With dozens of dive sites peppered across the Galapagos Islands, each offering something a little different, it can be hard to decide which ones to visit. Much will depend on your experience as a diver; what your comfort levels are; how many days you have available and whether you want to dedicate your visit purely to scuba-diving or whether you are looking to add a few dives to your Galapagos Safari. Our Guide to Scuba-Diving in the Galapagos, is a good place to start.
The islands in the northwestern corner of the archipelago include not only some of the best dive sites in the Galapagos, but some of the best dive sites in the world. Owing to the strong currents and cold water temperatures here, these dive sites are best for experienced divers. Some liveaboards may only accept divers with an Advanced Certification.
The most famous dive sites in the northern islands are around Wolf and Darwin. These two tiny islands are some of the best places in the world to see large schools of sharks and rays. They are also the most remote. Sat some 200km north of Isabela’s northernmost tip, they can only be accessed on a liveaboard cruise dedicated to scuba-diving. Given the distances involved, Wolf and Darwin are usually found on 8+ day itineraries.
There are many dive sites dotted around both islands, including Darwin’s Arch on the eastern side of Darwin which Scuba Dive Mag ranks as one of the Top 10 Dive Sites in the World.
Common sightings at these dive sites include hammerhead sharks, silky sharks, blacktip sharks, Galapagos sharks, manta rays, eagle rays and turtles. During the Cooler Season (July to Dec), when the Humboldt Current is at its strongest, you may see whale sharks and other migratory species as they congregate to breed. In 2021 the Galapagos Marine Reserve was officially expanded to protect the migratory corridors for these critically endangered species.
It is worth noting that visitors are not permitted on these islands. As liveaboard cruises generally do not mix land tours with diving tours, you may want to add a pre or post-cruise safari to explore some of the Galapagos’ wildlife on land.
If you are not planning to travel on a liveaboard, there are some excellent dive sites in and around the central Galapagos Islands which you can either add to a Galapagos cruise (to replace whatever tour/activity had been scheduled on that day) or, add as additional days on an island-based tour. Our Dive Safaris, for example, allow you to fully customize your entire Galapagos vacation, so you can add as many dives as you want, while ensuring you don’t miss out on any of the tours or activities you want to do.
Regardless of what kind of scuba-diving experience you choose, be it liveaboard, cruise or island-based, all dive boats must adhere to fixed itineraries and timetables, as approved in advance by the Galapagos National Park. These determine which days and times specific boats can visit each of the dive sites. The National Park revises the boats’ itineraries and timetables on an annual basis (from 1 March each year).
At Galapagos Safari Camp we work with a scuba-diving company that has been operating in the central islands for more than 20 years. The dive sites they offer are the ones that get the best feedback over the years. They include:
Floreana Island sits approximately 30 miles / 50 km south of Santa Cruz. It is one of the four islands inhabited by humans in the archipelago. Due to National Park’s strict rules and timetables, passengers are not allowed to disembark onto the island while on a diving tour.
From Santa Cruz, the navigation to Floreana takes between 1h 40m and 2 hours, depending on the conditions of the sea. It is a little faster during the warm season (Dec/Jan to May) when the ocean is calmer, and a little slower during the cooler months (Jun/Jul to Nov) when the seas can get quite choppy.
At Floreana we recommend the following two dive sites.
This first dive site is at an islet called Champion which sits off the northeastern coast of Floreana Island. Named after Andrew Champion, one of the many whalers that used the archipelago as a hunting base during the 18th and 19th centuries, Champion is one of the more popular dive sites in the Galapagos due to the abundance and variety of wildlife that is so often found here. It is also a good site for diving with sea lions.
The dive starts on the sandy sea bed at a depth of around 8 to 10m. From here you will follow the rocky wall of the islet which opens up to a big reef that descends to depths of 12 – 20m.
Look out for the endemic red-lipped batfish and the unique (and very odd-looking!) Galapagos Sea Robin that has fins, wings and legs! You may also see white tip reef sharks, turtles, sea lions, Galapagos sharks, sting rays, eagle rays, marbled rays, barracudas, tuna fish, reef fish, black coral (although it looks green!) and invertebrates such as octopi.
This is a lovely drift dive, and depending on the strength of the current, you will cover around 180 degrees of the islet.
Upon surfacing, you can enjoy a hot cup of tea and a light snack, while the boat navigates to the second dive site, Punta Cormorant, following the shoreline of Floreana so that you may see some of the island’s wildlife from afar.
Cormorant Point marks the northernmost tip of Floreana Island and, much like Champion, starts with a sandy bottom at a depth of around 8-10m. The reef descends to 20m but most of the dive will likely stay around 7-15m where you find most of the wildlife.
After descending your guide will look for the red-lipped batfish, as well as sea turtles, moray eels, sea horses, blenny fish, nudibranchs (sea slugs) and sharks. Both white-tip reef sharks and hammerheads have been seen here.
Once again, this is a drift dive and if the current is strong, you may end up in front of ‘Devil’s Crown’. This eroded volcanic crater sat off the point is one of the best snorkeling spots in the Galapagos. Although scuba divers are not permitted to enter the crater, as the National Park reserves it for snorkelers only.
