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The Galapagos Islands are, without a doubt, one of the best places in the world to do SCUBA diving. The archipelago consists of a highly-protected marine reserve that’s approximately 51,351 mi2 (133,000 km2) in size, offering an aquatic paradise that’s virtually immaculate, free of human impact and pollution. It is due to this that Galapagos waters attract adventurers from all over the world that seek to live an exciting SCUBA diving adventure in the company of fascinating creatures, such as hammerhead sharks, sea turtles, rays, sea lions, and even whale sharks, among many others.
If you’re looking to embark on this aquatic adventure in the Galapagos Islands – the birthplace of Darwin’s theory of evolution – then follow along with this blog as we guide you through everything you need to know about going SCUBA diving in the Galapagos Islands.
Due to its status as a National Park and Marine Reserve, the Galapagos Islands are beholden to strict rules and regulations that apply to visitors and tour operators that offer their services within the boundaries of the archipelago. It is thanks to these rules and regulations that the National Park is capable of protecting the delicate Galapagos environment and the highly unique species that peacefully live throughout the islands and their surrounding waters.
As a result of these regulations, there’s certain details one needs to keep in mind when it comes to SCUBA diving in the Galapagos Islands. And while these details may be slightly more intricate when compared to other diving destinations in the world, don’t worry – they’re not overly complicated. Below we list the 3 things that you’ll have to keep in mind when planning your SCUBA diving trip to the Galapagos:
All itineraries and excursions that occur throughout the Galapagos archipelago are strictly required to count on the prior authorization and approval of the Galapagos National Park (GNP). All visitor sites, trails, and even the activities that occur at each visitor site have been carefully selected and reviewed to allow for the most minimal impact possible on the environment, while offering visitors fascinating excursions and encounters with the local wildlife. The same thing applies to all scuba diving tours and activities that occur in the Galapagos.
While the Galapagos might not have the tremendous amount of diving sites that are often seen in other destinations around the world, this doesn’t mean you’ll miss out on having fascinating explorations of the underwater world of Galapagos. Absolutely not! In the Galapagos, it’s all about quality over quantity! (We’ll get into all the best sites to go scuba diving in the Galapagos further down below).
All of the vessels that offer SCUBA diving activities in the Galapagos Islands must have at least one guide that has been certified by the GNP. In addition to this, guides aboard vessels that offer scuba diving activities in the Galapagos must also carry an International Divemaster License. In this case, you’ll count on the support, experience, and knowledge of a true diving professional.
Fun Fact: The majority of guides that you’ll find in the Galapagos are locals! This means you’ll have the insight of people who truly know Galapagos waters like the back of their hand.
In addition to a diving guide, all vessels that offer SCUBA diving tours in the Galapagos must have a crew that is trained and specialized in SCUBA gear management and maintenance so that your experience is everything you want it to be, and more! Remember that all SCUBA diving gear in the Galapagos must abide by international standards of safety. You should also make sure that your SCUBA diving tour operator has a crewmember that has been trained in first aid (in the unlikely event that a passenger requires it). Safety should always come first when it comes to embarking on this immensely rewarding experience in the Galapagos!
In order to partake in any sort of SCUBA diving tour or package in the Galapagos, visitors will need to have a PADI Certification (minimum Open Water Diver license) and a total of at least 25 logged dives. Ideally, these 25 logged dives should have occurred within the past year; however, if this is not the case, it’s likely that your Galapagos diving guide will require you to partake in an evaluation of your SCUBA diving abilities and keep a watchful eye on you throughout the dive. Remember that the Galapagos Islands are a considerably volcanic place that is exposed to several different and powerful currents!
That being said, there are select diving sites in the Galapagos archipelago that do not require that much experience. There are even Diving Schools available on the inhabited islands where you can actually learn to SCUBA dive, if you have the time.
If you’re ready to plan your SCUBA diving adventure in the Galapagos, then you’ll have the following three options to choose from:
Recommended for those that are interested exclusively in SCUBA diving.
With this option, visitors will get to travel to dive sites in the archipelago aboard a 16-passenger (maximum) vessel that will make very few stops on land. In addition to SCUBA diving, these vessels occasionally offer additional activities such as kayaking, coastal explorations (aboard a dinghy), snorkeling, and swimming – always with the prior authorization and approval of the Galapagos National Park for each activity.
