Sea Lion Adventure in the Sea of Cortez
Swimming with Sea Lions at Los Islotes near La Paz in the Sea of Cortez.
One of the most popular adventures in the Sea of Cortez when visiting La Paz is a trip to the friendly sea lions of the Los Islotes colony. Locals and visitors of all ages can delight in the frolicking of the yearlings and the onshore drama of bulls jockeying for position. Most of the time dozens of well fed adults can be seen lounging on the jagged rocks of the tiny isle.
Located about 25 miles from La Paz, it is about a 45 minute panga ride from downtown La Paz. The trip itself, across the beautiful Bay of La Paz can be an exciting photo safari. Winter and spring visitors have an even chance of sighting a Gray whale, or an odd Humpback. Dolphins are always a thrill to see and sometimes they will even bow ride the tour pangas for a distance. In the winter time, most sea lion colony tours end with a sighting of whale sharks off the Magote just outside La Paz.
The trip to the Islands is the most enjoyable on more tranquil days; this is why the tour is particularly popular from April to November and from March to June. Those warm summer days are very popular, where the water is warm and slipping into mask and snorkel to cavort with the yearlings are my favorite.You will find the largest populations of sea lions in the spring. Rutting season is usually in mid April. Although the pups can be particularly playful on the warm late spring days, the bulls can be a bit more possessive of their herd. Check with your tour guide and take his advice, as the sea lions may want a little more space during that period.
Snorkelers can swim with the pups and divers to Los Islotes can enjoy a double treat, as the rock is also an interesting dive, with colorful fish and coral heads sprouting from the black rock. The north side of the abrupt face of the island drops down to about 105ft.
Yearling pups can take great interest in swimmers. One of the favorite tricks is to steal a fin or tug on your mask, most often from the front, but I’ve had one try to take the elastic from the back and snapped me pretty sharply in the back of the head on it’s return. But it is all meant in good fun. It is often hard to remember that they are in fact wild animals and a sea lion bite can put one from a Doberman to shame.
Sea lions at this colony are not aggressive and most sea lions will warn you away with a burst of bubbles if you are underwater and an unmistakable bark of you are above water. Disembarking on Los Islotes is not permitted.
The yearlings seem to enjoy performing aquabatics for the visitors and will swim circles around you and each other impressing you with their sleek maneuverability. Underwater the face of the sea lion is entirely different than from when they are seen out of their environment. The huge eyes, great light receptacles for hunting fish at depths and in the dark, become even softer and more inviting.
Even if you don’t desire to get in the water with these large marine mammals the trip can be very entertaining. The curious pups will bob up and down beside your boat, trying to sneak a peek at these strange 2 legged visitors who visit in the dozens every day to their tiny rock home.
In the early summer some of the youngest pups can be seen suckling on the rocks in the warm sunshine. Some are as small as a good sized dog, but with a precious look that just wants to make you hug one. This would not be recommended though as a 900lb mother would probably be a bit upset with you.
Some of the pups can be particularly friendly. On a recent trip my guest reached over the side to touch the smooth fur of a young female's tummy. The pup surprised even me, when she hopped up into the boat and enjoyed having the spot behind her ear scratched!
Overnight and partial day trips are available.
Remember to bring your video or still camera with you and if you are intending to get into the water, one of those disposable underwater cameras will help you conserve some very exciting memories.