There are diving vacations… and there are diving vacations. And one of these special underwater adventures can be found in the legendary Galapagos Islands. In this archipelago, each dive promises extraordinary sightings, making it nothing short of a “must do once-in-a-lifetime experience” – whether you’re a beginning snorkeler swimming alongside playful sea lions or an advanced diver surrounded by a squadron of manta rays.
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Where else can you discover massive whale sharks patrolling the deep blue while schools of hammerhead shark block out the sun?
But in addition to offering some of the world’s best diving, what makes the Galapagos Islands even more of an attraction is that they also give travelers a chance to come ashore and find themselves face-to-face with Giant tortoises, endemic birds and a host of other land creatures. Adventurers can literally walk in the footsteps of Charles Darwin, the great naturalist who changed the way we think about life.
If you’re interested in this bucket-list destination, here are just five diving sites that you can experience while visiting these “enchanted Islands.”
Dives around Darwin’s Arch can be absolutely overpowering, and divers often return to the boat in awe from their experiences.
1. Darwin Island
Named in honor of the 19th century naturalist, this extinct volcano is situated in the northwest corner of the archipelago. Though no land visits are permitted here, around the island are diving sites like “Darwin’s Arch,” which promises amazing drift dives at an average depth of just 9 meters. Medium to strong currents are to be expected (making this site best for advanced divers), but these waters bring with them hammerheads, as well as Blacktip-, Silky- and Galapagos sharks – all in impressively large numbers! Plus, Whale sharks may also be seen between May – November.
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2. Wolf Island
Together with nearby Darwin Island, Wolf Island is the focal point of any dive trip to the Galapagos, and no high-quality Ecuadorian diving charter will overlook this area. Like Darwin Island, no land visits are permitted here, though birds such as Red-footed boobies and vampire finches may be spotted from your boat. Schooling pelagics are the main draw, with sightings of hammerheads, Whitetip and Galapagos sharks common. Like with Darwin Island, whale sharks may also be seen here during the May-November diving season. Divers should also be on the lookout for red-lipped batfish, barracudas, moray eels and dolphins!
3. Cousins Rock
This is one of the most photographically fruitful diving spots. So be prepared, as it is likely to provide some of the best fish and macro opportunities of your whole trip. Located about 2-1/2 hours by boat from central Santa Cruz Island’s northern dock, Cousins Rock’s wall and slope are nicely covered with black coral, small hard coral, sea fans, hydroid bushes and red sponges. Because of the many ledges and overhangs, small animals can hide well – including giant Galapagos sea horses, Longnose hawk fish and even frogfish. Out in the blue you might even spot mobula rays, mantas, Whitetip reef sharks and hammerhead sharks, or a large school of pelican barracuda. Cousin’s Rock is also known for the large groups of spotted eagle rays seen here, in addition to the many sea lions there that like to chase the schools of salema.
4. Floreana Island
Located directly south of central Santa Cruz Island, Floreana’s “Devil’s Crown” diving site is one where you are sure to experience sea lions, turtles, and thousands of exotic tropical fish, as well as a likely barracuda, black coral, sea horses, Whitetip and Galapagos sharks, moray eels, and possible a hammerhead shark or eagle ray. During the boat trip to and from Floreana, you will have an excellent opportunity for dolphin watching – not to mention the local marine and bird life, such as Blue-footed boobies, frigatebirds, penguins and marine iguanas. In addition to Devil’s Crown, Floreana Island contains a numerous dive sites, all of which usually have calm water. Therefore, should the current become strong at one site, you can easily head on to another one, such as Enderby Islet, Punta Ayora, Champion Islet. The easy diving and the area’s flexibility make Floreana an ideal Galapagos Island scuba diving site for all levels of divers.
5. Bartolome Island
For a beginner’s snorkeling experience, think Bartolome Island´s “Pinnacle Rock” – probably the most photographed volcanic formation in the archipelago. Though a tiny islet has a total land surface of just one half square mile (1.2 square kilometer), the area around the large dark Pinnacle Rock lava formation is a great for swimming and snorkeling side-by-side with sea lions, rays, reef fish, docile Whitetip reef sharks and …penguins? Imagine …penguins living on the equator? These little birds use their wings as flippers and really look like they’re flying through the water.
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Planning your Galapagos diving trip
It is best to plan your diving trip carefully in order to look forward to a hassle-free trip of a lifetime. Doing a bit of research on your own – or working with an experienced and reputable tour operator – will enable you to find out what the various Galapagos dive charters and programs have to offer and to plan your dives in advance.
You will also need to consider whether you prefer a “land-based vacation” (booking separate diving day trips while staying at a hotel) or whether to stay on a diving liveaboard yacht for your vacation. A land-based vacation (staying at hotels”) allows travelers to explore Galapagos’ amazing local attractions, but will likely require extended travel time to reach dive sites, which also limits the number of dives per day. A stay on a liveaboard includes tanks, food and lodging, which is great for divers who want to explore distant dive sites such as Darwin and Wolf islands.
In addition to your Galapagos diving adventures, many guests choose to experience more of the islands’ natural beauty through land excursions.
However, the availability of liveaboard diving yachts can be an issue, so you will need to plan ahead. So, make your booking as far in advance as possible (as much as 12 months), to avoid any disappointment.
In any case, to see more of the archipelago’s underwater and terrestrial worlds, and to really get the most out of your visit to this incredible destination, it is recommended that you work with an experienced tour operator who will see to all the “little” details that make the difference between an ordinary vacation and an unforgettable travel experience. Specialists in South American travel with first-hand knowledge of all the complexities of travel can custom design your environmentally friendly diving holiday to best suit your particular needs – saving you valuable time and even money (since the best “value” for the money is what they can provide).