Have you ever thought of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species? Did you dream of diving with some predators and big mammals? If your answer is “Yes”, then you’d better start packing in order to visit the Galápagos Islands (Ecuador), one of the most spectacular diving spots hidden in the Pacific Ocean.
There are 18 main islands in the archipelago; four of them are inhabited: Floreana, Isabela, Santa Cruz, and San Cristobal. It is a good idea to choose Santa Cruz as it is strategically located between the other islands and it provides a connection by speed boats and inter-island flights. To get around on the Island it is recommended to use taxi and water taxi to reach some of the places.
After a 2-hour flight from Guayaquil to the archipelago, the first thing you might see will be iguanas relaxing in the sun right next to the runway. You will be given a ticket with the national symbol of Galápagos after paying a fee for the entry to the National Park. Take a closer look: you will see a Turtle and a Hammerhead Shark on the symbol. It will not deceive you promising quite a diving experience ahead!
Dive Map of the Galapagos Islands
Thanks to the protection under Galápagos Marine Reserve and conservation programs the Islands offer one of the richest underwater floras and faunas in the world. There are 3 main currents which form the unique ecosphere based on cold and nutrient-rich waters (Humboldt Current), tropical waters (Panama Current) and colder waters from the deep (Cromwell Undercurrent).
The most famous diving spots are Darwin and Wolf Islands. They are recommended for the advanced divers due to currents, deep dives, and liveaboard only option when the amount of Hammerhead Sharks, Sea Lions, and even Killer Whales can hardly be calculated.
Nevertheless, you should not underestimate staying on any of the main islands, for example, Santa Cruz, which is suitable for all level of divers. Dive sites there will allow you to meet Giant Hammerhead Shark, Galápagos Shark, Sea Lion, Sea Turtle, Golden Manta and even a Tiger Shark. Normally night dives are not offered from the islands, only during the liveaboard. But will you dare to enter the water at night after seeing all the predators?!
Best dive sites overview
You can enjoy great dive sites in any of the chosen locations. If you fancy underwater photography, then you’d better take your camera with you for each dive in order not to miss a single moment.
Darwin & Wolf
The main and the most famous dive sites of Galápagos are Darwin & Wolf Islands. You can reach them only on a liveaboard, so it is recommended mainly for the advanced divers. You should expect to see a countless number of Hammerhead Sharks, Galápagos Sharks, Turtles, Eagle Rays, Manta Rays, and Sea Lions. Among the other big ones, there is a chance to see a Whale shark between June and October, Tiger shark, Silky shark, and Marlin. Some people noticed Killer Whales while taking their morning coffee on the boat.
Gordon Rock (Santa Cruz)
Gordon Rock is recommended for advanced divers. It can be reached either by a liveaboard or by a daily diving boat within an hour from Santa Cruz depending on the ocean conditions.
During the transfer, there is a high chance of seeing Dolphins and Whales. The dive site itself is a rocky volcanic crater with the sandy spots. The maximum depth is 32m (104 ft.). Underwater currents can be very strong, so you might even need to hold on a rock. It is a good idea to take gloves for that dive. Hammerheads, Whitetip, and Blacktip Reef Sharks are patrolling the area with Yellowfin Tuna, Surgeonfish, Snappers, and Green Sea Turtles. Don’t panic if Sea Lions approach you very close, they are just curious. Eagles Rays, Sting Rays, and schools of Barracuda are frequently seen at the dive site.
Daphne Major & Minor (Santa Cruz)
The two islands which are situated not far from Santa Cruz are interesting dive sites suitable for all levels of divers. Here you can enjoy wall dives with smaller marine life like Slipper Lobster, Seahorse, Moray, and various reef fish. Just watch your depth as the wall goes to 60m (196 ft.) down.
When you look into the deep waters you should expect Galápagos Shark, Manta Ray, Hammerhead Shark, Turtles and Eagle Rays. Sea Lions will normally be playing on the surface close to the rocks. You can try swimming through the huge schools of Black Striped Salema: it can get as dark as during a night dive. The other minute you might find yourself next to a Whitetip or Blacktip reef shark instead of your buddy in the middle of the fish. Quite an experience!
Cape Marshall (Isabela)
Cape Marshall is located near Isabela. It can be used for wall and drift dives for the advanced ones as currents can be strong. Among the typical Galápagos representatives there you will find Hammerheads, Sea Lions, Turtles, Whitetip and Blacktip Reef Sharks. The dive site gives you a chance to see Marbled Electric Ray, Manta Ray, and “Mola Mola” (Sunfish).
North Seymour & Mosquera (Santa Cruz)
These dive sites are situated very close to one another, so you can try both or choose one of them for any level of divers. Mosquera consists of multiple platforms on different depths reminding the cinema hall. So take your tickets to the first row of an underwater show with Hammerheads, Manta Ray, schools of Golden Rays, Eagle Rays, Blacktip and Whitetip Reef Sharks, Sea Lions, and Galápagos Shark. If you see a turtle passing by, look further as a Tiger Shark might be hunting for it.
