This is the first part of Marcela Swenson’s three-part series on her diving adventure in Mexico’s Revillagigedo Islands. Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow.
When your friends plan a trip to their native Mexico for you and 15 friends, you don’t say no. When your friends are expert scuba divers and underwater documentarians planning a once-in-a-lifetime live-aboard SCUBA trip to their favorite dive spot, you say, “Si, por favor!” And that’s how my husband and I came to join our friends and our fellow Kellogg School of Management classmates in Baja Mexico’s Revillagigedo Islands this past March.
Why the Revillagigedo Islands?
The Revillagigedo (reh-vee-yah-hee-heh-tho) Islands—or Revi for short—are four uninhabited islands located 240 miles off the coast of Baja Mexico. The area is known as the “Galápagos of Mexico” and is a tentative UNESCO jewel list due to the plentiful sea life that inhabits its surrounding waters and reefs. Humpback whales, giant manta rays and a variety of shark species can be spotted there, making it a go-to spot for serious divers.
Diving in Revi is not for everyone, as getting there is no easy feat. It takes a whopping 26 hours on average to get to the islands by boat, and once there you can’t actually set foot on the islands. Because it takes a full day to get there, most live-aboard diving trips spend six days going from island to island before returning to the mainland. Most of the dives are at depths of less than 100 feet, but strong currents at some of the dive sites make them challenging for novice divers.
Our aforementioned friends, Ana and Jero, have been on a combined 500+ dives in their lifetimes and actively advocate for ecotourism in Mexico through their non-profit Pelagic Life. In 2014, Jero released a documentary, Mexico Pelagico, which chronicles their efforts to eliminate commercial shark fishing in favor of tourism based around diving with sharks. (Mexico Pelagico is now available to view on Netflix!) With their passion for marine life coupled with their experience, we knew this would be the trip of a lifetime!
Our live-aboard dive ship departed from Cabo San Lucas, which I reached by flying from Chicago to Mexico City on AeroMexico. I was impressed with their seats and in-flight entertainment, which featured screens for every seat and several new movie releases to keep passengers entertained.
Some tips, should you find yourself in the Mexico City airport (MEX):
- Immigration form: Keep it for your entire trip! Unlike most foreign countries I’ve visited, Mexico requires that you keep the bottom half of your customs form until you leave Mexico to prove you didn’t overstay your tourist visa. My friend Kate found out the hard way that if you misplace it, not only do you have to pay $50 to replace it at the airport but that it’s a complicated and time-consuming process to do so. (See related Travel Tips of the Day here and here.)
- Duty-free shopping: If your final destination is in Mexico but is not Mexico City, make sure to hit up the duty-free stores immediately before completing the immigration process. There are a couple duty-free shops near baggage claim with the basics: liquor, perfume and cigars. Put your purchases in your luggage if you have room, send your bags down the conveyor belt to your connecting flight, and don’t worry about your bottles of tequila añejo until you’ve reached your final destination. Once you’ve left customs and gone through security again, you won’t be able to shop at the many duty-free shops in the main terminal unless your destination is outside of Mexico.
- Dining: Oddly, there isn’t a map of the airport in the entire airport, at least according to several employees I asked. There also isn’t a single list of the dining options to be found, so if you ask airport employees for food recommendations you’ll find out the following: There is no Mexican food inside the Mexico City airport, and everyone really seems to like Chili’s. Everyone. However, I recommend that you save your trip to Chili’s for when you’re back stateside and instead venture into the international wing to a French café nearate 52, where you’ll find delicious sandwiches, pastries and good coffee. (I can’t tell you the name because the airport’s website isn’t up to date!)
From Mexico City I flew to Cabo San Lucas, where I learned that there’s a very strong taxi “mafia” (as the locals put it) that keeps the fares ridiculously high. For example, we took a taxi within Cabo about a mile which took less than five minute—and it cost nine US dollars. A cab from the Los Cabos International Airport to Cabo San Lucas will start at $90; if you’re persistent, you can bargain it down to $85. If you want to save a little more, you can pay in pesos, but drivers will typically accept dollars, as will most places in Cabo.
A more affordable option (approximately $15/person) is a collectivo which is a 10-person passenger shuttle very similar to airport shuttles in the US. The trade-off is it may take an hour to 75 minutes to reach your destination depending on how many stops you need to make (versus 45 minutes in a cab). This is a good option if you’re traveling in a large group or if you can find a group of 10 going to roughly the same destination. Finally, the most affordable option is to take a bus, approximately $7.
Hotel for the night
We stayed the night in Seven Crown Express & Suites Cabo San Lucas, a recently constructed hotel with helpful staff, clean rooms, a small pool, continental breakfast, and free Wi-Fi (as long as your room is close enough to the router). It’s a short walk from the hotel yo most of the nightlife but a little further to the marina and beach. If you’re just looking for a place to lay your head for a night, the Seven Crown fits the bill.
Tip: There’s a delicious taco stand behind the hotel with great carne asada.
Onboard the Seascape:
When we arrived at the marina, we were pleasantly surprised by the size of our dive boat, the MV Seascape. In all, it was four floors with nine cabins, a large open living/dining space with couches and flat-screen TV, a sun deck, and most importantly a dive deck for all of our scuba equipment. Our cabin, although small, had ample shelf space, a queen and twin bunk, and a bathroom with the world’s tiniest shower.
By far the best part about the Seascape was the immensely attentive and hospitable crew. No matter the time of day they always seemed to anticipate our needs and were eager to please and quick to help with everything from refilling our glasses to helping us out of our wetsuits. To our pleasant surprise, the food was quite good and varied, with plenty of snacks throughout the day.
Perhaps the most important key to having a great experience were our engaging dive masters. Allister and Benja were part divemasters, part camp counselors who educated us about the dive sites and the nearby islands—and whose sixth senses for wildlife ensured that we saw all of the big animals we came to see—starting the next morning.
Marcela Swenson’s dive trip through Mexico’s Revillagigedo Islands continues tomorrow with Part 2.