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Cabo Pulmo National Park Travel Guide: Play + Stay

Drive about two hours northeast of Los Cabos, and you come to wild, wonderful Cabo Pulmo on the unspoilt East Cape of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula.

Visiting Cabo Pulmo is one of the best Cabo day trips!

No crowds… Just the desert, sea and nature in all its glory.

But Cabo Pulmo Park isn’t just about the aesthetics. 

In fact, you might be so seduced by the isolation and bountiful marine species you meet underwater that you’ll want to extend your Cabo itinerary and stay longer! (We talk about Cabo Pulmo accommodations at the end of this post.)

Snorkelers and scuba divers will be thrilled to see what lies beneath the waters, and anyone with a sense of adventure will enjoy going on a four-wheel drive to Cabo Pulmo.

Fancy just sitting on a beach and doing nothing? That’s possible too at Cabo Pulmo’s best beaches. 

Trust us, if you’re planning a trip to Cabo, this is one spot that you don’t want to miss!

Los Arbolitos Beach at Cabo Pulmo
Los Arbolitos Beach at Cabo Pulmo (Credit: Visit Los Cabos)

About Cabo Pulmo, BCS

Host to a living coral reef, Cabo Pulmo is a national marine park in the fertile Sea of Cortez (also known as the Gulf of California).

Estimated to be 20,000 years old, the reef is the oldest of three coral reefs off the west coast of North America.

Extending from Pulmo Point to Los Frailes Cape, the protected area is about 27½ square miles in size.

What’s special about Cabo Pulmo is that the waters are incredibly rich in sea life – so rich, in fact, that Jacques Cousteau described the Cabo Pulmo marine park as “the aquarium of the world.”

Yellow fish at Cabo Pulmo
The reef is an amazing place to snorkel or dive

John Steinbeck also wrote about the teeming marine life in his 1951 book “The Log from the Sea of Cortez,” after a specimen-collecting boat expedition with marine biologist Ed Ricketts.

More than 200 marine species live in and around the reef.

They include leatherback sea turtles, moray eels, bull sharks, tiger sharks, unique orange grouper, bat rays and galaxies of colorful fish.

In winter, humpback whales can be seen. The months of April to June bring hammerhead sharks to the marine reserve.

A colony of California sea lions also resides near a jumble of huge boulders, and you can swim, snorkel and dive with them.

Cabo Pulmo wasn’t always so pristine, however.

Decades of overfishing led to concerns by locals, in particular the Castro family, who had lived in the Cabo Pulmo area for a century. They spearheaded a community effort to preserve the reef, and in 1995, the Mexican government designated the area a national marine park.

In 2005, Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Today, the Parque Nacional Cabo Pulmo (the local name) is one of the most natural, undeveloped and special places you can escape to.

How to get to Cabo Pulmo

Map of Cabo Pulmo
Cabo Pulmo is located about a two-drive northeast of Cabo San Lucas

Renting a car

You need wheels to get to Cabo Pulmo.

One option is to rent a car and drive there yourself. 

The park is located about 62 miles north/northeast of Cabo San Lucas, and the drive to Cabo Pulmo takes about two hours.

It’s an incredibly scenic drive – past giant cacti, hundreds of years old, growing out of the red-brown earth, their thorny fingers reaching for the vivid blue sky.

The road to Cabo Pulmo
The road to Cabo Pulmo

From Cabo San Lucas, you follow Highway 1 north, past the Miraflores and Santiago turnoffs.

When you come to a fork in the highway, you take the right branch to La Ribera. (The left branch continues as Highway 1 to Los Barriles.)

Drive past La Ribera and follow the Cabo Pulmo road until you’re no longer on a paved road.

The last six miles or so, you’ll be driving on a rough dirt road, wondering where in the heck you’re going! 

When you reach a cluster of campers parked in the sand, makeshift houses and cool, off-the-grid, solar-powered houses, you know you’ve reached Cabo Pulmo town (population just over 100). 

Try to imagine what the Mexican Baja must have been like back in the 1970s – the vibe in the tiny village feels like that.

You might want to stop at a store in town to fill up on warm freshly-baked empanadas (like a meat pie) before continuing on to the secluded five-mile bay of Cabo Pulmo.

If you decide to drive to Cabo Pulmo yourself, be sure you have the right kind of vehicle to navigate the last bumpy dirt-road stretch – ideally a four-wheel drive.

Joining a Cabo Pulmo tour

Alternatively, if you’re staying in Los Cabos and are going to Cabo Pulmo just for the day, the following Cabo Pulmo tours are stress-free ways to experience this natural wonderland.

