Scuba-Diving in the Galapagos Islands

A guide to diving in Galapagos

Galapagos scuba-diving: Everything you need to know!

A Scuba-Diving Vacation of a Lifetime

Scuba-diving in Galapagos often claims the top spot on every diver’s wish list, and for good reasons. The Galapagos Marine Reserve is among the largest in the world, a sanctuary for hundreds of different species, many highly endangered. There is less endemism underwater than on land, but there is a huge variety of species from both the tropical and temperate families, making these islands one of the best places in the world to scuba-dive as well as an excellent all-year round scuba-diving destination.

Best way to Scuba Dive in the Galapagos Islands

There are three options for scuba-diving in the Galapagos:

Galapagos Liveaboard Scuba-Diving

Liveaboard tours are cruises dedicated purely to scuba-diving. On an 8-day / 7-night tour, you can expect up to 20 dives in total. Popular itineraries include dive sites in the central islands, Fernandina and San Cristobal. They also include some of the outermost, and otherwise inaccessible islands in the archipelago, such as Darwin and Wolf. Home to thousands of sharks and rays, these remote sites are where wildlife documentary makers get much of their footage.

Liveaboard cruises: What to consider

Except for a basic tour of Santa Cruz Island, you may not disembark on any of the islands. If you are keen to see some of the islands’ wildlife beyond the Galapagos Marine Reserve, you should consider a Pre or Post Cruise Safari as an add-on tour.

We only recommend liveaboard cruises to experienced divers. This is due to the strong ocean currents found in many of the dive sites they visit. Some liveaboard tours will only accept Advanced Open Water Divers, or divers will a minimum of 50 to 100 logged dives (depending on the itinerary)

 

Island-based Scuba-Diving Day Tours

On land-based tours, you can join one of the daily scuba-diving trips in and around the central islands. These depart from the main ports on the inhabited islands of Galapagos, such as Santa Cruz where our camp is based. Depending on the journey time to the dive sites, these tours range from half-day excursions to full days. This is the best option if you enjoy diving, but also wish to explore some of the islands and their wildlife. They are also a good option for intermediate divers who do not have the required number of logged dives for a liveaboard tour.

Daily Diving Tours: What to consider

You may choose our dedicated Dive Safari (with three or more full days of diving) or you may request individual dive days as part your Classic Safari or Family Safari. These can be taken either as additional days or in place of a tour or activity.

If you are interested in getting PADI certified while in the Galapagos, see our Guide to PADI Courses in the Galapagos Islands.

 

Scuba-diving from a cruise ship

Some cruise ships in the Galapagos Islands offer ‘rendezvous’ scuba diving excursions. A dive boat meets the cruise ship in a specific location and takes a group of divers out for a one or two-tank dive.

Diving on a cruise: What to consider

Unlike customized island-based tours, it is not possible to add extra diving days to a Galapagos cruise itinerary, owing to their fixed dates. Instead, divers will opt for the scuba-diving excursion in place of whatever tour the cruise ship had scheduled for that day.

We work with a handful of luxury cruise operators and can guide you on which cruise experience might be best for you and which offers the best scuba diving experiences. To find out more, see Luxury Galapagos Cruises.

Galapagos Scuba-Diving Itineraries

As with all tours in the Galapagos National Park, whether on land, sea or underwater, scuba diving tour operators are allocated fixed itineraries and timetables by the Galapagos National Park. These determine in advance which days and times their boats can visit each of the dive sites. The boat itineraries and timetables are revised on an annual basis (from 1 March each year).

What is the diver to divemaster ratio in the Galapagos?

Although the National Park stipulates a maximum of 8 divers per guide (or divemaster), our scuba diving tours do not exceed 5 divers per guide (divemaster or instructor). We believe this allows for a higher level of customer service and safety.

Private Scuba-Diving Galapagos Tours

At Galapagos Safari Camp, we offer the following levels of privacy and customization on our Galapagos Dive Safaris:

Private Galapagos Scuba-Diving Tour

These dive safaris include private car transfers from Galapagos Safari Camp to/from the port, a chartered boat, and a private guide (divemaster or instructor).

Semi-Private Galapagos Scuba-Diving Tour

These dive safaris include private car transfers from Galapagos Safari Camp to/from the port, a shared dive boat and a shared guide (divemaster or instructor).

