bonus. You’ll definitely see tons of tropical fish.

And that’s why you go to Santa Maria Bay (“Playa Santa Maria” in local lingo), right? For fabulous snorkeling!

Snorkeling gear on the sand at Santa Maria Beach, Cabo San Lucas
Snorkeling gear at the ready…

Santa Maria Beach, Cabo

We’ve just returned from yet another awesome visit to Cabo San Lucas in Baja California Sur, Mexico – and another morning trip to snorkel at Santa Maria Bay – where we had a great time snorkeling, swimming and whale watching.

The bay is a marine preserve in the Sea of Cortez (renowned for its marine life), so it’s an excellent spot for snorkeling.

A woman snorkeler in the water at Santa Maria Beach, Cabo San Lucas
Santa Maria Beach is one of the best places to snorkel in Cabo

Santa Maria Bay snorkeling

There’s not a ripple stirring the sea.

The water is so clear, we can spot tiny iridescent blue fish (damselfish?) at least 50 feet away, darting about the reef.

Neon damselfish
The tiny blue fish we saw while snorkeling look like this neon damselfish

We love scuba diving in Cabo in October when the water is bathtub-warm.

For snorkeling and diving, the best time to visit Cabo is October and November.

But it’s now January in Los Cabos – a winter day when daytime temps can sometimes be in the low 70s F. And yet today, the sea is warm enough for snorkeling.

So that’s what we’re doing.

Snorkeling in Santa Maria Bay – bumping fins with schools of colorful reef fish, feeding bread to large clouds of yellow porkfish that swirl around us, and loving every moment!

Clouds of yellow porkfish are seen when snorkeling at Santa Maria Beach, Cabo.
Clouds of yellow porkfish are seen when snorkeling at Santa Maria Beach

Tip:

As you face the water from the beach, the best snorkeling is at the far end by the rocks to your right (in front of the beach club for local residents).

About the beach itself

Santa Maria Beach, Cabo San Lucas, in the morning before the snorkel boats have arrived
Santa Maria Beach, Cabo San Lucas, in the morning before the snorkel boats have arrived

Santa Maria Beach, Cabo San Lucas, is a public beach.

The beach is one of the top three Cabo San Lucas snorkeling beaches.

(The other two are Chileno Beach and Lover’s Beach.)

Heck, it’s one of the best beaches in Los Cabos, whether snorkeling or not!

The coarse golden sand (mixed with small pebbles) is pristine. And its calm waters make it a great choice for swimming, even if you’re not interested in snorkeling.

Having arrived early (before 9:00 a.m.), we almost have the bay to ourselves. Where we’ve plopped down, there’s nothing much more than us, the seagulls and the sand.

Just one lone permanent thatched palapa sticks up out of the sand. It’s marked for wheelchair use only.

Some time around 10:00 am, a vendor arrives to rent out umbrellas and chairs at the entrance to the beach.

When we asked, we were quoted a cost of 250 Mexican pesos (about $13 USD) per umbrella and 100 pesos per chair (about $5.20 USD).

Tip:

For the best snorkeling and to appreciate the natural beauty of the beach when it’s quiet, arrive early. We usually come and go by 11:00 am!

But Santa Maria is still a great beach to kick back on even after more people have arrived.

See whales when snorkeling Santa Maria Bay, Cabo!

Isn't Santa Maria Beach gorgeous? And see how there's nobody else on it early in the morning!
Isn’t Santa Maria Beach gorgeous? And see how there’s nobody else on it early in the morning!

Later, drying off on the beach in the sun, after more than an hour in the water, we spot the whales. They’re about 100 feet away from us.

At first, we see only plumes of spray.

And then – we see the slick round humps of humpbacks as they swim on the water’s surface.

And tails!

Admittedly, we’ve seen closer-up views of whales in Cabo on whale watching tours.

But even though it’s the whale season in Cabo, we just didn’t expect to see these whales there and then.