You don’t have to worry about the drive and can just enjoy the day (which will be a long one, with an early start).

Kayaking and snorkeling tour (Cabo Outfitters)

Cabo Outfitters offers a top-rated small-group kayaking and snorkeling tour to Cabo Pulmo.

Sea kayaking in Cabo Pulmo past sea lions
Sea kayaking in Cabo Pulmo (Credit: Cabo Outfitters)

You’ll be picked up from your Los Cabos hotel for the two-hour drive to Cabo Pulmo. 

When you arrive, you’ll get a kayaking lesson at Los Arbolitos Beach (see “Beaches” below) before hopping into your kayak.

You’ll paddle out to La Sirenita Beach, see a remote sea lion colony and slide from your kayak into the sea a few times to snorkel at several amazing spots. 

Back at Cabo Pulmo, you’ll tuck into lunch at a local restaurant before likely nodding off as you’re driven back to Los Cabos.

The group size for this Cabo Pulmo kayaking and snorkeling tour is limited to 11 guests.

We’ve gone on a few tours with Cabo Outfitters (e.g., kayaking to Santa Maria and Chileno Bay), and we highly recommend them!

Snorkeling tour (Cabo Adventures)

Plunge straight into Cabo Pulmo’s clear waters on this small-group snorkel tour.

As you peer through your mask, you’ll spot all kinds of colorful fish, lobsters and maybe even sea turtles. 

In total, you’ll snorkel at three or four spots and and possibly stop at a place where sea lions sunbathe! 

The tour includes transportation from Cabo San Lucas to Cabo Pulmo National Park, along with lunch and the use of all snorkel gear.

This Cabo Pulmo day tour is suitable for all ages (life vests are provided for less confident swimmers) and is guaranteed to be a highlight of your holiday!

Cabo Pulmo sea turtle
Cross fingers you’ll spot a sea turtle on your snorkeling adventure!

Private jeep tour (High Tide Los Cabos) 

Ideal for those who want to see the land and sea of Cabo Pulmo, this 5-star-rated private jeep tour from Cabo San Lucas heads up the East Cape before entering Cabo Pulmo National Park. 

You’ll enjoy a great mix of snorkeling and on-land exploration. It’s the best way to not only see “the aquarium of the world” but also enjoy scenic vistas from the shore.

The jeep tour includes lunch in Los Agaves Restaurant in Miraflores, a popular restaurant serving Mexican specialties (vegan and veggie options available).

You’ll also be picked up and dropped off at your hotel in Los Cabos for this seven-hour excursion.

Beautiful beach at Cabo Pulmo
Cabo Pulmo is one of the most beautiful places to visit in the Baja California Peninsula

Two-tank scuba tour (Manta)

Explore the electric colors of the Cabo Pulmo reef on a fabulous two-tank scuba diving trip with Manta.

Their 10-hour tour includes van transportation from Cabo San Lucas to Cabo Pulmo. Once there, it’s a 10-to 15-minute boat ride to the dive spots.

The tour is offered from May to November.

Diving Cabo Pulmo is the best way to get up close and personal with the biggest array of marine wildlife. You can see a lot when snorkeling, but diving adds a whole other dimension. 

A bull shark at Cabo Pulmo
A bull shark at Cabo Pulmo

We once dove Cabo Pulmo with Manta when we visited Cabo in October.

It was an amazing day – we got to see bull sharks and even a tiger shark! And we felt totally at ease in the care of our professional scuba guides.

Cabo Adventures also offers a two-tank dive trip to Cabo Pulmo.

Things to do in Cabo Pulmo

Cabo Pulmo snorking

By now, you’ve probably gathered that snorkeling is one of the best things to do in Cabo Pulmo.

See huge schools of shiny silver jackfish swarming about plus tons of other tropical fish. And keep your eyes peeled for eels, sea turtles and rays!

The blue painted wall of an eco-adventure tour operator's shop at Cabo Pulmo
The painted wall of an eco-adventure tour operator’s shop at Cabo Pulmo

Cabo Pulmo diving

You’re not likely to see sharks when snorkeling in Cabo Pulmo, so don’t worry about them. (But you can expect to see sharks when scuba diving in Cabo Pulmo.)

Whale watching in Cabo Pulmo

Visiting Cabo Pulmo between January and March? You’re in luck – it’s the whale-watching season here. 

Humpback whales, which live in the cooler Arctic waters in the summer months, migrate in winter to the area around the Baja California Peninsula to mate and give birth. 

