Swimming with Sea Lions in Mexico – Isla Espiritu Santo Tour

Swimming with Sea Lions in Mexico

Want to go swimming with sea lions in the wild in Mexico? Then you need to take an Isla Espiritu Santo tour from La Paz. Here’s what you can expect from your day on the Sea of Cortez along with where to stay in La Paz and tour companies to book with.

Jacques Couteau once said of the Sea of Cortez that it is the aquarium of the world; an accurate descriptions considering this small swatch of sea is one of the most biodiverse on earth.

But the ocean wildlife isn’t the only highlight. Shimmering like topaz under the blazing Mexican sun, the Sea of Cortez is every bit as mesmerising as what goes on beneath her surface.

Located between the Baja Californian peninsula and Mexico’s mainland, and preceded by days’ worth of desert if you travel down the peninsula itself, La Paz is not the kind of place you tend to stumble upon.

Except, I did. I happened upon the Sea of Cortez quite by mistake.

I was on a three month journey across Mexico, travelling from east to west, and after days exploring Mexico’s Copper Canyon, I found myself with a body of water before me.

I crossed by night ferry and was spat me out in La Paz. And I’ve never accidentally ended up somewhere so beautiful in all my travelling life.

I had planned to stay for two nights but I ended up lingering for weeks.

Jaques Cousteau also famously said that “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”

La Paz and the Sea of Cortez did that to me.

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Taking an Espiritu Santo Tour

Isla Espiritu Santo Tour Swimming with Sea Lions in Mexico striped rock

Of course, while I was in La Paz, I took a tour to nearby Isla Espiritu Santo and still, years later, it remains one of the best tours I’ve ever taken. As I watched the sun set over the sea back in 2014, I didn’t expect to see this part of the world again – it is, after all, a damn long way from England’s shores.

Yet, the sights of the island and the sea stayed with me and when my California plans went awry this summer, I found myself drawn back, edging closer to La Paz day by day on a road trip down the Baja peninsula until I once again stumbled into La Paz quite by mistake. It’s a mistake I hope to make again and again.

With a travel friend at my side, I took the tour to isla Espiritu Santo for a second time and the sights were no less disappointing.

What follows is a run down of what you can expect to see on an Isla Espiritu Santo tour.

Note: I have taken the same day tour to Espiritu Santo on two separate occasions, years apart with two different companies and the tours were almost identical. Where they were different, I have noted this below.

The pickup – expect a long beginning to the day

Isla Espiritu Santo Tour Swimming with Sea Lions in Mexico sea lion bin

I don’t think there are many group tours I’ve been on where there isn’t a slow and painful, hotel by hotel pickup. The speed of this pickup process is entirely dependent on your fellow tourists and both times in La Paz I found them to be slower than the setting sun.

Take a coffee and a book and know that you’ll have plenty of time to apply sun cream in the minivan. On the plus side: you do get picked up from your accommodation so there’s no figuring out how to get to a meeting point on time.

Getting to the harbour

On my first tour, we boarded the boat from the  harbour located within central La Paz but for my second tour we drove further out, closer to the ferry port. This did mean that we got to the island quicker by boat but I personally preferred travelling there slower on the water.

Pre-boarding

Isla Espiritu Santo Tour Swimming with Sea Lions in Mexico sea lion in sun

The first time I took an Isla Espiritu Santo tour, the transition from minivan to boat went a little something like this: guide points to boat, people get on boat, people handed lifejacket, mask and fins, boat leaves.

The second time I took an Isla Espiritu Santo tour, things were a lot more involved. I was pleased that we were given a proper mask and fin fitting in a room on the dock and the equipment was newer. However, there was some paperwork (an ‘if they kill you’ disclaimer). This seemed to slow the whole boat boarding process .

In both cases we were obligated to wear our lifejacket for the entire time on the boat, something I find uncomfortable but hey, them’s the rules.

The type of boat

Isla Espiritu Santo Tour Swimming with Sea Lions in Mexico boat

Unless you’re on a privately hired yacht, the boat for your tour is going to be relatively rustic. See above. I was comfortable with the safety of the boat but we’re talking wooden seats and no toilets on board.

