Galapagos Scuba Diving
Frequently Asked Questions
Diving in Galapagos FAQs
What is unique about Galapagos scuba diving?
As a speck in a vast ocean, life is concentrated here as with an oasis in the desert. You can expect a great number of large pelagics, including vast schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks, manta rays, golden rays and dolphins. Whale sharks are also common, as are turtles and tuna.
It is at Galapagos that you are likely to encounter some creatures that you may not have seen elsewhere, and may never see again. These include Galapagos sharks, sea lions, fur seals, penguins and marine iguanas.
What is the best way to dive here?
The Galapagos Islands are often visited by experienced divers who have dived in many other places and see the destination as something of a pinnacle in their diving careers. Serious minded divers, who wish to visit the best that the islands have to offer, favour an Ecuador liveaboard as the best means of exploring this amazing underwater landscape. Much of the most interesting and sought-after dive sites are remote and are around islands whose shores no tourists are permitted to visit on foot.
Currents and sometimes cold water can make the diving more challenging and they are another reason why most divers on board Galapagos liveaboards have a reasonable amount of experience.
Where is the best diving in the Galapagos Islands?
It is beyond dispute that the islands of Darwin and Wolf, in the far north of the region, are the jewels in the diving crown of the Galapagos. Only liveaboards can access these sites. These islands are protected by the national park which prohibits land visits. There are other sites less remote from the main islands, and these too are visited as part of liveaboard schedules as well as being accessed by land-based diving operations.
Are all the liveaboards fully booked well in advance?
There is a strictly controlled licence system which limits the size and number of Ecuador liveaboards given access to the islands. Strict environmental regulations have led to licences being revoked in the past. Space is therefore at a premium and booking longer in advance than other destinations is strongly recommended.
What about water temperatures?
The range in water temperature at the Galapagos is wide: from a bath-warm 28°C down to a positively chilly 18°C. The highest temperatures are normally experienced in February, March and April. The coldest months are September, October and November. Thermoclines are always likely and can herald a drop of as much as 5°C, so you would be wise to ensure that you have the appropriate exposure suit and equipment suitable for the temperatures you are likely to experience.
What equipment and exposure suit should I take?
Due to potentially cold water, we recommend you have exposure suits sufficient to ensure your comfort. The following is usually recommended: 7 mm wetsuit, fins, booties, gloves and hood. Some people prefer to wear a semi-dry suit and some bring reef hooks because there will be times when, in surge and current, you want to remain in more or less the same place. Without a reef hook, strong gloves are recommended since there may be times when you have to cling to rocks. A hood is important to prevent heat loss through the head which can easily happen in thermoclines and less clement conditions.
Do the liveaboards rent equipment, or should I take my own?
Yes they do rent some equipment, typically wetsuit, fins and booties, but there is no substitute for having your own gear. Many divers find their Galapagos diving safari experience to be the best they have ever had, so you don't want it tarnished by having insufficient, ill-fitting or inferior equipment!
Are the Galapagos only for very experienced divers?
Most of those who come to dive in the Galapagos Islands are experienced divers and it is not a destination for beginners. Conditions are generally considered medium to difficult because of currents, depth, temperature and the marine creatures in the Galapagos.
Surface conditions are often worse than calm so generally it makes the diving procedures easier if divers are comfortable in changeable conditions. Many dives are drift dives which may not be suitable for beginners.
What can I expect from my liveaboard land tour?
Depending on the boat, your Galapagos Islands liveaboard trip will include at least 1 and up to 3 fascinating land tours. These are:
- Santa Cruz Highlands which can include Galapagos turtles, Scalecias Forest, the Twins and the Lava Tubes;
- Santa Cruz Puerto Ayora which can include the Darwin Centre;
- San Cristobal which can include the Interpretation Centre, a town walk, the beach where you can see sea lions and marine iguanas.
If you'd like to participate in additional land tours before or after your liveaboard cruise, Dive The World can arrange that for you. These tours are conducted by boat and range from a ½ day tour to a 7 night yacht package. Please contact us for details.
Don't all Galapagos dive liveaboards include land tours to the uninhabited islands? That's what my friend experienced 2 years ago.
Galapagos Islands National Park regulations changed in 2011 and now require companies with permits to choose either land excursions or diving (there are no permits offering both). Liveaboard diving boats are therefore no longer allowed to take their customers ashore on the uninhabited islands.
General Galapagos Islands FAQs
Where are the Galapagos Islands?
They lie in the Pacific Ocean some 960 km to the west of Ecuador, in South America.
What makes the Galapagos special?
In the history of human knowledge the Galapagos Islands play a starring role. It is here that Charles Darwin formulated much of his theory of evolution, a stunning breakthrough in unravelling the mysteries of life on planet Earth, the origins of living species, and natural selection. Now they are a protected national park in Ecuador, but are also an international treasure for divers and lovers of nature throughout the world.
What is the weather like?
The Galapagos Islands experience equatorial weather with a wet and dry season. Wet season, from January to July, is when you can experience more frequent showers often with sunny spells either side of the brief but impressive showers. Dry season, from June to December, obviously has less rain but also tends to be cooler and under cloudy, but un-menacing skies.