After a box lunch on board the boat, you will navigate back to Santa Cruz. The return journey goes ‘with the waves’, so you can expect the ride to be a little faster and smoother.
Once you have reached Puerto Ayora, your car will be waiting to transport you back to Galapagos Safari Camp.
1.8miles / 3km off the east coast of Santa Cruz, and a little north-east of the Plaza Islands, are three protruding rocks. One large, one medium and one small. Known collectively as Gordon Rocks, their surrounding waters are one of the best places to dive in the Galapagos central islands. There is an estimated 80% chance of seeing sharks.
Often referred to as ‘The Washing Machine’ the dive site has challenging currents and upwellings, making it only suitable for experienced divers. (Divers need a minimum of 25 logged dives for this tour).
It is the currents that bring the plankton to the surface, attracting large numbers of pelagics. It is one of the best places to find Hammerhead sharks, which are often seen in large schools here, as well as the weird and wonderful Oceanic Sunfish (Mola Mola). You also have a good chance of seeing white tip reef sharks, black tip sharks, sea turtles, mobula rays, sting rays, golden rays, eagle rays, giant manta rays, devil manta rays, panamic green moray eels, Galapagos eels, barracudas, tuna fish, lobsters and a variety of colorful reef fish. There is also an opportunity of diving with sea lions although they tend to remain above the water on the rocks.
The navigation from Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz is around one hour and is ‘with the waves’ so not too rough.
Your Dive Master will plan the dives upon arrival, according to the conditions at the site. The rocks are positioned in a semicircle and the dives take place either within this crater or along its outer wall. Depending on where the activity takes place, the dive can reach depths of 30m, although it aims to stay within 18-20m.
The two dives take place in the same area. If the wildlife was very good on the first dive, you may repeat it for the second.
After both dives are complete, you will navigate to the nearby Plaza Islands where it is less choppy, making it a more comfortable spot to enjoy your box lunch on board. Afterwards you will return to Santa Cruz, this time to the northern port of Itabaca. Your car will meet you here for your return transfer to Galapagos Safari Camp.
Situated off the east coast of Santa Cruz, North and South Plaza Islands were formed around 3 million years ago as a result of volcanic uplifting. The currents are very mild here, making it the perfect site for a ‘refresher dive’.
From Itabaca Channel in Santa Cruz, the boat takes approximately one hour to reach the dive site on the northern shore of North Plaza.
A boulder slope with a gradual incline falls to a sandy bottom at about 24m, although most of the action takes place around 14m.
In terms of marine life, this dive is often dominated by sea lions. Insatiably curious, these playful animals enjoy the company of scuba-divers and never fail to provide entertainment.
Also look out for white-tip reef sharks, yellowtail mullet, parrot fish, marble and diamond rays, and multiple Galapagos garden eels found in the sandy patches throughout this boulder slope.
The dive site at Plaza Islands is often combined with the dive site at Gordon Rocks, located just a few minutes boat ride away.
Some of the best dive sites in the Galapagos central islands are found near North Seymour, the island that sits directly north of Baltra (the airport island north of Santa Cruz). From Itabaca Channel on Santa Cruz Island, the boat navigation takes around 30 minutes. At North Seymour, we recommend the following two dive sites:
The dive descends to a rocky bottom at a depth of around 12m. Here you will explore its many crevices, where you can sometimes find striped turtles and resting sharks. The currents can get quite strong here and you will drift towards the blue to look for the large pelagic animals.
Towards the end of the dive, you may spot white-tip reef sharks swimming against the current. There is also a chance of seeing hammerheads, black-tip reef sharks, barracudas, sea lions, mobulas, turtles, reef fish, garden eels, devil manta rays and a variety of invertebrate molluscs.
After surfacing, enjoy a hot cup of tea and a snack as the boat navigates to the second dive site, just a short distance away in North Seymour’s channel. On the way, look out for the many frigate birds that inhabit North Seymour.
The dive descends to around 10m and follows a sandy sea bed which sharks often use as a cleaning station, including white-tip reef sharks and hammerheads. A scattering of large rocks and boulders means there are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, often with colorful reef fish hiding in the crevices.
This dive site is often combined with North Seymour Point or with North Mosquera.
After a box lunch aboard the boat, you will return to Itabaca Channel where your car will be waiting for you to return to Galapagos Safari Camp.
The little sandy islet of Mosquera sits between Baltra (the airport island) and North Seymour Island. It is one of the closest dive sites to Galapagos Safari Camp. There are the following two dive sites at Mosquera:
The boat leaves from Itabaca Channel on the north coast of Santa Cruz. The journey to the northern end of Mosquera takes approximately 25 minutes. On approaching the islet, look out for the sea lions that are often seen sunning themselves on its sandy shores. Be aware that the dive site is on the opposite side of the islet to the sandy beach. For this reason, it is unlikely that you will see the sea lions underwater.
The dive follows a sandy seabed at a depth of around 15-18m to a series of large rocks, before reaching a sharp drop off into the big blue. It’s usually at this point where you can often spot the silhouettes of sharks circling the deeper waters. Black tip reef sharks also use this area as a cleaning station. Other species often spotted on this dive include sea lions, turtles, barracudas, snappers, creole fish, garden eels, a variety of rays, reef fish, sea stars and invertebrates.