Isla Espiritu Santo and the surrounding islands

Isla Espiritu Santo Tour Swimming with Sea Lions in Mexico sea

On the way to the spot where you go swimming with sea lions, you skirt around Isla Espiritu Santo and get to see a few of the surrounding islands. Apart from the sea lions, the highlight is the natural sights – the Sea of Cortez, the many birds, fish and rocky islands you sail past.

While there might be some small differences in the details of how the tours are run, I saw the same sights both times – the pictures scattered throughout this post.

Isla Espiritu Santo Tour Swimming with Sea Lions in Mexico view

And, for me, both times the best sights were not the sea lions, as you might expect. It was the beach where we stopped for lunch and this natural break in the rocks that is shaped like the Baja California peninsula.

If you’re an eternal romantic, don’t forget to hold hands with your loved one and make a wish as you sail through the opening – those wishes are supposed to come true. And I think they do. I wished for tacos and, sure enough, that night…tacos galore.

Swimming with sea lions in Mexico

Isla Espiritu Santo Tour Swimming with Sea Lions in Mexico - Sea Lion Water

Just by chance, I happened to take my Isla Espiritu Santo tour at the same time of year each time I visited – late July. The first time, we sailed to the spot for swimming with the sea lion and after being instructed not to get too close, we jumped into the water.

The second time I visited, I was informed that it was mating season and for that reason swimming with the sea lions was not allowed. This was because the male sea lions are particularly aggressive at this time of year and there have been some cases of tourists being bitten and attacked.

Isla Espiritu Santo Tour Swimming with Sea Lions in Mexico - sea lion rock

I believe this was a new restriction because all of the tour companies I spoke to in La Paz told me the same thing before booking.

I was still happy to go on the Isla Espiritu Santo tour because I could stare at the Sea of Cortez all day long, and I knew that the tour would still sail past the islands where we could see the sea lions basking in the sun.

As it happened, we got lucky on the day and were still able to swim with the sea lions. Apparently, a group of lady sea lions had taken refuge on one rock, seemingly over the whole idea of being aggressively courted, and without the men around to fight, it was much safer for us to swim there.

Although we didn’t get to snorkel in the main spot for swimming with the sea lions, we later went past there for a photo opportunity.

Most vitally, we got to swim with a smaller number of the sea lions without anyone risking losing an arm!

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A picturesque picnic lunch

Isla Espiritu Santo Tour Swimming with Sea Lions in Mexico beach

Lunch takes place in a bay on Isla Espiritu Santo surrounded by some of the clearest water I’ve ever swam in.

Lunch was included in the price of the tour and if raw fish isn’t your thing, cheese and ham sandwiches were available along with salad.

There was also a cool box full of soft drinks, cookies and water, which were also included in the price. On the first tour I took, beer was available to buy. On the second tour, the manager at my guesthouse informed me that no beer was available (and I do like a cold beer with ceviche) so I took my own in a cool box loaned to me by the guesthouse.

The lunch spot was the same each time I took the Espiritu Santo tour. I don’t know whether we simply arrived a bit later the first time or whether tourism has increased but there were a few more boats this time, giving less of a deserted beach feel. However, it’s still a far cry from the mass tourism you’ll find elsewhere.

The toilet situation

Isla Espiritu Santo Tour Swimming with Sea Lions in Mexico birds

The only dry land stop on the Espiritu Santo tour is for lunch and there are no bathroom facilities. You’ll recall that there are also no toilets on the boat. So, unless you’re able to hold your bladder all day, you need to accept the fact that the ocean is your only option.

You might also want to pack hand sanitiser because lunch is a very hands on affair.

Back to La Paz

Isla Espiritu Santo Tour Swimming with Sea Lions in Mexico - Sunset

After lunch, there is a fairly long stretch on the boat as you make your way back to La Paz. Keep an eye out because tortoise and dolphin sightings are common – I saw both.

The driver will take you back to your hotel or drop you in the centre of La Paz. Either way, you’ll be back in time to see another highlight – the sun setting over the Sea of Cortez.

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How to Get to La Paz

Isla Espiritu Santo Tour Swimming with Sea Lions in Mexico yacht

By Air: La Paz Airport (Manuel Márquez de León International Airport, Code: LAP) is located 11.5km (about 7 miles) from the centre of La Paz. A taxi takes about 20 minutes and costs around 250 pesos.

