Sea Of Cortez
October 16-23, 2007
This was my/our first trip to the Sea Of Cortez. The trip was a scouting trip for the local dive store to see about taking trips down there in place of Cozumel. We decided to use Club Cantamar Sports Lodge & and their on site vendor Baja Diving & Services. The only way I can describe the week is comment on each category.
Facilities: The facilities at Club Cantamar are nice. It is an older resort but has had adequate maintenance. The rooms are adequate size with some quite nice penthouses. Ours did not happen to be one of the adequate sized rooms. There were 2 of us in a single room with linen service usually left for 1. We had large camera systems and no tables nor even a chair to sit on, just 1 small bed. About three or four days into the stay, we might have been able to move but they were would not guarantee that so we just stayed put. There is no place to hang anything wet to drip dry. There are some nice murals painted on the exterior walls with some interesting ornamental gardens containing cactus, palm trees and local artifacts.
There are problems with the hot water, some rooms have none. Our room had hot water but suffered from a lack of water pressure. Don’t brush your teeth with it though, it is nasty tasting. We had to go across the street to another restaurant to get bottled water since the resort offered none in our building. Room cleaning was spotty. There is a metal box nailed to the floor or the closet to store cash/credit cards/jewelry. There is no lock, but they will sell you one -- a luggage size tiny lock with keys for $10.00 each.
Food: The breakfast was buffet as was all their meals and included in the cost of the trip. The restaurant is supposed to open at 0700 but rarely did. It was normally 0715-0730 before anyone was allowed in. The staff would not unlock the door so the long line of divers could get a cup of coffee. Some rooms had a coffee pot so you could purchase packages of coffee and make your own, but ours was not one of those. Once inside the serving line was one line for everything. There was fruit, potatoes, sometimes bacon, 3 different colors of mystery meat, French toast, pancakes, and eggs cooked to order. Since the eggs were cooked to order, and only 1 order at a time, the line was sometimes very long. Waits of 30 minutes was not uncommon and remember the place did not open on time to start with. This lead to divers having a hard time making a 0830 dive boat.
Dinner: We ate dinner twice at Club Cantamar. Both times it was very disappointing. The food is OK, but sometimes you are not sure what it is and there was limited wait staff that spoke English to help with service. If you asked for ice tea to drink, they looked at you as if you had asked for something really rare. They brought out a pitcher of tea for the 2 of us and 1 glass. No ice. By no means was the evening meal worth the $12.00/pp they charged. We decided after the second meal to eat somewhere else the rest of the week.
Bar: Club Cantamar has a nice outside bar with pool table and swim up seating from the pool. There is plenty of covered seating with a view of the marina. Our last night there it appeared closed but the front desk assured us it was not. The bar and seating area was dark and no one manned the bar so we went back across the street to the restaurant for our own beer. About 30-45 min. later the lights came on and the bar tender showed up.
Beach: Club Cantamar does have a nice beach with areas for swimming. Hammocks are for rent and there are chairs on the beach. If you want a beach towel, they tell you to come to the office and get it but they never have enough so usually there are none.
Transportation to La Paz: Free Shuttle service to La Paz was supposedly available for guests. We only had this once all week. The best we did was having them call a cab for us at $25 each way. The only other time we actually got a shuttle the seats were very wet from picking up the previous guests at the beach, therefore we took a cab. Excuses ranged from not being able to find a driver, needing to go to town and service the cruise ships, to just blank stares. We were given excuses each time, even though drivers were standing around and vans were sitting unused. At least two times we thought we had arranged for a shuttle at a certain time, only to be told when we showed up that it wasn’t available. In fact, after we showed up for one such scheduled shuttle ride and it wasn’t available, the clerk reluctantly agreed that the resort would pay for the taxi fare. As soon as the taxi arrived, this was promptly recanted and we had to pay the fare anyway.
Basically there is no shuttle service, just excuses on why there is not one available. You are about 20-30 min. by car from town so too far and too dangerous on the very narrow winding road to walk. You are pretty much captive at the resort unless you pay for a cab to go to town.
Gift shop: They said there was a gift shop on site but it was never open. If you wanted something, they said they would open it but I never saw that happen and you wouldn’t even know it was there unless you asked because there are no signs.
Courtesy: There is some superficial courtesy from the staff. 99% of the staff does not care one way or another what you want or what problem you have. This is the most apathetic resort staff I have ever seen on any trip, diving related or not. They simply do not care about you. You feel like you are talking to a blank wall. The sooner they can get away from you the happier they are. The front desk staff speak broken English but the rest of the staff speak only Spanish, including the drivers of the shuttles.
