Want to go to the Galapagos to see the amazing life there but can’t afford the hefty price tag just yet? Try the Sea of Cortez instead on the Rocio del Mar liveaboard. If you have any questions about this liveaboard that we don’t address here, let us know. Contact us and we’ll be happy to answer you!

The Rocio del Mar Liveaboard. Our home for a week for our Sea of Cortez liveaboard
The Rocio del Mar. Our home for a week for our Sea of Cortez liveaboard

Our friends on the Georgia Aquarium dive team, Amy & Greg, had done both a Galapagos and a Sea of Cortez liveaboard. They enjoyed both immensely. After learning of our interest in the Galapagos, and also of our very limited budget, Amy noted that much of the life in the Galapagos exists right off the coast of Mexico in the Sea of Cortez. So, that’s what we decided to do. We booked our Sea of Cortez liveaboard for August 2016.

Mexico is one of the leading countries for marine conservation. In July 2016, the Socorro Islands (locally known as the Revillagigedos Archipelago and located at the tip of Baja Peninsula) were given UNESCO World Heritage Status – and rightly so. It is one of the best place in the world to encounter big animals. Since that time, the Sea Of Cortez has become one of the holy grail diving sites in the world for scuba divers.

Our diving route, courtesy of Rocio del Mar Liveaboard.
Our diving route, courtesy of Rocio del Mar Liveaboard web site.

We decided to sail with the Rocio del Mar. Katie Yonker and the excellent staff of Bluewater Travel, a full service dive travel agency that Michael used when he visited Raja Ampat, organized our trip. When we priced out the Galapagos liveaboard, it was going to run us about $4000-$5000 per person, and that didn’t include the cost to get there. The Sea of Cortez trip came in substantially cheaper at $2650 per person.

Getting To Our Rocio Del Mar Liveaboard

Michael and I flew to Phoenix, Arizona using a Delta Airlines companion pass Michael had. The cost for that flight was around $450 for both of us. Basically, it was far less than half the price of the alternative! Score! In Phoenix, we met fellow divers who had been arriving throughout the day, also waiting to be picked up by a chartered van that would take all of us to Puerto Peñasco, where the Rocío del Mar is docked.

Phoenix, Arizona.

The journey across the US-Mexico Border took about 4 hours through the arid desert. And the drive is actually quite nice. We passed through Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The views were beautiful. Too bad we didn’t have time to stop and visit.

At the border, we crossed into the Mexican town of Sonoyta. It was easier than most of us expected – we didn’t even stop or show paperwork to the Mexican Immigration officials who just sat sleepily in their booths. I guess it was siesta time! When we arrived in the coastal town of Puerto Peñasco, we went directly to the port to board the boat.

Puerto Peñasco harbor

There was no diving on the first day, so we spent our first night to getting to know fellow divers and crew on board. This was also a great time to set up our diving equipment and camera gear in the “wet area” of the boat. We received a briefing from the dive crew on all we would be doing over the next seven days. We were assigned staterooms and then walked around the vessel to become comfortable with our new home. The Rocío del Mar liveaboard is nicely equipped with comfortable staterooms (with our own bathrooms). Downstairs, the dining room was large enough for 20 people to eat comfortably. The middle deck included an outdoor lounge area and an interior workshop room. At the top, a sundeck for those who wanted to work on their tans between dives.

Underwater photography workshop

Rocio Del Mar Liveaboard - camera station
Almost everyone was here to learn how to become a better underwater photographer. Most had fairly expensive cameras.

One of the best parts of this trip was the daily underwater photography workshops conducted by Bluewater Travel’s, Mike Bartick. Mike is an excellent photographer from Saltwater Photo, who works with Bluewater on some of the liveaboards they arrange. You can check out some of his underwater photography simply by Googling his name. Mike was fantastic and demonstrated unmatched patience with us as he shared his skills. If this is the quality of the photo workshops Bluewater arranges, then we’ll definitely book this type of trip again. Michael notes that he learned a couple small things from Mike that he didn’t know before. They’ve really made a difference in his photography – a big difference. Even though he is pretty good with his camera underwater, those couple of things, for him, made the cost of the trip entirely worth it!

Rocio Del Mar Liveaboard – What did we see?

Fish and krill: Obviously we saw a lot of fish in many shapes and sizes, including some bait balls. I was particularly fascinated with the jawfish. This one exhibited the very unique behavior of poking its head out of its nesting hole. It had a mouthful of eggs – definitely a fun thing to watch!

Michael caught this jawfish in action!

