Scuba Diving in the Galapagos Islands: Everything you need to know before booking your dream scuba adventure.
Here’s what this is all about:
Did you know...
The Galapagos Islands are home to the world’s largest biomass of sharks?
A study published in 2016 (Salinas de León et al.,2016) revealed that the northern Galapagos Islands, Wolf and Darwin, were home to the largest reef fish biomass ever reported with 17.5 tons per hectare.
From which 73% was accounted for sharks!
The most common encounters around Darwin and Wolf Islands are the large school of hammerhead sharks, group of Galapagos sharks, blacktip sharks and huge – over 12 meters in length (40 ft) female whale shark (many times pregnant), that you can see swimming among a school of hammerheads.
Imagine yourself dropping in the blue, descending where the hammerheads freely swim…
Suddenly, you spot a huge whale shark… And you start swimming through the school of hammerheads to get closer to the largest fish on earth…
For sure it’d be an image that will never ever be forgotten.
You won’t see this in almost any other part of the world.
Isn’t that exciting enough? I doubt you’d say no…
If you ever wanted to scuba dive surrounded by hundreds of sharks, if you ever wanted to scuba dive with huge whale sharks the size of a bus, if you ever wanted to experience what it is like to be in one of the best scuba diving spots in the world... Then, this is your DREAM Dive destination.
Scuba diving the Galapagos Islands is in every single diver’s bucket list, due to its majestic animal encounters. You never know what exactly is going to happen, but for sure something unique and special.
If you are, now, thinking of taking a trip to Galapagos Islands then this article is definitely for you because here you will find everything you need to know before to start your Galapagos adventure.
The Galapagos Islands
Six hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador lies the Galapagos Archipelago, born of fire and ruled by the brutal forces of nature. Famous for their fearless wildlife, its huge biodiversity and for their wide range of endemic species.
How many islands are in Galapagos is still up for debate. Current information is that the archipelago is formed by 127 islands, islets and rocks, of which 19 are large and 4 are inhabited. And they are still being formed today through the layering and lifting of repeated volcanic action.
It was discovered by accident in 1535 when the bishop of Panama, Tomas de Berlanga, was blown off course while sailing from Panama to Peru.
Almost 300 years later the HMS Beagle arrived to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno in San Cristobal, bringing as a guest to Charles Darwin. What he saw it inspired him to write his controversial book “The Origin of Species”.
In 1978, the UNESCO ( World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), released the first list of 12 World
Heritage sites for Humanity.
The Galapagos Islands were one of the sites in that first list. Then in 1984, the Galapagos National Park, a biosphere reserve, was added. And later, in 2001, UNESCO extended the World Heritage site designation to the entire Galapagos Marine Reserve.
The Galapagos Marine reserve was created in 1986 with an area of 70,000 square kms (27000 square miles) and it was extended to its current area of 133,000 square kms (51,350 square miles), in 1998. Making it one of the biggest marine reserves in the world at that time.
Currently, there are conservation efforts to extend the marine reserve to safeguard the vulnerable marine species within the marine reserve. And to stop the increase pressure from fishing fleets and illegal fishing. Click here to support this project and sign the petition
What Makes the Galapagos Islands So Special?
You might've already asked yourself in the past:
Why the diving in the Galapagos is so good. Why do we have all these different species at the same time? What are the unique conditions that gathered all this marine wildlife? What is the thing that makes it so special?
Well, The Galapagos Archipelago is situated on both sides of the equator, at a point where 3 major ocean currents – with different directions and temperatures – collide, making them one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world.
The Humboldt current, flows north from Antarctica along the west coast of south America turning west near the Equator, bringing nutrient rich water to Galapagos Islands and helping to sustain the islands’ rich biodiversity.
In the far west the deep Cromwell current collides with the massive islands, and rises… Creating an upwelling that brings nutrients from the deep to the surface layer.
And the Panama current, that runs from north to south and turn west in the equator, bringing warm waters to the Galapagos Islands
All the ocean currents, with different temperature and directions, provide the perfect conditions to deliver this truly amazing biodiversity.
The Galapagos Islands Weather
The Weather in Galapagos is dictated by the ocean currents and the trade winds. Therefore, even the Islands are located in the middle of the Equator, its weather it’s not Tropical.
It can be better defines as subtropical. It’s never too hot, and it has little rain falls.
