Palomino Island is an incredible wonder of nature that lies just off the coast of Peru’s sprawling capital city. Not far offshore from Lima, it’s possible to frolic with playful sea lions and spot cute little penguins during this oceanic adventure. Palomino Island feels world’s away from Lima’s busy streets.
After several visits to the capital of Peru, an excursion to Palomino Island remains our favorite thing to do from Lima. So we wrote this article in an effort to share this special place with other travelers.
Many travelers pop into Lima for a short stay on their way to Machu Picchu and other natural attractions. So with limited time, it can be difficult to choose among Lima’s many things to do. Yet for those who enjoy nature, we find swimming with wild sea lions at Palomino Island to be the best activity to pursue.
There’s a reason the Palomino Islands are even sometimes referred to as the “little Galapagos of Lima.” It’s full of wildlife! And to swim with sea lions at Palomino Island is an incredible experience.
Yet logistical information online on how to book a Palomino Island boat tour to go snorkeling with sea lions in Lima was lacking.
We also wondered if it was safe (sharks?) Would our presence in the water be harmful to the sea lions? Are the operators ethical or do they feed the sea lions to attract them?
So we set off to the adjacent port town of Callao to investigate these Palomino Island tours that bring passengers swimming with sea lions.
What It’s Like to Take a Palomino Island Tour To Swim with Sea Lions
In this post, we now share our incredible encounter with these friendly marine mammals. We spill all the info you need to know to book a boat tour to Palomino Islands to swim with the sea lions near Lima, Peru.
First, here’s our account of what it’s like to go swimming with the sea lions at Palomino Islands, starting from the beginning.
Setting Sail from Callao to Palomino Island
It took a bit of trial and error, asking around in the port town of Callao to determine how to reach Palomino Island on a boat tour and how to book it. But we were finally were able to locate a boat operator (details provided at end of this post) and they were preparing their boat to head off for a trip to Palomino Island. We didn’t hesitate to join and soon motored out from Lima’s port of Callao on a half-day excursion to swim with sea lions at Palomino Island!
A small boat transferred us to the larger “yacht.” The boat was not quite what we consider to be a yacht, but close enough. It was a pleasant slow-going ride from Callao to Palomino Island that lasted about 90 minutes.
The waters in the port were relatively calm, but our guide advised that the seas would become aggressively stronger as we ventured out towards the islands. As such, they supplied seasickness medication to whoever desired.
Nearly an hour into the voyage, we rounded the island of El Frontón. This island is notable for formerly holding a prison, similar to Alcatraz, that had an infamous uprising in 1986.
It was while learning about the lore of this island that a lone sea lion reared his head out of the water. He let off a loud roar to greet our approaching boat. It was our first sea lion sighting! We were all in awe and quickly pulled out our cameras to try and snap a picture of him.
But this sea lion who quickly greeted us, just as swiftly ducked back down into the waters below. We were all anxious to see Palomino Island’s sea lions, and this felt like we missed our chance.
Little did we know, there would be plenty more sea lion photo opportunities to come.
Arriving at Palomino Island to Swim with Sea Lions
As we made our approach to Palomino Island you could begin to hear the faint barking of the sea lions grow increasingly louder.
As the island came into focus, we began to notice parts of the rocky islands were moving.
But the isn’t moving, of course. Those aren’t rocks.
This island was completely covered with sea lions!
Palomino Island is literally covered with thousands of sea lions! In fact, our guide said that one estimate approximated that there are eight thousand sea lions in total living in this isolated area, just off the coast of Lima, Peru.
When seeing all these sea lions in person, that stat is easy to believe it.
The boat drifted back and forth in front of Palomino Island for a few minutes to admire this sea lion utopia. The guide then asked if anyone wanted to swim with Palomino Island’s famed marine mammals.
Surprisingly there was only a handful of passengers who decided to partake in the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The waters here are quite cold due to the Pacific’s Humboldt Current flowing from Antarctica and right past Lima. Thankfully full body wetsuits are provided on all tours that swim with the sea lions at Palomino Island.
Rules to Follow if Swimming with Sea Lions Lima Peru
Our guide explained three simple rules to follow while in the water. The rules were vaguely reminiscent of a visit to a gentleman’s club, lol. Here are the rules you need to follow when swimming with sea lions at Palomino Island:
- If the sea lions approach, they may touch you. But you can never touch them.
- Do not scream or make loud noises.
- Do not go onto their island.
