There are countless amazing wildlife encounters to experience in Baja, Mexico but one of the must-do activities is to swim with sea lions in La Paz.
When I realized there was a special island home to a colony of over 2,000 sea lions near La Paz, Baja California Sur – I knew I had to figure out how to swim with sea lions here.
Picture yourself frolicking in the clear blue waters, surrounded by a group of lively and mischievous sea lions, ready to welcome you into their underwater playground. I promise it is an experience that leaves you with a rush of adrenaline and in awe of nature’s beauty!
If you’re taking a trip to Baja, Mexico, and want a fin-tastic rendezvous with these charismatic creatures yourself. Here is how to swim with sea lions in La Paz, Baja California Sur.
Table of Contents
- Where to swim with sea lions in La Paz, Mexico
- When can you swim with sea lions in La Paz?
- Do you need a tour guide to swim with sea lions?
- Is swimming with sea lions in the wild safe?
- Options for swimming with sea lions in La Paz
- What to bring on a sea lion swimming tour
- What to expect on a sea lion tour at Espiritu Santo Island
- CHECK OUT MY OTHER BAJA MEXICO GUIDES
Where to swim with sea lions in La Paz, Mexico
There are two places to swim with sea lions in La Paz, Baja California Sur.
San Rafaelito is the closest to La Paz. Only about 20 minutes off the shore of La Paz, this small island is where mostly “retired” male sea lions live after they have stopped mating. While this may be the closest spot, it doesn’t have as many sea lions as other places in La Paz. It’s also in the open ocean, making it super exposed to large marine life (like sharks).
The second option to swim with sea lions in La Paz is at Espiritu Santo Island. This is where we went, and honestly where most visitors will go on a sea lion tour.
Espiritu Santo island means Holy Spirit in Spanish and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Park situated in the Sea of Cortez. It’s also where thousands of playful sea lions, or lobos marinos in Spanish, call home.
Swim with sea lions on Espiritu Santo island
Espiritu Santo island is around an hour to an hour and a half boat ride from La Paz (depending on what marina you leave from). Even though it’s a longer haul to get there it’s our recommended spot to swim with sea lions in La Paz (and a must-visit island on a trip to La Paz in general).
Sea lions are highly social creatures, known for their curiosity and agile underwater acrobatics. They thrive in the waters around Espiritu Santo Island due to the abundant food sources and protected environments. Additionally, it offers an ideal breeding and resting ground where sea lions can escape from natural predators.
The island’s diverse habitats, including rocky shores and secluded beaches, provide ample space for sea lions to establish their colonies and raise their young. Witnessing the bustling activity and hearing the joyful barks of these charming creatures as they frolic in the waters is truly a remarkable sight.
Isla Espiritu Santo holds great significance for La Paz and the entire region. Its biodiversity, both above and below the water’s surface, is unparalleled. Being a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site gives it a protected status to ensure the preservation of its unique ecosystem.
When can you swim with sea lions in La Paz?
📆 The season for swimming with sea lions is open from fall to spring (October to May). Summer months (June, July, and August) are when the colonies breed and visitors are not allowed to interact with them.
Do you need a tour guide to swim with sea lions?
If you want to swim with sea lions on Espiritu Santo Island, you must join a guided tour. Since the island and its native species are protected, tours are required to ensure a safe experience for you and the wildlife.
Several tour operators in La Paz offer excursions to the island, providing transportation, equipment, lunch, and knowledgeable guides who are experts in the local marine ecosystem.
If you’re staying in Cabo San Lucas you can take a day trip tour to swim with sea lions in La Paz on this tour.
We share the tour companies we went with later in the post. When choosing an Espiritu Santo Island tour, make sure to look for operators that have a strong reputation for eco-friendly practices and prioritize the well-being of wildlife.
By selecting an eco-tour that actively advocates for conservation efforts, you can contribute to the preservation of this unique place. Eco-tour operators often have strict guidelines in place to minimize disturbance to wildlife and their habitats. Read reviews and compare prices to find the best fit for your preferences.
Is swimming with sea lions in the wild safe?
Swimming with sea lions in the wild can be a safe and exhilarating experience when done responsibly and with the guidance of trained professionals. Most Espiritu Santo Island Tours in La Paz prioritize the safety of both visitors and marine wildlife, ensuring that interactions with sea lions are conducted respectfully.
Our tour guide gave us explicit instructions on how to interact with the sea lions before we got in the water. The biggest rule is you are not supposed to touch them. Sea lions don’t have hands to experience the world and instead use their mouths to explore.
