Want to see whales in Los Cabos? Go snorkeling at Santa Maria Beach, Cabo San Lucas. Seriously!
But let’s start this fishy-sounding tale from the beginning…
Coz the whales are just the bonus.
You’ll also see tons of tropical fish too. And that’s why you go to Santa Maria Beach. For fabulous snorkeling!
And we’re going to share how to get there and go snorkeling on your own, whether you should take a snorkel boat tour (or not), and exactly where the best place is to snorkel at Santa Maria Bay.
Santa Maria Beach, Cabo
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.
We love scuba diving in Cabo in October when the water is bathtub-warm. But even this January day (winter in Los Cabos, when daytime temps can sometimes be in the low 70s F.), the sea is warm enough for snorkeling.
So that’s what we’re doing – snorkeling in Santa Maria Bay in Cabo. Bumping fins with schools of colorful reef fish, feeding bread to large clouds of yellow porkfish that swirl around us, and loving every moment!
Santa Maria Bay snorkeling
Santa Maria Beach, Cabo San Lucas, is one of the three top places to snorkel in Los Cabos.
The beach (“Playa Santa Maria” in local lingo) is also one of the best beaches in Los Cabos. The coarse golden sand beach is pristine!
Having arrived early (around 9:00 a.m.), we almost have the bay to ourselves. And good news, there are palapas that we can plop down under for some welcome shade when the sun begins to burn brighter.
Look, there are whales!
Later, drying off in the sun after more than an hour in the water, we spot the whales. They’re about 100 feet away from us on the beach.
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.
Admittedly, we’ve seen closer-up views of whales in Cabo on whale watching tours.
But these whales are totally unexpected. 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…
Snorkeling at Santa Maria Beach your own way
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.
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.
Facilities at Santa Maria Bay, Los Cabos
Toilets and 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 and also rinse off your snorkeling gear.
There’s now also a new paved walkway from the parking lot to the beach.
Montage Los Cabos:
If you haven’t been to the beach in a few years, you will 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!), and a new Montage Los Cabos hotel has been built on the shores above the beach. It opened in November, 2018.
The low-rise hotel 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.
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!)
Read our reviews of the best Cabo hotels! Best Boutique and 5-Star Hotels in Cabo San Lucas
Beach club for local residents:
At the far end of the beach from the public parking lot, you’ll see a chi-chi 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.
Snorkel tour of Santa Maria Bay
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.
We recommend this kayaking-and-snorkeling tour of both Santa Maria and Chileno Bays – we’ve done this tour and really enjoyed it! (The kayaking makes the tour that much more fun.)
Recommended reading: 25 Epic Things to Do in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Santa Maria Beach, Cabo San Lucas: Map
See below for the location of Santa Maria Bay.
Other Cabo tours
Sometimes it’s nice to pre-book tours so you don’t have to worry about planning what to do when you get there. Here are some other good Cabo tours…
Recommended reading: Los Cabos Travel Guide to an Awesome Holiday!
More Cabo water sports inspiration!
Check out these other posts of ours…
Photo credits: 1, 4, 5 and 6 Andrea Norrie, Janice’s sister-in-law