This really helps to make a non-invasive, eco-friendly experience in which visitors are not bothering these wonderful aquatic mammals. So with those simple rules in place, we put on a mask and snorkel and jumped right into the frigid waters and slowly swam in the direction of the sea lions hoping to have a nice encounter with them.
What Attracts the Sea Lions to Visitors?
We wondered what would attract the animals to us. Perhaps the operators use buckets of fish to chum the waters? In an eco-adventure we pursued swimming with whale sharks in the Philippines, we were disappointed to discover they were sprinkling the waters with krill to attract them.
Thankfully, that is is not the case here.
While Lima’s Palomino Island tours are not regulated by any agencies, our entire encounter with the sea lions was thankfully very responsible with respect to their local habitat.
So then what makes the sea lions want to play with visitors?
Apparently, some of the younger sea lion pups are simply naturally curious. And there are no predators in this specific area for them to fear. This gives Palomino Island’s sea lions no reason to fear humans, as other wild marine life naturally would.
Is Swimming with the Sea Lions Dangerous? What about Sharks?
We couldn’t get a good answer as to why no predators exist here. It seems that no one really knows.
We were firmly told that sharks don’t come near the island. Nor do orcas. They never have, according to local knowledge.
So hopefully Shamu and her pals don’t ever learn how to use the Internet and find this post. If so, they’d have an all-you-can-eat buffet of sea lions if they ever discovered abundance of them found at Palomino Island.
Rather than orcas or sharks, the biggest safety concern can actually be the sea lions themselves. While many of the pups are curious and playful, some of the bigger sea lions can become aggressive if aggravated.
Our guide explained the larger sea lions can be protective of their island, which could pose a problem if anyone were to go on it. The big sea lions are about 600 pounds, so it would be downright terrifying to come into close contact with one of them.
But not to worry, as Palomino Island’s sea lion residents do tend to keep their distance and stay on the island. While in the water, all the sea lions around us were very friendly and playful. There is always some element of risk in just about any activity, but this experience didn’t feel dangerous to us.
A safety concern for some may simply be treading water and swimming in the cold Pacific. There were some swift currents moving around Palomino Island and some waves too. If you are not a good swimmer, that could pose problems. Weaker swimmers can still get by in this experience, but should stay closer to the boat.
Sea lions will still come by the boat too. You just won’t encounter them in the same abundance.
Snorkeling with the Sea Lions at Palomino Island Peru
We had been told that the sea lions would potentially come as close as about 10-15 feet from us. And for the first minute or so in the water, that was exactly our experience. It was pretty awesome.
Eventually, some of the more curious sea lions started coming even closer. Many were just a few feet away from us. Ducking our heads down into the water only exposed dozens more of these playful creatures who have apparently been zooming around beneath our dangling legs this entire time!
Then some of the more inquisitive sea lions swam right up to us.
A few were really curious about my GoPro and attempted to play with it, which made for great up-close footage.
Towards the end of our swim with the sea lions, some smaller pups individually would just float right up against us, almost begging for a gentle belly rub
But we resisted the overwhelming urge to cuddle with them and followed the no-touching rule.
We were in the water for about fifteen minutes in total swimming with these sea lions at Palomino Island. Our guide finally called us back towards the boat but we didn’t want to leave.
As one last sea lion pup nuzzled us farewell, I thought we could have easily enjoyed another hour or so interacting with these guys.
It was a truly magical experience.
Cruising Past the Penguin Colony at Isla San Lorenzo
Once back aboard the boat, we dried off, changed into warm clothes, and headed out for Isla San Lorenzo. This is Peru’s largest island, where you can view some penguin colonies.
Normally this would be an awesome sight. But after having such an intimate encounter with our sea lion friends, seeing a handful of penguins on a not-so-close island was perhaps a little underwhelming.
Photography Tip: if you want some good shots of the tuxedo-clad birds, be sure to bring your zoom lens with you. We did not.
We then made our way around the western side of San Lorenzo Island, completing a circle around the entire island on our way back into the port of Callao.
Local fishermen likewise headed back into port after their day’s catch. We snacked a bit and already began recounting some of the spectacular moments of this fantastic experience.
Swimming with the sea lions in Lima was truly one of the most fun and memorable adventures we’ve had yet.
If ever in Lima, we highly recommend taking a Palomino Island tour to snorkel with the sea lions. What a truly awesome excursion!
If You Go: Swimming with Sea Lions Palomino Island, Lima, Peru
Want to swim with the sea lions while in Lima?
Here’s what you should know.
