We entered the Sea of Cortez at Cabo San Lucas after sailing down the Pacific side of Baja California. Leaving the big ocean behind, it got instantly warm. We spend the summer in the Sea and loved it!
Called ‘aquarium of the world’ by Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the diversity of sea life, birds and desert animals in the Sea of Cortez is only rivaled by the Galapagos Islands. Fabulous, if you like stark mountainous deserts, sandy beaches, snorkeling and diving, whale and bird watching, fishing, remote fishing villages, small Mexican towns or just a few of these.
Best way to sail the Sea is to take the south winds up into the Sea, which start in early-mid June, spend the summer and hurricane season (June to November) in the upper Sea North of Santa Rosalia and sail the north winds back down starting in November. This way you can enjoy swimming and snorkeling in warm water in summer with air temperatures around 30-35° and then hiking the islands, Baja and mainland in the winter at cooler temperatures between 16-22°. In the upper Sea, the summers are hot and the winters are cold at night, especially during winds from the north, so come prepared for both.
The Sea can be tricky with its Chubasco, Cormorels and Elefante, very localized and hard-to-predict high winds, in the summer and strong Northern winds in the winter. One relies on a good anchor and a good anchoring technique to be riding out storm gales of thirty to forty knots. There are many breath-taking anchorages and all, except one on Ísla San Esteban, are over large sand shelves with good holding. Depending on wind direction with thorough weather planning via weather fax and SSB weather nets, good shelter can be found.
Some bird enthusiast time their visits around migratory months and whale enthusiasts for whales, who come to the Sea to see whales during their migration in January until April, although some whales stay in the Sea all year around. Visit the whale museum in La Paz, which offers comprehensive information on all whales and turtles living in the sea. John Steinbeck wrote book about his research expedition of nautical life in the sea in 1941 and observations of land and people, which is a great read; some editions include the full list of their collection effort.
The Northern Sea of Cortez is less traveled. Most cruisers don’t travel as far as Puerto Escondido or Bahía Conception and only go to La Paz and the islands just north of there. It takes preparation and provisioning to be at anchor for weeks with little or no cell or wifi connection, but it is certainly doable and provisions and fuel can be found. Bring enough cash though, because there are no ATMs between Santa Rosalia and San Filipe on the Baja. We enjoyed this off-grid existence immensely and find that, although less traveled, the Northern Sea is well worth it. There are choices of totally secluded anchorages, where hardly anybody goes, bays in front of fishing villages or marinas close to small or larger town. Something for everybody’s taste and budget.
We enjoyed the Northern Sea the most from Bahía de Los Ángeles to Bahia Kino, Ísla Tiburon, Ísla Ángel de la Guarda, Ísla Salsipuedes and Ísla San Esteban. Puerto Peñasco’s boat yard had very competitive prices and cheap storage for the boat. If we would be seasonal sailors here in the Sea, we would leave the boat at Cabralles’ during the summer months and travel from there down the Sea in fall and back up late spring.
Many sailors come back to the Sea after exploring the Caribbean or South Seas and find that the Sea of Cortez has it all. We are just at the beginning of our journey and will be heading out soon from La Paz to mainland Mexico all the way to Panama this spring, but we’ll be leaving here reluctantly.
Check out our cruising tips for the Sea of Cortez here.