Before he dreams of the lions, Santiago dreams about "Africa when he was a boy and the long golden beaches and the white beaches, so white they hurt your eyes, and the high capes and the great brown mountains...he lived along that coast now every night and in his dreams he heard the surf roar and saw the native boats come riding through it...he smelled the smell of Africa that the land breeze brought at morning". After this dream is over, Santiago dreama about other scenes from his past, "the white peaks of the Islands rising from the sea and then...the different harbours and roadsteads of the Canary Islands".
The dreams are significant because it is only the memories of places he has been that remain now in his life. It is the idea of life as a journey which remains with him in his own age; his times of passion do not matter anymore. Santiago "no longer dream(s) of storms, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor of his wife...he only dreams of places now and of the lions on the beach". The feeling that is conveyed almost seems to be cyclical; the lions on the beach representing his youthful virility and vigor, and the places he has been charting his progress through life to old age. The fact that he repeatedly dreams about the lions indicates his hope of returning to his idyllic youth, something that sustains him through life but may only be fulfilled in death.