Galapagos Islands in a Nutshell
The Galapagos Islands are an epic destination for divers in search of big animals like hammerheads and other sharks, mantas, turtles and sea lions. There’s also prolific schooling fish and endemic species like marine iguanas, giant tortoises, flightless cormorants and penguins, all in an isolated and unique environment.
Intro To The Galapagos
The Galapagos are volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean, made famous by Charles Darwin and the National Park that protects them. Situated about 500 nautical miles (925 km) off the coast of Equador, the Galapagos are situated on the equator. There are 18 islands in total, with the dive favorites being Wolf and Darwin Island, arguably the best dive destination in the world for pelagic life!
The islands' isolation has led to unique evolution among the flora and fauna (eventually prompting Dawin to publish The Origin of Species) leading the Equadorian government to declare the Galapagos archipelago a national park in 1959. It has subsequently been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is great news for creatures like the Galapagos giant tortoise and the blue-footed booby, as well as the rich marine life making their home in the islands and surrounding water.
Each liveaboard is given set itineraries by the government, which allow divers a wide range of dive opportunities. There are also "traditional" cruises through the islands with snorkeling, hiking and other non-dive activities, as well as several hotels in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (Isla San Cristobal) and Puerto Ayora (Isla Santa Cruz) offering land-based diving (see Liveaboard Options below to learn why we recommend liveaboards).
If you like big fish and aren't afraid of a thick wetsuit, the Galapagos Islands are a must-dive!
Learn all there is to know about Galapagos and see if this is the destination for you!
Galapagos Typical Dive
Galapagos diving is for advanced divers. Not only is the water cold enough to warrant a 5mm or 7mm wetsuit, but there can be currents, choppy water and other conditions requiring experience beyond casual open-water certification. Most divers visit the islands on liveaboards, which use small inflatable boats to access specific dive sites. Liveaboards vary in the number of dives offered per day, and also the number of dives at Wolf and Darwin Islands (popular for pelagics and seasonal whale sharks).
Most Galapagos dive trips are now 8 days and 7 nights, offering 21 - 22 dives. Most boats will do 4 dives a day, including a night dive.
Galapagos underwater videos
Epic 4-minute must see video from our Feb 2016 trip, with countless hammerheads, Mola mola, marine iguanas, penguins
Really nice video from the Galapagos that shows sea lions, eagle rays, jacks, whale sharks, lots of hammerheads and great topside footage. Underwater footage starts at 1:46
Galapagos Marine Life & Photography Subjects
The Galapagos Islands are one of the top destinations for seeing large marine life native to warm and cold water climates. Dolphins, sea lions, sharks, penguins, turtles, marlin and large schools of fish are abundant. Divers can see silky sharks, Galapagos sharks, whale sharks, reef sharks, eels and manta rays. This is a wide-angle photographer's paradise, but don't leave the macro lens at home: frogfish, octopus, seahorses, nudibranchs and other small subjects are found at various dive sites.
One of the many unusual highlights in the Galapagos are marine iguanas, found underwater munching on algae and seaweed. They can reach 4-5 feet (1.2 - 1.5 meters) in length! Each island has unique species, which have evolved independently from their land-based counterparts in South America.
Galapagos underwater video showing eagle rays, a large swimming prehistoric-looking iguana at 0:16 that you must see to believe (I would go to the Galapagos just to see that), a seahorse, eels, a turtle, a large school of jacks, lots of hammerhead sharks and a whale shark.
Hammerheads at Wolf island - a great video taken by diver Andy Phillips on a rebreather
Awesome video taken in December 2013
Best Time To Dive The Galapagos, Water Temps And Visibility
December - May: This is the warm season in the Galapagos with the highest water and air temps. Brief afternoon rain showers are common, but expect the tropic sun to reappear after the rain. Water temperature is 70-86F (21-30C) with some cooler thermoclines at depth. The northern islands are generally colder. Visibility stays between 40-100 feet (12-33 meters).
June - November: This season is known as the guarua and is cooler with frequent mist and overcast days. Winds can create rougher seas at times. Water temperature is 60-75F (16-24C). While colder, the tradeoff is the rich currents bringing nutrients into the islands, resulting in more abundant marine life. Visibility is slightly less as a result.
As you can see, each season has pros and cons. During the warm season (December - May) the schools of hammerheads are larger and gianta manta rays may be found off Isabela island. There is also some interesting mating behavior with the marine iguanas and world-famous blue-footed boobies. And, being the warm season, ocean surface conditions are calmer (for a smoother boat experience) with sunshine. Many divers visit the Galapagos during June-November (the cold season), as whale sharks come to feed on the plankton off Wolf and Darwin Islands. Fish life is also much more active due to the increased levels of nutrients in the water. On the down side, conditions may be rougher on the boats with limited sunshine. The decision is ultimately yours, but feel free to ask us about our experiences during the different seasons.
Visitors to the Galapagos must first fly to either Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO) in Quito or José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport (GYE) in Guayaquil, both in Ecuador. There are daily airline transfers from Guayaquil to both Isla San Cristobal (SCY) or Isla Baltra (GPS) in the Galapagos, with an easy transfer flight from Quito available (stay on same plane). It's recommended to fly into either Quito or Guayaquil one to two days before your liveaboard transfer since there are morning departures only, which don't sync up with arriving international flights. The flight to the Galapagos is about 2 hours.
Both Quito and Guayaquil have a wide range of hotel accomodations and plenty to explore while staying there. Quito is the capital city of Ecuador and a UNESCO heritage site at 7,900 feet in the Andes. The Mariscal Sucre is a popular part of the city for visiting tourists, however it is 45-60 minutes from the airport. The Malecon in Guayaquil is popular with tourists, situated right on the Rio Guayas.
Most Galapagos liveaboards offer several land excursions during the trip. These are opportunities to see land-based birds, penguins and the famed Galapagos giant tortoises. The non-dive activities differ depending on the trip itinerary and season, so be sure to check the specific itinerary of your trip for the land excursion details.
Galapagos Liveaboard Options
For serious divers, we strongly recommend experiencing Galapagos diving via liveaboard. Liveaboards will provide the most variety in dive locations and are the only way to access the famous Wolf and Darwin Islands. Land-based diving is available with 2-tank morning dives, however the dive sites are limited in range from the port.