Click here to check flight prices:

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Flight Hub 

CheapoAir

By bus: If you’re travelling within Baja California and you don’t have a car, there are great bus connections. The bus terminal in La Paz is right on the sea front in the centre of town so couldn’t be better connected. The buses are modern, equipped with toilets and run frequently. There are a few competing companies that have the same prices and run to the same schedule.

Aquila is one of them and you can check timetables online.

By car: I hired a car in Tijuana and drove down the Baja California peninsula. At the time of booking Fox Rental was the cheapest.

Click here for a quote.

Car hire tip: I booked through a car rental search website and, as usual, the on the day price was higher than what I had pre-paid and was quoted. Instead, book direct and you’ll know exactly what you’re going to pay when you arrive to collect your car.​​

By boat: if you’re travelling from the mainland, you can take the ferry to La Paz with Baja Ferries. It’s usually a night ferry and they don’t travel every day so plan your trip.

You can check prices and schedules here.

By train: There are no train connections to La Paz (and no operating trains within Baja California).

Where to Stay

Hyatt Place – a beautiful spot in the marina for a trusted brand that gets great reviews. Click to check prices and reviews on Trip Advisor.

Costa Baja Resort & Spa – if you’d prefer a resort style stay right on the sea front. Click to check prices and reviews on Trip Advisor.

La Perla – one of the most prominent large hotels with a perfect spot in the centre of La Paz. Click to check prices and reviews on TripAdvisor.t

Hotel Lorimar – just a block from the sea, this is a great budget choice for under $50 a night. Click to check prices and reviews on TripAdvisor.

Peace Hostel – La Paz isn’t teaming with backpackers but there are enough to merit a hostel. Great option for solo travellers. A couple on a budget will find Hotel Lorimar cheaper for a private room. Click to check prices and reviews on Hostelworld.

Which Isla Espiritu Santo tour to take?

Isla Espiritu Santo Tour Swimming with sea lions in Mexico

As I’ve already mentioned, the tours leaving La Paz are broadly the same except for a few small details. So, in theory it shouldn’t matter too much which company you book with. That said, I’d go with a recommendation because things like the tour guide can make the difference between a dull and fun day.

Overall, I preferred the first tour I took. The boat benches faced opposite each other so it was more sociable – the ‘help yourself to beer and pay later’ probably also helped that. However, my second tour was more ‘grown up’ and organised if that’s the kind of tour you prefer. I’ve included both companies below.

Booking tip: You will get a much cheaper price if you book when you are in La Paz. I’ve always done this through my accommodation. I paid about 650 pesos for my first tour and around 900 pesos for my second tour (a few years apart). If you book online, you’re firstly paying in US dollars and secondly looking at prices closer to $100. Still, I’ve included one such company below because I know some of you prefer to book ahead.​​ 

Chicalera Tours – this company would be my top recommendation. Unfortunately, I don’t have a website or booking link for you, just a Facebook page and a couple of phone numbers. TEL CEL.6121554464, 612 1416019 TEL. CASA.6121286755.

Punta Baja – this is the second company I toured Isla Espiritu Santo with and, although a shade less fun than Chicalera, I’d still recommend them. You can check reviews here on Trip Advisor.

Sunrider Adventure Tours  – prefer to book online in English and pay in dollars? . You can book here via TripAdvisor

So, that’s my guide to swimming with sea lions in Mexico and what you can expect on an Isla Espiritu Santo tour. Have you been to La Paz? Is it on your travel bucket list? Let me know in the comments below.

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Take an Isla espiritu Santo tour from La Paz to go swimming with sea lions in Mexico. Tips on which tour, what you'll see and where to stay.

Article written by

Jo Fitzsimons is a freelance travel writer who has visited over 60 countries. www.indianajo.com is the place where she shares destination details, travel itineraries, planning and booking tips and trip tales. Her aim: to help you plan your travel adventure on your terms and to your budget.

2 Responses

  1. SV
    SV at | | Reply

    This looks very beautiful place and this creature is also very nice, thanks for sharing this post, glad to read it.

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