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Scuba Diving in Banderas Bay
Banderas Bay is one of the largest Bay in North America and one of the deepest in the world, and scuba diving is one of the most popular sports at the bay. If you are a diver and have never dived the Eastern Pacific and more specifically in its northern hemisphere, you will not understand it until you come to try it in person.
Where in Mexico are we?
Geographically located at the Southernmost point of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range, with just over 400 kilometers South of the Tropic of Cancer, it makes our climate a subtropical one, throwing down the most common theory of those who do not know Mexico (and think that whole country is a desert) or if you only have traveled to the Mexican Caribbean, Yucatan or the Cozumel, let us talking to you about our place.
Our diving seasons
The Banderas Bay, precisely due to its geographical characteristics enjoys a benign climate almost all year round, making it - thanks to its dry season (generally between of November to June)- in one of the favorite holidays destinations for the population of the North American Midwest and West Coast. During this season, from Winter to Summer solstice, temperatures almost never exceed 28º C (82 Fº) with a humidity index generally lower than 50%.
This time of the year is the best for aquatic life, which allows you to find from the smallest inhabitants of the ocean -such as nudibranchs, gobies and blenids- to the most gigantic mammals of the planet, the whales in surface, in our case, humpbacks.
During this time of the year, underwater visibility is lower than in the rainy season, nevertheless, the opportunity to have whale or dolphin encounters on the surface and definitely diving with majestic animals like Pacific Giant Manta is greater. As we already pointed, this Ocean is not the Caribbean, precisely because we are significantly more North of the Equator than The Caribbean, our tidal coefficients are much greater and therefore the impact on visibility conditions is greater. Diving in the Pacific, in any case, is a wonderful experience.
The temperature changes radically between the rainy season (June to November) and the dry season (November to June). In the rainy season, you could be diving at a temperature above 29ºC (85ºF) at a depth of 20 meters (60 feet) and -in the same diving point- in the dry season, you could dive with the coldest temperature of 13ºC (55ºF). We insist, this is not the Caribbean. What can we easily find? What needs to be looked at more closely and what do we not have here? Our diving areas are very well determined in the Bay, the South is ideal for diving at any time of the year, although the conditions determine what we can find or not in our dives. If the points to the South of the bay are places close to the coast and good for diving the whole year, those to the North are islets and islands -practically all in the open sea-, good for diving during the rainy season (June to November). In our opinion, in the dry season, the sea gets rough very easily and the offshore or rising winds make sailing a dangerous exercise outside the bay. La Corbeteña, El Morro, Los Anegados, Las Marietas, El Sequial or El Malinal are beautiful places that we recommend only to divers with experience in currents and deep dives and who do not suffer from difficulties when riding boat trips longer than 100-120 minutes each way.
LOS ARCOS National Marine Park is our favorite place in the South of the Bay. It is a protected area where fishing is forbiden by law and where, being a reef area with a mix shallow and abyssal places (we have a canyon that is believed to reach 1,600 meters/5,000 feet deep) which offers us the appropriate characteristics for the training of beginner and advanced divers.
The Southest Wall
From the South side of the biggest island of Los Arcos, heading East you will find a shallow area, if you have a bad visibility day, maybe, this dive isn’t really worth it, but having a compass or an experienced Scuba guide, nothing is a waste of time underwater.
As you can appreciate in the picture, a little reef area is starting in southern of Los Arcos National Marine Park.
From shallow reef waters (ideal for an snorkeling time having a bottom from 10 till 25 feet deep) we can diving forward till around 60 feet where sand and rock line edge draw the path.
Shallow reef area show us usually all kind of tropical colorful fish, rock fish, octopus and some lobsters too, but please, keep an eye in the delineated profile between rocks and sand to have a very probably royal crown sea urchin carpet and an Ray encounter with maybe Cortez, Diamond, Electric and Guitar ones, some flat fish too, are probably in the way.
This is one of the underwater Pacific Giant Manta paths, but remember, as we allway say, “Animals are not in the payroll”.
The West Wall
This is “The wall” South face of the biggest of the five islands at Los Arcos. It is a place worth for a diving experience, it is not a difficult diving place, but there are not any line to use to go down so you will need to do a free descend.
The bottom, located at the middle of the wall, is around 50 feet deep, good as a started point.
We have two diving options here, the first one, heading west direction so keeping the wall on your right side and open water at the left. This choice is recommended for experienced divers.
