Often toted as the ‘shark diving capital of the world’, Malpelo Island is indeed the place to see hundreds of sharks. Dive with walls of scalloped hammerhead, silky sharks and the rare small-tooth sand tiger shark, as well as all the big pelagic species these sharks come to feed on. The island is actually the pinnacle of a vast volcanic underwater ridge and the abundance of sea life is impressive. Along with the Galapagos Islands and Coco’s Island, it makes up the famed Hammerhead Triangle.
Malpelo Island in Pictures
A collection of photos of Malpelo Island both over and underwater.
Marine Life in Malpelo Island
The 300-kilometer (190-mile) submarine ridge, that Malpelo Island is part of, has never been connected to the mainland and has some of the deepest waters in the world. The cold upwelling from the deep water brings plankton, which in turns brings big fish and their predators.
Malpelo Island is home to a huge shark population; walls of hammerhead sharks are sure to be seen as well as large schools of silky sharks. Their prey is just as impressive. Bigeye trevally, red snapper, barracuda, yellowfin tuna and amberjack populate the protected waters.
The sharks come to feed and visit the cleaning stations – so there will be plenty of butterfly fish too. Moray eels are also a common sight and giant manta rays often pass by.
Malpelo Island is one of a handful of places where the small-tooth sand tiger has been spotted and the Malpelo barnacle blenny is also unique to this area.
Whale sharks are also often spotted north of the island.
Dive Conditions in Malpelo Island
Malpelo is a small island in the East Pacific Ocean, positioned about 500 km (310 Miles) west of the Colombian mainland. It is a rocky and uninhabited island that marks an abundant underwater world.
Dive conditions can be challenging with deep water, very strong and changeable currents, and rough seas. It is therefore recommended for advanced divers with deep diving experience.
Cold ocean upwelling brings plankton towards the surface and accounts for the teeming fish life and the big guys at the top of the food chain. This plankton can also reduce the visibility substantially.
Because of its remote location, National Park status, and restrictions on boats in the area, the only way to visit and dive Malpelo Island is on a dive liveaboard from the Colombian mainland. There are no day trips available.
Best Time to Dive in Malpelo Island
Malpelo Island’s tropical climate lends itself to all-year-round diving.
During the wet season (June to November), visibility is better – up to 35 m (115 ft.). Water temperature is usually warmer at 26 to 28°C (79 to 82°F) and the seas are calmer. Whale sharks and silky sharks can often be spotted in the wet season.
During the dry season (December to May), the weather is sunnier but the sea can be rougher and the water cooler, with shallower thermoclines. Water temperature in this season is between 15°C and 20°C (59°F and 68°F). Visibility drops and can be as low as 10m (33 ft.) because of the plankton bloom, but the fish life is plentiful.
If you want to see hammerheads and the small-tooth sand shark, the best time to dive Malpelo Island is from January to May.
Best Dive Sites in Malpelo Island
Dive sites around the island feature mostly steep walls and pinnacles, as the island rises from an undersea ridge. There are also caverns and some sandy bottoms to explore.
El Bajo del Monstruo
Northeast of Malpelo Island, this is the dive site where you may spot the small-tooth sand tiger shark, the rare deep-water shark which is found at depths over 40m. It is actually a pinnacle which can only be dived in good conditions. There is also a good possibility of seeing the red-lipped batfish.
La Nevara, also known as The Fridge, off the West coast, is a fairly barren reef, but the place to spot schooling scalloped hammerhead sharks by the hundred. Smaller groups of Galapagos sharks also swim around these parts. Moray eels are common on the reef.
This site consists of a small underwater pinnacle off the exposed southern end of Malpelo Island. Currents are very strong, but there is an abundance of marine life here. It is a popular cleaning station for sharks and whale sharks and silky sharks show up regularly.
The largest above water pinnacle in Malpelo is on the southern side of the island. There is a stunning swim through from 32 meters up to the surface here. Large hammerhead schools glide around these waters, and silky sharks by the hundred cruise the shallower waters of the site.
A 30-meter-diameter seamount on the west side of Malpelo, Acuario is exposed to strong currents. White anemones abound in at depth and there is always a surprise at this site. Big schools of snapper and other big fish inhabit this part of the reef and scalloped hammerhead sharks make their way to the cleaning station here. Silky sharks regularly circle the area, sometimes very close to the surface.
How to Get to Malpelo Island
Access to Malpelo Island is limited with very few liveaboards permitted to travel there. The only way to get to Malpelo Island is on a liveaboard via Buenaventura, Colombia. The closest international airport to Buenaventura is in Cali (Alfonso Bonilla Aragon Intl) which is about 135km away. Buenaventura is approximately 500km away from the capital, Bogota.
The trip from the Colombian mainland to Malpelo takes about 30 to 40 hours, often in rough seas.
Good to Know
Malpelo Island has been designated as a UNESCO Heritage site and wildlife sanctuary and fishing is banned there. It is an important habitat for several seabirds and some endemic reptile species.
There is a $90 per day park fee for divers on a boat under the Colombian flag.