Cabo Pulmo, being sheltered and full of marine life, is a favorite for whales to retreat to before making the journey back north. 

You can often see these whales from the shore – we recommend packing a good pair of binoculars.

But to get in the thick of the action, you’ll need a boat and a guide. Try Cabo Pulmo EcoAdventures.

Best beaches in Cabo Pulmo

White sand beach at Cabo Pulmo
Cabo Pulmo boasts beautiful white sand beaches (Credit High Tide Los Cabos)

Are you wondering what to do in Cabo Pulmo after all that snorkeling and diving? 

You’re in luck. The area boasts plenty of gorgeous beaches for relaxing.

Los Arbolitos Beach

Also known as Playa Arbolitos or Playa Arbolito, this pristine sandy beach is found a few miles down the dirt road south from the town of Cabo Pulmo. It’s a bit isolated – but that’s why we love it! 

It’s worth snorkeling offshore here – it’s a fish paradise. (And, yes, the water really is that clear!)

There’s a 60 MXN (about $3.50 USD) entrance fee, and you’ll find simple showers and restrooms here.

A red boardwalk straddles Playa Arbolitos

Los Frailes Beach

With white sand contrasting with turquoise waters, Los Frailes Beach sits just behind the Cabo del Sintro headland, south of Los Arbolitos. 

Bask on the beach, or hike up Los Frailes Peak for a panoramic view of Los Arbolitos. Now the only thing to do is to decide which is the best beach out of the two.

Playa La Sirenita

Playa La Sirenita, also called Dinosaur Egg Beach or Los Chopitos, is more difficult to access than the other beaches mentioned here.

You can only reach this captivating spot by kayak or boat, or by hiking along the footpath from Los Arbolitos (a 20-minute hike).

The beach’s allure lies in its beautiful strip of white sand, punctuated by scattered rocks.

Nestled at the foot of a cliff, the sheltered waters of this hideaway spot offer exceptional snorkeling around the offshore rocks.

Cabo Pulmo Beach

If you’re staying in the town, Cabo Pulmo Beach will be your most accessible. 

With dive shops and other tour operator stands, the beach is quite popular (for Cabo Pulmo), and it’s much busier than the others on this list. 

The sand isn’t quite as powdery and fine as Los Frailes, and the rock formations aren’t as pronounced as Sirenita, but if you’re looking for somewhere a stone’s throw from town to spread out your towel and catch some rays, Cabo Pulmo Beach is just the ticket. 

Best time to visit Cabo Pulmo, Mexico

Boats on the beach at Cabo Pulmo

Be forewarned that Cabo Pulmo is wild in more ways than one.

In summer and fall, the waters of Cabo Pulmo are warm, glassy-calm and ideal for snorkeling, kayaking and scuba diving. October and November are great months. (November is also a particularly great month to visit Los Cabos in general.)

The beaches are beautiful for relaxing on too this time of year.

But between December and March, heavy winds can restrict water activities for days at a time.

Buffeted by wind, you could end up looking out at frothy whitecaps – and realizing that no one is heading out into the water that day. 

That’s exactly what happened to us on a Cabo Pulmo tour we did when visiting Los Cabos in January

When we got the park, we had to nix our planned kayaking outing and went to soak in the Sierra de a Laguna hot springs instead.

Orange and yellow kayaks on the beach in Cabo Pulmo National Park, Mexico
Uh-oh, the water is a bit rough for kayaking this winter day!

The water will also be cold for snorkeling and diving in winter.

That being said, one of the best Cabo Pulmo activities is whale watching. And winter is prime time to see the creatures!

So the best time to go to Cabo Pulmo all depends on your priorities.

Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park rules

To safeguard the ecosystem, biodiversity and natural beauty of Cabo Pulmo Marine Park, visitors must follow certain rules:

  • There’s a national park entry fee of about $5.00 USD per person.
  • Fishing and jet skiing aren’t allowed at Cabo Pulmo.
  • You have to wear a lifejacket for all watersports, including kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding.
  • If you want to camp, you can only camp and have a campfire in designated areas.
  • When snorkeling and diving, you have to stay at least eight feet away from the coral reef to prevent damaging it, and you can’t use gloves or knives when snorkeling.
  • Wearing non-biodegradable sunscreen is prohibited. So you’ll want to buy reef-safe sunscreen when packing for your Cabo vacation.
  • Kayaking should be done under the supervision of a guide.
  • You’re only allowed to snorkel (and dive) in the park with a guide.

