I am sad to report that during my last trip to Cabo Pulmo in April, I had some negative interactions with marine park guards that makes me not want to go back. I say sad, because I just love this place with its low-key, uncrowded ambience and good snorkeling right off the beach at Playa Arbolito, Playa Sirena, and Los Frailes Bay. I am a very avid snorkeler, and the main reason I went to Cabo Pulmo was to snorkel and take underwater photos. I had a great time in 2009, and went back in April 2011. Towards the end of this year's trip (luckily it was after I had been there several days), I was snorkeling with a weight belt at Playa Sirena when park guards snuck up on me with a boat. They told me that it was illegal to snorkel in the marine park with a weight belt, and moreover, it was illegal as a snorkeler to dive below the water's surface unless you paid a guide to accompany you! I've been snorkeling in many places in both the Atlantic and the Pacific for many years and I have never encountered such absurd regulations. If you are a serious snorkeler, what snorkeling is all about is diving below the surface to examine things at close proximity. Also, diving down is the only way to get decent underwater photos, which is my main hobby when I take a tropical vacation. These regulations against diving below the surface were not posted anywhere on park signs or brochures. I guess the ostensible reason for these regulations was to protect coral, but most snorkelers know not to touch coral; signs were posted in several spots on the beaches in Cabo Pulmo informing you not to touch coral or take marine life. In addition, this area is remote and gets little use and does not really have that much coral cover anyway in snorkeling depths. What it comes down to is that Mexico does not really understand the concept of a park and is only interested in ensuring that Mexican commercial enterprises that use the park are taken care of. This is very short-sighted on the part of Mexico because I was spending 100s of dollars/pesos staying in Cabo Pulmo accommodations and eating in local restaurants, renting a car at the Cabo airport, etc. Cabo Pulmo has now lost me as a future paying customer.
After this first encounter with the park guards, I did not learn my lesson because I thought I could get away with diving beneath the surface a couple of days later in a more remote spot off Playa Arbolito. After all, snorkeling was the main reason I was at Cabo Pulmo and floating at the surface on a tour with a bunch of non-swimming cruise ship passengers wearing life vests is not my idea of snorkeling. Despite my remote snorkeling location, the guards snuck up on me again, and told me that if they caught me beneath the surface again, they would send me to the Mexican Marines! Imagine, me a 58-yr old who loves marine life and is the straightest guy in the world being sent to the Mexican marines. Needless to say, I did not go snorkeling again.
I spoke with a couple of local gringos who own houses at Cabo Pulmo, and they were quite upset with what happened to me. It was gringos who had pushed so hard to get Cabo Pulmo declared a marine park. Both of the guys I talked to were experienced snorkelers who frequently dove beneath the surface. One of the things they mentioned was that it was Easter week (Semana Santa in Spanish) which is the only time of the year that Mexicans flock to the beaches around Cabo Pulmo. Perhaps the guards were putting on a show of force during this week and at other times of the year they are not around or are not so aggressive.
Finally, my particular "incident" reminds me of what I heard a few years ago about another fairly new Mexican National Park in Baja that was established around the Sea of Cortez islands off Loreto. These islands were very popular with kayakers, and gringo kayakers were instrumental in the establisment of the park. However, after the islands became a park, kayakers were dismayed to find that park regulations forbid anyone from landing on the islands unless you were part of a paid Mexican kayak tour. Independent kayakers could not go there anymore. In this case, it seemed that the park was being used more as a means to increase commercial activity than it was to actually protect the environment or to encourage use by the public.Edited: 5:39 pm, July 14, 2011