Snorkelling with Sea Lions on Santa Cruz Island

If you’ve ever dreamed of visiting the Galapagos Islands, I’m here to tell you it is worth every minute and every penny. What an incredible destination for wildlife viewing and encounters. The islands also have very strict measures in place for wildlife conservation and sustainable tourism.

Santa Cruz is the island with the largest (albeit still small) population, out of the three inhabited islands in the Galapagos archipelago. If you choose a Galapagos Tour which is primarily land-based, which is what I did, then your starting point will likely be Santa Cruz Island.

On my second day in the Galapagos, I had the most extraordinary opportunity to snorkel with wild sea lions. About a 20-30 minute boat ride from the main town of Puerto Ayora, lives a colony of gregarious sea lions.

As we approached and the boat engines were turned off, our safety briefing began. We were advised that the sea lions are quite curious and playful. We were told never to try and touch them because they could bite, but that they may come close enough to brush up against us because they like to play. We were assured we shouldn’t be concerned as long as we weren’t threatening them or trying to touch them.

When I first hopped off the boat there were no sea lions to be seen. I was swimming around with my lifejacket and snorkel gear admiring all of the colourful fish. All of a sudden I saw a large shadow only a few feet away.

I immediately came up for air and to look around. When you get scared while you are snorkelling, isn’t your first reaction to get your head out of the water? Or is that just me? If I can’t see what’s down there, maybe it’s not really there?

Then the sea lion brought his head out of the water, barked loudly and disappeared.

Excited to see where he went, I put my head back in the water and watched several of them play, swim, glide through the water within feet of me. I was in complete amazement. I was full of giddy excitement and adrenaline.

The captain of our boat, Armando, offered to take a few photos of me with the sea lions, with my underwater camera. I’m so glad he did! I didn’t have to worry about trying to take photos of the experience and I simply got to enjoy the moment.

Look how close they are! And, look at all of those little tiny fish everywhere!

Shari snorkelling with a sea lion and a few fish swimming nearby

Underwater photo of sea lion

Shari snorkelling with a sea lion

That day, there might have been 15 or so people in the water and two different boats in the general area. Both boat traffic and animal encounters are highly regulated to ensure the ecosystem is not being damaged, nor are the habits of the marine life being interrupted.

Below the water, there were probably 10 or so sea lions enjoying playtime with the visitors who stopped by. I’ll never forget them swimming toward me at top speed and then swerving away at the last minute. I’m sure I squealed with excitement and laughter more than a few times.

Above the water, you could see marine iguanas, pelicans, crabs and hear the sea lions barking obnoxiously to their friends.

Shari in the water with snorkelling gear and a sea lion on the black rocks behind her

After about an hour of snorkelling, we climbed back on the boat. What an absolutely unforgettable experience! Being able to enjoy these wild animals, in their own habitat, untrained and completely free, was amazing.

When you hear that the animal encounters in the Galapagos Islands are like nowhere else in the world, believe it and then, go experience it for yourself. With no hunting or poaching and strict tourism regulations in place, the animals, for the most part, have never learned to fear humans. Instead, they co-exist and it is a special place like no other.

Wild animals should always remain wild and as responsible travellers, it is important we seek to have encounters and experiences with animals only if they can be done without harm to the animal’s habitat, or a change in their lifestyle. We must always remember that we are visiting their home, and we shouldn’t be rude guests!

If you’d like to experience the unique wildlife of the Galapagos Islands, learn about Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution in the place where it all began and have a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience, let’s start planning your trip!

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