When you find yourself in Baja California Sur and it’s not whale or whale shark season, what else can you do?
Swim with the sea lions at Espíritu Santo Island, of course!
When planning our trip, the only question that remained was, what company would take us there? I wanted to avoid any that also provided captive dolphin encounters, but finding such a company was a challenging task! Fortunately, with the help of Go La Paz, we were able to arrange an incredible sea lion snorkel day tour to Espíritu Santo Island with Red Travel Mexico!
Responsible tourism with Red Travel Mexico
It’s so easy to forget about being a responsible tourist when you’re excited about planning once in a lifetime adventures. Sadly, there are too many companies that exploit nature and wildlife. Fortunately, Red Travel Mexico is an organization that values protecting the environment above profit.
Red Travel Mexico successfully melds a background in conservation with sustainable tourism practices to offer a variety of “tour products”. These are genuine and responsible travel experiences, unlike those of your run-of-the-mill tour companies. While our swim with the sea lions was just a one day outing, Red Travel Mexico offers a wide range of opportunities including educational programs, conservation experiences, and multi-day tours, among others.
Start of the tour
Having broken my foot just a week before our trip, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to swim, let alone climb on and off a boat. The Red Travel Mexico team assured me that they would do everything they could to assist in making the most of my experience given my injury, so I gladly kept our reservations. Fortunately, by the tour date, my foot was healed enough to handle the aquatic obstacles, and I had a medical boot to help me walk.
Dave and I joined the other 5 guests on our tour at the Red Travel Mexico office in La Paz. Here we met our awesome guide, Andrea, who gave us a brief run down of what to expect. We were given our equipment and wetsuits before walking a short distance to the dock to meet our boat. I’m sure I was a sight to behold as I hobbled down the sidewalk wearing my giant boot and wetsuit.
Our captain, Mario, helped me onto the boat and I was shown where to stow my boot for the day. I was glad to be rid of it for the duration of our time on the water!
We left the city of La Paz behind pretty quickly, soon speeding through the open water. The water that day was a bit choppy, making for a bumpy ride, but the skies were clear and the sun wasn’t too hot. Our boat ride might have felt a little too long if it weren’t for the striking scenery and some of the stops at notable rock formations and smaller islands. The beauty of the area was enough to keep us happy, but I think we all felt a bit nervous in anticipation of our sea lion swim. Nervous but excited!
The sea lion encounter
Finally, we arrived at the beautiful rocky island that the sea lions make their home, in the natural protected area of Espíritu Santo Island National Park. Andrea pointed out the visible differences amongst the sea lions as we skirted the island. She identified females, males, juveniles, alpha males, and even pups!
Before jumping into the water, she explained that we should keep our distance from the rocks because the alpha males are territorial. As long as we stayed away, the big guys wouldn’t think we were a threat.
Armed with this knowledge and instructed to stay together with the group, we all jumped in. I was able to keep up with the group well enough with my single fin and lame foot. We headed towards land, spotting only the alpha males in the water with us, keeping their distance. They barely noticed us, though I think many of us were all too aware of them!
Most of the females were relaxing on rocks. One male constantly swam around trying to get their attention only to be completely ignored. Many males were barking incessantly with a variety of rather amusing vocal displays. Our guide explained that the odd behavior of one alpha male near us meant that he was relaxed. I’m not sure how raising one back and front flipper out of the water is relaxing, but he certainly did seem at ease just floating around like that. His comical pose somehow put me at ease too.
Getting used to the occasional passing of a giant alpha male, I think we all began to relax and hoped for a closer encounter with a smaller, approachable sea lion. Up until this point, the females and youngsters had all been sunbathing on rocks, barely acknowledging our existence while we were in the water. Finally, one juvenile dove into the water and made a bee line for our group. It (you can’t be sure about the sex at that age) swam around us, curiously weaving through each member of our small group.
Soon it decided that we were safe and came in for a closer look. I was taken by surprise as it touched my hand with its nose, panicking at first, but soon realizing that it wanted attention. Just like a friendly dog! It floated upside down much of the time, nudging our hands and encouraging us to pet its vaguely furry belly. It examined each of us closely, taking breaks to swim around our group only to return for more nuzzles. I couldn’t believe we were interacting so intimately with a wild sea lion!
The time with our new friend passed quickly and soon it was time to go. We all reluctantly said our goodbyes and headed back to the boat. I noticed that there were still not many other tours around as we left. Later I learned that Red Travel Mexico intentionally sends out tours to Espíritu Santo Island at times when there should be fewer boats and people. Not only does this give guests a better experience, but it reduces the amount of traffic around the sea lion colony. That’s just a testament to Red Travel Mexico’s responsible tourism practices.
Lunch and more snorkeling
After swimming with the sea lions, we headed to a lovely, isolated beach for lunch. Our captain had prepared a meal packed with energy, local flavors, and something Dave always appreciates – ice cold beer. We were given time to relax, walk around, or snorkel nearby. Swimming seemed to be the best form of exercise for my particular injury, so I took the opportunity to snorkel in the warmer waters.
