Galapagos Islands

4.6875
(4 REVIEWS)

Country: Ecuador

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Galapagos Islands in a Nutshell - The diversity of Bali above and below water, combined with a friendly local population, relatively low cost and a myriad of topside activities make Bali one of our favorite places in the world to visit, for diving or non-diving.

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.
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!

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Diving Information 

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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.

Diving Conditions

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 trade off is the rich currents bringing nutrients into the islands, resulting in more abundant marine life. Visibility is slightly less as a result.

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.

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.

 

Dive Sites

El Arco, Darwin Island – You can see schooling hammerheads, whale sharks and spotted eagle rays along with prowling Galapagos and silky sharks. It’s only accessible by liveaboard.

El Arenal, Darwin Island – Darwin’s Arch is a distinctive stone arch above the water and this dive site slopes off the arch. The site's marine life in incredibly rich. Big-eye jacks along with hammerhead, blacktip and whale sharks all frequent the area.

Roca Redonda, Isabela Island – This dive site is the tip of an underwater volcano that rises from the sea floor and emerges as an island. You can expect to find Galapagos sharks, schools of hammerhead sharks and barracudas.

Cape Douglas, Fernandina Island – This is a great spot to watch penguins “fly” past. Fur seals and Galapagos sea lions as well as marine iguanas can also be seen.

Pitt Point, San Cristobal Island – This is an exposed rock at the most northeasterly point of the island. It's likely that you'll meet schools of snapper, grunt and jacks. You might also see diving boobies.

Camaño Islet, Santa Cruz Island – This is a usually calm spot that allows you to see batfish, sea horses, groupers, sharks and sea lions. If you're lucky, you might also find marine iguanas diving beneath the waves searching for food.

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Travel Information 

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How to Get There - 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.

How to Dive the Galapagos - 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.

Weather -  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.

 

Topside & Non-Diving Activities -  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.


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Other Useful Information 

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Practical Information

Currency: US Dollar

Language: The predominant and official language of Ecuador is Spanish. English is the most spoken foreign language amongst tourist providers and professionals.

Main Airport Code: GPS

Time Zone: UTC-5

Electricity: 120 V 60 Hz

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Underwater Gallery 

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More Galapagos underwater videos:

Epic 4-minute must see video from our Feb 2016 trip, with countless hammerheads, Mola mola, marine iguanas, penguins.

Hammerheads at Wolf island - a great video taken by diver Andy Phillips on a rebreather.

Awesome video taken in December 2013

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Reviews (4)

  • Reviewer
Bowling Green, KY
United States
5
5
5
5

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS DIVE REVIEW

The Galapagos Islands are probably the most unusual place dive destination I have ever been to. The wildlife diversity is just amazing both on land and in the water.The land tours were fun and interesting. So many little birds, plants I have not seen in other places and I saw an enormous sinkhole full of life. And DO NOT leave without seeing those giant turtles. I went in May and the weather was quite comfortable.

It was most amazing for me at sea. You can literally see the earth growing up from the ocean and slowing descending back down into it. Looking at the volcanic islands I realized how this beautiful earth of ours has been/is ever growing and changing. The marine life is just extraordinary. Sea lions lounge about in good numbers and amaze me at the places I see them laying on the rocks. How do they get up to/down from there?!? Penguins at equator? Yep!!! Flightless Cormorants diving so fast efficiently to feed. Frigate birds nesting on the almost sheer rock cliffs are so beautiful showing off those big red throat pouches trying to attract just the right female frigate is quite a show.

MARINE LIFE

And the diving, wow. We were very fortunate to have smooth seas and nice weather, very warm topside. But beware it can get pretty cool underwater so be prepared. Some of the wonderful animals I saw that cannot go with out mention are the Manta rays,Red lipped Batfish, a beautiful spotted horned shark and the ocean sun fish was a treat indeed. That dive was a case where many of our group did not get to see the fish because they were under dressed and got back on the panga due to chills before the Mola mola made his appearance.

Again, I stress, go prepared, take gloves and a beanie or hood. Many dive a 5/7 ml and some even drysuit. I used a 5 ml, gloves and hood. Sharks and giant moray eels abounded !!! Hammerheads, blacktips and of course the beautiful Galapagos shark. It's my understanding that I was between Manta season and Whaleshark season. You would want to check with a travel professional concerning what time of year you went depending on what your biggest hopes of seeing are.

DIVE CONDITIONS

To the best of my knowledge all dives are done from pangas or large inflated rubber rafts using back roll entry into the water. For me that means making sure I have good references on the dive operator. You want to be with a good solid operator to get you in and out of those pangas, I was. In fact the entire trip is so special and has so much to offer I believe everyone should use a travel professional in order to get the most out it. In my opinion it is not a place for beginning divers and maybe not even novices unless they have been well trained , are fit and in good watchful , thoughtful company. Currents are prevalent here, that's what brings the wildlife. Thirty foot vis was about the norm on my trip. However, it can change to much less quickly when a rain shower comes along. So be calm and enjoy the adventure. It is a wondrous destination that I would gladly visit again.