For details, see the park’s restrictions and rules.

Where to stay in Cabo Pulmo

So you think you want to chill in Cabo Pulmo for a little longer than a day trip? Great idea!

But to do that, you’ll need to pre-book some Cabo Pulmo accommodation. We recommend reserving these online before you visit the park, as it’s a remote place and rooms can sell out.

So, what are some good Cabo Pulmo hotels? You have a few decent options.

Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort

Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort offers a full range of accommodations
Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort offers a full range of accommodations (Credit: Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort)

Backed by a family history in the area dating back 50 years, Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort offers accommodation in a collection of boho-cheerful casita rooms, bungalows and houses.

Some have outdoor showers; others have prime oceanfront locations.

The resort (a 5-star PADI dive resort) has a solar-powered, full-service dive center onsite and offers dive lessons and tours.

Its palapa-roof Coral Reef restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort: Check reviews and availability 

Baja Bungalows

Baja Bungalows rents a few casitas and self-catered bungalows. They’re kitted out with kitchens, colorful tiles and Mexican decoration.

Choose from a one-bedroom suite with hot tub and outdoor kitchen to a new palapa-roof house with tile floors and ocean views.

The owner-operators live onsite.

Casita at Baja Bungalows
The main house (Credit: Baja Bungalows)

Baja Bungalows: Check reviews and availability 

Vrbo

Another good option for Cabo Pulmo accommodation is to book a house through Vrbo (Vacation Rentals by Owner), which is like Airbnb.

It lists some charming homes in Cabo Pulmo, with Mexican art and hand-crafted furniture.

Where to stay in La Ribera (nearby) 

As an alternative to staying right in Cabo Pulmo, you can also look at staying in nearby La Ribera.

A small, rustic, laid-back Baja town, La Ribera is about 15 miles (a 30-minute drive) from Cabo Pulmo. (You drive past it on the way to Cabo Pulmo.)

Sportfishing, SUP, kayaking, walking the area’s white sand beaches and getting away from it all – along with access to Cabo Pulmo – are the draw.

With the new 1,000-acre Costa Palmas development on the outskirts of La Ribera, the town is getting more tourism attention.

Hugging two miles of untouched beach, the Four Seasons Resort Los Cabos at Costa Palmas is the place to go for uber-deluxe digs. Choose from rooms (many with private plunge pools) to large suites to a 3-bedroom villa.

Four Seasons Resort Los Cabos at Costas Palmas
The Four Seasons is a pretty swish place to stay near Cabo Pulmo (Credit: Four Seasons Resort Los Cabos)

Four Seasons not in your budget?

Don’t worry, not all La Ribera accommodation is eye-wateringly pricey! 

Other (less expensive) hotels in La Ribera include:

  • Hacienda de Palmas – A B&B with a handful of clean rooms at excellent prices
  • The Oasis – A seaview guest house (with a kitchenette), offering panoramic views, that accommodates four people

That wraps up our guide on Cabo Pulmo National Park!

With ancient coral reefs, hidden beaches and chances to see sea lions and whales, there’s no denying that Cabo Pulmo National Park is a totally unique place. 

Visiting this marine park deserves its place on the list of most popular activities on the Baja California Peninsula.

And as you stand on the coastline blinking your eyes (the water is so vividly blue!), or dive into the warm waters to swim with the menagerie of sea life, you’ll appreciate what all the fuss is about. 

Discover more of Los Cabos!

Planning your trip to Cabo?

Here are our favorite travel resources:

  • Resorts: Booking.com is great for scoring a “wow” hotel in Cabo – or at least a decent one. (We especially like their flexible cancellation policy!)
  • Vacation homes, condos and rentals: We prefer and use Vrbo (Vacation Rentals by Owner).
  • Tours: For the best local guided tours in Cabo, see Viator and GetYourGuide.
  • Car rental: Renting a car in Los Cabos is one of the best ways to explore. Discover Cars searches car rental companies so you get the best rates.
  • Travel insurance: SafetyWing is designed for frequent travelers, long-term adventurers and digital nomads. It covers medical expenses, lost checked luggage, trip interruption and more. We also have and recommend Medjet for global air medical transportation and travel security.

Need more help planning your trip?

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Photos: 11, 14, 15 © Janice and George Mucalov, Cabo Visitor

About the authors

Award-winning travel writers Janice and George Mucalov are frequent visitors to Los Cabos. Here on Cabo Visitor, they share their essential tips for discovering the best of Cabo!