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Years ago, I’d been told that diving in La Bufadora, MX was absolutely spectacular and had been wanting to give it a shot since then. In early 2011, Rainer, jenth, xstephenx, and I talked about setting up a dive trip to La Bufadora; I contacted Dale Erwin of Dale’s Dive Shop in La Bufadora and made plans to head south for our long Labor Day Weekend.
After months of preparation, we were ready to go; we managed to pack 13 cylinders (eight HP130’s, four HP100’s, and one Al40 of O2), four scooters, four drysuits, undergarments, spare parts, and a few articles of clothing in our truck! Despite news of drug trafficking, claims from our friends that we were going to get hijacked or killed, and whatever else, we made our way across the border and down to La Bufadora with no issues.
We made a quick stop into a grocery store for some essentials (water, Mexican pasteries, candy, etc ), and then to the house we were renting for the weekend. The house was a great two-bedroom house next door to Dale’s place (conveniently located near a dryer for those of us who don’t have dry drysuits and the compressor for fills!). Finally, we drove to the boat ramp to begin our diving adventure.
Unfortunately for us, there was a huge swell in from New Zealand that would attempt to thwart our plans; but we never let a little swell stop us, despite Jen’s questioning, “Are we really sure we want to do this?” when we were half-way launched!
Launching of the pangas was a bit “sporting”. We would get the panga on the boat ramp, near the edge of the water, and then fill it with our many cylinders, scooters, and miscellaneous items. Then we’d don our drysuits (and dry gloves!), wait for a wave to come in, push the boat out, and hop on, all while Alfredo (our panga captain!) rowed us out to water deep enough that he could drop the outboard motor and get it started.
Rumor has it there’s decent shore diving, but who needs shore diving when the pangas are inexpensive (something on the order of $17/dive/person), the ride out to the sites is short, and the diving is breath taking? The diving is both literally and figuratively breath taking – water temperatures in socal were in the mid-60’s the week before Labor Day, so we were quite surprised to find that the water in La Bufadora was in the high-40's / low-50’s. Dale said it’s because they get some Japanese current that brings the cold water in. However, due to this cold water, the marine life is incredibly abundant.
Pinnacles jut out of the water from 120+ feet below, giving marine life a perfect substrate to grow on. Each dive had numerous species of nudibranchs (with the two most common being P. nobilis and T. catalinae, lots of C. leutomarginata, D. sandiegensis, D. albopunctata, H. crassicornis, F. iodinea, M. porterae, C. macfarlandi, F. trilineata, C. limbaughorum, C. flavomaculata, and a handful of T. festiva, Berthella californica, A. albomarginata, and at least one P. hiltoni and one L. cockerelli) and thousands of individuals! It almost takes the “Where’s Waldo?” out of searching for nudibranchs! We also saw eels (both moray and spotted) on many of the dives, harbor seals, abundant and healthy purple hydrocoral, tons of anemones (Corynactis, Metridium, and Anthopleura), various species of sponges, rock fish (blue rockfish, treefish, vermilion, lingcods, cabezons), and way more than I can hope to capture in writing!
The diving at La Bufadora is eerily similar to the diving up in Monterey, with dramatic structures, life covering every inch of reef, as well as many similar species and very similar temperatures! It’s amazing that Southern California diving can be so different from the diving roughly five hours north or south, but the diving surrounding socal can be so similar.
Our most “exciting” moment came when we were returning from our second day of diving. The previous day, we exited at La Joya rather than back at La Bufadora because the exit point is slightly more protected. When we left in the morning on the second day, conditions had improved drastically, so we figured it would be safe to exit there as well – boy were we wrong! When we were sitting outside the cove waiting for a lull, Alfredo said we were going to aim toward the “beach” and then back the boat in. We thought it was a bad idea and that it would be better to exit onto the boat ramp, but we figured they knew better, so we went along with it.
There weren’t any real lulls coming, so when we got something that sort of resembled a lull, we went for it. We made it onto the beach quite a bit more gracefully than expected....until we realize the lull we went in on was not a lull after all. Huge surf came rolling in, picking up the large “cobble stones” and pelting us in the shins while we attempted to hold the boat steady. The surf kept rolling in and eventually water started filling up in the panga; the more water in the panga, the lower it floated in the water, thus letting even more water in. We realized the inevitable: this panga was going to sink if we didn’t do something....fast!
We started pulling gear out and running it up the rocky beach to a point high enough that it would not get sucked back out to sea. We started with the heavy things (scooters, cylinders, rigs, weight belts) in hopes that it would be enough; it was not! The boat was almost completely submerged and we started grabbing items that were floating away (like hoods, spare parts) as the guys tried to bail water out. Eventually Dale said he needed to get the boat out of there and jumped in to turn the motor on and told Alfredo to join him. Alfredo took one look at him and yelled, “No way, you’re *%#@ing crazy, man!” We eventually got all of the gear out of the boat and onto shore and managed to get the water out of the boat and the boat over to the boat ramp. We were all exhausted and out of breath....and realized we still had to move the gear from the beach to the boat ramp. After all of this, the only thing that we lost was a single lighter; though there might have been a couple things that were ruined after taking on saltwater. If only we’d had video to document this ridiculous event!
