Swimming with the fishes makes Cabo more than your ordinary golf hot spot

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico - Baja Wild does its snorkeling trips in three-hour cruises. No, the owners of the adventure company for tourists don't hold a strange affinity for "Gilligan's Island."

Snorkeling in Cabo San Lucas
You can snorkel as close to the shore as this guy and see plenty of fish in Cabo. But do you think those girls are impressed?
Snorkeling in Cabo San LucasCabo San Lucas/Los Cabo - Fishing boatsSnorkeling in Cabo San LucasCabo del Sol - Ocean Golf Course
If you go

They just want to ensure you can make a tee time. Or whatever else you want to do in this land of seaside wonders.

"We like to get our clients returned back by 12:30 (p.m.), 1, so they can grab lunch and still get to play a round," Baja Wild's Diego Vidal said.

Yes, they even schedule the snorkeling around your golf jones in Cabo. That's a good thing - because if they didn't a lot of addicted golfers would miss out on the best Cabo has to offer.

You can fall in love with the golf in the Los Cabos corridor. Easily. But make that your only mistress and your vacation spice will be sorely lacking.

This is a land where every imaginable water sport thrives. If you at all like the sea, you need to be in it at least as often as you are the gigantic sand bunkers at Robert Trent Jones Jr.'s Cabo Real.

"Golfing and sport fishing are my two passions," Los Angeles vacationer Greg Evans said. "Needless to say, this is my spot.

"Honestly, I think I get a little more charged up about hooking a big marlin than shooting a nice score. That marlin's going up on my wall."

It is a little tacky to mount a scorecard over your couch.

Maybe that's why fish stories seem to abound on flights back from Cabo. I overheard one guy bragging about snaring a 230-pound marlin to a younger woman whose most well-endowed feature obviously wasn't her brain.

The catch-and-release system is encouraged in Cabo (the better for the guys from Des Moines who will be out here next month). The catch-and-BS system is almost universal.

Not that any of the friendly local tour boat operators and fishermen are going to call you on anything. Finding someone with good knowledge to take you fishing in Cabo takes about as much effort as stumbling into a working girl in Las Vegas.

There are a number of companies - both big and small single boat - with representatives approaching any tourist who walks past at the Cabo San Lucas marina. You can find just as good - if not better - and usually cheaper tours from one of the local fishermen.

These guys haven't all caught on to the sky-high golf level pricing.

The real wonder

Staying above the water on a boat only gets you at most half the Cabo ocean wonder, though. The true theater can be found below the surface.

Cabo has some of the best snorkeling in the world, just short swims or kayaks off its many beaches.

"A beginner can go right there - that far," Vidal said, pointing to just about 10 steps from beach's edge, "and see plenty of fish."

You never know what's right down at your feet, until you start snorkeling. Cabo San Lucas has been dubbed the "The Marlin Capital", but it's more than that. There are nearly 700 species of marine life off this peninsula that sometimes seems to have been formed just to produce the most wonder.

The Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean at Cabo San Lucas and the resulting nutrient-filled waters make for a fish - or a fish lover's - paradise. Of course, sometimes you still don't know what's right there even when you're used to swimming with the fishes.

Many snorkelers kayak out to reach the better spots. On one such excursion, Vidal was paddling in a kayak with his wife when a dark cloud suddenly appeared under the tiny craft, completely dwarfing it.

"My wife asked, 'What is that?'" Vidal said. "I told her it was just our shadow. She started yelling that our shadow was moving in a different direction than we were paddling."

Videl laughs in the retelling.

"It was the biggest ray I've ever seen right underneath us," he said.

Cabo offers more than the chance to see wondrous fish in its snorkeling. A snorkeling trip can take you places you could never discover by land.

On one of Baja Wild's tours, they snorkel right by Cabo San Lucas' famed natural stone arch. Snorkeling can also take you to Lover's Beach, a little island whose nickname is self evident.

As many locals will tell you, Cabo is a much different region by sea than land.

It's not hard to become addicted to swimming with the fishes in their own world either. Baja Wild recently had an 82-year-old grandmother get hooked within minutes of her first look under the surface.

"She was nervous about it at first, but within five to 10 minutes, she wanted to start doing tricks in the water,'' Vidal said, laughing. "She was bugging us to let her free dive so you could see even more. We had to tell her, 'No, no, wait a little. You're not ready for that yet.'"

Whether its grandmas on a mission or kids - Vidal's 4- and 6-year-old daughters are both regular snorkelers - the sport produces more than its share of instant lifers. About 60 percent of Baja Wild's customers are first-timers. Snorkeling is much easier to learn than golf.

There's about a half-hour lesson heavy on safety - everyone's wearing life jackets - and then you're in the water. Vidal declares snorkeling "80 percent" safe and usually knows within minutes whether someone should stick to the fairways.

"If you're flailing around in the life vest, fighting the sea ... that's when you get in trouble,'' he said.

What golfer is going to be scared of the fishes though? Especially after having faced a host of Jack Nicklaus thought-up approach shots.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.


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