Although you don’t need to be an expert to dive in the Galapagos, the more skill you come with will make for a more enriching experience. Most companies say at least 20 logged dives should be a starting point for diving in the Galapagos. There are several places for beginners to start with the basics on the Islands, but it’s a good idea to get practice and certification before coming to the Galapagos so you can take advantage of every reef the Islands have to offer.
Full equipment rental is available through most dive facilitators, but bringing your own is always a safer option for comfort, protection, and availability. Of course, tanks are provided by the outfitter with whom you choose to dive. The best way to experience all that diving has to offer in the Galapagos is to book a live-aboard trip. If you want to mix in some land-based adventures, however, consider booking with a hotel that offers diving cruises and coordination services.
Top Galapagos Diving Sites:
Just out of range of the Humboldt Current in the northwest corner of the Islands, warm water species enjoy this marine environment of the Galapagos. Keep your eyes open for parrotfish, angelfish, surgeonfish, and trumpetfish. Of course, there are scores of species that call this warm-water reef home, including the barracuda, hammerhead sharks, sea turtles, a variety of ray species, and whale sharks (if you visit between June and October). Dive coordinators will take you into the famous formations known as El Arco (The Darwin Arch) and El Arenal (The Darwin Theater), both of which are phenomenal spots to lock your grip onto the rock wall and be astounded by the passing iris of wonders the Galapagos have to offer.
Many miles northwest of San Cristobal Island is a triangular island that will remind you why diving is your passion. With three distinctive dive sites – Shark Bay, Landslide, and The Caves – the countless species you will encounter here will leave you speechless. Between choppy waters, strong currents, and jagged rocks, this is not a site for beginners. But if you have adequate experience, then there’s really nothing you can’t see here: sea lions, turtles, all manner of sharks (Galapagos, silky, hammerhead and the elusive whale shark), rays (eagle, sting, manta, and mobula), and even the friendly bottlenose dolphin. The geology of the island is just as interesting, allowing you to explore underwater caves, sub-marine boulder fields, and barnacle- and reef-covered rock walls. No diving tour to the Galapagos is complete without a thorough exploration of all that Wolf Island has to offer.
Right in the heart of the central Galapagos Islands is one of the most vivid underwater scenes you will find anywhere, nested in the eroded crater atop a tuff cone. Despite strong surges and “washing machine conditions” near the surface, this site is notable for its flourishing sea life. Witness scores of hammerheads patrolling the area, alongside eagle and manta rays. Other Galapagos shark species frequent the area as well, and swim in company with turtles, mobula rays, eels, and barracuda, in addition to a rainbow of other schools of tropical fish. The neighboring sea lion colony and fur seal population are another unique feature of this site.
Punta Vincente Roca
This is one of the more unique dive sites in the Galapagos, situated off the northeastern coast of Isabela Island, but be warned: it is also one of the coldest. If you’re diving here, you should be in your full-body 7mm wetsuit with your hood. Once you get past the initial shock of the chilly waters, though, it’s absolutely worth it, as you’ll see all manner of exceptional creatures, like the Mola (Ocean sunfish) which has been described as a “large floating head with fins.” Turn your back to the rock, and you’re likely to see the rare Galapagos bullhead shark (horn shark) and maybe even sea horses, penguins, and sea lions going for a nice chilly dip. If you prefer to keep your eyes on the reef, you will encounter slipper lobsters, spider crabs, and perhaps moray eels or some red-lipped batfish on the sandy sea floor.
Just like Punta Vincente Roca, this Isabela Island dive site is not for heat-seekers and will require full exposure protection suit, including your hood, to keep warm. Although it has stronger currents and surge that require you to pay closer attention to buoyancy control as you enter and dive through the shallows, it is truly worth it as one of the more active dive sites of the Islands. It’s like you’re plunging into your own tropical aquarium: famous for its fumaroles (streams of natural gas bubbles) Roca Redonda constantly reminds you that the islands were formed by millions of years of volcanic activity. You will see schools of tropical fish, brightly colored nudibranches, and come face to face with some of the local sharks; Hammerheads, silky sharks, and Galapagos sharks are just a few of the fascinating guardians of this reef.
Right between Baltra and Santa Cruz Island, Punta Carrion is a great spot to ease into your diving adventure. The most interesting sea life you will find here is between 12m and 18m (40’-60’); it includes creole fish, blue striped sea slugs, and sea lions. If you turn to the great blue yonder, you will probably see passing mobula rays and the ever-so-common reef and hammerhead sharks that frequent most dive spots in the Galapagos.
This site off the eastern coast of Santiago Island features sloping coral-covered, volcanic rock and overhangs, which support smaller sea creatures such as the frogfish, octopus, seahorse, and nudibranch. If you venture into the moderate-current open water you have a good chance of seeing a variety of sharks, including hammerheads, the Galapagos shark, and reef sharks. Schools of barracudas and myriad ray species glide through the water here as well. You might even see sea lions frolicking through the water in pursuit of their salema fish dinner.