This Popular South American Sea Lion Experience Is A Bit Scarier Than Tourists Realize

Swimming alongside cute sea lions seems fairly benign when compared to say, splashing around in the world's most shark-infested beaches. But people who've actually swum with the creatures say it's a lot more intimidating than you might think. This is especially true when the sea lion numbers are in the thousands, which they are in the Palomino Islands, about 6 miles off the coast of Lima, Peru. Visitors flock to the islands to swim with the animals, particularly during the Peruvian summer months(December through February) when the sea and air temperatures are warmer. This is also a great time to visit because the adorable sea lion pups are being born. 

Tour operators in the Palomino Islands claim that sea lions, often affectionately referred to as "sea puppies," don't bite humans. Keeping a safe distance is nonetheless wise, as males of the species can grow to nine feet long and weigh a whopping 770 pounds, a bit bigger than your average puppy. Moreover, as a large group, the animals make a bone-chilling howling noise, like something straight out of a horror movie. "I didn't realize how scary it was going to be. And I don't get scared easily," said TikToker @lifeofcharissae after taking part in the excursion. 

What it's like to swim with the sea lions

The four-hour sea lion immersion tour begins with a boat ride from the Port of Callau out to the Palomino Islands. On the way to the islands, the boat may stop at other points of interest, such as an area known for its epic wild penguin sightings. As the boat approaches the sea lion rookery, the deafening roar of the colony grows louder and swimmers are asked to zip up their wetsuits, which protect against hypothermia in the chilly water. Then, it's time to dive in. 

The sea lions are naturally playful and curious and approach human swimmers on their own, without having to be enticed with dead fish or other bait. While visitors are instructed not to touch the sea lions, sometimes the animals initiate contact themselves, playfully bumping swimmers or lining up to smell their feet. In all, visitors are allowed about 45 minutes in the water with the animals. Sea lion swimmer and writer, Kerrie-Anne Riles, described overcoming her initial trepidation and loving the experience in the end. "Lima has many interesting ways to spend the day, but this is definitely the most exhilarating," she wrote in an article for Go World Travel.

Planning your sea lion excursion

Several different tour operators run sea lion excursions from the Port of Callau, but not all these tours are created equal. Things to consider when planning your trip are the length of the tour, other points of interest included on the tour, and especially, the type of boat. Keep in mind that not all boats provide wetsuits, toilets, or shaded areas. If your boat ends up lacking shade, you could always bring your umbrella along and if necessary, use it to protect yourself from overexposure to the sun, which can be intense out on the water. Essential supplies to bring with you on this trip include sunscreen, a hat, a towel, binoculars if you have them, and above all, a waterproof camera. 

If you have any energy left over after returning to Callau, spend some time in the La Punta area, where you'll find a pretty beach and restaurants boasting both fantastic local cuisine and great sea and city views. End your unforgettable day with a classic Peruvian dessert, some sweet picarones, purchased from a neighborhood street vendor. Are your taste buds tingling yet? If so, it's because you're in one of the top foodie destinations in South America