You need to check seriously what are the surface and underwater conditions on current and surge to keep your forward direction to Devil´s Drop or if you turn back, you'll find the second option, heading East, keeping rocks on left and open water in your right.
This is not a particular snorkeling good place but in quiet ocean days you can find close to the wall an small forest of little blue, purple and black little coral branches, maybe some sea horse and little creatures like nudibranches.
Please remember to follow the indications of your dive or snorkeling certified guide, respect anytime diving and snorkeling rules. Be extremely careful of yourself and if you have a doubt or you don’t feel comfortable, just don’t do it.
The Aquarium I
Here we have our biggest island at LOS ARCOS, two amazing and really different diving and snorkeling areas.
You can clearly appreciate in this nice picture a buoy line just at the North side of the biggest island.
This place, artificial delimited is know as EL ACUARIO (The aquarium).
It is an area of approximately 45,000 square well marked, at the West by “Sea Turtle rock”, at the East by the smallest of the three arches at this islands, at the North by a buoy line and at the South an impotent natural wall of highst island which is probably the most photographed on the area.
On the West side of the big island, we have the Devil’s Drop.
The Aquarium II
Probably the most popular shot at Los Arcos.
In front of us, looking to the South side of the bay, we find two islands. On the left, to the East, there's the biggest rock, the home for most of our marine bird especies you can be find at the bay. During the nesting season you can observe American pelicans, little blue heron, white and black egrets, sometimes cormorants, vultures, gulls and magnificent frigates.
On the right, to the West, there's the “Sea Turtle Rock”, a small colony of blue footed booby birds. All of them sharing in harmony a beautiful area (an example for human race). Here, snorkeling is a must when you visit the area. A couple of recommendations: keep an eye of wall-rock proximity, mostly when you have surge or waves, if you are not a comfortable person in the water, ask to your captain boat a life vest, it is mandatory have them on board. There's a small arch on the East side of the rock inviting you to cross it, please be so kind to check with you snorkeling guide or boat captain the ocean conditions and guidelines before doing it.
A buoy line is there for your protection. Talking about scuba diving, this is a perfect place for non certified divers who want to take a beginner Scuba Diving program and for students who are taking their Scuba Diving certification (open water sessions). There's no better place at the bay for students and teachers than LOS ARCOS. The bottom starts really close to the wall -around 10 feet deep- and goes down to the North smoothly. At 50/60 feet starts a sandy area that goes down.
This is a reef area full of marine life, where you can see all of the tropical fish you can find at the bay like King Angel, Moorish Idol, Snappers, Cornets, Butterfly, Trigger, Grouper, Hog, Parrots, Ballon, Puffer fish and many more and at bottom, maybe easier to see for scuba divers a great sort of rays (mostly Cortez ones), moray eels and many different kind of small marine life.
If you were in Puerto Vallarta and didn’t visit LOS ARCOS, then you missed the best of the trip.
This the Devil’s drop, a mysterious and an incredible wonderful diving place.
It is located at the West side of Los Arcos area, from a couple of dozens of feet of the Northern side of the Sea Turtle Rock till Southern point of the biggest island, you can find here an small rock barrier starting at 35 feet deep from surface and dividing a shallow area, close to the Aquarium and maybe one of deepest point at the bay.
Nobody can supply the accuracy figures about it's deepest point, as far as we know it goes from 1,800 till 5,000 feet according to the info available in different sources.
The last diving check point at the South of the biggest island is located around 250-300 feet distance from the Northern point. Right there, the drop is turning East just following the island slope.
There is a tiny plateau from the Sea Turtle Rock, until the very end of the slope. A small area, but full of animal and plant life, just at 150-200 feet width and 20-60 feet deep. From there, facing West there's a vast emptiness offer us an incredible spectacle.
Now, talking about life and encounters.
A sure point for underwater path of the Pacific Giant Mantas, they just go back and forth in this probably their favorite place, not all the time, but sometimes, an encounter with one of this huge animals which can reach 20 feet size, is a prize, for those who want to dive in this area. Not too many info can be foud about these gentle giants. They are always friendly with scuba divers and if one of them accepts to dive with you, you will be so lucky to have this encounter. I can assure you, it will be an unforgetable memory in your life.
Who, how and when is the best to dive in here?
Who? Certified divers with experience in surge, currents (sometimes strong) and deep dives are the candidates.
