There are only a few places in the world where you can swim with sea lions, and one of the best places to do that is in Baja California Sur’s coastal capital of La Paz.
Honestly, though… if there’s one experience you can’t miss out on while vacationing in La Paz, Mexico, it’s got to be swimming and snorkeling with the sea lion colony on Los Islotes Island in Espiritu Santo National Park.
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In fact, the Sea of Cortez is one of the rare places where you can swim with sea lions, watch humpback whales and dolphins, and do a fun shipwreck dive — all in one day!
It’s no wonder that La Paz was dubbed the “Aquarium of the World” by Jacques Cousteau. La Paz’s diving scene is incredible, but even if you aren’t a diver, you can still enjoy the company of the playful juvenile sea lions on a snorkeling and swimming tour.
Read more below to learn about how you can safely and responsibly swim with the sea lions of Los Islotes off the coast of La Paz, Mexico here!
How to Snorkel & Swim with Sea Lions in La Paz
Where Are the Sea Lions of La Paz?
The sea lions of La Paz live on a rocky islet just beyond Espiritu Santo Island inside the national park, which is located about 1h30m by boat off from La Paz.
To get to the bountiful sea lion colony of La Paz, you’ll need to take a sea lion snorkel/swim tour or hire a licensed boat guide as they are the only ones permitted in the park.
You cannot go on your own to Los Islotes as this is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Park.
While there is another small colony of sea lions closer to La Paz—the outcasts of Los Islotes—this is not typically where tourists go to swim and snorkel.
This guide specifically talks about the sea lions of Los Islotes Island inside the Espiritu Santo National Park.
What to Know Before You Swim with Sea Lions in Espiritu Santo National Park
Here is what you need to know before you head out on your sea lion excursion.
☀️ Seasonality: The sea lion colony of Los Islotes mates during the warm summer months and therefore is closed off to tourists from June–August.
🦭 Safety: The juvenile sea lions are playful and curious and are safe to swim with. However, as your snorkel or dive guide will advise, you must avoid getting close to the much larger macho sea lions. They have a distinct physical appearance and will not play nice if you enter their territory.
💰 Cost: The chance to swim with sea lions in their natural environment and to see them play underwater is an incredible experience. That said, reaching the sea lion colony takes lots of time (1h30m one-way by boat) and fuel, which is why most tours cost around $125 USD for a day trip.
🚤 Time: Considering that the colony is quite far from La Paz, you can expect this experience to take all day. Most trips will depart from the marina around 8–9am and return around 3–4pm in the afternoon.
🎒 What to pack: Lunch/snacks and refreshments are typically provided on the tours, but you should take a towel, eco-friendly sunscreen (like this one that I use), a water camera or phone pouch, and plenty of water (in a reusable bottle, of course!).
🎟️ Marine park pass: Not all tours will include the marine park pass, which costs around $6-7 USD. If not, you will need to pay this in person, so take cash.
🤝 Tipping: Local guides and boat captains are who will lead this adventure and it’s customary to tip your crew.
How to Book Your Sea Lion Snorkel/Swim Tour
You can also go through a dive shop in La Paz (yes, even if you don’t intend to dive but instead charter a boat and snorkel/swim with the sea lions on a day safari).
Is It Really Safe to Swim with Sea Lions?
If you have never swam with sea lions before, you’re in for a treat! The sea lion puppies, or juveniles, are extremely playful and curious.
Don’t be surprised if, like real doggo puppies, they try to playfully chew on your arms, legs, snorkel fins — or even your head!
While their nibbles don’t hurt, their young teeth are sharp. My dive guide explained he got bit a little too hard once and it punctured his wetsuit.
So, while you can (and possibly will) have in-your-face close encounters with the sea lion puppies, don’t overtly reach out your fingers and limbs.
Let them come naturally to you and don’t tease them.
Our Experience Swimming & Diving with the Sea Lion Colony of Los Islotes
When I think back to the day we dove with the sea lions, three words come to mind:
That in a nutshell is what it feels like to be in the water with these silky, big-eyed babies — playful, bubbly wonder.
But besides the sense of awe and freedom that comes with seeing these wild animals play with you in their natural environment, there is a bit of stress, too; you are entering their wild, unpredictable territory, after all!
That said, I felt totally safe with my dive team, but the sea lion puppies swim at carefree speeds that will quickly make you dizzy if you try to follow them with your eye (frankly, I couldn’t keep up).
That said, diving with sea lions is a different experience than snorkeling with them.
Since you will be on top of the water, you will need to stay aware of your proximity to the rocky shore as the current may shift your location without you realizing (again, watch out for aggressive adult males).
Don’t be alarmed if they approach you—or even your boat—before you even get the chance to dip your toes in the water. They are extremely curious and will get nearer to observe you.
All in all, whether you swim and snorkel or dive with the sea lions, this experience is by far one of the most unique and best things to do in La Paz!
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