Climbing back on the boat after lunch, our group voted to continue snorkeling at another location rather than relaxing on the beach for longer. I was happy to take advantage of another opportunity to see wildlife. A short boat ride brought us to a pretty coral reef. The water was clear, with a variety of sea life to satisfy my snorkel appetite for the day.
After this final snorkel it was time to head back to La Paz, but there was still one more stop along the way. We pulled up next to a shoreline completely covered in giant sea birds called Frigate birds. Much like the different shapes and sizes of the sea lions, Frigate birds had a variety of markings to distinguish them from one another. I think we all could identify the babies easily enough. So fluffy and cute!
After our visit with the birds, we finally returned to La Paz and said our goodbyes.
There seemed to be a feeling of contentment within the group by the end of the day. Dave and I were completely satisfied with the adventure! Having been on many snorkel tours, I have to say that my expectations were exceeded! We both really appreciated how small our group was. Swimming with the sea lions at Espíritu Santo Island is something that I would do again in a heart beat, and I’m not sure I could go with any other company after my experience with Red Travel Mexico.
Check out the video below to get a good sense of how well our encounter went.
Happy people. Happy sea lions!
Not only was I pleased with our experience, but I feel privileged to have partnered with Red Travel Mexico for this opportunity because I respect their practices and what they stand for as a company. Tourism has become just one avenue in which Red Travel Mexico continues to protect the environment while educating and giving back to the community. They are a “hybrid social enterprise” with goals well beyond that of tourism for profit.
I suggest reading more about Red Travel Mexico and everything that they do for this world in their corner of Mexico… hopefully to expand beyond that in the future!
* Red Travel Mexico sponsored us on this trip, however I was not financially compensated for this post. A special thank you to Go La Paz for the assistance! As always, all opinions and photos are my own and based on my experiences unless stated otherwise. *
Jackie - Tracie, that was really cool! I would love to be able to do that, so happy for you and Dave. That was a very cool experience for you, I’m sure. I’m glad that you were still able to swim with your foot problem.
traciehowe - Thank you! Yes, I am SO glad I was still able to swim. The entire trip to Baja would have been pretty miserable otherwise!
Henry - Very nice photos! My partner and I did a similar trip in February of this year…you got better bird photos than I did, but at least we got to see the whale sharks. Thanks for sharing!
traciehowe - Thanks for the comment, Henry! That’s awesome that you got to see the whale sharks. If I had gone in a different season I would have opted for the whale sharks. I guess it’s good that I was “forced” to swim with the sea lions instead, because I might not have otherwise! I’ll be back for whale sharks and whales later. Did you get pretty close to them?
Nina - This looks AMAZING!!!! What an awesome experience, the sea lions are so beautiful!
traciehowe - It WAS amazing, Nina! Thanks for your comment. :)
Chris - You’ve brought back a wave of very fond memories!
It was within the first fortnight of our own grand adventure that we had the joy of experiencing Espiritu Santo.
We were the only snorkellers, as the rest of our party were divers (this was before Sarah and I earned our own certification) but what a magnificent place it is.
I surely hope you had the chance to swim through the arch and see the amazing reef on the other side :-)
Thanks for making me smile through a shared experience!
traciehowe - That’s great, Chris! How cool that you got to do this too! We didn’t get a chance to swim through the arch, but I was happy to spend all of our time there with the sea lions, especially the friendly one. I can imagine that diving there would be pretty cool too!
Bell | Wanderlust Marriage - Love tours that try to do their best with being responsible, it’s a tough balance I feel these days. Your experience with the seals looks amazing though! Hope your foot has healed now too :)
traciehowe - Thanks, Bell! I’m sure that it is a challenge for them! It was an incredible experience and my foot is getting much better! Thank you!
Sandy N Vyjay - What a lovely experience. It is such a pleasure to see the sea lions in their natural habitats. It must have been an quite an experience when a sea lion touched you. I was reminded about a recent trek in the rain forests of Africa where a Gorilla brushed past me.
traciehowe - Thanks, Sandy! It really was! Wow, I think I would be freaking out if a gorilla happened to touch me, but that sounds like an awesome experience too!
SindhuMurthy - How thoughtful of the Red travel company to take enough care that the sea creatures are not disturbed. It is need of the hour to have such responsible operators which not only create a sense of awareness among tourists but also act on what they preach. Btw, I have only seen people getting so close to dolphins but sea lions? I m stunned.
traciehowe - Hi Sindhu! It certainly is something I’d like to see more often with tour operators, and the need is more urgent every day. Thank you for your comment!
Susan - This is such a lovely experience. Would be a pleasure to see the sea lions in their natural habitat. It must have been an quite an experience when a sea lion touched you. I would like such an experience myself.
Thanks for sharing your experiences.
traciehowe - Thanks Susan! It surely was amazing when the sea lion began nuzzling us. I hope you can do this some day!
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Sharon McKenzie - Hi traciehowe,
What a fabulous encounter with the sea lions. This would have been worth the trip even if you did nothing else. Images are great.
traciehowe - Thanks, Sharon! I totally agree with you. It was certainly the highlight for me! Thanks!