Im­merse your­self in the nat­u­ral world of BAHÍA DE LOS ÁN­GE­LES by swim­ming with whale sharks and sea lions in the Sea of Cortez.

Lonely Planet Magazine (US) - - Great Escape -

At first it’s just a shadow mov­ing in the water. It seems im­pos­si­bly big: 26, maybe 30 feet. Dive un­der the sur­face and you can come face to face with more than 20 tons of mus­cle and car­ti­lage with fins – the broad mouth suck­ing in plank­ton as it reaches up to­ward the light, the re­moras cling­ing to its white-spot­ted body, the graceful stroke of its huge tail fin as it glides through the water. It moves leisurely, av­er­ag­ing around 3 mph, so for a lit­tle while you can swim along­side it, kick­ing your scuba fins hard to keep pace. It’s not just a big fish, but the big­gest fish of them all: the whale shark.

It is a ma­jes­tic sight in a place that is over­run with ma­jes­tic sights. The Sea of Cortez, the hun­dred-mile-wide strip of water between Baja Cal­i­for­nia and the Mex­i­can main­land, was a fa­vorite of the great ocean con­ser­va­tion­ist Jac­ques Cousteau. He called it “the world’s aquar­ium.” It is home to a vast panoply of sea crea­tures, with some 900 species of fish and 32 types of marine mam­mals liv­ing, eat­ing and breed­ing here.

It’s not un­com­mon to spot sea tur­tles, manta rays and even gray whales. You can swim with sea lions, who bark and tus­sle like a pack of aquatic dogs, and an­glers come here in pur­suit of yel­low­tail, red snap­per and grouper. The fish­ing is so good even the birds join in. Brown pel­i­cans and blue-footed boo­bies soar through the air and then sud­denly dive, freefalling out of the sky and snatch­ing up their prey.

It is ex­pe­ri­ences like these that en­cour­aged Ricardo Arce to start his epony­mous div­ing tour com­pany in his home­town of Bahía de los Án­ge­les. “I grew up here and I’ve been div­ing for 21 years,” he says. “I wanted peo­ple to have the same ex­pe­ri­ences that I’ve had.” Bahía de los Án­ge­les is a small fish­ing town of just 800 peo­ple be­side the moun­tains of the Sierra de San Borja. Its iso­la­tion makes it such a per­fect place to get close to the Sea of Cortez’s many wonders.

As a tour group re­turns by boat af­ter a day at sea, the town is barely vis­i­ble on the shore­line. “A reg­u­lar day here means get­ting up early to give a tour, then hav­ing a chilled life,” says Arce with a shrug. “It’s a re­lax­ing place.”

This has not hap­pened by ac­ci­dent. The com­mu­nity of Bahía de los An­ge­les con­sis­tently comes to­gether to fight plans to make the town into a more com­mer­cial re­sort. “We’re con­cerned about de­vel­op­ment. It wor­ries us,” Arce says. “We think the area has been con­served very well like this, so we don’t want it to grow that much. There have been lots of projects that have tried to get in here, but as a com­mu­nity we didn’t want them. We’re very se­lec­tive about the sort of tourism we want to at­tract. We don’t want spring break­ers or the party crowd. We only want peo­ple who are re­ally in­ter­ested in get­ting to know na­ture.”

Places like Bahía de los Án­ge­les are cru­cially im­por­tant be­cause the whale shark is an en­dan­gered species. Arce is a mem­ber of a lo­cal con­ser­va­tion group, Pe­je­sapo, which since 2008 has worked to pre­serve the whale shark’s habi­tat and to count their num­bers. The sharks are most com­monly seen between June and De­cem­ber, and at the sea­son’s peak Arce has seen as many as 55 in one day. “It’s a good feed­ing ground here,” he ex­plains. “We used to think that they just ate plank­ton, but by film­ing them here we found out they eat big­ger fish too.”

There are only a cou­ple of very small ho­tels in the town, which means that for most of the year there are likely to be more whale sharks here than tourists. Arce is happy to keep it that way. “We try to set an ex­am­ple for the next gen­er­a­tion about how you should do things,” he says. “We want to show them that this is how you pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment.”

Re­join High­way 1 and con­tinue south. You’ll reach San Ig­na­cio a er four hours, and Loreto a er an­other 3½ hours.

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