✋🏼 There have been stories of fingers being bitten by snorkelers who got a bit too handsy, so keep your hands close to your body when you’re not actively swimming.
Even though you shouldn’t reach out to touch them, there’s still a good chance you will get up close with one. The sea lions are super curious and often come up to you. We had no idea how many sea lions were snooping around our backsides or fins until we watched our GoPro footage later! They were so close to us as they swam around in playful circles.
The tour guides will swim with you to ensure you or the animals aren’t doing anything out of the ordinary. Experienced guides are adept at reading the behavior of the sea lions and will provide instructions to make sure everyone is safe during the experience.
🦈 I know we were super scared of running into a shark, considering sea lions are a part of its diet and we are in the open ocean. But our tour guide says sightings are extremely rare so close to the island.
The waters are much shallower where you are swimming and harder for large sharks to get into. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. After all, you are in the wild, meaning shark sightings are always a possibility.
Options for swimming with sea lions in La Paz
Visitors have two choices for swimming with sea lions in La Paz, Baja California Sur. Either snorkeling with a mask, fins, and snorkel gear or scuba diving with full scuba gear.
Since we have both scuba-dived or snorkeled, we can share our experience from both tours to help you decide the best choice for you.
Snorkeling with sea lions in La Paz, Mexico
Snorkeling is the most popular way to swim with sea lions in La Paz, Mexico as you don’t need any special skills or certification to do it. The experience is a much cheaper option as well since you don’t need to pay for extra equipment.
Liz and Dennis took their Espiritu Santo Island snorkeling tour with Punta Baja Tours and had a super great experience. The tour lasted around 6 hours and cost around $80 USD ($1,600 MXP).
This included transportation to the marina, a life vest, and a delicious ceviche lunch on the prettiest beach on the island (more on that later). They also provided snorkeling gear.
We opted to upgrade to a wetsuit for snorkeling. The water in La Paz in winter is super chilly. 🥶 You’ll spend around 30 minutes in the water with them. If you’re not accustomed to this temperature water, we recommend paying the $10 USD extra as we did.
Scuba diving with sea lions in La Paz, Mexico
Scuba diving excursions typically require either a scuba certification. If you are willing to try scuba diving for the first time, Dive In La Paz offers an intro diving course with instructors who teach you the basics of scuba before ending the day underwater with the sea lions.
My husband and I opted to take the intro dive course or “Discover Diver Program” with Dive In La Paz. This tour is combined with an introduction to scuba diving. It could also be used as a refresher course if you already have scuba certification but haven’t been diving in a while.
We paid $440 USD per person for the scuba diving with sea lions experience. This included scuba instruction with a guide, snacks, drinks, a ceviche lunch, and all rental diving gear. The tour lasted a full day, we arrived at the centrally located dive shop at 7:30 am and returned to the marina around 4 pm.
Our instructor carefully explained everything we needed to know about scuba diving once we got on the boat, including every piece of equipment and how it all worked. They also emailed us an online scuba theory course which is optional to complete before the tour.
🤿 Although it was intimidating to learn everything about scuba diving so quickly, our super instructor made sure we felt prepared before our first dive.
In total, we went to two dive locations to swim with sea lions and were under the water for just under two hours. This is the more expensive option of the two, but we had more time with the sea lions and had a totally different experience than snorkeling could offer.
What to bring on a sea lion swimming tour
Most tours do a fantastic job of providing what you would need. Our boat had a “bathroom” with a cassette toilet in case of emergency. And also had refreshments for us in case we got thirsty. But there’s stuff you’ll want to bring with you for a more comfortable experience.
Swimwear – wear something comfortable and durable, this might not be the time for a string bikini. If going in the winter or spring when the waters are colder, tour operators will provide wetsuits for extra warmth at an added cost.
Snorkeling Gear – Most tour operators should provide snorkeling gear, but you may prefer not to share masks or snorkels (we didn’t want to). In that case, feel free to bring your own. You can see our snorkel gear here.
Waterproof Camera – You will definitely want to capture this experience on film. We recommend bringing a waterproof camera (like a GoPro) or a waterproof case for your camera to snap amazing photos of you swimming with the sea lions.
Reusable Water Bottle – You may not feel like it, but swimming requires a lot of energy. Stay hydrated throughout the day with a sustainable and reusable water bottle. We love this Camelbak that has a lifestraw in it to help filter and remove any unwanted chemicals like chlorine, lead, and organic matter.
Sun Protection – The boat we were on had shade, but you will be spending time in the sun on the beach or while swimming. Which means you’ll want sun protection with you. We are not big fans of sunscreen. Most are toxic to your body and have been linked to causing skin cancer.