Luckily, the diving was spectacular enough that the boat-sinking incident was almost forgotten in the end (not really, but totally worth it to get out the next day!). Additionally, we had some really delicious food while we were in the area. We found these mango gummy candies that were addictive and disappeared very quickly; we managed to get Jen and Stephen their fill of churros (we didn’t even think that was possible!), we found homemade potato chips with hot sauce, lemon juice, and chili powder that were incredible, as well as some amazing tacos (fish, shrimp, cactus, chicken) and ceviche.
We left La Bufadora with our heads swirling from spectacular diving and our tummies full of delicious food. We also managed to cross the border in (a practically record-breaking) two hours and 13 minutes. This was an amazing weekend and we will be back....soon, if I have any say in it
Stephen took some amazing underwater shots while we were diving in La Bufadora! Check them out in the post below.
Great report and pics. I tried La Bufadora several years ago. Our plan was to show up and rent tanks. Unfortunately the shop was closed when we got there but there was a number to call on a note on the door. Someone came to open up for us. That's when I realized I had brought my DIN reg and no adapter, so I had to rent a reg. What I rented only had two LP ports and I was in a drysuit, so I chose to use one for the BC and one for the primary second stage, figuring we'd have to buddy breathe if any OOA issues, and I would just suffer the squeeze.
Yeah, that water is frigid, even colder than it gets in San Diego. We just did a single shore dive since the pangas weren't going out, but it was very impressive, like the boat dive off Pt. Loma in San Diego. Huge sea stars, low viz but water rich with life. Getting out was a chore as we somehow ended up in a mine field of sea urchins, but amazingly neither of us got stuck by one and I peeled off my drysuit to see the damage: blood vessels broken all over my body where the squeeze had pinched flesh. Cool. I'd love to do the dive again, but I'd plan it better next time.
Very interesting. I'll have to google map and see where La Bufadora is. Must be really close to the Mexican border for the water to be that chilly, not to mention the same types of nudies and algaes.
It's just south of Ensenada via a long congested drive through town before it gets scenic. The blowhole itself is fun to watch and there's a little tourist community of shops and restaurants right there. The fish taco in the photo sure looks tasty.
La Bufadora is also the limit as to how far one can legally drive into Mexico without obtaining a tourist card and vehicle permit. Don't forget to get Mexican auto insurance before crossing the border.
This trip exceeded expectations. La Bufadora offers diving that easily matches the best in SoCal, yet is different than anything I've dived between San Diego and Santa Barbara. Most of our dives were on relatively deep pinnacles (almost all of which extend to the surface). These structures make for perfect multilevel dives as there is something to see at every depth. And is there something to see! The life here is incredibly dense. From bigger animals (seals, sea lions, big sheephead and lings) to smaller ones (over a dozen species of nudis, entire walls covered in brightly colored Corynactis), La Bufadora offers it all up in abundance. The entire area (topside and underwater) reminds me of Point Lobos / Monterey.
I shot some video the first two days, but due to some technical difficulties, the camera was out of commission for the final three dives, and I haven't been able to download the tapes I did shoot. Hopefully I'll get the camera repaired soon and some footage edited. Stephen certainly got some great still shots.
The water was relatively cold (average temp at depth was around 50-52F), but otherwise conditions were excellent. On one dive, I looked up from 100' and could easily make out ripples on the surface. Several of the sites offered horizontal visibility in the 50-70' range. While the swell was making an impact along the coast, it was hardly noticeable out at sea.
Getting the pangas ready for launch is a bit of a chore (you'll be pitching in to help move them, load them, and later unload them as well). Entry is via backroll and exit has you ditching gear in the water and propelling yourself over the side of the panga (no ladder). None of it was too tedious, but this certainly isn't "resort" diving, and you will have to work to make the dives. Any hardships, including the near sinking ligersandtions described in her first post, as well as all the gear we trucked down, were worth the hassle. The diving is that good. Given the cheap cost of boat dives, I'm glad we didn't bother trying to shore dive.
Mossman covered where it is. Just a few hours south of San Diego. It's actually closer and easier to get to than going to Monterey (it's also about 40% cheaper for a long weekend of diving). The food is also way better, as were our lodgings.
We'll be returning again next year. If you're looking for some excellent diving, off the beaten path, think about heading just south of the border.
Great report and pics. I tried La Bufadora several years ago. Our plan was to show up and rent tanks. Unfortunately the shop was closed when we got there but there was a number to call on a note on the door.
I was talking with Dale while we were down there and he made a comment that all year long he'd had no divers and the one weekend with huge swell, he has a bunch of groups of divers. I think that if he doesn't know divers are coming into town, that he's not generally at the dive shop (he lives about 20 minutes away). So if you go down again, definitely get in touch with him before hand. He's very good with email (also good with phone calls, and I think he has a 619 number, so I think it would not be considered long distance even though he's in Mexico).
Originally Posted by 2ndjetty
Great write up. I'm down there a few times a year to surf and always wanted to dive La Bufadora. This is good inspiration!
The diving in La Bufadora is spectacular! I've done a decent amount of diving up and down the West Coast, and (hands down!), this is the best diving I've done....plus, it's pretty inexpensive! Hope you have a great trip when you head down there