Snorkeling With Baja's Sea Lions

Los Islotes' tresured rookery

By: Janice Mucalov

Her large, velvety eyes locked on mine, the sleek pup torpedoed through the water toward me. I spluttered in my mask and kicked spasmodically to avoid being hit. But with precision control, the pup veered away at the last instant. Laughing now, I gathered my wits and settled down for a closer look at the sea lions swimming around us. After all, I knew they only wanted to play, and this is what we had come to do snorkel with the sea lions at Los Islotes.

Los Islotes is a cluster of tiny red-rock islands north of La Paz, the desert capital of Baja, Mexico. The islands’ claim to fame is that they’re the year-round home to a colony or “rookery” of some 350 curious California brown sea lions.

Our threesome left La Paz earlier that morning in an open panga (a high-speed, 26-foot boat). It was a bone-jarring, teeth-clattering, 2½-hour, bucking-bronco ride into the wind. From my perspective huddled on the floor, the huge swells threatened to swamp us at any moment. But David, our guide with the Cortez Club, one of a dozen sea adventure outfits in La Paz, reassured me the ride didn’t compare to the “really rough” days.

“The wind usually subsides come April,” he added.

By the time we anchored, however, the boat trip was a fading memory. Protected from the wind and chop, the sea inside the leeward curve of Los Islotes was a calm swath of aquamarine. The sun shone overhead in the cloudless sky and the sea lions were barking loudly.

Dozens of them jostled or lay splayed on top of each other on the jagged, guano-caked, rock shelves. Some lumbered to the edge and belly-flopped into the water. That was our cue to join them. Quickly donning wetsuits and snorkel gear, we jumped in.

The sea lion pups were eager to check us out.

“They like to nip your flippers,” David had warned, but perhaps they’d seen too many flippers to go after ours. Instead, one pup nuzzled up to my husband, who rolled over onto his side to peer at the pup. Mimicking my husband, the pup also rolled over onto his side and looked back. Other sea lions pirouetted around us and performed somersaults.

Playful and exuberant, California sea lions are often mistaken for the “trained seals” of aquarium shows and are said to be the smartest of the pinnipeds, the class of mammal with flippers. The chocolate-brown bulls can weigh up to 1,000 pounds and can sometimes be aggressive.

Indeed, David had cautioned us against getting too close to the massive males bellowing on the rocks. But the bulls were content to defend their rocky territory, and it was the moms and their babes who frolicked with us in the water.

They weren’t the only marine creatures to entertain us. A huge school of silver sardines also floated through the water, along with grouper and other exotic fish. The Sea of Cortez, in which Los Islotes is found, is known as a scuba diver’s paradise. Manta rays, colorful angelfish, parrotfish and more are all seen here. The summer months, when the water is bathtub warm and the visibility is an awesome 100 feet, are particularly popular with divers.

On the boat ride back to La Paz, we stopped at one of the beautiful white-sand beaches of Balandra Bay. Baby pelicans swooped overhead and dove for fish. And the only sounds were the soft lapping of the waves against the shore and the mournful cawing of seagulls a quiet reminder that our sea lion adventure had come to an end.


The Cortez Club is a full watersports and five-star PADI dive center (with a great sunset bar overlooking the water), located at the
La Concha Beach Resort in La Paz.
The full-day, sea lion snorkeling trip departs at 8:30 a.m.
The cost is $60 per person, which includes wet suit and snorkel gear.
The Cortez Club can arrange for a box lunch for an additional $10.
A commission of 10 percent is paid when booked through the La Concha Beach Resort.


Sunny La Paz has developed a reputation as a destination for soft adventure including deep-sea fishing, scuba diving and snorkeling, kayaking expeditions, whale watching and windsurfing. The city has retained a small-town character and unlike the deluxe digs of Cabo San Lucas a three-hour drive south there are no five-star hotels. What you find instead are inexpensive but comfortable, pleasant, family-style accommodations.
La Concha Beach Club & Resort: Nestled on a sandy beach just five minutes north of downtown, it’s the only beachfront hotel in La Paz. The spacious, one-bedroom suites with full kitchens have Mexican tilework and stained glass accents. Standard rooms are being renovated from $80 a night. 10 percent commission.
Other good hotel choices include the Club El Moro, with suites and a pretty pool from $70 a night ( and the Hotel Los Arcos on La Paz’s
seaside Malecon or promenade from $75 a night (www.