That’s why visiting Galapagos is good all year round!
2 different seasons have been reported in the Galapagos Islands.
The cold or “dry” season, from July to December. This season is influenced by the Humboldt current and the southeast trade winds. When they are at its strongest levels, the cool waters from the Humboldt current are predominant and as the water cools the air above is also cooled. This means less water is evaporated from the sea surface, therefore fewer clouds are formed, decreasing the amount of rain fall.
The pick of the cold season is September. Where you will find the coldest and rougher waters. But there’s big pros of having these conditions. We will get to that point a bit later.
The warm or wet season, from January to June. When the southeast trade winds slacken the cold waters are replaced by the warm water of the Panama current. As the waters warm up also the air does. And also is when one may experience some sharp but short tropical storm. But, only to see the sun back right after the rain.
The pick of the warm season is March with the higher amount of rain fall (2 in.) and warmest air and water temperatures.
Who can/should dive the Galapagos Islands?
The diving conditions in Galapagos might be a bit harder than other holiday locations. If you want to fully explore diving in the Galapagos Islands and go to the best dive sites, such as Darwin and Wolf Islands, you must be comfortable in deep waters, strong and varying currents and cold waters. Therefore, diving in the Galapagos is more suitable for more advance divers.
There is a minimum number of dives required to dive in the Galapagos Islands:
June - November = 100 dives required (Cold/dry season)
December - May = 50 dives required (Warm/wet season)
This is to ensure the safety of the passengers and also that they are taking people who will get the most out of this experience.
Knowing this will help you understand when is the best time for you to visit the Galapagos Islands
When is The Best Time To Go To Galapagos Islands?
Before we make the decision when to pack our bags we need to understand what that weather information means.
In the cold season the average air temperature goes from 17ºC (62ºF) to 27ºC (80ºF) and water temperature goes from 18ºC (65ºF) to 23ºC (75ºF).
Wind creates rougher seas, currents are stronger and visibility is slightly less.
However the predominant cold currents bring nutrients to the surface, attracting many animals such as whale sharks. That’s why the cold season is also cold whale shark season.
While we can see whale sharks at any time in Galapagos this is when the number of encounters increase drastically. With its pick numbers on September.
Also the sharks swim at shallower depth as the cold water is coming up to the surface, so it’s easier to have close encounters.
With these cold waters come the mola molas and even humpback whales can be spotted during this time.
In the warm season, the average air temperatures go from 20°C to 32°C (68°F - 88°F) and the water temperature goes from 21°C (70°F) to 28°C (82°F).
Visibility is usually the best at this time. Seas are also calm offering perfect diving conditions to explore the underwater world.
Brief rains are more common, but expect the sun shine after the rain.
The warm season is also called Manta season, because this is the time when the boats can visit Cabo Marshall to see the Oceanic Manta Rays cleaning stations.
So, when is the best time to dive the Galapagos? The answer is.... It depends…
If you don’t have 100 dives yet or you like only warm water you will be better off going between December and May and see the Oceanic Manta Rays, plus all the hammerhead action.
If you are in this segment, May is a good month to go as you are still in warm season but you could see the early arrivals of whale sharks.
If your goal is to see whale sharks, you want to have more chances to see mola molas, you have more than 100 dives and you are comfortable with colder waters and stronger currents, then you should go between, June and November or in the pick of whale shark season which is in September.
Considering that diving is good all year round. It all goes down on what you want to see, what you want to experience and what’s your level of diving.
How to get to the Galapagos?
Arriving to Ecuador: Most international flight arrivals require an overnight stay in either Guayaquil or Quito prior to flying out to the Galapagos the next morning. The only exception is if you are flying in on a red eye that arrives very early in the morning in which case you may wait a few hours in the airport prior to boarding your flight to Galapagos.
There’s an hotel at the Mariscal Sucre International Airport Quito (airport code UIO). The airport is over an hour
outside of Quito. The Airport Center is located across from the departures area and has shopping, restaurants and other services including Layover Stay Quito. If you only have a few hours between flights, it has recliners, internet, snacks and even showers.
In the José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport Guayaquil (airport code GYE), there are restaurants and limited shopping. Downstairs there is a coffee shop, a pharmacy, and a place where you can safely store your luggage for a fee. There is a Hotel at the GYE Airport, and most hotels are within a 10-15-minute drive from the airport.