Visited on 06/2011 - Submitted on 08/22/2014
5
4
5
4

Our Family spent six adventurous weeks in Ecuador dividing our time between the Amazon, Quito and the Andes and ten days in the Galapagos on a catamaran, Galapagos Vision. This review is about our time in the Galapagos.

Most of our adventures happened during the day when we walked the islands or leisurely snorkelled the blue coastal waters. We snorkelled at least twice a day with marine iguanas, two types of turtles, sharks and sting rays not to mention all the fish life. The Galapagos Vision was not a dive boat but a fifteen metre catamaran holding ten paying passengers and six crew including a naturalist, Milton.

I can still hear his warm and smiling voice. ‘You do not have to look for the animals, they will look for you’. We thought he was just trying to keep us on the track but Milton turned out to be a legend. He seemed to know where to find stingrays, which ledges were hiding white tip reef sharks and where to find sea turtles gracefully feeding in the current.

‘Stay still’, was easier said than done as half a dozen stingrays swam around our feet in ankle deep water. Once again ‘The legend’ had led us to a beach on Floreana Island. The sculptured dunes were the nesting area for green sea turtles and only twenty metres off the beach two turtles were mating.

In this precious place we had to follow certain rules like the ‘two metre rule’. We were supposed to stay at least two metres from all animals but no one told the animals. We felt a connection as Green Sea Turtles comfortably fed just centimetres away under water. White Tipped Reef Sharks snoozed below us in the shallow water sometimes closer than we wanted to be.

These islands are epic. With regularity we would get out of the path of a determined sea lion or marine iguana as they moved to a new sunning perch. The oohs and aahs as baby sea lions nursed or a Nazca Booby stood up to expose a furry chick. Magnificent and Great Frigate birds, Waved Albatross, Blue Footed Boobies and Tropic Birds were in great numbers on some islands.

One of the highlights was seeing marine iguanas swim in from the cool sea with their serpent swagger and climb sometimes twenty metres up a cliff to a warm perch. They are the only marine lizard in the world and we found them lounging in great numbers (photo).

Darwin explored the Galapagos and developed his theory of evolution by noticing the changes in the length of mockingbird’s beaks and variation in finches from Island to Island. It was fascinating as visitors to easily see evolving forms of animals. Sure enough every island of the nine we visited showed a change in adaptation. The mockingbird’s beaks were longer, iguanas colour changed and finch’s beaks were noticeably stouter on some islands.

Even the islands change and evolve as they drift slowly east getting older, flatter and lower. Rabida is the ‘red’ island and some islands have the contrasting colour of old and new lava flows. We did not visit the most volcanic and westward islands of Fernandina and Isabela which would provide even more variety.

Exploring the Galapagos by boat and living aboard puts less pressure on the growing infrastructure of the islands but you need to have some sea legs to enjoy the journey. Our family never found it rough but some on our cruise looked a bit pale. The alternative is a land based exploration, sleeping on land and making boat trips to the islands.

Our shipmates were as varied as the wildlife consisting of people from Italy,
US, Netherlands and New Zealand. Another bonus of our travels is we feel we have made lifelong friends and with our new acquaintances we have invitations to visit so it seems, the journey never ends. There are boats to meet every need and price range carrying passenger of a few to one hundred.

The snorkelling was so different than anything I have experienced before. The animals were new but the quantity of sea life was unbelievable. The water was cool but not too cold to snorkel without a wetsuit but I would recommend one for diving.

After our cruise which is a great way to see some of the islands we spent several days in Puerta Ayora to regain our land legs and look around the main town on Santa Cruz Island. My son and I chose to dive with Silberstein Dive Centre and did two dives off Baltra Island. Both dives were drift dives and were easy and gentle and called Mosquera and North Seymour. The dive master was adequate as was the rental equipment and we had no trouble. It did make me realise after our trip on Galapagos Vision that it is the guide that can make the difference between a special trip and an adequate trip. The guys at Silberstein were adequate. The schools of Jacks were incredible and at one stage we were surrounded by them while doing our safety stop.

There are many dive shops to choose from in the Galapagos and I would recommend using the forums on TripAdvisor and Bluewater Travel to find the best ones. Have fun!

Visited on 12/2012 - Submitted on 02/25/2014
  • Top Reviewer
Minneapolis, MN
United States
4
4
5
5

I think that it is best to start a review of the Galapagos Islands in Quito. The new airport is almost an hour away from the city, but it is worthwhile to spend at least one day there and maybe two or three. The old quarter of the city is a UN World Heritage Site and it beautiful to see.

