A guide to Diving & Snorkeling in the Galapagos

Photo: David Elwood

The volcanic archipelago of Galapagos is one of the best scuba-diving and snorkeling destinations in South America and the world. Nestled at the intersection of several ocean currents ―cold currents from Antarctica and warm from the tropics― the Galapagos boast an incredible marine life, with nearly 20% of species that can only be find there.

A trip to these Ecuatorian islands is always an invitation to discover unique wildlife and be in contact with the most primeval state of nature. But besides the attractive species you can encounter on the coast, there’s a whole underwater paradise waiting to be explored. There are options for every traveler, whether you are a seasoned diver or you’ve never been snorkeling in your life.

Check out the best places to visit on your next Ecuador adventure and start planning your Galapagos trip with this guide to diving and snorkeling in these remote Pacific islands. Here’s all you need to know:

Photo: Anurag Harishchandrakar

Scuba diving in Galapagos, a challenging adventure

Scuba diving in Galapagos is an extraordinary experience to watch big pelagic animals. Different types of sharks ―hammerhead sharks, reef sharks and even the less common Galapagos shark― are the main characters underwater.

There are around 30 amazing diving spots in the archipelago. Most of them can be only reached from a live-aboard, while you can also book a trip with a land-based dive operator.

However, due to the strong currents and deep waters, scuba-diving in most of the best venues in Galapagos ―where you can see bigger animals― is only reserved to mid-level or advanced divers. Unexpected downdrafts can lead to dangerous situations, which only the most experienced divers can cope with safely. But don’t feel disappointed: it is possible to find dive sites which are safe for beginners around the main islands and you’ll see sea lions, turtles and small sharks.

Darwin’s Arch, Galapagos Credit: Wikipedia

Here’s a roundup of the best places for diving in Galapagos:

Wolf and Darwin islands. These northernmost islands are a world-class diving destination and a major goal for many divers. You can only get there after a 12-hour ride on a live-aboard cruise from the central Galapagos islands. The area known as Darwin’ Arch offers a unique display of marine life: hammerheads, spotted eagle rays, large schools of fish, turtles, dolphins and Galapagos sharks. But the most iconic dive spot here is definitely ‘Shark point’, where the most adventurous and extreme divers get to swim with whale sharks.

Isabela Island. This is the largest island in Galapagos, with many diving sites spread along the north coast, including Punta Albermarle, Cape Marshall and Punta Vicente Roca. Lying to the northern tip of the island, ‘Roca redonda’ is an underwater volcano that makes a diving paradise. The water here is really cold and you can see Galapagos sharks, hammerhead sharks, barracudas, marble rays, sea lions and even sea horses. Most of these sites are only suitable for advanced divers. However, there’s a spot to the southeast of Isabela Island —Tortuga Island— which provides a stunning variety of marine wild-life and can be visited by all scuba-divers, no matter their skill level. Manta rays, sea turtles, king angelfish and other species will be part of your journey there.

Dafne Minor. Off the coast of Santa Cruz Island there’s an awesome diving site with caverns, coral walls and marine platforms to explore. Both beginners and experienced divers can have the opportunity of a close encounter with manta rays, sea lions, sea turtles and hammerhead sharks.

 

Photo: Jan Traid

Snorkeling in Galapagos: everyone can take part!

For most travelers in Galapagos, snorkeling is a huge highlight of their trips. Without any special training ―besides knowing how to swim― and little equipment (you only need fins, mask and snorkel), you have the chance of enjoying the magical underwater life on its natural setting. Here are some of the best snorkeling sites you can find in the islands:

Photo: Wikipedia

Kicker rock, San Cristobal Island. Mornings between 7 AM and 10 AM are the best time to go snorkeling in this eroded rock formation off the coast of San Cristobal Island. Large schools of barracudas or rainbow fishes can be easily spotted between the rocks. Besides, the place receives many other visitors like white-tipped reef sharks, manta rays and sea turtles.

Photo: Samuel Scrimshaw

Punta Espinosa, San Fernandino Island. On the west side of this island, Punta Espinosa is home to the largest colony of marine iguanas, an endemic species of the Galapagos. It’s possible to see them while snorkeling, along with sea turtles, Galapagos penguins and sea lions.

Marine Iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus), Galápagos Islands, Ecuador – foraging under water Photo: Wikipedia

Devil’s crown, Floreana Island. Regarded as one of the top snorkeling sites in Galapagos, you can only reach this spot on a cruise. Pencil sea urchins, scorpion fish and corals are some of the fascinating sea creatures you may see at this underwater volcanic crater.

Photo: Dustin Haney

When is the best time to go?

Scuba-diving and snorkeling in the Galapagos is an all-year-round activity. However, the water temperature and the types of species you can see vary throughout the year. December to April is the hot (and wet) season, with warm temperatures that won’t require you to use a swimsuit to go snorkeling, as well as occasional heavy rains. Hammerhead sharks and Manta Rays are the highlights of this season. Then, the temperatures start to cool off in Galapagos, until the dry season begins (June to December). In these months, there’s less rain but the water is colder. Nevertheless, because it’s whale shark peak season, these are often the most touristic months.

Photo: David Clode
Marina Parra

Marina is a journalist, content writer, mountain lover and amateur photographer living in Buenos Aires. She’s traveled in Argentina and South America enjoying great conversations, local cuisine and breathtaking natural wonders.