And they just keep spouting and finning and showing us a whale of a time. A nice way to finish off a glorious morning of snorkeling…

Tips: Snorkeling at Santa Maria Beach your own way

Santa Maria Beach, Los Cabos, early in the morning...
Santa Maria Beach early in the morning…

Here’s the key.

We didn’t take a tour to go snorkeling at Santa Maria Beach.

(If we had, we’d be sharing our views of Captain Nemo with up to 100 other eager snorkelers jumping off their catamaran or sailboat.)

No, if you want pristine conditions, the best way to go snorkeling here is to do it on your own.

Each year we visit Cabo, we make a point of returning to Santa Maria Beach to snorkel.

We enjoy it so much, we often end up going several times each trip. It’s one of our favorite things to do in Cabo.

Get to the beach early though.

The first of the snorkel tour boats arrive around 10:00 am.

Often by 11:00 am, there are some five snorkeling tour boats anchored in the bay. The snorkelers from the boats don’t usually swim to the beach though.

Snorkel boats at Santa Maria Bay, Cabo
The snorkeling boats get to the bay around mid-morning

Tip:

We mentioned there’s a vendor who usually shows up to rent umbrellas and chairs.

You’d be wise to bring your own beach umbrella, though, if you plan to hang around on the beach after snorkeling and want to be assured of shade.

Facilities at Santa Maria Bay, Los Cabos

Toilets and showers:

Playa Santa Maria now has nice new bathrooms with showers.
Playa Santa Maria now has nice new bathrooms with showers

The public beach facilities have been spiffed up recently.

When you arrive at the parking lot to the beach, you’ll notice a big clean new bathroom building, with flush toilets and change rooms.

Outside the bathroom, there are outdoor showers, so you can rinse off the salt water after swimming and also rinse off your snorkeling gear.

From the parking lot, it’s a short walk along a newish wooden boardwalk down to the beach.

Montage Los Cabos:

Montage Los Cabos
An aerial view of Santa Maria Bay (to the left) showing the Montage Los Cabos and pools above the beach area (Credit: Montage Los Cabos)

If you haven’t been to the beach in a few years, you’ll no doubt be surprised to see a large new hotel there.

There’s no stopping development in Cabo (which just keeps getting bigger and better!).

A Montage Los Cabos hotel has been built on the shores above the beach. It opened in November, 2018.

One of the best luxury hotels in Los Cabos, the low-rise resort is quite tasteful though, and blends in with the landscape.

It has beach chairs and umbrellas for guests set up in a middle section of the beach.

Only seagulls are out by the beach in front of Montage Los Cabos beach in the morning.
Only seagulls are out on the Montage strip of beach in the morning

You can have lunch at the Montage Los Cabos if you reserve in advance. Marea, the hotel’s stylish open-air beachfront restaurant, serves fresh seafood, Mexican food and burgers.

But you can’t just walk up from the beach and access the hotel restaurant as a non-guest. (We asked.)

You need to drive around to the front of the hotel and enter through the lobby to have lunch at the hotel restaurant. (Obviously you’ll want to wear suitable clothing, not just a wet bathing suit!)

Beach club for local residents:

Playa Santa Maria, Los Cabos, is one of the best beaches in Cabo!
See the beach club with white chairs there? That’s the private beach club for local homeowners

At the far end of the beach from the public parking lot, you’ll see a chichi beach club, usually empty!

It’s for the exclusive use of local home-owners. So it’s off limits if you don’t have privileges.

Tip:

Bring your own snorkel gear, water and food or snacks, as there’s no gear rental stand or readily-accessible public restaurant or bar.

Getting to Santa Maria Beach, Los Cabos

Where is Santa Maria Beach in Cabo San Lucas?

The beach parking lot for Santa Maria Beach is located along the Tourist Corridor, about 8 miles east of Cabo San Lucas at Km 13, Carretera Transpeninsular (Federal Highway 1).