This can be further upgraded to include your own private diving assistant and guide. This is a professional diving guide, with diving experience in the Galapagos. See Private Scuba-Diving Guides and Special Assistance below.

As sharing a boat is more economical, our semi-private dive safaris tend to be the more popular of the two options.

PADI Qualified Dive Instructors

All our diving tours are led by a PADI-qualified Dive Instructor, who is also a certified National Park Naturalist Guide. The dive boat has a 2-man crew – the Captain, and Captain’s Assistant.

Can you scuba-dive in the Galapagos if you aren’t certified?

It is mandatory for our guests to hold an Open Water Scuba-Diving Certification from a reputable organization such as PADI, NAUI and CMAS.

A Medical Certificate if declaring any medical condition, and/or guests over 60 years old who have not been diving for the last 8 months.

How many logged dives do you need to dive in the Galapagos?

With the exception of Gordon Rocks, a dive site that requires a minimum of 25 logged dives in the last 18 months before the dive day, you do not need a minimum number of logged dives to scuba-dive in the Galapagos, nor to partake in our Dive Safaris.

However, for your own safety, comfort and enjoyment we highly recommend gaining enough open water experience so that you feel comfortable in most conditions, especially with drift dives, which are very common in the Galapagos. Do bear in mind that ocean currents can be strong in the Galapagos, and more unpredictable than you may be used to, especially in the cooler season (July-December).

If you haven’t dived in a while, we recommend taking the PADI ReActivate Refresher Program in your home country prior to your visit.

Can non-diving partners / family members join a scuba diving tour?

I’m afraid we not accept participants accompanying family members or doing snorkeling activities; unless they pay the full rate.

How to get a PADI Certification in the Galapagos Islands

PADI Open Water Certification

Although it is possible to get your Open Water Certification in the Galapagos, we don’t generally recommend this. Given that the currents can be strong, we suggest gaining experience first in a more controlled environment, such as the Caribbean, where ocean currents are less of an issue. This way, you will spend less time worrying about the technicalities of diving, and more time enjoying the archipelago’s remarkable marine life.

PADI Advanced Open Water Certification

Once you feel confident as an Open Water scuba diver, you may want to get your PADI Advanced Open Water Certification. The Galapagos is an ideal destination for advanced divers, and even PADI ranks it among the world’s top 5 Destinations Where You Need The Advanced Open Water.

In addition to fine-tuning your buoyancy and navigation skills, it can also add meaning and purpose to your Dive Safari.

The course requires 5 specialized dives, 3 of which you can choose. Options include (but aren’t limited to) a Fish Identification Dive and a Night Dive.

For more information about this course please visit our guide, Scuba-Diving: PADI Courses in the Galapagos.

Safety Considerations when Scuba-Diving in the Galapagos

Your Guide / Dive Instructor is responsible for leading the group underwater. In the safety interests of all our divers, we must keep our dive groups together at all times during the dive. This is often difficult as each group is made up of divers with different skill levels, experience and expectations. Our safety regulations will not allow unaccompanied ascents or permit solo divers. The group descends and ascends together (to include the safety stop), regardless of how much air is left in individual tanks.

Communicating scuba-diving concerns or limitations

We understand that divers would rather not sacrifice their precious underwater time for a stranger’s personal conditions. If you have any limitations, concerns or special requirements that may affect the safety, length and success of the dive, please let us know as early as possible so that we can make arrangements to manage these.

Private Scuba-Diving Guides and Special Assistance

If you have a difficulty or limitation which could affect the success and safety of the group dive, and/or the transportation, you are obliged to contract a Private Scuba-Diving Guide. You may also book a Private Scuba-Diving Guide if you think you will be more comfortable with an experienced buddy, or if you don’t dive regularly and are worried about holding up the whole group as a result.

Please note that this guide will not be a dive instructor, but rather a Dive Master Assistant with experience diving in the Galapagos Islands, and will be booked in addition to the group’s Guide (divemaster).