On your return, if your international flight departs in the evening or at night, you probably won't need a mainland hotel, however, if your international flight departs in the morning, you will need to overnight on the mainland.
Arriving to Galapagos: All flights TO Galapagos are in the morning. All flights FROM Galapagos are late morning to early afternoon. All flights from Quito route through Guayaquil with a short layover (45 minutes approximately) during which time you do not deplane.
There are 2 airports in Galapagos, San Cristobal (SCY) and Baltra (GPS). It is very important you fly into the correct one. Some who stay on in Galapagos for extensions may fly into one airport and out of the other.
Departures from Quito and Guayaquil: You will need to first check-in at the Consejo de Gobierno window, present your passport, pay your $20 TCT (Tarjeta de Control de Transito – or in English Transit Control Card) card fee (in US cash only, no credit cards or other currencies) and receive your TCT cards. Sometimes, there is a line waiting to get to the window.
Next you will scan your luggage. They will tag it once through the scan, so it is cleared to fly to Galapagos. No open organic material is permitted. You may be bringing commercially sealed food items as long as you have no plants that contain stems or seeds. No meats are permitted. This is to prevent the spread of invasive species.
Now you are ready to go to your airline counter to check in as normal for your flight. Proceed into the Domestic Departures Area, have your bags x-rayed again at the security check point and locate your gate.
Please note that if you need cash, the ATMs are located to the right of the Domestic Departures Entry BEFORE you enter the gate area.
Arrival in Galapagos: Upon arrival into Galapagos, you will go through Customs, (International Visitors line) present the customs form you received on the plane, your passport and pay the $100 pp National Park Entrance Fee in cash, US dollars. They return to you part of the TCT card. Keep it safe. You will need it when you depart and failure to present it may cause a delay. I recommend putting it in your passport
Once through customs, your carry-on items are scanned and then you are free to collect your luggage at baggage claim in the same room.
Galapagos opened its borders to tourism in August 2020. Since then the trips have been regularly departing and slowly recovery.
To enter Ecuador, on arrival you will have to present a PCR test with a negative result valid up to 10 days Keep in mind that the 10 days begin from the time the laboratory takes your sample to be tested and not from the time you receive the results. So, be careful and plan accordingly.
To enter the Galapagos Islands, at the airport you will have to present a PCR test with a negative result valid up to 96 hours. Keep in mind that the 96 hours begin from the time the laboratory takes your sample to be tested and not from the time you receive the results. So, again, plan carefully.
The islands are so remote and as everybody get tested the risk of getting covid is very low. As you will only be sharing same spaces with the other passengers and crew of your expedition.
Together with the test, you will also have to present the following documents: TCT, PCR test, Salvoconducto (supplied electronically by your tour company prior to your departure) and your passport.
Please bring plenty of face masks for the duration of your stay in Galapagos. Keep in mind the safe disposal of the face masks as you will be visiting a wildlife protected area.
We also recommend you to bring your own reusable water bottle as in Galapagos it is forbidden the use of single use plastics.
The Galapagos National Park Rules
To preserve the environment and protect the unique biodiversity the Galapagos National Park (GNP) and Marine Reserve hold strict rules and regulations, that apply to visitors and tour operators that offer services within the limits of the Marine Reserve.
All excursions and itineraries have been previously selected, reviewed, authorised and approved by the GNP authorities, to allow for the minimum environmental impact.
The authorities have been limited the affluence of visitors for long time sitting, currently, at around 270,000 per year, which is what the authorities say that is pretty much the maximum the islands can withstand without harming their various ecosystems.
Here’s the GALAPAGOS NATIONAL PARK RULES:
Please do not disturb or remove any native plants, rocks or animals on land or in the water.
Be careful not to transport any live material or sand to the islands.
Do not take any food or drink, except water, to the uninhabited islands.
Please do not touch, pet or feed the animals. Remain at least 2 meters away at all times.
Please do not startle or chase any animal from its nesting place.
Please do not leave any trash on the Islands or throw any litter overboard.
Please follow the marked trails at all times and do not walk out of their limits.
Please stay with your naturalist guide who must accompany all groups on all dives or trails.
Please do not buy souvenirs of objects made from native Galapagos products, especially black coral, sea lion’s teeth and Galapagos tortoise shell.