How? Our opinion, always with an experienced we’ll knowledge certified dive guide, a Baderas Scuba Republic professional is your best option here.
When? From mornings two hours before zenith, you will have more light and better visibility and not later than three hours after zenith, to avoid winds blowing surface which create superficial currents and small waves.
To avoid: Any kind of fight against any current. If you strat experience one, change immediately direction and take the drift way, just if you are an experienced diver. If it is too strong, just cancel the dive.
Keep always an eye in the rocky area as a reference point and monitorize your deep gauge all the time.
Once more time, follow your certified dive guide recommendations, check water conditions prior your dive, feel 100% in your dive mood and physically conditions and if you have doubts, just don’t do it.
One scuba area, four underwater paths.
Our favorite, “The Slabs” with an starting point North of the Northern rock of Los Arcos.
Here, with a very well defined line between rocky and sandy bottom you can find in winter, at no more than 50/60 feet a large collection of non pelagic rays as diamond, round, Cortez, guitar, electric and many more of these species.
Heading South following the rocky line, you can find a deeper area of around 70-90 feet deep with several rock “slab” formations full of cleaner fish, so, what a better place to find ... sea turtles, you are correct.
This is a “beauty salon” for this wonderful reptiles. If you are so lucky to see one of them, please, don’t chase them, just approach slowly and keep an eye to your breath, try to breath thin, small bubbles, maybe, they will be ok with your presence there and you will earn some nice pictures and videos. Don’t try to catch or touch them, probably you don’t like to be chased or unsolicited touched in your Malecon strip walking, even if you are good looking no?
Coming back close to the surface, heading North, you will find there several big pinacles creating probably the most full of life underwater area at this National Marine Park. Some days, you can truly say looks like raining fishes.
Now, from the South side of the Northern rock, you can start your dive in this area as a second underwater path in anyone of the buoys fixing there for scuba boats, this buoys are ideal to be used for certification purposes, not too deep area, sand bottom, so you cannot ask for more in a training.
As soon you are in the bottom you have three choices for heading your dive. First one, take North, most of the time bottom from 20 till 45-50 feet deep always rocks.
Unbelievable place you can find eagle rays, pelagic creatures which will give you a memorable dive if you have an encounter with them. Second, following the rock line to the right and sand to your left keeping the West in your compass, here, sometimes, you can find a cute fish, it have big eyes and a curiously way of protect their offspring, we’ll keep the mystery for you when you find one of them. It is a Jawfish. Start at 20 feet deep finishing in the pinacle reefs without a deep defined.
Last path, from your buoy down reaching bottom heading South, just keep your rocky area at your left and sand are at right, enormous amount of tropical fish at rocky area, some rays at sand, garden snake eal colonies, sometimes groups of royal crown sea urchins and different kind of star fish, like chocolate chips (probably the most popular ones there), this dive path is mostly a shallow dive with a bottom at no more than 50 feet.
Princesa Vallarta Shipwreck Area
PRINCESA VALLARTA was one of the snorkeling boats crossing the bay heading LOS ARCOS and LAS ANIMAS.
It did many trips along side South of the bay. Since 2016 PRINCESA VALLARTA rest just less 200 meters from Playas LAS GEMELAS with another 10 or 11 ships at a maximum deep of 125 feet (the deepest).
You will love visiting this gentile old "señorita" at the bottom, home of some sea turtle and sometimes a visiting place for big groupers.
You don´t need to be AOW certified diver, but remember it is a deep area, so it’s recommended having some prior experience in deep dives. No strong currents usually.
As soon we will be underwater close to bottom around 55 feet deep, we´ll find a sail boat mid size, probably around 30 or 35 feet size, then heading the North, North-West way, a one or two minutes later appears a new sail boat, this one faced down and finally at 70 feet deep high part and 90 feet deep bottom part we will find our princess.
Summer is the best time to visit. Winter conditions don´t help with a low visibility on this area, anyway, always is a good diving place for finding nemo or maybe a mermaid, who show us where new treasures are located.
Colomitos & Boca de Tomatlán
First beach at the South Side of the bay, accessible only by hiking or as well by boat.
Small and beautiful beach that receives fresh water from a small stream in tropical rainy season from small waterfalls and beautiful sand cascade underwater.
Scuba diving here is very interesting.