Best dive season
Two seasons are typically defined for diving at Galápagos. The warmer season is between December and May with average water temperature of 22-25ºC (71-77ºF). It brings warm waters with more Plankton. That season is recommended if you would like to see the biggest concentration of Manta Rays and other species of Rays. Despite Plankton visibility is good, in average between 15-25m (49-82 ft.).
The colder season is between June and November with colder winds. The average water temperature is 18-23ºC (64-73ºF). A Whale Shark is mainly seen between June and October. Due to the winds, the ocean gets choppy and visibility can drop to 8-15m (26-49 ft.) in average.
You can choose any time of the year in order to see such species as Hammerheads, Galápagos Sharks, Sea Lions, and Reef Sharks.
There are 2 main aspects which should be taken into consideration when diving at Galápagos: cold water temperature with possible thermoclines and strong currents.
If you plan to arrive between June and November when the water is colder, it is a good idea to use 5 or 7mm wetsuit with a hood and gloves during that season. The gloves might help to hold to the rock or reef in strong currents. Such additional wear might influence your buoyancy control so you’d better tune it during the first dive. If you have a drysuit, it would be the right place to use it.
Currents at many of the dive sites can be medium and strong that is why it would be good if you get your first diving experience before arriving at Galápagos. But do not be afraid of the currents, after some practice you can see more with less energy during 1 dive.
If you would like to try a liveaboard, you need to have at least the level of AOWD and experience of diving in cold water and currents is highly recommended.
Sharks, Sea Lions, and Rays might be the best description of the most typical creatures at Galápagos.
Among sharks, you will encounter such species as Hammerhead, Blacktip and Whitetip Reef Shark, Galápagos Shark, Silver Shark, Tiger Shark, and harmless Whale Shark. There is a possibility to meet Killer Whales at Darwin and Wolf Islands.
The following will be the representatives of the Ray family: Manta Ray, Golden Manta, Eagle Ray, Stingray, and Marbled Electric Ray.
Green Sea Turtle, Marine Iguana, Seahorse, Sunfish, Marlin can also be seen at Galápagos. Most common fish are Angelfish, Surgeonfish, Grouper, Sea Bass, Wrasse, Tuna, Butterflyfish, and Batfish.
There are several liveaboards operating at Galápagos though only below 5 offer trips to Darwin and Wolf. Most of them can accommodate up to 16 passengers basically offering 8-day trips. Itineraries differ slightly; the emphasis is on Darwin and Wolf with visits to Santa Cruz, and Santiago Island.
Galápagos Sky is a 30m (100ft.) 3 decks liveaboard providing five-star service up to 16 guests. The starting point of the cruise is San Cristobal. There are 8 cabins divided into the Deluxe cabins on the lower deck and Master cabins on upper deck. There are a separate lounge and a dining area. All drinks are normally complementary. You can rent an underwater camera and full dive gear on the Yacht. There will be at least 2 diving days at Darwin and Wolf, including a night dive. Other dive sites will be determined based on weather conditions.
Galápagos Aggressor III
The Dive Yacht is a part of the luxurious Aggressor Fleet. Galápagos Aggressor III is a 30m (100ft.) liveaboard which departs from Baltra. You can spend your time between 4 levels of the Yacht. The crew of 9 people is servicing up to 16 guests. The level of service corresponds to the highest standards and there is nothing better than a warm towel provided after the morning dive together with a cup of hot chocolate and a muffin!
There are 4 Master and 4 Deluxe Staterooms. Guests can enjoy the partially covered sun deck. All drinks are normally complementary. Gear, as well as photo/video equipment rentals, are available aboard. The itinerary includes diving at Darwin and Wolf, Santiago Island, Santa Cruz Island.
The liveaboard is 32m (104ft.) long providing space up to 16 guests in 9 cabins. There are 4 levels on the yacht, including a large sun and dive decks. The starting point of the cruise is San Cristobal. The itinerary includes 3 dive days at Darwin and Wolf, Santiago Island, Santa Cruz and possible dives at Roca Redonda and Punta Vicente Roca. Dives are made from 2 Zodiacs.
Humboldt Explorer is 32m (104ft.) long vessel being a part of Explorer Ventures Fleet. The liveaboard departs on Mondays from San Cristobal. It is suitable for 16 guests who can enjoy the 3 levels of the yacht. Dives will be made at Darwin and Wolf, including a night dive. The rest of the route is determined based on the weather conditions. Dives are made from Zodiacs up to 8 divers.