Do not smoke on the islands.
Drones and underwater propulsion vehicles are prohibited without a special permit.
Fishing is strictly prohibited from liveaboards.
Galapagos Best Dive Sites
Wolf Island: This small island located more than 100 kilometers to the northwest of the main Galapagos Islands chain and is only visited by divers.
Sightings include large schools of Hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks, Eagle Rays, Sea Lions, Mantas, Turtles, Jacks, Trumpetfish, Butterfly fish, Moorish Idols, Moray Eels, Dolphins and, in season, Whale sharks.
Wolf Island is also prolific in corals and reef life, with more than 8 species of corals, and the greatest diversity of tropical fish in the islands.
Some of Wolf's dive sites are Shark Bay, The Landslide, La Banana and Islote La Ventana. Wolf is also a great experience above water.
It is home to literally hundreds of thousands of seabirds such as Blue Footed boobies, Red footed boobies, Nazca boobies (also known as masked boobies), frigates, pelicans, red billed tropic birds and gulls.
Darwin Island: Considered by most to be the best dive site on the planet, Darwin is the northernmost island in Galapagos. Like Wolf, this site is only visited by divers.
Sightings include large schools of Hammerheads, free swimming morays, Galapagos sharks, Dolphins, Puffers and Porcupine fish, huge schools of Jacks and, of course, Whale Sharks between June and Nov.
This is the only place on the planet where you can swim with 40+ ft / 12+ mt adult female whale sharks. Their abdomens are so extended, it's hard not to assume they are all pregnant females; however, science has not yet been able to prove that.
The island itself is home to countless sea birds. Fur seal colonies also make Darwin their home. And, of course, there is the world-renowned Darwin's Arch to provide a memorable photo-op.
Jan - May: Cabo Marshall: is located on the eastern side of Isabela Island. Giant mantas, large schools of barracudas, Galapagos sharks, sea lions, flightless cormorants and enormous schools of black striped salemas in Galapagos. These tiny fish can be so numerous, a diver inside the school cannot be seen, only the bubbles rising above the school.
June - Dec: Cabo Douglas (Fernandina Island): The westernmost island in Galapagos, Fernandina is an active volcano. It has erupted twice in the last decade. It is the ‘hot spot’ in Galapagos.
This is the only site on liveaboard itineraries where you can see diving Marine Iguanas feeding underwater. You also see Penguins feeding on tiny silver Sardines using schools of black striped salemas as cover. Turtles are especially abundant at Cabo Douglas which is probably why this is a likely location to site Orcas.
Punta Vicente Roca (Isabela Island): If you look at a map, Isabela Island looks uncannily similar to a seahorse. Punta Vicente Roca is located on the north western side of Isabela just below the ‘mouth’ of the seahorse. Isabela has 5 active volcanoes.
Punta Vicente Roca is a mola mola (Sunfish) cleaning station, has large turtle populations, the endemic Galapagos bullhead shark, penguins, sea horses, sea lions and many species of fish not found elsewhere in Galapagos. It is not uncommon to find yourself diving with an endemic flightless cormorant.
Cousins Rocks: is a small rock, the remains of an eroded crater sticking up out of the sea. On the eastern side, the rock cascades down in a series of recessed ledges strewn with black coral, which is bright green under the water. Taking cover in the coral, you may find seahorses, frogfish, octopus, turtles and the elusive longnose hawkfish. It’s not unusual to spot pelagics from Cousins including mantas, eagle rays, mobulas and hammerhead. Sea lions are fur seals are also at Cousins.
Both money and electricity are the same in Ecuador as it is in the US. Ecuador uses the US dollar for currency. Even US coins may be used. For outlets, Ecuador use the 110 v Type B plug.
Your expedition boat will more than likely have some 220 V outlets onboard with Type F & G plugs and USB outlets for charging phones, etc.
TIME ZONE: -6 GMT. No daylight savings time. Half the year, Ecuador is the same as Central Time in the US (Chicago), the other half of the year it is on Eastern Time (NY). The Galapagos are 1 hour behind the mainland.
PASSPORT: No visa is necessary from most countries, only the following: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cuba, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Senegal and Somalia. This is always subject to change, so best to check the Ecuador Embassy website in your home country. You are allowed to stay up to 90 days in any 12-month period.
