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Your Guide to Diving in the Galapagos Islands

Ecuador's Evolutionary Melting Pot of Marine Life

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...Highlights: whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, shark action, dolphins, manta rays, turtles, seals/sea lions, schooling fish & big pelagics, non diving activities...
...Galapagos' diving environment: drift diving, advanced divers, off the beaten track...

This legendary Ecuador diving destination is often considered by experienced divers to represent something of a pinnacle in their scuba careers. In that sense, many agree that the Galapagos Islands have, quite simply, the best liveaboard diving trips in the world, plus incredible non-diving wildlife adventure cruises.

Such is the range of creatures, that it is difficult to avoid lists when discussing Galapagos scuba diving. Imagining a vacation involving sea lions, penguins, seals, eagle rays, marine iguanas, hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks, sea turtles, golden rays and whale sharks is a phenomenal experience. These encounters, which are at once educational and exciting, make the appeal of the archipelago obvious.

Diving in the Galapagos Islands with scalloped hammerhead sharks - photo courtesy of Galapagos Sky
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While many places have superior reefs, sea conditions and ease of accessibility, there is no other island chain here, the area is in a huge protected marine reserve and virtually free of commercial fishing, and the waters - especialy at the islands of Darwin and Wolf - are densely populated by a vast and disparate array of marine creatures. Since the Galapagos are volcanic oceanic islands, unconnected to the continent, deep sea upswellings make the waters rich in nutrients and therefore thriving with life.

Learning about evolution by natural selection in a place where the evidence is so compelling and where historically, the Galapagos Islands played such a major role in the development of Darwin's revolutionary thinking is truly a unique vacation experience. To do so in this far-flung part of Ecuador, where each dive promises extraordinary sightings, is nothing short of a ‘must do once in a lifetime’ experience for any semi-serious diver.

Wolf Island will be one of the mainstays of your liveaboard trip and promises lots of breath-taking action including amazing eagle ray encounters, lots of sharks and unforgettable dolphin moments. Darwin Island is the northernmost land mass of the archipelago and will deliver some of the most memorable dives of your Ecuador travel package. Hundreds of hammerheads and Galapagos sharks can pass right by your nose and you can expect incredible whale shark encounters when in season. Wolf and Darwin are the 2 essential stops on any dive cruise here.

Punta Vincente Roca is a cold water site that is like visiting a different country. With mola mola, red-lipped batfish, seahorses and horn sharks, there are lots of scuba highlights plus the coastline is crawling with penguins, sea lions, marine iguanas and a variety of interesting birds.

Dive Site Descriptions for Galapagos

Cabo Marshall

It is easy to get spoiled on a liveaboard trip in the Galapagos. As you strike each 'charismatic' creature off your wishlist, experiencing excellent dives becomes the expectation rather than the hope. Cabo Marshall, some 130 miles (210 km) west northwest of San Cristobal Island, is all about mantas although, unlike elsewhere in the archipelago, it can be a little "hit and miss". Even if it is a miss you are likely to see white tip sharks and hammerheads, turtles and sea lions, but such is the quality of diving here, even that could leave you with a twinge of disappointment!

Here, after dropping to about 33 ft (10m) of water onto a rocky plateau, you will fin along the edge of the wall that drops away to a depth of 100ft+ (30m+). However, since you are seeking mantas who like to be near the surge or high in the water column, feeding or being cleaned, there is little benefit to seeking much more depth. You would be better advised to stay shallow and keep watching the wall and the blue.
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How to Dive Galapagos

While there are some resort package options, serious scuba divers cannot come to Ecuador's Galapagos Islands and fail to visit Darwin and Wolf islands, therefore we currently only recommend liveaboards here. They offer much more than a land-based vacation and many of the best sites are inaccessible from land.

The boats are of a high quality so you need not worry about a lack of comfort or service onboard our recommended Galapagos liveaboards. Availability can be an issue so make sure you plan ahead. We recommend booking 12 months in advance of your trip to avoid disappointment.

For more information on your cruise route and duration options, and all the other travel information you might need to visit Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, visit our Galapagos liveaboard section.

In addition to your week's diving, many guests choose to experience more of the islands' natural beauty through land tours. There are dozens of land tour operators here and many, especially those offering day trips from the towns, can be disappointing. Therefore we recommend you choose a non-diving liveaboard for a nature and wildlife adventure cruise to see more of the archipelago and its creatures and to really get the most out of your visit to this incredible destination.

Galapagos Diving Season

There are 2 seasons in the Galapagos Islands: Wet and Dry. They fade into each other so there is no strict dividing line but they can be generally characterized as follows:

January through June is wet season with sunny spells either side of the brief but impressive showers which can occur daily. This period has warmer water temperatures generally fluctuating between 68 to 77°F (20-25°C). January through April can even push the temperatures up as far as 81 or 82°F (27-28°C) in some places, if you are lucky. At this time of year you might get away with diving many sites in little more than a 4 mm wetsuit and gloves (for holding on to rocks). However, some sites have specific currents that keep the temperature low such as Punta Vincente Roca where no human could comfortably dive without plenty of exposure protection, especially a hoodie.

Dry season, more or less from July through December, sees less rain but is also cooler above and below the waters. Water temperatures in dry season are usually 66 to 73°F (19-23°C). This is when there is a strong chance of multiple whale shark encounters and is often referred to as 'Peak Tourist Season'. It is the busiest time and many aficionados would not think of visiting outside of peak season. However, the colder water temperatures and choppier seas, especially on the journey across the islands of Darwin and Wolf, might make it a little uncomfortable for divers of a certain disposition.

The wisest course of action is to come prepared with exposure suits for a range of temperatures. Marine conditions are variable and it is better to be over-prepared than under-prepared when scuba diving here in Ecuador.

Often whale shark season is emphasized as the best time to come (June through November). However, many of those in the know contend that January through May, with warm water and sunny skies, offers the most pleasant all round Galapagos diving vacation. This period seems to produce better sightings of creatures other than the whale shark, including a greater chance of manta ray encounters and the best hammerhead shark action. For more on the climate of the Galapagos Islands, visit Climates To TravelOpens in a new window.

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Where is Galapagos and How Do I Get There?

Review our maps below of the Galapagos Islands, their host country Ecuador, and their location in the world. Here, you will find information on how to get to Galapagos.

Map of the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador (click to enlarge in a new window) Map of Ecuador (click to enlarge in a new window) Map of the world (click to enlarge in a new window)

Reef Summary

Depth: 16 - 65ft (5 - >20m)
Visibility: 16 - 82ft (5 - >25m)
Currents: Medium to strong
Surface conditions: Choppy with currents and surges, can make diving a little tricky
Water temperature: 61 - 82°F (16 - 28°C)
Experience level: Intermediate - advanced
Number of dive sites: ~30
Distance: 600 miles (960 km) west of the Ecuador mainland
Recommended length of stay: 1 - 2 weeks

Useful References

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