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Diving in the Galapagos Islands – The Ultimate Guide

The legendary Galapagos Islands are, for many divers, the ultimate diving destination. This remote archipelago offers a smorgasbord of marine and wildlife and is known as one of the best liveaboard destinations in the world. Eagle rays, marine iguanas, hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks, and whale sharks are just some of the encounters you might have.

The Galapagos Islands in Pictures

A collection of photos of the Galapagos Islands both over and underwater.

Marine Life in the Galapagos Islands

Because of the remote location, the marine life here is spectacular and much of it is endemic to this region. While diving, you could see sea lions, eagle rays, marine iguanas, penguins, seals, hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks, sea turtles, golden rays, whale sharks and tuna. Galapagos is one of the top places on the planet to dive with hammerhead sharks, who amass around the islands in huge schools.

Dive Conditions in the Galapagos Islands

Located in the Pacific Ocean roughly 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands are a chain of 19 islands and many islets. Diving in the Galapagos Islands is generally recommended for advanced divers with experience in drift diving. The dive sites themselves are often easy to navigate, but there can be strong currents, low visibility, and surge. The Humboldt Current, coming in from the south, has a cooling effect on the waters here and so the water is much cooler than expected so close to the equator.

Because of the remote location, most divers choose a liveaboard in the Galapagos Islands, although there are hotels on the main, inhabited islands that offer day trips by boat. There are many excellent dive sites accessible from these islands.

If you want to explore all that the Galapagos Islands have to offer, then a liveaboard is definitely the best option. You can dive the spectacular, more remote areas like top spots Darwin and Wolf Islands, which are only divable from a liveaboard.

Best Time to Dive in the Galapagos Islands

There is no bad time to visit the Galapagos Islands and diving is possible all year.

June through December are the cool and dry months, though misty rain is possible, particularly in December. Water temperatures are between 16-18°C (60-65°F). This is also whale shark season. The nutrient-rich currents bring them, and other large marine life, to the islands. This season is also great for penguin-spotting.

January through May are warm and wet with water temperatures generally fluctuating between 20-25°C (68 to 77°F) and sometimes even up to 28°C(82°F). This is the best season for shark action, including walls of hammerheads and other sharks. The conditions are generally better with calmer waters, milder currents, and better visibility.

Air temperature can exceed 30°C (86°F) in the warmer months, as expected close to the equator, but usually remain around 25-26°C (77-79°F). Temperatures drop to about 22 – 24 °C (71-75°F) in the cooler season.

Visibility in the warmer months can exceed 30m (100 ft.) and is dependent on sea conditions. In the cooler season, visibility is generally 10-20m (30 to 70 ft.)

Best Dive Sites in the Galapagos Islands

You will be spoilt for choice with just about every dive sporting an exotic creature or two, or a hundred. Here are the best, but not the only, dive sites in the Galapagos archipelago.

Darwin Island

The outmost island of the famous archipelago, Darwin Island is located quite far northwest. Accessible by liveaboard only, it is the pinnacle of diving in the Galapagos Islands. Conditions can be difficult with rough seas and strong currents, but water temperatures are slightly warmer here, around 20-25°C (70-77°F). For this reason, you can see the colorful warmer-water fish species such as trumpet fish, trevally barracuda, angelfish, surgeonfish, parrotfish, and butterflyfish as well as the big boys like hammerhead and Galapagos sharks, sea turtles, rays dolphins, and the almighty whale shark.

Wolf Island

Along with Darwin Island, this remote northwestern island offers the best diving in the Galapagos Islands and, possibly, the world. There are a number of excellent dive sites around this island, guaranteed to take your breath away. Enjoy encounters with walls of hammerheads, sea lions, dolphins and more.

Gordon’s Rocks

This spectacular dive site is actually part of a volcanic crater and your best bet for seeing hammerheads, so close to one of the main islands, Santa Cruz. Dive conditions can be challenging with strong currents, but that’s why there are walls of hammerhead sharks, eagle rays, Galapagos sharks, manta rays, turtles and a varied and vast amount of fish. Close by is a sea lion colony and, if you are lucky, you may see one on your dive.

Cabo Marshall

Cabo Marshall is where the manta action is, although not always guaranteed. However, white tip sharks and hammerheads, turtles and sea lions and plenty of large schooling fish are also found here. There is a shallow rocky plateau that drops off to 30m+ (100 ft. +). From here you can gaze into the blue and wait for the action which will hopefully include giant manta.

Bartolome Island

The volcanic island of Bartolome just east of Santiago Island is an excellent site for less experienced divers as the currents are moderate. Expect to see rocky platforms and drop-offs and encounter plenty of pelagics as well as sea horses, white tip reef sharks, yellow-tailed surgeon fish, barracudas, turtles, mobula rays, sting rays and an array of invertebrates. This island is one of the few that is home to the Galapagos penguin – the only wild penguin species living on the equator.

Punte Vicente Roca

Just off Isabela Island, this site is an excellent option for spotting invertebrates and the site most likely for spotting mola mola, also known as sunfish. This site is also a hangout for penguins and sea lions.

Kicker Rock

The unique marine iguana frequents this area and you may see them hunting underwater. You’ll also see turtles, large rays, wrasse, surgeonfish, angelfish, Galapagos sharks and perhaps hammerheads if you are deep enough.

How to Get to the Galapagos Islands

Flights to the Galapagos Islands depart multiple times each day from Quito or Guayaquil on mainland Ecuador. Flights from the U.S. are plentiful to both cities. Most liveaboards will pick you up in buses from the Guayaquil airport and transfer you across the canal to meet the boats – about an hour’s trip. Isabela Island and San Cristobal Island both have small airfields that are serviced by two local airlines.

Good to Know

The Galapagos Islands are where the famous naturalist Charles Darwin did his research. They became Ecuador’s first National Park in 1959 and were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.

There is a USD 100 National Park fee for all visitors and the amount of boat traffic allowed in the park is limited, so it’s advised to book early.

The four inhabited islands of the complex are Isabel Island, Santa Cruz Island, Floreana Island and San Cristobal Island.

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