Your passport must have 6 months prior to expiration at the time you enter Ecuador. You must have a round trip (return) ticket to enter Galapagos. You may have to have proof of health insurance coverage for the time of your stay in Ecuador though this is not a policy yet enforced.
CASH, CREDIT CARDS & TRAVELERS CHECKS: Visa and MasterCard are usually accepted at restaurants, hotels and shops in tourist areas. Amex is less accepted than other cards in the islands. It’s strongly recommend you bring cash for tips. Otherwise, the tip will be less than what you intended as the processing fees will be deducted from the final payout.
Bring smaller USD denominations ranging from $1s to $20s if you are spending time on the islands. Taxis, etc rarely have change. Travellers’ checks are not recommended in Galapagos islands as almost no one accepts them.
EXPOSURE PROTECTION: A 7mm wetsuit is recommended with hood and 1.5/2mm gloves with reinforced palms for protection from sharp barnacles, not warmth. Water temps are warmer at Darwin than other sites, however, dives are Darwin often entail as much as 25 minutes of stationary time so it’s easier to feel cooler than when you are in motion. You descend through current, grab hold of rocks on the platform and watch the show as it passes by except when chasing whale sharks. The rocks you grab often have barnacles which will cut your hands if you’re not wearing gloves.
DIVE KIT: It is always best to bring your own gear as you know it well and know it fits you well. You should bring: BCD, 7 mm wetsuit, hood, fins, 5 mm booties, mask and SMB. Your regulator should have a console with a submersible pressure gauge (SPG) and an analogue depth gauge. Your regulator should have an octopus or alternate air source. And a spare parts kit. The use of dive computer is mandatory.
How to Dive The Galapagos, Liveaboard expeditions & costs
There are different ways to experience diving in the Galapagos Islands.
There are day dive trips to the dive sites close to the main towns such as Puerto Ayora, that cost around $150 /$170 a day for a 2 tank trip.
These dive sites are more accessible for beginner divers that don't comply with the 50 minimum dives requirement and they are at the lowest price you can find to dive in the Galapagos.
While is true that these dives are still good. Everyone will agree that if you want to truly experience what diving in the Galapagos really is, you will have to think about a multiday boat trip in a liveaboard expedition.
The Darwin and Wolf islands – which are the best and most famous dive sites are so remote that they are only accessible via liveaboard.
Joining a liveaboard expedition is, without a doubt, the best way to get the most out of your experience in the Galapagos Islands.
One of my favourite things of a liveaboard is waking up look around and see only the ocean and inhabited islands and watching the sunrise AND the sunset on the ocean.
They are the best views you could imagine!
The other is that you get to dive 4 times a day, see the best of marine life and come back to the boat where the food, snacks or drinks are waiting for you!
It really is the ultimate dive travel vacation experience!
Low and mid range liveaboards prices are at around U$3000 to $5000 and they are always sold out!
Luxury boats sells for about $7000 and they are usually sold out too.
There’s other range of prices that depend on the bonuses they offer, such as Nitrox, photo, video, etc.
However, this pandemic - that we can agree has shattered our plans, and in a way changed our lives – fortunately, is bringing opportunities and deals never seen before and most likely won't be seen again as soon as restrictions subsides, borders open up and traveling resumes.
Deals that were designed to encourage travel in 2021 without risk!
But how to know which company have implemented safety protocols? Or flexibility on changes and restrictions? What if something changes before your trip?
Do you have internet? What a question... You wouldn’t be here if you didn't...
If you go to google and type diving the Galapagos liveaboard. You will find many options, lots of boats companies and travel agencies.
So many, that you might get confused and you will find yourself again in google with another search… And then another one, and then some more until you get into that rabbit hole that it’s hard to get off!
All the information the internet provides us is good but it can get overwhelming and difficult to figure out who to trust with such an important role.
That’s why we’ve put together an expedition ourselves.
We searched the internet for you and put together an expedition with the best deal to dive the Galapagos Islands. It's so good, I'd bet, that you won't see it anywhere else! (I've searched and there's nothing like it).
The idea is you only have to get there and we take care of the rest, so you can relax, stop your endless search and enjoy your journey.
If you are thinking of taking a dive trip to Galapagos this year, If you are itching to go for a scuba adventure, and if you want a group of professionals organizing everything for you.
Then, we got you.
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