Limitations may include, but are not limited to:

  • Air consumption:
    • If you consume your air supply too fast, this will force the entire group to ascend together. Please tell us as early as possible so that we can give you a 15-liter cylinder, or so that you can contract a Private Guide.
    • Conversely, if your skill level and air consumption are such that you want to extend your dive to the maximum allowed 1 hour, you must contract a Private Guide.
  • Difficulty with equalization: If you have trouble with pressure equalization, or with anything else that could delay your descent for more than 8 minutes, so that you cannot descend with the guide and the rest of the group, you should contract a Private Guide to accompany you throughout the dive.
  • Photography: If your principal objective is underwater photography and you do not want to move along with a group, you must hire a Private Guide.
  • Medical: If you have had episodic diarrhea, vomiting, or other causes for dehydration in the days before the scheduled dive, this can increase the danger of decompression problems. Likewise, please inform us if you have ever had any decompression sickness.
  • Children: It is mandatory for children aged 10-11 years to contract a Private Guide. This is because the Junior Open Water certification has a maximum depth of 12m/40 feet, but the group may descend to 18m/60ft. We still strongly recommend a Private Guide for children up to 14 years. All children up to the age of 18 years must be accompanied by an adult on the tour, unless they have contracted a Private Guide.
    NB: We not accept participants accompanying family members or doing snorkeling activities; unless they pay the full rate. Special regulations may apply to the dive site, Gordon Rocks.

Can Children Scuba-Dive in the Galapagos Islands?

Our scuba diving tours accept children of 10 years and above who hold an Open Water Scuba Diving Certification. For their enjoyment and peace of mind, we also recommend they have several logged open water dives under their belt. Children aged between 10 and 14 years are required to have a private guide (in addition to the group’s guide / dive instructor).

The minimum age to participate in night dives is 15 years.

For more information on taking children to the Galapagos islands, see our Guide to the Galapagos With Kids.

Scuba Diving Boats in the Galapagos Islands

The fiberglass dive boats are 10m long by 3m wide, and take a maximum of 10 passengers, 2 guides, 1 captain and 1 assistant to captain.

Each boat is equipped with a small bathroom and standard security equipment (Radio HF, Epirb, GPS, O2)

Divers must enter the water by rolling backwaters off the side of the boat.

For night dives, a slightly smaller boat is used (7m long by 2m wide), with a capacity of 6 passengers, 1 guide and 1 captain.

Scuba-Diving Kit and Equipment in the Galapagos Islands

We can provide all the dive gear, including long wetsuits (5mm and 7mm). In the cooler season we also have accessories such as shorties for extra warmth, booties, hoodies and gloves (the Galapagos National Park permits divers to hold onto rocks in strong currents). If you bring your own regulator please keep in mind that we use the YOKE system, and that you may require an adapter.

Scuba-Diving with Nitrox in the Galapagos

Nitrox air is available to those who request it and who have a license to use it (See PADI’s Enriched Air (Nitrox) Diver Certification).

Best time to dive in the Galapagos Islands

Scuba-diving in the Galapagos Islands is great all year round. However, there are two main seasons to be aware of:

Scuba-Diving in the the Warm and Wet Season

Jan-June – warmer sea temperatures (70–80°F / 20-26°C) and good visibility. Southeast trade winds become weaker and water coming from the Panama Basin makes for warmer, calmer seas. Sailing to any island is smoother during this season.

Scuba-Diving in the Cold and Dry Season

June – Nov – cooler sea temperatures (65–75°F / 18-23°C), reduced visibility and abundant marine life. The Humboldt Current typically brings choppy seas, and strong surges makes sailing times longer. If you suffer from sea sickness, we recommend bringing medication. These ocean currents bring nutrients to the surface, making marine life abundant, and larger animals easier to find.

For more information on the weather in the Galapagos Islands, and its two seasons, see When to Visit the Galapagos Islands.

Underwater Visibility in the Galapagos Islands

Visibility in the Galapagos is, on average, 8–10m / 25ft to 35ft. It can increase to 18m / 60ft on sunny, calm days. This is often less than in other top diving destinations such as the Caribbean, but the payoff is that the wildlife is abundant in the Galapagos, and on most dives, there is still a lot to see, even within a 10m range.

We recommend Reef Fish Identification: Galapagos by Paul Humann.

Scuba-Diving in the Galapagos: Managing expectations

The Galapagos Islands are often cited as one of the world’s best diving destinations, and with good reason. The Galapagos Marine Reserve is one of the largest and most biologically diverse marine protected areas (MPAs) in the world, and home to a dazzling array of species, both big and small.