As with every dive site in the Galapagos, you should expect a little current.
Mosquera North is often combined with North Seymour Channel
The dive descends to a sandy bottom at a depth of around 10m. From there you will follow the reef that sits along the top of a cliff wall at around 18m. You have a good chance of seeing hammerheads, Galapagos Sharks, white-tip reef sharks, devil rays, tuna fish and a wide variety of reef fish.
Mosquera South is often combined with Daphne Minor.
Daphne Minor is a small islet set approximately 5 miles / 8km west of Mosquera. If you’re lucky, dolphins may even trail the boat as you navigate between these two dive sites.
This dive follows the steep sides of the islet. Look out for the multi-coloured benthic organisms that inhabit these underwater walls. Seahorses and eels are also found amidst the black corals, and it’s not unusual to see a variety of sharks, sea turtles, rays and other pelagic species. It is also a good site for diving with sea lions. Once they see the bubbles, they often want to come and play!
The waters at Daphne Minor can feel a little cooler than at other dive sites and currents are generally moderate to strong. You will be diving at depths of around 10-18m.
As the waters around Daphne can get a little choppy, you will navigate back to the calmer waters of Itabaca channel for lunch (a box lunch on board), before continuing back to the port. There, your car will be waiting to transfer you back to Galapagos Safari Camp.
Named after Sir Bartholomew James Sulivan, a naval officer on the HMS Beagle and a friend of Charles Darwin, the small island of Bartolome sits off the eastern coast of Santiago Island. From Santa Cruz, it takes about 1.5 hours to reach by dive boat.
The dive site is off the island’s southwestern coast. It is worth noting that it is not near the site where the Galapagos Penguins are usually found. That visiting site is closer to Pinnacle Rock on the eastern side of the island, which is not accessible to divers. The boat does pass close to Pinnacle Rock later in the day, offering divers the chance to view these diminutive creatures from above the water.
The dive starts with a gentle descent down the boat’s anchor line. Incidentally, this is the only site where boats are permitted to use an anchor. The line reaches a sandy seabed at a depth of 6-8m. These shallow, calm waters make this dive site a good option for divers with less experience. Although, as with all dive sites in the Galapagos, be prepared for moderate currents.
You will follow the sandy bottom to a little cliff where you should look out for soft corals, sea turtles, white-tip reef sharks, moral eels and manta rays. (It’s particularly good for devil mantas, which are sometimes seen in schools, with as many as fifty). You may also spot the odd hammerhead, although more likely solitary here, as opposed to within a large school.
Upon surfacing you can enjoy a hot cup of tea and snack while the boat navigates to Cousin’s Rock. On the way you will pass the famous Pinnacle Rock where Galapagos Penguins are often spotted. Note that dive boats do not have the required permits for snorkeling, but you should be able to get close enough in the boat to get a good look
After a surface interval of approximately 1 hour, you will prepare for your second dive at Cousin’s Rock.
Cousin’s Rock is north of Pinnacle Rock, off the north-eastern coast of Santiago Island. It is a beautiful site that consists of a series of jagged ledges that work their way down like steps to the sea floor.
These rocky ledges are home to a wide variety of creatures, both big and small, including soft corals, sponges, sea horses, scorpion fish, moray eels, octopus, frogfish, hawkfish and nudibranchs (sea slugs known for their clown-like colours and bizarre forms).
It is also a good site for diving with sea lions. As you drift along the reef you can also look out for various rays, sea turtles, large schools of yellow-tailed surgeon fish and white-tip reef sharks.
After a box lunch on board the boat, you will return to Itabaca Channel. Your car will be waiting to take you back to Galapagos Safari Camp.
This one-tank night dive takes place in the calm, shallow waters of Academy Bay, on Santa Cruz’s southern coast. The dive site is only a 15-minute boat ride from Puerto Ayora, making it an easy and convenient way to experience the mysteries of the underwater world after the sun goes down. Note that the boat used for this dive is a little smaller to the day time boats, and does not have a bathroom on board.
After descending to a sandy bottom at a depth of 12m you will explore the rocky reef. Keep an eye out for lobsters, reef sharks, sea turtles, baby white-tip reef sharks, sea stars, eels and rays. The underwater torch lights can also attract the attention of curious sea lions.
A fun exercise is to cover your torch light (as agreed / indicated by your guide) to witness the dazzling bioluminescence. The production of such light emissions by living organisms is one of nature’s many marvels and one of the great thrills of night dives.
The dive lasts approximately 45 minutes. Upon returning to Puerto Ayora your car will take you back to Galapagos Safari Camp in time for dinner.
There are also a number of dive sites dotted around San Cristobal and Espanola in the south-eastern corner of the islands. These dive sites all offer similar wildlife experiences to those in the central islands, and can either be reached on a liveaboard or can be included in a land-based itinerary from San Cristobal.
For more information, see our Dive Safaris or contact one of our Safari Designers.
Guide to Scuba Diving in the Galapagos