What to Bring on a Palomino Island Boat Tour, Lima Peru
- Towel – Towels are not provided and your hotel/hostel likely doesn’t allow you to bring their towels off the property. So bring your own. We love these lightweight microfiber travel towels.
- Bathing suit – Note: Wetsuits are provided on all tours. Just bring your own bathing suit.
- Dry clothes to change back into after getting out of the water.
- Sunscreen – It gets very sunny. We recommend at least SPF 30+. Sunscreen is actually pretty expensive in Peru (much higher than in US), so it can be a good idea to pack some for your trip. Amazon has great prices on Banana Boat sunscreen.
- Hat and Sunglasses – also to help protect you from the sun. Just be careful with your hat that it doesn’t blow off during the boat ride.
- Mask and Snorkel: To get a glimpse at the sea lions swimming underwater be sure to bring your own mask and snorkel. Mask and snorkels are NOT provided on either of the two regular daily Palomino Island boat tours. If you don’t own a mask and snorkel, we recommend this US Divers mask & snorkel on Amazon, which is an excellent mask for the price. Being able to see underwater really enhanced our experience.
- Underwater Camera: This is a magical once-in-a-lifetime experience. Bring an underwater camera to capture the special moment. All of our in-water shots and video were taken with our GoPro camera. Although our $400 GoPro has since died and we’ve replaced it with a $50 knock-off on Amazon that works just a good (maybe better). Check out this CamPark 4K Action Cam.
- Waterproof Case for Your Phone: If you’re taking pictures using your phone, be sure to keep it in a simple waterproof phone case like this, to ensure a wave splash doesn’t kill your device. You can also use it in the water! We do, it works great, receives 25,000+ great reviews on Amazon, and is usually under $10. Check prices now.
- Dry Bag: The boats do have internal compartments to keep belongings from getting wet, but we always use a dry bag whenever we get on any boats. Bring a dry bag like this with you to ensure your belongings stay dry.
- Be Sure To Have Travel Insurance: We also recommend to secure travel insurance when roaming around Peru. We use World Nomads during all our Peru trips and found it to have the best coverage and price combination. Let them cover your Peruvian hospital bill if anything bad happens. More importantly, their coverage includes emergency evac, should something really awful happen. It’ll cover you not only while swimming with the sea lions, but also from theft in Lima, lost luggage, flight issues, earthquakes (they happen in Peru), flooding, injuries, car accidents, and so much more. We never travel to Peru without it. We like World Nomads because unlike most other travel insurances, you can actually start a policy even if you’re in the middle of your trip. So even if you’re reading this from South America, get a quick quote here (takes 1 minute), and you can have a policy starting tomorrow.
How to Get from Lima to Callao?
There are two regularly departing Palomino Island tours that leave from Callao. So you’ll need to arrange transportation there if you take either of the two regular tours.
Alternatively, there are also tours from Lima that include transportation, for an added cost. Yet it’s fairly simple to get from Lima to Callao on your own to then embark on a boat to Palomino Island.
Here’s how do get to the port:
From Lima or Miraflores to Callao: If you’re coming from Central Lima or Miraflores, just take a taxi or Uber to the port of Callao. The trip should take about 45 minutes, depending on traffic, or course. So plan extra time. Have the taxi/Uber go to the appropriate meeting point, which is dependent on the tour operator, and further explained below. Those meeting points are both in the direct vicinity of Fortaleza Real Felipe and the Naval Museum (Museo de Sitio Naval). Those two sites can be good landmarks for a taxi or Uber to drop off at. A taxi from Lima to Callao will likely cost around 50 soles, while an Uber will cost around 20-25 soles. Get Uber fare estimate from your location for the exact price.
From the Cruise Terminal to Callao: If you’re coming from the cruise port, it would be only a 15-minute walk to Callao, but it’s through a pretty rough area. So a taxi or Uber is definitely recommended instead. A taxi from the cruise terminal to the area where the tours leave should only take about 5 minutes and shouldn’t cost more than 10 sols. Again, you can use Fortaleza Real Felipe and the Naval Museum (Museo de Sitio Naval) as a point of interest to get to the general area where the boats depart from.
Companies Offering the Palomino Island Tour and How to Book
There are two main companies offering regularly departing boat tours to Palomino Islands from Callao. Alternatively, it’s further possible to use a trusted online booking site, like Viator, for the ease of booking a tour that includes transportation in just a few clicks.