Problem Solving: This is easy. There is none. Not one problem we had was addressed, (no hot water in rooms, overcrowded boats, restaurant not opening on time or shuttle service). No one ever gets back to you on anything. There is always someone new when you go back to check on a previous request/problem. All they care about is who you talked to first and how they could avoid helping you or who they can blame it on. The staff will flat out lie to you, which happened more than once. As we caught them in their lies and confronted them, they just looked at us and smiled. There is no problem solving, they do not care. Finally on the last day a female employee approached us and asked if she could help as she was the ‘problem solver’. We advised her of our problems and she did not offer any help or assistance, just stared at us. She said we should have told her earlier in the day when we saw her passing on the sidewalk but we thought she was just another guest. We asked why she did not have any ID on so we would know who she was and she only stated she was in Reservations. This was the only time we saw her all week but we did tell her it was way too late in the week to make things better as we were leaving in the morning. We saw her a few more times that day and she would not make eye contact.
Diving At Club Cantamar is provide by Baja Diving & Services, the on location dive vendor, which is owned by Club Cantamar.
C-Cards: No one ever asked this diver for a c-card or anyone in our group. Nitrox was available and on the boat. I did see divers analyze their mix, but never saw any logs for divers to sign off on the blend.
Dockside: The dock area is one of the nicest features of the experience with large lockers made from chain link fence. There are not enough for all the divers they service so we had 5 of us in one locker until another came open. Of course you do have to have your own lock which is not on the webpage, but they do sell tiny luggage locks when you get there for $10.00. There are two large gear rinse tanks with hoses and a gear rental section. No one gives new guests any orientation on what is going on. It was up to the other divers to orient each other as new guests arrived. Plus, there are baskets to store your gear in to carry it back and forth to the boat. The baskets are a good idea since the boats have very limited storage areas, but often not even enough space for all of the baskets.
The crew started loading the boats with supplies about the time the divers were to show up. About 30 minutes was wasted each morning watching the crew load the boats. There was a lot of standing around time in the mornings.
Boats: The boats used by Baja Diving & Services that I was on are the Uno Mas(largest), Siempre Si, Realidad and Liberacion. We were never on the same boat twice and there was a lot of crew turn over in the week we were there. They are older boats really in need of maintenance. Fiberglass is cracked and peeling off the decks, none of the fresh water showers work. One day we had to wait for our original boat to be replaced due to a fuel leak and another day we were late leaving as they were welding and re-attaching a broken ladder. It was still being welded when we were on board engines running waiting to go. We stood around the stern after putting our gear together and watched the crew bolt on a hot dive ladder. If you look at the dive boat pictures on Club Cantamar web page look closely at the dive deck for how close the tanks are. Management wants as many divers on board as possible, with all space used. I did not see any oxygen or first aid supplies available or any areas marked as containing these supplies. The boats all have bathrooms.
With a different crew each day, very little rapport is gained between the guests and the crew, which is not conducive for them to know and respond to the divers’ experience and needs, nor conducive to allowing the crew to earn tips. Very frequently, divers on a package will tip the crew at the end of the week.
Cameras: There are no facilities for cameras. There are no camera tables on any of the boats. There were 1 and sometimes 2 large water barrels for everyone to put their cameras in. A hard task since our group had a Light & Motion HD video camera with lamp heads, 2 Ikelite video camera housings with lamp heads another video camera and 3 Ikelite Digital Camera housings with large strobes. None of the crew has the slightest idea of how to pick up a camera which led to the flooding of one housing and the destruction of a Canon Digital Rebel XTi on the first dive day. The flooding of the camera occurred after the crew took the camera from the diver following the dive and placed it in the rinse tank.
Plus, the near destruction of another similar camera happened when the deck hand grabbed it from the diver in the water by the port attachment. At one point the DM suggested we put our cameras down below to keep them out of the way because there was no room on deck to avoid them being stepped on, tanks dropped on them, or just plain kicked off the sides since there was no side protection under the benches. Best guess we had $30K worth of cameras on board and no facilities for them or a staff that had any idea how to handle them. When we told management about the camera handling issues, they just shrugged and said, “oh well” and then walked off.
Site Choices: For the most part there are limited dive site choices. We dove on 2 wrecks, Fang Ming and Salvatierra. The Fang Ming was a PADI project and is diver friendly. The Salvatierra was originally sunk at another location and rolled to its current location by a storm, and is now mostly unrecognizable junk, but does have a great deal of sea life. The trip to Los Islotes for the sea lions is terrific and makes a good two tank boat dive. We dove it 3 times, the 3rd dive on request to see more sea lions.
Divers on a 5 day trip will dive some of the same sites more than once – not by choice. Although this area of La Paz boasts a large number of sites, we were exposed to a very limited few, with no explanation. We also visited El Corralito twice, El Bajo for the Great Hammerheads, Swanee Reef and La Partida.
I saw as much dead coral as live coral but with most sites having large schools of fish, eels and starfish with sea lions popping up now and then. El Corralito was a very shallow dive with not much to look at.
Per the crew there are no Manta Rays, even though they still talk about them on the website. Only 1 stingray and 1 turtle were spotted during the 4 days of diving by our group.
The DM tried to control the profiles. There are no deep dives and they only want fifty minute dives. Most of us were coming back up from 40’ to 60’ dives with 1500 to 1800 psi.