Sign for Playa Santa Maria, Cabo
Welcome to Santa Maria Bay!

By car:

Drive along the Corridor Highway 1 connecting Cabo San Lucas with San Jose del Cabo to Km 12 (7½ miles east of Cabo) and look for the “Playa Santa Maria” sign, indicating the turn-off toward the ocean.

Follow the road for about a ¼ to ½ mile to the paved parking lot.

The public parking is free.

By bus:

It’s easy to hop on the bus if you don’t have a car.

While we usually go in a rental car, we have taken the bus. It’s not a “first-class Mexico bus” like we took for longer distances when visiting Mexico’s colonial towns.

But the local Cabo bus is very inexpensive and not a hardship if you’re feeling a little adventurous.

Buses will stop along the Corridor highway if you flag them down. Tell the driver you want to get off at Santa Maria Bay for snorkeling. There’s a bus stop on the side of the highway there.

Santa Maria Beach, Cabo San Lucas: Map

See this link to the Google maps location of Santa Maria Bay (in front of the Montage Los Cabos).

Santa Maria Bay, Cabo, snorkeling tours

What if you want to take a snorkeling tour by boat?

We get that. You may not have a rented car, and you may not want to take a taxi or the bus.

So how else do you get there?

We recommend this kayaking-and-snorkeling tour of both Santa Maria and Chileno Bays. We’ve done this tour, offered by Cabo Outfitters, and really enjoyed it!

(The kayaking makes the tour that much more fun.)

Kayaking to Playa Santa Maria to snorkel there
You can kayak from Playa Las Viudas to Santa Maria Bay for some snorkeling (then continue kayaking to Chileno Bay)

If you’d prefer sailing to Santa Maria Bay on a catamaran instead, this 4-hour snorkeling cruise (with an open bar) also gets great reviews.

For a yacht cruise on a luxurious 42-foot boat, here’s a private snorkeling yacht tour for up to 4 guests. It includes lunch and premium alcoholic drinks.

We’ve sailed with Cabo Sailing (who run this boat tour), and they do an excellent job too.

The snorkel boat tours leave from the Cabo San Lucas Marina.

Chileno Bay vs. Santa Maria snorkeling

Gosh, this is a toss-up. Tacos or tostadas?

Santa Maria and Chileno are both great places to snorkel in Cabo San Lucas.

Pelicans like Santa Maria Bay, Cabo, too!
Pelicans like Santa Maria Bay too!

No motorized water sports (like jet skis) are allowed at either beach. So they’re both more tranquil than, say, Medano Beach.

Like Santa Maria Bay, Chileno also has a public parking area, washrooms and showers, along with umbrella and chair rentals.

We think Santa Maria Beach has slightly softer sand, however. The sand at Chileno is a little more pebbly with crushed shells.

Chileno Beach is also larger than Santa Maria and a little rockier, with more rocks on the sea floor as you’re walking into the water.

On the other hand, some people think the amount of fish you see when snorkeling is a bit better at Chileno.

The good news is: You don’t have to choose between Santa Maria Cove vs. Chileno Bay. You can snorkel at both!

If you go on a Santa Maria Bay snorkeling tour, chances are it will include Chileno Bay as well.

Last words on Playa Santa Maria, Los Cabos

Santa Maria Bay is one of the best places in Cabo for swimming and snorkeling.
Santa Maria Bay is one of our favorite places in Cabo for swimming and snorkeling

For some of the best snorkeling in Cabo, head to Santa Maria Bay.

It’s one of the most beautiful beaches in Cabo, with thick golden sand lapped by crystal-clear waters.

Go early in the morning before the breeze picks up and the snorkel cruises arrive – and you’ll have the beach to yourself. And you’re sure to love spotting all the colorful fish that swim about the reef in this lovely horseshoe-shaped bay.

