Scuba Diving at the Galapagos Islands

diving galapagosThe Galapagos Islands is regarded as one of the top scuba diving destinations in the world. And no wonder, with the ability to see marine iguanas, white tip reef sharks, hammerheads, whale sharks, sea lions, sting rays, golden rays, eagle rays, invertebrates, morays, garden eels, turtles, whales, pelagic fish. Wow!

 

There are few to none places left in the world where an entire archipelago is virtually free of commercial fishing, leaving the waters left to those who want to scuba dive and view this amazing spectacle.

 

The surface sea temperature ranges from 18ºC to 30ºC. February to April are the warmest sea temperature months, and September to November are the coldest.  Professional Galapagos Islands scuba diving shops will supply you with wet suits and appropriate gear for the temperatures.

 

Galápagos currents are often medium (1-3knots) to strong (more than 3 knots) in strength. This is why some sites are not suitable for beginners.

 

From July to December the Humboldt current coming from the southeast arrives. From January to June the warm Panamá current from the northeast is present.

 

Visibility in the Galapagos is normal very good. It is often an excellent 30 meters.

 

scuba diving galapagosMany Galapagos dives are drift dives, using the current. You  submerge up current and drift down current. Your dive boat will follow your bubbles and will pick you up in the place you appear at the surface.  There are many Deep dives (more than 20metres) in the Galapagos.  Also popular is night diving. This is normally a shallow dive site with no current where you will be able to see nocturnal crabs, starfish, sea cucumbers and fish. It is common to find fluorescence in the first six meters. This is just like diving in the stars! A highlight is a fluorescent night dive is when turtles, sea lions and other fish which can be seen with your torch turned off.

 

Galapagos Diving Sites: A guide to some of the best sites


North Seymour

One of the most popular sites to dive in the Galapagos. The edge of the island slopes gently down into the deep. Below somewhere are schools of hammerhead sharks! On the ways down there are also often white tip reef sharks, turtles and sea lions to play with!  It is not until near the end of the dive (30metres) that they normally appear… dozens of hammerheads, cruising in the blue underwater.  At times there can be up to a hundred… which can be exhilarating and unnerving at the same time!  On the way back up you may see manta rays, and of course a multiple variety of different fish. Definitely one of my highlight dives in the Galapagos!


Plaza Islands

A channel divides North and South Plaza Islands. The result is an almost perfect (it could be man made it is that perfect) site to dive. In this channel at about 7 meters, you can ‘sit’ and have an amazing time with a playful school of sea lions. The juveniles and females may pull on your fins as they indulge in graceful underwater acrobatics. If you join in with their play, they will get even more excited! Try not to swim directly towards them, or ‘corner them’ as then they will swim away. The idea is to ‘do your own thing’ and they will want to come and join the fun! There is also a good variety of other fish, rays etc here!

 

Genevosa

Genevosa is the remains of an extinct volcano. On the south side it is open to the sea, and sheer cliffs drop into the deep water. However, on the ‘inside’ it is a ‘caldera’ and is very calm and your boat can moor in the shallows near the small beach. It is a dramatic scene! You dive from the outside of the volcano, through the channel and into the caldera. It is  alive with schools of different fish life (Jacks, Barracuda and marbled groupers, jacks & barracuda and often massive schools of rays).

 

Cousins Rock

This is another, very popular dive site. Cousins rock is located off the north coast of Bartolome Island. It is about 10 meters high and 30 meters long. There is a lot of fish life below, so the rock is covered in pelicans, penguins, sea lions and blue footed boobies using it as a base to dive and feed on the fish.  When Diving, the rock is stepped in ledges at various levels before leveling out at about 40 meters. The whole bottom is covered with black coral trees.  One amazing aspect is an endemic fish called ‘Salema’. This is a small fish, but in schools of what seems like ‘millions’. If you have seen the documentaries of sea lions charging through this mass of parting fish, then you know this is the place the filming is done! The silvery mass seems to be solid and yet parts in unison into a tunnel to let you through. To swim through these schools is something to remember for life…

 

Gordon Rock.