If you’re interested in this option, Metrojourneys recommends Liveaboard
Recommended for those seeking more flexibility and variety during their time in the Galapagos.
With this option, visitors will have a hotel on one of the inhabited islands (Santa Cruz, Isabela or San Cristobal) as their home base. Depending on how you choose to plan your itinerary, you’ll take a boat with up to 12 other divers (maximum) to one of the nearby dive sites in the central region of the archipelago. These vessels are allowed to disembark at designated sites that have been approved by the Galapagos National Park, occasionally offering hiking excursions as part of their diving tour. Additionally, they may offer divers the chance to partake in other activities, such as kayaking, coastal exploration (aboard a dinghy), snorkeling, and swimming, when permitted by the Galapagos National Park.
There are also select expedition hotels in the Galapagos that offer this option in combination with island exploration activities or leisure days to balance out the experience.
Recommended for those who wish to have a more complete experience of the Galapagos Islands.
This is, without a doubt, the most complete option for people who wish to explore virtually all of the features of the Galapagos Islands. Expedition cruises in the archipelago have a maximum occupancy of 100 passengers. Due to Galapagos National Park rules for the preservation of the marine reserve, these cruises are prohibited from offering SCUBA diving tours due to their size. Nevertheless, what they lose in SCUBA diving, they gain in the terrestrial exploration of unique and faraway islands, granting visitors the ability to experience endemic wildlife up-close. The best part? Once you disembark, you can simply complement your expedition cruise with a SCUBA diving day tour and keep exploring the Galapagos’ underwater wonders!
The approximate cost of a liveaboard diving tour is between $600 and $700 per day. These tours usually last an average of 8 days. On the other hand, land-based SCUBA diving day tours (coupled with an Expedition Hotel) cost, on average, between $400 to $600 per day, with itineraries that extend up to 5 or 8 days.
It all depends on the type of diver you are and the experience you wish to have! Since the islands are located in the Pacific Ocean – literally along the equatorial line – the Galapagos Islands are a convergence point for a number of major marine currents, such as:
These currents are saturated with nutrients that attract marine life. This can be extremely appealing to some divers, however, the interaction between these currents and the islands’ geography create diving sites that are a bit more complex than others. On certain occasions, these fluctuating currents can tow or drag divers. Additionally, depending on the depth of the dive, some sites may present limited visibility ranging from 32 to 68 ft (10 to 21 m) or less, along with lower temperatures.
For this reason, it is of utmost importance that one choose a dive site commensurate with one’s skill level and experience, and that one know how to react to extraordinary situations in the event that these may arise.
The following are some of the types of diving experiences you’ll find in the Galapagos Islands:
With this type of dive, the diver is towed by the ocean current. Many people think of this type of diving as underwater “flying.” Even though you may have fewer opportunities to interact with marine life, given the speed at which you travel, you’ll be able to cover a lot of space in a short period.
This type of dive takes place at a depth below 59 ft (18 m). The recommended limit for divers with a PADI license is up to 131 ft (40 m), given the complications that could arise should one descend further. On this type of dive, one may experience lower temperatures and less visibility; however, the marine life on display is truly fascinating!
As the name implies, this type of dive gives divers the chance to explore the richness of the Galapagos Islands’ underwater geography. The reefs are full of interesting marine life that mesmerize every diver with its beauty.
The Galapagos Islands offer many options for people who want to enjoy a dive full of impressive views and encounters with marine life. Make sure you speak with your tour operator about available options commensurate with your level of diving ability!
It is always worth noting that the Galapagos Islands are a year-round destination, given their temperate climate, the presence of fauna throughout the year, and absence of extreme meteorological phenomena like hurricanes and storms. For this reason, if you’re planning a trip to the Galapagos Islands, many exciting surprises await you any time of year!
In the archipelago, we have two distinct seasons: one hot and one dry, the former of which extends from January to May, and the latter which lasts from the end of June to December. The differences between these seasons can also be felt below the surface of the ocean.
During the hot season, the Panama Current pushes the Humboldt Current towards the south by injecting a torrent of hot water along the coasts of the archipelago and completely changing the aquatic panorama. During this season, the temperature ranges between 75° and 82° F (23° – 27° C) and the seas are relatively calm.
