Foreign tourists are flocking to a group of rocky islands a few miles off the coast of Peru’s capital for a once-in-a-lifetime experience: a chance to swim with sea lions.
The 39 rocky islands near Lima are home to an untold number of sea lions who bathe gracefully and feast on abundant fish that thrive in the cold-water Humboldt current.
But activists warn that the largely unregulated eco-tourism activity could be potentially dangerous and disruptive to the wild animals and their habitat.
Last year, more than 20,000 tourists visited the sea lion reserve, according to the government, with most stopping at Palomino island about 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the coast.
Many tourists swim just feet away from the giant mammals and snap selfies near the rocks. Small motor boats shuttle onlookers past the island throughout the day.
Local tour operators appear grateful for the boost.
Peru has earned a growing reputation for world-class cuisine, and the sea lions have become another offering for travelers seeking out better-known attractions like the Incan site of Machu Picchu.