Scuba Diving Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands is an internationally renowned diving destination home to a staggering array of marine life, nearly 20 percent of which is found nowhere else on earth.
The Ocean that surround the Galapagos Islands is home to green sea turtles, sharks, sea lions and nearly 500 species of fish out of which 25% are endemic.
The Galápagos Islands, located 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) west of the mainland, are undoubtedly the crown jewel of scuba diving in Ecuador. This archipelago, made famous by Charles Darwin with the publication of his book On the Origin of Species in 1859, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Diving conditions in the Galápagos generally aren’t suitable for beginners because of strong currents, sometimes-limited visibility underwater and the cold water temperatures. When the water is warm there’s not much of a current so at times the water can be murky (January to March); there is better visibility but colder water temperatures from July to October.
These Islands feature about 30 dive sites, this is why Galapagos is definitively the best location for Ecuador scuba diving adventures.
Northern Galápagos Islands: The best and most challenging dive spots are located around the archipelago’s northern islands, especially Wolf Island and Darwin Island. Accessed by Live-Aboard Only.
Photo by Neil Gelinas/National Geographic A natural rock formation known as “Darwin’s Arch” protrudes from the water southeast of Darwin Island. The waters around the small, remote islands of Darwin and Wolf contain the largest biomass of sharks on the planet.
At Wolf Island, divers are rewarded with a myriad of reef fish, including schools of angelfish, after the long twelve-hour trip from Santa Cruz. The sea depth ranges from 12 to 20 meters. The area known as El Derrumbe is reputed to be the best place in the Galápagos to see hammerhead sharks. The caves around the island offer opportunities to observe white-tipped reef shark, hawkfish, sea turtles and puffer fish.
Darwin Island is just two hours north of Wolf Island. The shelves drop from 15 to 22 meters. A variety of sea life lives here, including moray eel, surgeonfish, serranid and carangid species, as well as triggerfish.
Darwin and Wolf Islands are said to be the best locales for sighting the giant whale shark between May and November.
Bartolome Island, famous for Pinnacle Rock, a towering spearheaded obelisk that rises from the ocean’s edge and is the best known landmark in the Galapagos. It is a volcanic islet just off the east coast of Santiago Island.
Central and South Galápagos Islands: Because the main land excursion attractions are on the southern Galápagos Islands, The trip that combine divers with non-divers tend to stay in the south.
A less-expensive option is to stay on Santa Cruz or on San Cristóbal and take day trips with a local dive operator. There are dozens of excellent dive spots within a 20- to 90-minute boat trip from Santa Cruz.
Off the eastern coast of Santa Cruz, Gordon Rocks is known for its occasional strong currents and large schools of hammerhead sharks. Other species to be spotted here include regal angelfish that move in groups of twenty, and giant manta swim near the shore of Isabela Island, one of the largest islands in Galápagos. The sea lions are very playful, but it is hard to get close to the manta rays. Yellow-fin tuna also call the waters off this island home.
Devil’s Crown off the northern tip of Santa Maria is good for barracudas, rays and sharks. One of the recommended sites for those with only few dives under their belt is Academy Bay off the Puerto Ayora harbor.
North Seymour, near Santa Cruz, is one of the most photogenic islands, as the sea shelves drop from 4 to 25 meters. The island is known for its barberfish, as well as the shy white-tipped reef shark, which tend to hide in holes and under the shelves. You will also find black-striped salema, seahorses, and toadfish.
DIVING THE GALAPAGOS:
A handful of Live-Aboards cater only to experienced divers and offer cruises that include many of the archipelago’s 30 dive sites over the course of one to two weeks. Two to four daily dives are usually complemented with island excursions. There are several dive centers on Santa Cruz and Isabela Island offering day trips. Day packages, which usually include two dives in one place.
All divers must pay a one-time $100 national park admission fee and $75 port fees.
DIVE CONDITIONS: Currents are moderate to strong and may require you to grab hold of the rocks below the surface so you don’t drift away. Surge can offer up difficulties during your safety stops. The average visibility is 10 – 21m (30 – 70ft), but can often be even less.
CLIMATE: The Galapagos are desert islands, although they lie on the equator, so generally it doesn’t rain very much. On some islands it only rains on the side reached by trade winds.
SEASONS: Diving in Galapagos is fantastic all year round but there are two distinct seasons.