On the other hand, during the dryer season, the water temperature ranges between 62° and 68° F (16° to 20° C) due to the presence of the Humboldt Current which, thanks to the numerous nutrients and microscopic species that travel along it, ignites much more activity among marine life. During this season, underwater currents tend to be much stronger.
Location: Santa Cruz Island
Degree of Difficulty: Intermediate/Advanced
Average Dive Depth: 60 to 80 ft (18 to 24 m)
This destination is a popular diving site in the Galapagos thanks to the presence of one of the most fascinating species in the Galapagos – the hammerhead shark. Additionally, experiencing Gordon Rocks offers you the chance to understand a little more about the volcanic origin of the islands.
If you visit this site, also known as “la lavadora” (“the washing machine”), you’ll be swimming in crater of an underwater volcano! The current at this dive site can be a bit strong at times, which is why it is recommended that divers have a minimum of 25 registered dives before descending to Gordon Rocks’ sandy ocean floor. Among the species that you’ll be able to see here are whitetip and blacktip reef sharks, sea lions, as well as manta and other rays.
Interesting Fact: Unlike most species of shark, the hammerhead moves about during the day in large schools (or pods) only to separate at night in order to hunt.
Location: Santa Cruz Island
Degree of Difficulty: Beginner/Intermediate
Average Dive Depth: 60 to 65 ft (18 to 20 m)
Guy Fawkes is a pleasant dive site where you can descend along the islet’s bedrock where all sorts of marine life patiently await new visitors. At this site, you’ll be able to enjoy the company of marine turtles, the Galapagos shark, colonies of playful sea lions, and large schools of colorful reef fish. The visibility at this site tends to be very good, thanks to its geographical location, which means it’s almost always shielded from strong marine currents.
Location: North Seymour Island
Degree of Difficulty: Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced
Average Dive Depth: 16 to 88 ft (5 to 27 m)
This dive site offers options for every skill level of SCUBA diving! The marine currents here range from moderate to strong. The underwater landscape is one of the highlights of this location. A glorious slope of about 22 to 26 ft (7 to 8 m), starting along the shoreline, guides us to a rocky reef where we can observe lots of whitetip reef sharks, along with some hammerhead sharks, eagle rays, golden rays, and all the impressive reef fish on display.
Interesting Fact: Due to the volume of small fish that exist at this dive site, on occasion, you may see some curious blue-footed boobies zooming by, diving in for the catch of the day.
Location: Bartolome Island
Degree of Difficulty: Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced
Average Dive Depth: 9 to 88 ft (3 to 27 m)
Dazzling volcanic lava and rock formations await below the surface! When diving along underwater cliffs at this dive site, you’ll find yourself in the presence of a wide range of sharks, seahorses, sea lions, penguins, manta rays, flying rays, pelagic species, and more. The currents at Bartolome tend to be moderate in strength, but it is recommended that you remain alert during this excursion.
Location: Darwin and Wolf Islands
Degree of Difficulty: Advanced
Average Dive Depth: N/A
Darwin and Wolf Islands are located four hours from one another. They are situated at the furthest (northwestern) edge of the archipelago; however, many folks believe that this trip, lasting almost 12 hours, is well immensely worth the while. Due to its isolated location, these dive sites offer visitors one of the most demanding and fascinating dive experiences in the world.
The currents along these islands have an average approximate speed of 3 to 5 ft (about 1 to 1.5 m) per second; however, on occasion, it can increase because of sudden and sporadic swells. Darwin and Wolf Islands are recommended only for advanced level divers, given the conditions and reduced visibility at these sites. Here, you’ll be able to find large pods of hammerhead sharks and, on occasion, majestic whale sharks.
There is also a large presence of dolphins, turtles, schools of reef fish, eagle rays, and flying rays. A visit to Darwin and Wolf Islands will definitely help you understand the importance of conservation in the Galapagos National Park and marine reserve! This experience will offer you a view of this truly pristine and wild world that is free of human intervention.
SCUBA diving in the Galapagos Islands is a truly unique experience. Nonetheless, you have to know how to pick the option that will give you the chance to appreciate all there is to explore in the archipelago. Don’t forget: the Galapagos Islands are much more than just its underwater inhabitants! A complete trip to the archipelago would equate to the perfect combination of species and landscapes, both aquatic and terrestrial.
Finally, our only recommendation is that, once you arrive in the islands, you take advantage of your trip and all of the options you have before you, and that you give the islands a full chance to wow you at every turn.