The two regularly departing tours are:
- Mar Adentro Excursiones
Mar Adentro Excuriones vs EcoCruceros Comparison
Information for each company follows, but here’s a brief synopsis of the major differences we noticed between the two.
Departure Time: The Mar Adentro Excursiones meets in the morning (10:00 am) while EcoCruceros departs slightly later (11:30 am) and has two departures on weekends/holidays (10:00 am & 2:30 pm).
Type of Boat: Mar Adentro uses an open-air speedboat while EcoCrucero’s boat is a “yacht” (it’s nothing fancy) that includes both exterior space and an enclosed cabin.
Length of Tour: Mar Adentro’s tour is 3 hours, while EcoCrucero’s tour is about 4 hours, due to boat speed and route.
Price: Both tours were about the same price (only a $1 difference) and seem to offer the same amenities: English-speaking guide, wetsuit, life vest, insurance, snacks, and non-alcoholic beverages.
Yet they are two completely different companies offering two slightly different experiences. So which to choose?
We chose EcoCrucero, simply due to timing and availability. We had a great experience and would personally recommend them. Yet Mar Adentro Excursiones seems to have a good reputation too, as passengers we spoke to who went on their tour likewise gave them a solid review. Ultimately we suggest booking a Palamino Island tour to swim with the sea lions based on whichever time better fits your schedule.
Mar Adentro Excursiones Swimming with Sea Lions Palomino Island Tour
- Cost: $50 USD is the price currently listed on their website
- Departs: 10:30 am (Meeting time is 10:00)
- Meeting Point: Marina Club del Callao across from Royal Phillip Fortress, 100 meters up the street from across from Plaza Grau Callao
- Website: www.maradentroperu.com
- Email: email@example.com
- To Book: Mar Adentro now offers online booking directly on their website.
- Notes: We went to Mar Adentro Excursiones and spoke to the owner/guide, Eduardo, who was very helpful. We did not go on this tour because it was booked up for a private cruise ship excursion tour that day. But I personally spoke with other passengers who went, which gave great reviews. Important note: When cruise ships are in port, this operation is sometimes booked up for a private tour in which case they cannot take other passengers.
EcoCruceros Palomino Island Swimming with Sea Lions Tour
- Cost: $49 USD
- Departs: Daily. Time: Monday-Fridays 11:30, Weekends & Holidays 2 departures: 10 am & 2:30 pm.
- Meeting Point: EcoCruceros asks that you contact them directly by phone or email to get the exact meeting point for the tour each day. (During our tour, we met at Plaza Grau Callao, across the street from Royal Phillip Fortress.)
- Website: They have two websites but this is the same company. The first website has more info specific to the Palomino Islands tour:
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- To Book: Although we (and others) simply just showed up without reservations, EcoCruceros prefers that you make a reservation by emailing (listed above), completing the contact info form on their website, or calling:
- Phone: 226-8530 / 242-6655
- Cell: 99949-4867 / 99910-8396
- Notes: This is the tour we took detailed above. As you can tell by our gushing, we really enjoyed our experience. We would absolutely recommend them and personally give EcoCruceros an excellent review.
Or For Convenience – Book Online with Hotel Pickup in Lima
If you’re the type of person that wants an easy and seamless experience and are okay with paying a little more for it, then booking a Palomino Island Boat Tour with Viator is likely your best option. You can book the tour directly online. No email back & forth, no calling long-distance to Peru attempting a conversation in Spanish, or having to search for Mauricio in the streets of Callao. Just make your reservation online and you’re all set.
This Viator excursion also includes hotel pick-up and drop-off so you don’t have to worry about getting to the Callao and back on your own. A driver will arrange to pick you up directly from your hotel in Lima. All Viator phone support is in English too should you need to call them. It all may be worth it for those who value convenience. And this tour receives great online reviews. Check availability, pricing, and recent reviews of the Viator tour.
On a side note, there are lots of other interesting Viator excursions and tours all over Lima which include many fun things to do while in the capital of Peru, from very inexpensive city tours to bar crawls and ceviche classes! Search other Lima tours on Viator here.
Swimming with Sea Lions in Lima: Palomino Island
We sure hope this post and video has helped to give a glimpse of what it’s like to swim with sea lions in Lima, Peru. The Palomino Island tour is really a must-do for any nature lovers who find themselves in Lima.
If you have any questions, let us know in the comments. And if you’ve been swimming with the sea lions in Lima, give us a shout below and tell us about your experience. Happy travels!
Publishing note: This article was initially published in January 2015 and was recently updated in January 2019 to reflect the most current Palomino Island information.