It’s also bad for the environment you’re swimming in. But if you must use sunscreen we recommend this brand, which has no harmful ingredients, uses zinc to block the sun, and is environmentally safe.
If you’re okay ditching the sunscreen make sure you have a sun shirt and hat with you. We love Free Fly apparel which uses bamboo and has 30 SPF protection. It’s also a good idea to have a buff to protect your neck and face.
Wear layers – The 45-minute to an-hour boat ride can be super chilly. They provided thin Turkish towels for us to wrap around our legs, but I was thankful I had a jacket with me. I recommend bringing clothes to layer over your bathing suit, including jeans and a jacket if you are going in peak wintertime.
What to expect on a sea lion tour at Espiritu Santo Island
The boat ride to the island took about 45 minutes but had awesome views of the island’s dramatic landscapes, including towering cliffs, hidden coves, and vibrant marine life.
They stopped in several spots along the island to tell us about the history of its first inhabitants, the Pericú people. One of our favorite stops was actually to a sacred site the Pericús believed was a representation of their creator in the rock. This special place was where they would come to rest in the waters at sunset before passing on.
If you will be snorkeling with sea lions in La Paz, expect to spend around 30 minutes in the water. We swam into a small cave to start where the baby sea lions like to hang out. After that, we swam around the island for about 20 minutes with them swimming all around.
If you are scuba diving, prepare to spend around two hours swimming with sea lions and exploring the ocean floor with your instructor.
The first dive takes place in a shallow cove on Espiritu Santo Island. We started in water shallow enough for us to stand in. As we got more accustomed to our equipment and learned important underwater sign language from our instructor, we swam into water that was at most 16 ft deep. This first dive lasted 45 minutes.
For the second dive, our instructor took us to Los Islotes, the same place you’ll swim if you are snorkeling with sea lions. It was an absolute thrill to be swimming far below the surface with the sea lions. There were so many! My husband even got to touch one as it quickly swam by (not because he reached for it, it came to him).
We swam 33 ft below the surface to the ocean floor where our instructor took time to point out some of the smaller, inconspicuous sealife like technicolor sea slugs, mountainous corals, and lurking eels. It felt like another world and for a moment we felt harmonious with the ocean and all of its creatures.
Another cool thing about this tour is if you fell in love with your first time scuba diving, you can use these dives to count towards a lifetime scuba certification. Your instructor will help you set up a free SSI dive account to log your dives and you can come back to Dive In La Paz or any other SSI-certified shop to finish your certification.
Whether you are snorkeling or diving you will likely end the tour on Playa Ensenada Grande for lunch.
This secluded beach is only accessible by boat and is an absolute paradise for lunch in the sun. Its pink shore and cliffside covered in cacti made us feel like we were in the Arizona desert. Yet Ensenada Grande’s crystal clear water quickly reminded us we were just witnessing Baja’s incredibly unique landscape.
Our tour guide prepared fresh ceviche for us as well as a fish salad and fruit. We tried everything and are happy to report it was all delicious. 😋
If you have dietary restrictions ask your tour if they can accommodate vegetarian or vegan diets. Most have an alternative meal, but if you want to be on the safe side grab your own meal to-go. Our friend (who doesn’t eat fish) wasn’t sure what they would have so they brought a sandwich.
We hung out at the beach for around 45 minutes to an hour which was a great amount of time to just relax and warm up after swimming. We honestly wished we could have stayed longer. The beach was stunning. After that, we returned to the marina where the tour ended.
💵 If you enjoyed your tour make sure to give your guide a tip. Tipping in Mexican pesos is greatly appreciated (around 10% is customary) and a great way to show them you enjoyed the experience.
Even if swimming with sea lions seems out of your comfort zone we highly recommend trying it. We were super nervous about snorkeling with sea lions in La Paz at first, but we are so glad we did it. As you can see, there is nothing to be scared of and the experience is bucket list worthy!
Hopefully, this post has helped you learn how to swim with sea lions in La Paz, Mexico. Let us know if you go scuba diving or snorkeling with sea lions in the comments below. We’d love to hear about your experience!
CHECK OUT MY OTHER BAJA MEXICO GUIDES
- 7 Unmissable Day Trips from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico: This guide will share 6 other amazing day trips from the Los Cabos area.
- 10 Amazing Things to Do in La Paz: If you have more time to spend in La Paz make sure to check out this post to make the most of your trip here!
- Is Todos Santos Worth Visiting? Yes! Here’s Why: See what makes this pueblo magico so special and why it’s a must-stop on a Baja trip.