A Galapagos diving tour is a sensory overload. Just when you think you’ve seen the most incredible sight of your life, an ocean sunfish glides coolly by, shoving it off the top spot with heedless nonchalance.
Because although the islands of the Galapagos are home to myriad exotic creatures, shriveled-winged birds and blackened beasts living among the moonscapes of the volcanic scenery, what lurks below the surface of the surrounding waters makes a Dali painting look like sanity. An army-camo hieroglyphic hawkfish here, a glimmering parrotfish there, the whoosh of a Galapagos penguin and the spiraling dance of a baby sea lion. All the while, the giant Pacific turtle looks on mournfully from the ocean floor, volcanic cliff faces towering up in the background. Thanks to the unique meeting of three ocean currents, these seas are abuzz with diverse marine wildlife, an underwater metropolis that David Attenborough often references as a sort of subaquatic holy land.
What are the Galapagos diving requirements?
A word of warning: though an ideal escape for seasoned solo travelers, honeymooners, or anyone for whom interstellar travel is just out of their budget, Galapagos diving tours are more suitable for intermediate or experienced divers than beginners – first-timers and children are advised to go with a private dive master.
When is the best time to go on a Galapagos diving tour?
There are a few factors that might influence when you decide to book your diving holiday, ranging from the variety of animals you’ll see to the likelihood of getting seasick.
During the warm season from December to June, temperatures vary between 80°F and 90°F (26°C and 32°C). This is a great time to make the most of the sunshine, with water coming from the Panama Basin bringing warmer and calmer seas, which will be about 70°F-80°F (20°C-26°C). The Southeast trade winds become weaker: sailing to any island is easier.
During the latter part of the year in the cool, dry season, temperatures dip to 60°F-80°F (15°C-26°C); the sea is a chilly 65°F-75°F (18°C-23°C). Though the seas are undoubtedly choppier (seasickness pills at the ready) this is a good time to visit for increased underwater animal activity, especially around August and September, when the cool Humboldt Current brings nutrient-rich waters that attract larger animals – including all kinds of wonderful whales – to the islands.
During these colder months, it’s best to stay cozy with a wetsuit of 5 or 7mm, plus a hood and an extra base layer if you really feel the chill. All of these can be rented on the islands, but take your own suit and mask if you prefer.
Top Five Best Dive Sites
Located to the north of Santa Cruz and thirty minutes from the Itabaca Channel, Seymour has two dive sites, the Channel and the Point. The protected waters of the inner Channel are ideal for beginner divers and scuba lessons, while the area around the Point is best suited for intermediate to advanced divers. The coral reefs attract hammerhead and white-tipped reef sharks who come here for a bit of pampering at a well-known cleaning station, as well as sea turtles, sting and manta rays, eels, barracudas, and large schools of fish. The dive gives you an opportunity to explore small underwater caves and shelves that draw the sharks to the deep blue waters.
Located between Baltra and North Seymour Islands, 25 minutes from Itabaca Channel off Santa Cruz Island, the Mosquera islet has two dive sites to explore. These are good Galapagos diving tours for all levels of divers as there are no strong currents. The islet is home to one of the largest colonies of sea lions in the Galapagos, whose curious pups love nothing more than to play with and blow bubbles at unsuspecting divers. Hammerhead and white-tipped reef sharks, eels, rays, schools of reef fish, barracudas, jellyfish, lobsters, octopuses, and starfish live along an underwater, black coral wall; tiger sharks make an appearance to clean themselves in the shadows of the underwater cliffs.
The waters off Bartolome Island are home to an amazing selection of marine life, coral reefs, and underwater cliffs that make a Galapagos diving tour here an intrepid adventure. Large schools of fish, rays, white-tipped reef sharks, sea turtles, eels, sea lions, and red-lipped batfish are often seen during the descent, as well as a sprightly sea horse or two. At ten meters, there is a volcanic shelf that leads to deeper underwater cliffs. This site is recommended for those who have logged a number of dives and are comfortable with moderate currents.
Delve deep into the fishy world of the Galapagos Marine Reserve with this Galapagos diving tour at Beagle, a garden-like site coated with corals and sponges located two hours from the camp, close to Santiago and Bartolome Islands. The descent starts along an underwater volcanic platform and continues to a submerged, sloped wall covered with black coral. The coral is a cleaning station for beasts of the sea and attracts thousands of fish each day. Look out for green sea turtles, rays, Galapagos sharks, solo hammerhead sharks, barracudas, and schools of fish including flag cabrilla, and schools of brown-striped salema.
An ancient underwater volcano caldera located north of the Plazas Islands, Gordon Rocks is one of the most enchanting of all the Galapagos diving tours and one of the best places to come face to face with the weird and wonderful ocean sunfish (mola mola). Recommended for experienced divers because of the strong currents (so strong that the site is also known as the Washing Machine), it’s home to a mind-blowing array of white-tipped reef, Galapagos, and hammerhead sharks; plus rays, eels, sea lions and turtles, and schools of bright reef fish that are attracted to the coral reefs.
Plan your Galapagos Island Vacation!
See our Safari Holidays for our suggested Galapagos itineraries and recommended activities.