One arrives into the Galapagos Islands on the small island of Baltra and are taken by ferry to the core island of Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is by far the most populated of the islands and also contains quite a bit of agriculture. Some of the local farms represent the best spot to see the giant tortoises of Santa Cruz. Each island has its own tortoise species (Isabella has 4 I believe--one for each volcano). Puerto Aroyo is a town of about 25K inhabitants and is he commercial hub of the islands. Many local dive tours and island tours leave from here including ferries to other islands. The Darwin Research Center is also here and is a great chance to see many tortoises and species such as the land iguanas. Don't miss it--it is within a long walk of the city center.

We took a ferry to Isabella which was kind of a rough 2 hour ride to the very much smaller city of Puerto Villami on the SE corner of the island. Isabella is large and has incredible variety. We walked to the top of southernmost volcano. We went snorkeling near the town and saw white tips with sea lions harassing them. We saw thousands of marine iguanas and of course, blue boobies. The highlight of our stay was a long boat ride to the site of Los Tunneles which looks like some scene from another planet. Along the way, we saw dozen of mantas on the surface. We had a great chance to snorkel with them, eagle rays, and turtles everyway. This side tour is a bit expensive, but worth the price in every way. We got to see several of the Isabella tortoise species along one of our hikes. Diving is very good here as well, but not up to the standards of the outer islands.

Espanola is another island that is worth a visit if you have a chance. It is one of the oldest of the islands and is quite small. In July, we saw albatrosses mating which was quite interesting. Blue boobies were everywhere and several other species of birds that are not seen on the other islands. This is an island that is not frequented by divers because of its location, but if you have a chance to get here with a couple day extension, make the investment.

We did most of our diving from a liveaboard and most of them now take a very standard 7 day trip through the islands. We started in the Bartholomew area which is famous for its views featured in the Master and Commander movie. The diving in the area ifs very good, but not spectacular. Lots of snappers and lots of turtles.

After a long 1 day cruise, the boat arrives at Wolf and the fun starts. We did 5 dives there including a night dive which was very good with turtles sleeping and eels in abundance. The conditions were quite harsh here with lots of surge and rough surface conditions. We saw a half dozen eagle rays and too many hammerheads to count. It was a tough place to have a big camera though and it was easy to get bruised up on the rocks.

The next 1.5 days we spent at Darwin which is definitely world class. Dolphins on the surface. Orcas by the boat. Silky sharks circling at the "unsafety stop" and sharks pretty much everywhere. We saw two whale sharks, one of which bumped my son in the head with its tail. He didn't even see it coming but I got it on video.

We spent the last days of the trip off the coast of Fernandina where the water was cold, but full of marine iguanas. We also had orcas cruise by when we were diving. We also saw them on the surface. Never a dull moment. We finished at the NW corner of Isabella where the water was incredibly cold. We saw mola mola, giant seahorses, and the infamous red lipped batfish.

On the way back to port, we stopped for a couple of dives at Cousins Rock which is also a very nice site. We saw a half dozen eagle rays as well as a lot of turtles.

This destination is pretty incredible. A week of liveaboard is the only way to see the diving. An extra week is also worth the time spent to see a small sample of what is not underwater.

Visited on 07/2013 - Submitted on 02/07/2014
5
5
5
4

I went to the Galapagos a number of years back with a dive buddy. For those of us with families and tighter pocket books this is once in a lifetime bucket list trip. We booked the trip with Aggressor, and I really can't say anything bad about service, crew, or boat. Most meals were great, but we had the occasional just okay meal. Between all the diving and shore excursions eating up your calories any food is good, honestly. Of course, you really go for the underwater scenery. The amount of sea life is astonishing. From a diver that is used, to mostly, Caribbean diving, just the shear overall amount of fish, coral, rays, octopi, etc. is amazing. The hammer head sharks, which there are many, are a bonus. Some dives were a real underwater circus. Although, there were a couple dives that were comparably less visually consuming, but still always had something great to offer. It was, apparently, unseasonably warm. Most were wearing 5mil suits. I had brought my 5mil, but ended up wearing my 2mil instead. Although, I don't get cold easy, so wear what is comfortable for you. There were a couple dives that had very intense currents and wave movements. If you are uncomfortable with this type of dive it could make you anxious. Personally, I love challenging dives, and sometimes being thrown around is just plain fun. Nice thick gloves are must for holding on to outcroppings during these dives. While we had some superb dives, top side was fun as well. We had people from 5 different countries, and everyone got along well. During the first or second night while being moored off Darwin Island, I believe, a pod of dolphins put on a show for us. They hung about 10-20 meters off the boat and were doing jumps and flips for about fifteen minutes. I thought about rating the Overall Value a four, because it is very expensive, but all live aboard trips are expensive. Honestly, I think for the price you get more than you bargain for. IF I ever get the opportunity, I would definitely do it again.

Visited on 03/2007 - Submitted on 01/22/2014