None of the tanks I saw had a full 3000psi to start, most around 2800-2900psi. A vast majority of the ‘O’ rings were trailing bubbles, and we had one serious ‘O’ ring failure U/W. The DM just shrugged these problems off and found something else to do. One diver got geared up, turned on his air and found he had been set up with an empty tank.
Hammerheads: The hammerhead dive is off the pinnacles at El Bajo. The DM leads you through open water at about 80’ and you can see the outlines of the sharks below you in approximately 140’ of water. We saw about a dozen Great Hammerheads but from a long distance. It would have been nice to at least go to 100-110 feet which would still easily have been within recreational limits as this was the first dive of the day and that was all there was to see at that spot. Photography is difficult and you only get shadows, but hammerheads are elusive creatures. The pinnacle dive is much better. There is one large crevasse with numerous green eels, quite a sight.
Whale Sharks: Our group saw 2 or 3 different whale sharks I think. The visibility is so bad you cannot see the whole shark. These were about 20’ Whale Sharks and vis was only about 6’. There is a $20 charge per/person for Whale Shark experience. It is on their web page as, “if you request the use of the ultralight plane as a spotter, there is a charge.” but we were not asked about plane use, just told as we stepped onto the boat that we were being charged. When asked if we saw none did we get a refund, we were told no. For this dive you snorkel, not scuba dive. I was the only one who tried to photograph the sharks and had very little luck. There was a lot of swimming to get to the sharks and then a long swim back to the boat each time you jump in. We got in about 4 times.
Night Dives: We asked several times the first two days about night dives, but were never given an answer and no one would get back to us. They do advertise night dives on the web. We gave up!
Shore Diving: There is no shore diving.
Crew: The boat crew ranged from the apathetic to the quite helpful. Their best was one Japanese female DM that was quite enjoyable, but she was the definite exception. She did show us the only seahorse we saw.
One DM in particular did not even know the names of the fish he was describing. He was totally incompetent to be on the boat in charge of diving operations. Some DM’s did better briefings than others and they had some large maps of the sites they would show. The captains worked as crew helping the divers out of the water and off with their gear. Unfortunately they knew little about camera handling so we got so that we just helped each other to avoid further incidents. At other times, the crew were just not there to assist divers after the “pool was open”.
Lunch: Lunch was served on the boat after the second dive. It was usually a cold sandwich or burritos, chips and a side. I have no complaints about the food except they did cut it short on having enough at times with the number of divers on board. Between the first and second dive, fruit and cookies were offered. There was 1 cooler on board with soft drinks. Water was from a cooler with paper cups. They told you however to not drink too much water per person because that was all they had for everyone. Not quite dehydration preventive thinking since you were on the boats from about 9AM to 5PM.
Gear Handling: The crew did little in the mornings to be helpful but with the overcrowding there was no way they could do much. We always set up our own gear in the mornings and I would change my own tanks to make sure it was done right. I would trust no crew member.
Cattle Car: Make no mistake about it, Baja Diving & Services is a cattle car operation of the worst kind. They will keep putting divers on the boat as long as they have the money to get on. There is no such thing to them as a crowed boat. Our last dive day our group of 5 got off the boat due to overcrowding and no room for gear or cameras. Even the DM had no where to put his gear. When we spoke up, we were told that they could get 5-10 more divers on that boat easily (which we translated to “get over it”). When the boat returned in the afternoon we were informed that dive sites were repeated, and that even with the five of us gone the diving had to be done in shifts and they ran out of food.
When we confronted the manager of the diving operations that we got off the boat due to unsafe and crowded conditions, his only concern was that we should immediately clean out our lockers so other divers could move in. His response was “I’m sorry you feel that way.” (Interpretation: “I don’t think there is a problem.”) He offered no apologies, and could not get away from us fast enough.
Problem Solving: Again, this is easy. There is no problem solving. All you get is blank stares or whoever you are talking to trying to blame it on someone else. No one takes responsibility for anything. It is family owned and run with everyone in charge and no one in charge.
Web Site: After I returned from this trip, I checked Club Cantamars’ website. There is no information on the site that specifies anything. The only hard error I can find is the Uno Mas is listed for 30 divers maximum. I saw it leave one day with 35 divers from Portugal plus crew.
Summary: Baja Diving & Services is a classic cattle boat operation. They will put as many divers on the boat as they possibly can. The staff is apathetic, not interested and will flat out lie to you. Club Cantamar is a nice place to visit as far as facilities only. The management and staff do not give a damn about their guests. You are just a money supply and a bother. It just goes to show you cannot believe what is on a resort’s website.
Like one of our group said. “Running a cattle car operation is fine, as long as you have room for the cattle.”
Randy W. Saffell
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Located in Pichilingue bay, in La Paz, Baja California Sur, Cantamar Hotel provides a nice, quiet stay in a great family atmosphere, with full restaurant service at our VistaChula Café, a freshwater pool and a beautiful sunset beach. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Cantamar Hotel La Paz
- Cantamar Resort La Paz