Water temperatures in the Galapagos vary greatly depending on the time of year. Average temperatures are as follows:
January to June: 20°C - 26°C (70°F - 80°F)
July to December: 18°C- 23°C (65°F - 75°F)
However it is not unusual for the water to be as warm as 30°C in the wet season and as low as 16°C in dry season. We recommend you pack for both sun (lotion, sunglasses, hat, lightweight clothes) and rain (rain jacket/poncho, warm sweatshirt, waterproof sandals) as well as binoculars and insect repellent.
When is the best time to visit the islands?
You can dive in the Galapagos all year round as the continuous liveaboard schedules attest. Some times of the year are better than others in some ways and not so in others. There are fewer visitors and sometimes lower prices during low season (April/May and Sept/Oct). Outside of this time, during the more popular months, availability is less and therefore advance booking is a must.
The period that most divers seek to be there is during dry season, with the exception of the low season months.
I want to see lots of land animals; what are my options and what will I see?
In the Santa Cruz Highlands you can see Galapagos turtles and plenty of bird life. At San Cristobal you can see sea lions and marine iguanas. If you want to see more of the islands flora and fauna it is a good idea to book additional land tours.
We advise against doing daytrip tours from Puerto Ayora and San Cristobal because in our experience these can be hugely over-priced and disappointing events. We believe that if you are prepared to travel all the way to the Galapagos Islands, then the least you deserve is high quality service with knowledgeable guides and restricted numbers of participants. For this reason we recommend a non-diving wildlife and nature land tour liveaboard as an essential part of any comprehensive Galapagos experience.
What languages are spoken?
Spanish is Ecuador's official language. English, however, is spoken in all but the more remote and tourist free areas.
Do I need a visa to visit the Galapagos?
Since 20 June 2008, any person from any country can enter Ecuador and obtain a visa for a period of 90 days. Normally all you need is your passport (valid for at least 6 months) and a return ticket.
We recommend you double-check with your Ecuadorian Consulate before you travel.
What is the time zone?
The time zone for the Galapagos Islands is -6 hrs GMT, 1 hour behind Ecuador's mainland which is -5 hrs GMT.
What currencies are used in Ecuador?
The US dollar is the currency of Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. You are requested to bring with you clean dollars bills. Having plenty of 1 dollar bills is useful for gratuities and small purchases.
What credit cards are accepted?
Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted credit cards in Ecuador. You might find some merchants add a cheeky 4-10% add-on, claimed to be to cover the value of the bank transaction.
What are the health considerations when travelling to Galapagos?
No immunisations are necessary to travel here. You should not expect modern hospital facilities in the Galapagos Islands. Puerto Ayora and Puerto Baquerizo have small hospitals and pharmacy-type shops. So be sure to bring your own medicine if necessary and ensure you have adequate and appropriate insurance.
Only bottled water, other than that served on the Galapagos diving cruises, should be consumed. You might also want to avoid eating uncooked or unpeeled products, particularly uncooked clams and other seafood.
What communications will be available on the islands?
You can make calls from hotel rooms although the cost may be prohibitive. Public telephones exist in many public buildings although call centres, located in the main towns, represent a better value option. Of course, free internet calls cannot be beaten for price so you can also call when online in an internet café, which are present in the main towns. The call centre may have internet as well as fax services.
A lack of an international roaming agreement may render your mobile phone useless. The international dialing code for the Galapagos is +593.
What are the luggage restrictions?
Each visitor may bring 2 pieces of checked baggage into Ecuador totalling no more than 68 kg (150 pounds). If you wish to take a 3rd piece, this will normally attract an additional fee. We recommend you take a soft sided bag to the Galapagos Islands. You will only need the essentials in clothing and personal items and space is limited on board yachts. A duffel bag works best as it can be stored into a small drawer or closet. On flights to the Galapagos, you are allowed a maximum of 20 kg (44 pounds) of luggage (excluding your hand-bag and carry on).
Is there anything I need to know about getting through customs?
According to Ecuadorian law, any person that enters the country temporarily is exempt for the payment of any customs duty. You will not be required to pay taxes or duties for your luggage, new or used articles that you will use during your trip, and portable items such as photo cameras, video cameras, laptops, radios and CD players. The Galapagos Islands does not have customs since there are no international airports. In the airport your personal luggage will receive only a minor inspection for things like fruits or seeds that might be introduced to the islands.
Can you arrange accommodation for me in the Galapagos?
Our affiliated hotel reservation agents Agoda.com have a variety of accommodations in Ecuador. Browse the choices on their website, use their live chat to ask your questions, and then simply use your credit card to make your reservation.
Although there are no accommodation options listed in the Galapagos, you can book your mainland Ecuador accommodation for over-nighting or for extending your stay. Locations include Quito, Guayaquil, Cuenca, Manta and Salinas. In any location you can benefit from Agoda's 'Low Price Guarantee', so you will always get top-dollar value for money.
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