That liveaboard is rather tiny with the length of 26m (85 ft.) so it is recommended for the groups of 8 divers. You can squeeze up to 12 guests in total but it might be rather uncomfortable. A toilet and 2 hot water showers need to be shared. In this connection, the yacht would suit a group of close friends and relatives best. The itinerary starts from Baltra normally on Fridays. The guests are to visit Darwin and Wolf, Isabela and Fernandina. There are 2 Zodiacs to approach the dive sites servicing up to 4 divers each.
Daily boat trips
Liveaboard might be rather expensive and difficult if you are traveling with children. In such a case it is better to accommodate yourself on the Islands and enjoy daily boat trips organized by one of the dive centers or resorts. You’d better choose between Puerto Ayora at Santa Cruz or Puerto Villamil at Isabela. Most of the dive shops are located there and daily boat trips will allow you to enjoy the same dive sites around Santa Cruz and Isabela which are normally included in the itineraries of the liveaboards.
Diving Resorts & Hotels
There are several diving resorts which provide accommodation, daily diving, and different land & sea diving packages. Other hotels are separated from dive centers. However, Puerto Ayora is a small town, so most places are reachable within a short walk.
Red Mangrove Resort
The Resort has 2 locations: on Santa Cruz and Isabela Islands. It offers 2 lodges on each of the Islands. Galápagos Diver Lodge in Puerto Ayora and Cally Lodge in Puerto Villamil will suit budget travelers while Aventura Lodge in Peurto Ayora and Isabela Lodge in Puerto Villamil are targeting those who demand some architectural design, seafront location, and fusion cuisine. 5 star PADI dive center is located at the Resorts and they are part of the Group.
The 4 star Hotel with the Diving Center is conveniently located in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. The hotel offers 22 rooms, a pool, and a restaurant.
Finch Bay Eco Hotel (Santa Cruz)
If you would like more privacy though still close to Puerto Ayora you should choose Finch Bay Eco Hotel located at Alemanes Beach. It is separated from the town by a small bay. The Hotel provides own “water taxis” so you can travel from the Municipal dock to the Hotel’s dock. The Hotel is famous for its ecotourism approach. It owns desalination plant and a yacht. Solar panels are used for water heating; own garden provides hotel’s restaurant with organic vegetables. The hotel offers kayaks and bicycle rental and free WiFi in public areas.
Such dives centers as Dive Center Academy Bay and Galapagos Tip Top Dive &Training Faculty are just within 10 min walk after a water taxi brings you to the Municipal dock.
Other activities for non-divers
Among the most interesting non-diving activities you will find snorkeling, the birds-watching and horseback riding. You might notice Blue-footed Booby, Red-footed Booby, Frigatebird, and Pelicans even without binoculars and some special tour. The latter often try to steal fish from fishermen boats competing with Sea Lions. You can arrange trips to see Flamingos at El Garrapatero Beach lagoon on Santa Cruz or Isabela or to watch Galápagos Penguins on Isabela or Fernandina.
Snorkeling (via cruise)
Most of the dive clubs and agencies specializing in cruises organize snorkeling daily cruises, Quasar Expeditions being one of the most famous for their trips. You can either take your own mask, snorkel, boots and fins or agency will provide you with snorkeling gear. Do not forget your wetsuit not to get cold fast and to protect yourself from sharp rocks. Usually, you will get a briefing from the naturalist on the board about the equipment and the site. There are several destinations which are great for snorkeling, below are some of them.
Punta Espinosa (Fernandina Island)
Due to the location next to Bolivar Channel, you might get a chance to swim with Dolphins, Humpback Whales, Sea turtles, and Marine Iguanas.
Devil’s Crown (Floreana Island)
That site offers sheltered waters with a large variety of fish, Morays, Sea Turtles, Sea Lions and a possibility to see Eagles Rays and Golden Mantas from the surface. You have a chance to spot Whitetip Reef Sharks here as well.
Pinnacle Rock (Bartolome Island)
Here you can enjoy snorkeling with Galápagos Penguins, Sea Lions, and Sea Turtles next to the sandy beach of white and pink colors.
Charles Darwin Research Station
The center was created in 1959 to perform scientific research and environmental education. You just need to take a short walk from Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island to get there. The main attractions are Giant Turtles and Land Iguanas. Lonesome George, the world’s famous century-old giant turtle, used to live at the Station.
If you are staying at Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz, do not miss an opportunity to visit a tremendous Tortuga Bay. Be ready to walk around 2.5km (1.5 miles) before you sign yourself in at the entrance to the path.
Do not be mislead by the beautiful white sandy beach as swimming is not allowed due to the dangerous waves and sharp volcanic rocks. You can try swimming and snorkeling only in a small lagoon at the end of the Bay to the right if you are facing the ocean. Tortuga Bay is inhabited by the Marine Iguanas, Boobies, Pelicans, Galápagos Red Crabs, and Sea Turtles. You might see shark fins on the surface of the ocean; these are most likely Whitetip Reef Sharks.