There’s virtually no natural shade (and we wish more palapas could be built for the public). But if the Santa Maria Bay vendor appears, you can rent an umbrella and chairs from him. You also need to bring your own drinks, snacks and snorkeling gear.

If you’d prefer, there are also several good snorkeling tours that take you out by boat to snorkel off Santa Maria Beach.

Experience more of Cabo!

Day trips | From Todos Santos to La Paz, check out the best day trips from Cabo.

Marina | The Cabo San Lucas Marina is where much of the action takes place. Discover the restaurants, activities and hotels around the marina.

Getting around | Get the scoop on the the best Cabo airport transfers to your resort.


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Santa Maria Beach, Cabo, Snorkeling
Snorkeling at Santa Maria Beach, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Photo credits: 2, 5, 9, 11, 12, 13, 16 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 6, 7, 8, 15 Andrea Norrie, Janice’s sister-in-law | 14 Cabo Outfitters


About the authors:

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!

Kevin

Saturday 24th of December 2022

Thank you so much for this blog! We just went snorkeling at Santa Maria Beach in Cabo and it was great! Saw dozens of different tropical fish. The beach didn't get crowded. The snorkeling tours weren't bad even after 11am, though we got there at 9am and enjoyed the beach mostly to ourselves, except for the occasional other visitor or so. The only turn-offs are the coarse sand (my tender feet are sore!) and not having convenient access to food. We used Uber and were able to get free Wi-Fi at the end near the local club. Thanks again for your info, it helped a ton! -Kevin and Helen

Janice and George

Saturday 24th of December 2022

Hi Kevin and Helen, Delighted you found our post helpful! Thanks so much for letting us know :-)

Pat

Monday 18th of April 2022

Do you know if you can still drive down the dirt road past the parking lot to park Next to the beach? Thanks. Good article!

Janice and George

Thursday 21st of April 2022

Hi Pat, There's a signed road (with a "Playa Santa Maria" sign) off the main highway that leads to the paved parking lot for the beach. Once at the parking lot, there's a wheelchair-accessible path from the parking lot to the actual beach. Hope this helps!

Nancy and Bill

Monday 11th of October 2021

Is there a good place along the corridor to rent or purchase our own snorkeling equipment if we want to go to the beach on our own?

Janice and George

Monday 18th of October 2021

Hi Nancy and Bill, Sorry, just saw your comment now :-). You could probably buy snorkeling gear at Walmart or maybe the Costco, both just outside of Cabo San Lucas off the main highway. Let us know if you have any success!

Rosi Duenas

Sunday 6th of October 2019

Is Santa Maria Beach also known as Santa Maria Bay? I ask because many years ago we snorkeled and swam in what I thought was Santa Maria Bay (we have pictures very similar to those you posted, so I think it is the same place), but now I see that there is a huge new resort (Montage) seating atop of the mountain on Santa Maria "Bay", and I am wondering if it is the same place or not. Thanks for clarifying, if possible.

Janice and George

Monday 7th of October 2019

Yes, there's no stopping development, and the new Montage Los Cabos has opened up on Santa Maria Bay (which is the same as Santa Maria Beach).

Depending on your point of view, it's a bad news/good news scenario. The bad news - expect more people on the beach. The good news - the finished hotel looks better than the unfinished construction site which marred the landscape for years. And there's now a classy new restaurant you can visit for lunch :-).

(We'll update the post to reflect this. Thanks!)

Linda Nuttall

Saturday 2nd of December 2017

In your article you state Santa Maria Bay is one of the three best places to snorkel in Cabo San Lucas. What are the other two? Thanks.

Janice and George

Wednesday 6th of December 2017

Oh, sorry, we should have mentioned the other two! They are Pelican Rock at Land's End (take a water taxi to get there, or you can kayak over) and Chileno Bay (if you go on a snorkeling tour, both Santa Maria and Chileno are often included - but of course, you'll have lots of other snorkelers with you).