Travel to the Sea of Cortez on board motor yacht Emrys

Written by Laura Nicholls

When it comes to superyacht cruising grounds, sometimes it may be easy to forget that there is a big wide world to discover outside of the hustle and bustle of the main Mediterranean and Caribbean hotspots. With more and more owners and charter clients opting to stray a little further from the beaten track, here we highlight some of the more exciting cruising destinations on planet Earth.

Emrys yacht anchored The Sea of Cortez is the world’s aquarium. 60,000 square metres of warm ocean tucked in between Mexico and Baja California provides a captivating cruising ground for anyone who wants their mind blown by Mother Nature. 

“I'm not sure there has been a day where we haven’t seen humpback whales breaching and putting on a show,” says Ben Steppens, captain of the 29.8-metre Sunseeker-built superyacht Emrys. As a regular visitor of the somewhat secret destination, Ben has seen first-hand the rugged desert islands that are brimming with life. 

After a decade in the business and having travelled to the Middle East, the US West Coast “and everything in between,” Ben gives expert insight into the countless riches that are to be explored within the Sea of Cortez. “Being in The Sea of Cortez we have had plenty of epic and surreal moments, especially when it comes to the wildlife,” he explains. With unique flora, fauna, whale sharks, sea lions and crystal-clear beaches, La Paz and the surrounding area is a true travel treasure.  

Day 1

After landing in La Paz, all guests will be escorted to Emrys, berthed approximately 20 minutes’ drive away. A refreshing glass of champagne will help you familiarise with your new surroundings and get underway towards the stunning bay at Balandra Cove. Keep an eye out for pods of dolphins along the way.

Spend the afternoon enjoying the water toys in the idyllic water and, as the day draws to a close, take a sunset cruise around the gorgeous Baja California bay on board the tender. Look out for the El Hongo de Balandra rock structure created from years of erosion. Stargazing at night will soon become your favourite pastime.

Sea of CortezPhoto: Gaston Bazzino FerreriDay 2

The morning activity is simply watching the scenery unfold as you pass by en route to Bahia San Gabriel. Located at the southern end of the uninhabited island of Espiritu Santo, this magical place is full of colour - everything from the volcanic rocks to the aquamarine water makes for a picturesque playground. Punta Prieta to the north end of the island offers perfect snorkelling grounds, while hikers can enjoy the trek to Playa Bonanza on the east of the island along the trail from the beach. As a declared UNESCO Natural Protected Area and World Heritage Site, it is well worth taking the time to explore the area either on the tender, kayaks or wave runners.

The sunset can be watched comfortably from the hills, cocktail in hand, after a short hike, with dinner on the aft deck to look forward to.

Sea of CortezPhoto: UnsplashDay 3

Now to visit the neighbours on Isla Partida. Drop anchor on the northern tip at Ensenada Grande and enjoy breakfast whilst sea lions play in the waters nearby on the Los Islotes islands. Board the tender to swim with the sea lions and make a memory for life. Get to know the wildlife even better on the eastern side of Isla Partida, where you can find some cool snorkelling spots around the busy coral reefs. 

If that’s not enough wildlife for one day, take a trek on land to scope out the sea caves and beaches famed for turtle nests, or go fishing a few miles away at Marisla Seamount. This spot is also a winner for divers, as you can find manta rays and schools of hammerhead sharks.

Emrys acht anchored in Sea of CortezPhoto: Captain Steppens/EmrysDay 4

Once home to gold miners and pearl prospectors, Half Moon Bay on the uninhabited Isla San Francisco is a perfect spot to soak up the sun and enjoy the peace and quiet. Relax until you feel like snorkelling amongst the rocky reefs and yellow-tail surgeonfish, or take advantage of Emrys’ toy chest. 

For more of an adventure, hike to the top of the mountain for a stunning panoramic view and watch for schools of bottlenose dolphins leaping out of the water. If that’s not enough, how about taking a trip over to the nearby Isla Coyote, where you can snorkel, mix with the friendly local fisherman, or visit the few attractions such as the whale museum. 

In the early evening, head to Bahia Amortajada where there is much to explore through the dense mangroves. Find the lagoon to dive in for a snorkel or kayak along the reef to admire the flocks of local pelicans, cactus gardens, red mountains and turquoise waters.

