An island chain so far from human influence that in addition to unique plants and animals found nowhere else in the world, the animals who live here developed no natural fear of humans. This 19-island chain about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador inspired Charles Darwin to develop the theory of natural selection when he visited in 1835.
Naturalists and scientists flock here to learn and observe the legendary species that live here.
And for us divers, it makes for some of the most animal-friendly diving you’ll ever experience. Divers flock here to swim with sea lions, sharks (including whale sharks and hammerheads), marine iguanas, fur seals, turtles, rays, dolphins and hundreds of tropical fish species.
The Galapagos are a chain of volcanic, mostly uninhabited islands that comprise one of the largest marine parks in the world. Trips here are so popular that there is a limit to the number of people who can come and time each can stay.
Most divers choose liveaboards as this is the best way to maximize your diving opportunities across multiple islands. However, you can dive via day trips that go out of the few inhabited larger islands.
This pair of islands is one every liveaboard’s itinerary and at times divers see so many different species on a single dive, it’s hard to keep track. The islands are at an intersection to several currents, so you’ll need to be advanced enough to handle some drift.
Darwin Island is mainly about the large animals. Galapagos, silky and hammerhead sharks, rays, turtles, tuna and the diver-favorite whale sharks are some of the biggest attractions here.
One underwater feature worth noting is the Darwin Arch, a ledge that sits below the island’s above-ground rock arch. This ledge runs from 50’ to 70’ deep, and is a great place to find morays and triggerfish. It is not unusual to find schools of 100 or more hammerheads on this dive.
Wolf Island, next door, has two main features that are diver favorites:
Landslide on the east side is a wall dive and a favorite hangout for schools of hammerheads. It sits between 50’ and 65’ deep, and offers visibility ranging between 30’ and 100’.
The Pinnacle offers a drift dive which has a highlight of a rock spire that goes between 20’ and 120’ deep. Currents are very strong here, especially around the pinnacle. It is often called the washing machine because it can spin divers around it and spit them out. Wildlife highlights are marble rays and white tip reef sharks that hide in nearby lava tubes.
Day trips go out of San Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Isabela islands, which are where most of the roughly 30,000 Galapagos inhabitants live. Isabela offers the most number of dive sites, about 16, with Santa Cruz and San Cristobal each offering about eight named sites.
A few highlights include:
Whale Rock: Reached from San Cristobal, on this drift dive you might see big schools of fish, sea turtles and rays, as well as an interesting cave to explore
Gordon Rocks: Reached from Santa Cruz, for experienced divers only due to strong currents, this site features a large volcanic crater and is best known for its hammerhead sightings. Manta and eagle rays, turtles, sea lions, and eels are likely to put in an appearance.
Cape Marshall: Out of Isabela, this wall dive is also for experienced divers who can expect to see the big stuff — mantas, hammerheads, sun fish, tuna, marbled rays, mobula rays as well as friendly sea lions and sea turtles!
Year-round as this equatorial place changes little with temperature, only precipitation. January to June is the wet season, with often daily showers with calmer seas. July to December is the dry season, but slightly cooler water and air temps as well as stronger currents.
Much of the seasonality here has more to do with wildlife. Whale sharks, a favorite, are here from June to November. Check with your local guides before booking if you have a must-see animal.
Average Air Temps:
Winter, 72° – 89°F
Summer, 68° – 82°F
Average Surface Water Temps & Visibility:
Dec through Apr, 74° – 78°F / 30’ – 70’
May through November, 68° – 72°F / 30’ – 100’+
Most U.S. visitors fly from major airports into Quito or Guayaquil, Ecuador, and then take a flight from there into Balta Island or San Cristobal. Choose based on where you’ll be diving out of.
Visits here are limited by law, so book early. Almost 97% of the islands’ surface land is designated as national park and visits are carefully monitored and controlled, usually as tours.
Image attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/65449462@N00/