THE most popular dive in the Galapagos!
Gordon Rock is just north of the two Plazas. It is the remains of the rim of a long extinct volcano. One the inner side of the collapsed caldera rim the seabed is a mass of rocks jumbled over each other. On the outer wall the sea drops away into the ‘abyss’ hundreds of meters deep. Diving here is for those with experience, as the currents are exceptional strong. In fact the local name for the dive site is ‘La Lavadora’ (the ‘Dishwasher’). Diving here is excellent with a huge variety of marine life. You can see multiple schools of hammerhead sharks (the highlight for many), amberjacks and pompano, eagle rays and golden rays, white tip reef sharks and green turtles are also sited here.

 

Roca Redona (the ‘round rock’)
Situated off the northwest tip of Isabela Island this site is a little more difficult to get to – but worth it!  Roca Redona appears to be a magnet for hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks and whitetip reef sharks. It is shark heaven!  As the waters here have warmer currents, you find barracuda, pompano and butterfly fish.  There are also fumaroles in the shallows where you will gas bubbles rising to the surface from this still active volcano site!

 

Kicker Rock
This is the most popular dive site based from the dive centers based in San Cristobol island.  Kicker Rock is a huge 150 meter high sheer walled rock that has been split into two. Here you can often also find huge schools of salemas that seem to be constantly under attack from barracuda, jacks, rainbow runners and other predators. Although the water is shallow bottoming out at about 20 meters, the currents can be very strong and visibility can vary. And excellent dive site when visibility is good.

 

Punta Vicente Roca
This is an excellent night dive. It has a sheer wall that drops to over 70 meters and is covered in sponges and black coral trees. There are many forms of ‘crustacea’ including slipper lobsters, crabs, shrimps, frogfish and seahorses. At night under ledges you can find many sleeping turtles.

 

Tagus Cove
Tagus cove is located on the western side of Isabela. It is simply the number one diving location in the world to see the amazing and weird red-lipped batfish. Many of these strange creatures can be found swim (or more like waddling) along the cove bottom. With fins that look and act more like legs, it’s anyone’s guess how these incredible creatures have survived, Darwinism at its best! It’s easy to get very close to them by lying still on cove bottom (have your camera ready for some amazing shots!).  The red-lipped batfish is so strange, its your opportunity for you to win a underwater photography prize! Tagus cove is also home to the Luidia superb, the largest species of starfish in the world. This 5-armed asteroid can be as large as 1.5 meters across.

 

Wolf Island
Wolf and Darwin islands are the pinnacle of diving in the Galapagos, and they are often described as the best diving sites in the world. They are remote and a distance for the populated islands, so the only real way to dive here is on a specialized dive boat. So its  not cheap… but it is the best in the world!


Wolf rocks are four hours south of Darwin. It is one large island with several smaller islets at either end. Wolf island has high cliffs and sea arches and the shoreline is extremely rocky. It is not possible to land on Wolf, so all diving and trips are sea based. The shallow areas are abound by vast schools of rainbow runner, barracuda, skipjack tuna jacks, and grunts. Strong currents flow around the island and this attracts large schools of Galapagos sharks, hammerheads and silkies. Incredibly there are often huge schools of 300 or more hammerheads and 100 or more silkies or Galapagos sharks. This is an amazing once in a diving lifetime experience.  

Darwin island is the most northerly of the Galapagos island. The water is warmer and there are more corals. Darwin’s is actually a huge sea arch that raises high out of the water. On the south side is a large ledge that acts like a magnet for sea life. There are huge schools of hammerheads, mantas, eagle and golden rays. But what divers really come for are the monstrous whale sharks seen cruising past. These sharks are the world’s largest fish, and again are what make diving at Wolf and Darwin the best diving in the world.