However, as with any wildlife tour, it is not possible to guarantee what creatures, if any, will be present at the dive sites at any particular time. It is also worth remembering that wildlife documentary makers, such as David Attenborough’s team, often spend months at sea, logging hours of dives, before capturing the dramatic footage we get to see in their final cuts. They also have access to areas of the National Park that regular visitors do not have. This is all to say that we suggest approaching your dive experience with an open mind, as opposed to with a checklist of what you want to see. The list of species in your Dive Safari itinerary is based on the first-hand experiences of the official scuba-diving guides / divemasters who regularly frequent these dive sites, and is to be used as a guide only.

Galapagos National Park Rules for Scuba-Diving

The Galapagos National Park stimulates that all visitors must be accompanied by an official, certified naturalist at all times. This also applies to the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Your Dive Instructor is also an official certified guide, and will advise you on what is, and isn’t, permitted. Please follow their instructions carefully. While some may seem excessive compared to other National Parks you have visited, please keep in mind that these rules are the only way to sustain this extremely fragile archipelago for years to come.

Activities to avoid immediately after Scuba-Diving

Flying after scuba-diving

To avoid Decompression Sickness (DCS), PADI guidelines recommend waiting 12 hours after a single dive or 18 hours after multiple dives. There may be always be divers whose physiological makeups or special diving circumstances result in decompression sickness, even when following the recommendations. For these reasons, a surface interval of 24 hours is recommended to cover all types of dives. It is the diver’s responsibility to check and approve the surface intervals within their itineraries.

High-altitude after scuba-diving

It’s also worth noting that hiking, or any activities at high altitudes (3000+ meters) can also put you at the same risk for DCS as flying in a plane. Mountain climbing should also be avoided in the first 24 hours after a dive. It is, however, safe to go climbing before diving.

Deep Tissue Massage after scuba-diving

Experts caution against deep tissue massage as the increased blood flow may lead to bubble formation or a misdiagnosis of DCS. It’s recommended to avoid deep tissue massages for at least 12 hours after diving. A gentle massage is thought to be fine.

Giving Back as Citizen Scientists

Using the app, ‘Shark Count’, divers become “citizen scientists” and can make important contributions to our understanding of Galapagos marine ecosystems by recording the sharks, sea turtles, rays and ocean sunfish they encounter during their dives.

The study is supported by the University of San Francisco in Quito, Galapagos Conservancy and the National Park, and uses individual reports within the Shark Count App, contributed from divers at the top 20 dive sites around the archipelago. Charts and maps show the number of species observed during each dive and the best sites and times to see each species.

All data is shared with the Galapagos National Park Directorate and will benefit research and management decisions focused on protecting the Reserve’s incredible marine life.

The app can be used at both diving and snorkeling sites.

Our Galapagos Scuba-Diving Partner

We work with a scuba diving company that has been operating in the Galapagos Islands for more than 20 years. What we believe makes them stand out from the crowd is their high level of service and, perhaps more crucially, their long-standing commitment to safety.

Personalize your journey!

We’re flexible and we love to personalize. How about..?

Talks with Galapagos experts, fishing trips with locals, tea inside a lava tunnel…

…picnic in the wilds, art classes, surf classes, ceviche-making and more!

 

PLAN YOUR SAFARI

VOICES OF GALAPAGOS

Our Experts Say

Mathias Espinoza
Mathias Espinoza
Accredited Naturalist Guide and diver with over 20 years of experience diving in the Galapagos.

“The underwater Galapagos world still fills me with wonder after all these years, with endless schools of fish, sharks, golden rays, sea turtles. Life under the water is as every bit as impressive as the life above it in these enchanting Pacific Islands.”

A few of our

Guest Reviews

5 star ratingGreat experience Perfect spot to stay at while exploring the Galapagos. Staff are friendly and helpful. The food is delicious.... read more

HighMaintenance2015
1/20/2019

5 star ratingTHE Place to Stay on Santa Cruz Island We spent four nights of our Ecuador trip at Galapagos Safari Camp and, taking into consideration a culmination of factors,... read more

Gobeach56
6/09/2019

5 star ratingPerfect Family Vacation Exploring the Magical Galapagos Islands I have always wanted to visit the Galapagos, but knew a cruise wasn’t for me and my family...even before Covid.... read more

ellinlaw
1/01/2021