Underwater trial is not longer than 100 feet (32 meters) from the edge of the beach, we start about 20 feet deep and progressively down to 60 feet deep maximum, in case of divers with limited experience and maximum of 120 feet deep for experience divers.
It is a beautiful well protected area, that usually provides good visibility when sea conditions make impracticable to dive elsewhere in the bay.
Extensive collection of stripes, butterfly, sting, round, eagle, electric guitar and the interesting stripes.
As a second dive tank in this area, South side of Boca de Tomatlan will offer you an excellent diving place for beginners and certification students, with no more than 50 feet on the South direction, this underwater trail is the best place to find sea turtles, rays, different kind of moray eels, jaw and flat fish.
Five tanks dive option just in the middle of Sierra Madre Occidental South shore. Current: Tenuous, always with a side protected, for beginner divers. This is a place for all family, not only divers, but also to those like snorkeling or just swimming in a paradise beach. Majahuitas area is an special place where you will find sea garden eels in a number that looks like an underwater grass field. From the South side of the beach in an small cape, you will find two underwater trails, North and South ways, there are rocks formations everywhere. Diving starts from 15-20 feet deep max deep, based in rules and in your experience and comfort. Starting at Las Caletas beach South side, there are two underwater trails, North and South again, you'll find a sand drop line on the North way and following it, you will discover a couple of small panga boats wreck. If you choose the South way, rocks and life averywhere. Last diving trail, starting at Cerro Bola, you will follow all the shore line from South to North keeeping on the right, rocks and on the left, open water, bottom here, no too much deep, around 50-60 feet all the way long.
El Chimo & Las Iglesias
One of our hardest rocks out of the bay.
This beautiful place is full of hue fish schools, moray eels, corals, sponges and so many times sea turtles and Giant Mantas.
For deep and currents conditions it is only recommendable for experienced divers with more than 50 dives and not for a first diving after long time of being dry.
The name of the diving spots are “Potrerillo”, “Torrecillas” and “Iglesias”.
This is the Southest diving point in Banderas Bay.
"El Chimo" is a scuba diving area and have rock formations with both openings at its base that reminds us of the portico of a church, hence its name. It is a magnificent place for meetings with Giant Mantas.
No usually noise boats in the area.
One of the most exciting and visited places by more experienced divers.
Few small islets and pointy rocky areas off the bay in open water, where hopefully you can find nurse sharks, sleeping in small caves that offers this spectacular place, like mantas, turtles, and countless schools of tropical fish.
Sometimes white tip shark, whale shark and sea lions encounters.
Several underwater trails, starting point at Northside of the bigger rock, always with a buoy line.
El Morro have an underwater tunnel crossing the whole rock from 120-50 feet. This tunnel has a distance around 40 meters, you need to use underwater light, primary torch if it is possible.
More underwater trails from El Morrito, heading North and South. Normally, there are moderate currents, and its depth is recommended for more experienced divers.
It is located halfway between El Morro and the Marieta Islands. It is a great place for the second tank return from El Morro and La Corbeteña.
It is recommended for experienced divers due to the currents and the depth of the dive sites.
Dont forget bring your own personal position buoy, rent or buy one just an extra precaution.
You will always need a rope line to go down and a knowledgble captain to know precisely where the descent line needs to be deployed. It is a good place to find sharks and Giant Mantas. It has Underwater short tunnels and small caves, bottom white sandy area around of rock formations, here will be easy to enjoy a blue water and great visibility most of the time."
The most remote and perhaps one of the most interesting dive sites in the bay.
We visit it only once or twice a year due to the weather conditions and the selection we make of the diving group to take to this place.
Only experienced divers, it is not advisable to carry passengers since there are no safe places available to practice snorkeling and the crew of the boat is only focused on the safety of the divers.
The distinctive point of the rock is a small construction, that served long ago as a lighthouse for its positioning, as this islet is in the open sea outside of the bay.
Two deep rock falls each side of the rock, with impressive visibility (if the right day is chosen), one much more pronounced than the other, our guides will drive you in this place to make your dives memorable and safe.
This place is an absolute paradise, full of low arches, small and innumerable schools of tropical fish, where also can be found nurse sharks, sleeping during the day in small caves.
The huge coral formations for this area of the Pacific are home to the highest concentration of tiny and microscopic life in the entire area.
In the underwater West of the rock, which is an area normally protected from currents, we can find a shallow area that allows us to reduce our adrenaline level and enjoy the unusual blue Pacific.