The warm season is December to May. The conditions are calmer and currents are less at this time of year. It is a great time to see huge numbers hammerheads, silkys and Galapagos sharks.
The cooler season is June to November. Rougher sea conditions and strong currents make the diving more challenging. The cool season is all about whale sharks which are around the islands of Darwin and Wolf at this time. There are still large schools of hammerheads and occasional silky sharks and Galapagos sharks around the islands.
VISABILITY: Generally between 5 and 21 meters (15 to 70 feet) and conditions can be challenging because of the surges and currents common in the area
WATER TEMPERTURES: December to May with water temperatures around 23-25°C/75-80°F June to November with water temperatures dropping to 16-18°/60-65°F
GETTING THERE: There are several daily flights to the Galapagos Islands (Baltra/ Santa Cruz Island, or San Cristobal Island) from Guayaquil and Quito cities on the mainland of Ecuador.
ARRIVAL & DEPARTURE: into the GALAPAGOS: take place in one of two airports: San Cristobal Island, or on Baltra Island (the airport used for Santa Cruz Island). Upon leaving Quito or Guayaquil, all passengers are charged a $10 US Transit Control Card, and upon arrival to the Galapagos Islands, a $100 (Subject to change) US National Park Entrance Fee is charged to all international passengers.
EXPERINCE REQUIRED: Galapagos diving can be challenging due to currents and surges. Only experienced divers should be going on live aboards
MARINE LIFE: Large Whale Sharks, Huge Schools of Hammerheads, Swim with lizards and penguins
DIVE NOTES: Gloves or a reef hook are a necessity. Strong currents mean holding onto rocks, which are almost always covered in sharp barnacles. The water is about 6 percent saltier, so adjusting your weights to compensate for greater buoyancy is necessary. Diving in Galapagos can be cold especially in the cool season, and most live-aboards offer 3-4 unmissable dives per day. 7mm wetsuits and hoods are recommended for comfort.
GALAPAGOS DIVE SITES
Punta Carrion on the west of Santa Cruz is the first stop for most live-aboards in the Galapagos. It is a thrill for naturalists with Galapagos sea lions dipping down to play with divers and shoals of eagle rays passing by. Underwater photographers will enjoy ample opportunities with white tip reef sharks which are numerous and very unwary of divers. If you are lucky you might also catch a glimpse of hammerheads and dolphins in the blue.
The current here is usually fairly mild by Galapagos standards making it a fairly easy dive. Visibility is variable all over the Galapagos but expect around 10 meters/33 ft. at Punta Carrion. Like most dives in Galapagos, Nitrox is highly recommended. The maximum depth is around 33 meters and you will definitely want to stay down as long as possible!
Wolf and Darwin are the most isolated of the Galapagos Islands and an overnight sail is required for live-aboards. These tiny islands are home to unique bird life and land visits are not permitted. Very few boats are allowed to stop at Wolf and Darwin meaning you will likely only have to share the site with research boats there to tag and study the large pelagics.
The underwater area around these islands are a highway for scalloped hammerheads heading for the Cocos. Silky sharks and Galapagos sharks and mantas are also passing by. You also have a chance to see pods of dolphins, spotted eagle rays and even orcas on occasion. There is also the chance to see the biggest fish in the world, the whale shark, between June and November.
Sea conditions in Wolf and Darwin can be rough with high swell and strong currents. Currents can be so strong that some dives might be drift dives. Most live-aboards require divers to have 50 + dives and be minimum advanced open water. Most of the dives are around the 30-meter mark meaning for enjoyment and safety, Nitrox is probably a wise choice.
Live-aboard is the only way to access Darwin and Wolf due to their isolated position.
Cabo Douglas is on the eastern side of Fernandina Island. The dives are shallow mostly above 26 meters with much of the interesting wildlife around the shore. Here you can see marine iguanas, a species unique to Galapagos. These iguanas can dive for up to ten minutes, feeding on algae growing on the rocks. There are also flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins and sea horses around Cabo Douglas. It is ideal for those who want to dive with unique animal species and underwater photographers will have ample subjects with good light.
Cousins Rock is a tiny rocky island on the north of Santiago Island. On land it is inhabited by sea birds and sea lions. The underwater landscape is perfect for underwater photography with black coral, sponges and sea fans. It is also a prime spot to see mantas passing by.
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