Emrys yacht toy store garageDay 5

Spend the morning cruising over the Sea of Cortez passing through the Loreto Triangle. Drop anchor and get ready for a fun day out starting at the Loreto Bay Marine Park on Isla Carmen - one of the largest islands in the area. Once a place popular for salt mining, it is now a ghost town with a mile-long pink salt pond. The island is brimming with life, so take time to appreciate the abundance of birds and see if you can spot the scissor-tailed flycatcher, brown pelican and blue-footed booby. Next, take to the water and mix with the turtles, dolphins and sea lions. 

Back on board, enjoy the tranquillity and take in the views of the Gulf of California and the Sierra del Gigante desert mountain range on the mainland. Across the channel, the small village of Loreto is a chance to go shopping or try out a horse riding or golf excursion.

Emrys yacht anchored in Sea of CortezPhoto: Captain Steppens/EmrysDay 6

It is time to travel back south, but first, experience the deserted island of Monserrate, and be one of the very few to stop by. Why not give fishing a go, and catch something to share for dinner that evening. The island is also home to Yellowstone Beach, a mile of perfect sand named for the mustard colour of the sandstone cliffs. Otherwise, snorkelling for manta rays and whale sharks will help the day pass by, or diving at Isla Galeras, a small set of islets about two miles north, will keep all guests entertained as the marine life - including guitar sharks - is spectacular. 

Sea of CortezPhoto: Matthew RaderDay 7

For the final full day, the fun begins at breakfast anchored in the Partida Cove - a place packed with secret coves and caves to explore, especially between Partida and Espiritu Santo - on the wave runners or kayaks. A few miles north of Partida is the El Bajo seamount and a buzzing dive site as moray eels, mantas, whale sharks and hammerheads gather around the hidden underwater pinnacles. Come back on board feeling fresh and salty from playing in the sea and relax for the last evening meal. 

Sea of CortezPhoto: UnsplashDay 8

Emrys will get underway during brunch on board, passing by Espiritu Santo on the way through the Bahia de la Paz. Take in La Paz one last time and stop at a seaside cantina to enjoy a margarita and a fish taco as a perfect end to your island discovery vacation. 

Emrys yacht sky loungeTop 5 must-do activities from Captain Steppens

- The number one thing to do while in La Paz is go snorkelling with the whale sharks. It's really a special experience! 

- Balandra Bay is a great place to anchor for a night and has a really beautiful beach to hang out on in the daytime.

- Visiting Espíritu Santo is an absolute must. This is a protected island but a fantastic place to spend a day or two. Espiritu Santo is made up of two islands with a small sand bar connecting them. There is a small channel going through the sand bar that is accessible by a small tender. On the east side, there are stunning sheer rock faces and caves to explore - plus there is good snorkelling.

- Just half a mile north of Espiritu Santo lives a sea lion colony. This is a cool experience and you can jump in and play with them… if you’re brave enough! I would recommend a tour guide for this and there are also great dive sites in the area.

- Isla San Francisco is definitely one of the more beautiful places to wake up in the morning. It is extremely well protected and has a stunning beach, but it really does get busy so you should get there pretty early. If you fancy a little tender or jet ski safari, a few miles north there is a little mangrove lagoon on the south tip of Isla San Jose. It is a cool adventure, but check the tides as the entrance can get very shallow at low tide. You need to enter from the north, not the south.

Emrys yacht anchored Top tips from Captain Steppens

- My preferred marina is Marina Costa Baja. It is a little out of town but is definitely the best protected and up to date.

- The majority of the area is protected. You will need to get permits for each individual on board to go to any of the islands.

- You will also need a fishing license if you plan on putting any lines out. 

- To snorkel with the whale sharks you have to go with a local authorised company. They are extremely protective of the sharks and rightly so. I would also recommend this for the sea lions as its better to see them when they don't have pups around. Local knowledge is always best.

- Depending on the time of year it can be windy in the area - usually from December to March. The wind is mainly out of the north so I recommend getting as far north as soon as possible so you can just cruise downwind for the whole trip. Generally, the wind blows for three to four days and then settles for a few days. 

Emrys yacht interiorsEmrys is available to charter through Ocean Independence. For more information, visit the Ocean Independence website

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