Nudibranchs: While every dive was memorable for the encounters with big animals, small animals, and anything in between, the Rocio Del Mar Liveaboard was where I caught “nudibranch fever”. Nudibranchs are invertebrate sea slugs, and are usually very colorful small creatures. Some are so small that you need to shoot them in macro, while others can be a few inches long. It’s addicting to hunt for them, but once you spot one or two, you start seeing them everywhere. It took us a few dives to spot the first one. After that, they seemed to pop up all the time!

A pretty nudibranch. We saw hundreds of these guys in one of our many dives.

Sea Lions: Sea lion colonies could be found everywhere on the coastline of the Sea of Cortez. As soon as we got in the water, many of the females would sort of “dive bomb” us. You would be looking at something interesting, and then you would look up and see one of these beautiful creatures staring at you. Like humans though, the men get jealous! Males are substantially larger than females and have big humps on their foreheads. The would patrol the perimeter, mostly at the surface, barking loudly to warn us that we were infringing on their territory.

A colony of sea lions
A female sea lion being curious

Whale Sharks: Feeding in the Bahia de Los Angeles (Bay of Angels) was the biggest fish of all – the whale shark. The whale shark is a vulnerable species and it is protected by the federal government. No diving with whale sharks here then. Only snorkeling was permitted with these gentle giants. We saw dozens of whale sharks in the bay – even getting a few pictures like this one! Note: You should wear sunscreen during your entire trip, but especially for the day you go out to see whale sharks!

Photo of a whale shark
One of the many whale sharks feeding in these waters

Sperm whales: This one actually took us quite by surprise! One morning, we passed by a colony of dolphins and we split our group into two boats to go off and get closer to the pod. Through luck only, Michael and I were in the right boat the right time. While the other boat kept following the dolphins, just a hundred meters away, a sperm whale surfaced! After about 15 minutes of inching closer, we slipped quietly into the water to swim close to her before she finally dove back into the abyss. For me, this is the moment I will always remember from our trip!

Daily routine on the boat

The crew of the Rocio del Mar definitely spoiled us. We developed a routine of waking up in the morning, having a quick self-service breakfast and coffee before our morning dive at 7. After the morning dive, we had “relaxation time” before lunch, and then another afternoon dive. Maybe a nap or two before the early evening dive, and dinner. We also did two night dives during our trip.

Sea of Cortez - Michael and Halef on the boat top deck
Sea of Cortez – On the boat’s top deck wearing our Bluewater t-shirts!

Basically, this was our day:

  • Eat
  • Dive
  • Snack
  • Dive
  • Lunch
  • Dive
  • Photo workshop
  • Dinner
  • Dive (when there was a night dive)
  • Drink

And repeat.

Living and diving. Live pretty well.

Aside from the diving, we had a few other excursions that allowed us to explore the area, including a visit to a sea lion colony during sunset. There might have even been some wine involved!

Our boat excursion to explore a sea lion colony. And we enjoyed the sunset, too.

The food

Because Michael is a vegetarian, we’re always keen to see how people respond to it. It’s usually well handled. But it even surprised us how attentive the young chef was to making sure our food was perfect! Not once did he phone it in. Michael’s meals were as exceptional and as well prepared as everyone else’s, with plenty of variety! (Note from Michael: Want a chef who cares about everyone? This guy was just so good! I hope they keep him forever!) Our last dinner was a sunset meal on the top deck. While the weather was good the whole time, it was usually quite breezy at night, so we lucked out on the last night and could do this. It was the perfect ending to our voyage on the Sea of Cortez.

Our young and talented chef (left) supervising the preparation of our final dinner under the stars.

While I expect the Galapagos is quite different, I highly recommend the Rocío del Mar as an alternative. The crew is exceptional and no detail is overlooked. If I could say just one thing – and it was minor – I really think the boat could use an update. Still, I would do the Rocio Del Mar Liveaboard again in a second. In any case, I can’t wait to do another liveaboard here soon.

Thanks again to Katie Yonker of Bluewater Travel, to Mike Bartick (photography teacher extraordinaire), and to the entire staff and crew of the Rocío del Mar for a wonderful trip! You can check out some of Bluewater’s upcoming trips here. The Rocío del Mar’s schedule is here.

More photos from our Rocio Del Mar Sea of Cortez trip

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Halef moved from Indonesia to the US nearly two decades ago to go to college here. He hasn’t looked back. He’s been to over forty countries and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. He’s a Landscape Architect in Atlanta, GA.


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