World Class Diving in Darwin’s Laboratory
spotted eagle rays

The Galápagos Islands are on every serious diver’s bucket list. Home to an unparalleled variety of dive sites, extraordinary megafauna abundance, and a plethora of uniquely evolved creatures, Galapagos is truly a marine marvel. What’s more, Galapagos largely remains a hidden gem with only 329,000 visitors arriving in 2023 as compared to 9.6 million visitors to Hawaii.

It is important to note that there are two dive tourism modalities in the Galapagos Islands: liveaboard diving vessels and daily dive trips. Liveaboard dive cruises offer approximately three submersions per day, with guests sleeping and eating onboard the vessel. On land-based diving trips, visitors eat at local restaurants and sleep at hotels in the ports with daily excursions to the dive sites. While there are some distinct advantages associated with the liveaboard trips, including accessibility to Darwin and Wolf Islands, the advantages of daily diving trips outweigh them for a number of reasons:

  1. A daily diving trip gives visitors more flexibility to experience a wider variety of the wildlife that Galapagos has to offer – including terrestrial visitor sites.
  2. With a daily diving trip, dining options and accommodations are found in the ports thereby granting visitors with a more authentic experience of the culture of the region.
  3. Daily diving tours tend to be more economical.
  4. Daily diving outfits are owned by local islanders.

The following article is a complete guide to Galapagos daily diving, including descriptions of the best sites and when to visit.

sea turtle

Galapagos Diving Characteristics

The Galapagos Islands sit at the confluence of three major ocean currents: Panama, Humboldt, and Cromwell. The variability in temperature of these currents gives rise to a unique assemblage of marine life. The geographical position of the archipelago in relation to these currents makes the islands a magnet for creatures from different regions of the world. Galapagos is the only place in the world where you can encounter penguins alongside tropical fishes and corals.

Penguins thrive in Galapagos because the Humboldt and Cromwell currents are thermal anomalies relative to other regions at similar latitudes – they are cold. At some sites, you can expect temperatures at depth to be as low as 60F. We typically wear 5 mm wetsuits year round. Cooler waters also give rise to high nutrient production, which is great, because all of that production allows for a large number of megafauna to thrive in the islands. However, high levels of production tend to lower visibility.  The topography of the islands and remoteness create strong current flow at some dive sites as well. In short, Galapagos diving characteristics differ from other sites at the same latitudes. Colder temperatures, lower visibility, and strong currents make some dive sites better suited for more experienced divers.

hammerhead shark

Top Dive Sites

Gordon Rocks

When I think of all the places in the world that I have dived, Gordon Rocks takes the cake – hands down. Northeast of Santa Cruz Island, this cluster of volcanic rocks is sometimes referred to as the washing machine for its upwellings and currents. All of that upwelling attracts the megafauna: whale sharks, manta rays, sunfish, eagle rays, and walls of hammerhead sharks. This site does not disappoint, even on a slow day.

Kicker Rock

Kicker Rock is a satellite islet formed of compact volcanic ash on the western side of San Cristobal Island. Two vertical walls towering almost 500 feet from the surface of the ocean form a large channel that attracts sharks, rays, sea turtles, and sea lions. Aside from the megafauna, Kicker Rock offers incredibly vibrant invertebrate life that makes this site an amazing macro dive as well. The geological formation of this islet alone is one of the most impressive in Galapagos, making surface intervals particularly enjoyable.

Bartolomé

Formed by a parasitic vent of Santiago, Bartolomé is a tiny island with a whole lot to offer. This site is full of color with psychedelic starfish, sea horses, endemic cup corals, tropical fishes, octopus, and white tip reef sharks just to name of few of the commonly sighted creatures. The geological formations of this island are just as fascinating above the water as they are below. During surface intervals, we look for Galapagos penguins, blue footed boobies, and Galapagos hawks along the coastline. This site has mild to moderate currents suitable for all divers.

North Seymour 

At North Seymour Island, divers cruise along a sandy bottom channel that reaches a depth of approximately 30 meters. We often encounter a number of different shark species at this site, including blacktips, Galapagos, hammerheads, and white tips. Eagle rays, sea turtles, mobula rays, barracuda and Galapagos eels are commonly sighted there as well. During surface intervals, visitors can observe a number of frigate birds, blue footed boobies, and Galapagos fur seals. This site has mild to moderate currents suitable for all divers.

Mosquera

Mosquera is an islet north of Santa Cruz Island with white sandy beaches where Galapagos sea lions bask in the sun. Divers move along a sandy bottom at approximately 15-18 meters depth to find large numbers of garden eels. This site is known for its pelagics as well, including sharks and rays. This site has mild to moderate currents suitable for all divers.

Daphne

Daphne Minor is a tuff cone formed by compact volcanic ash just north of Santa Cruz Island. Divers cruise along the cliff walls of the island to encounter sharks, sea lions, and massive school of Galapagos striped salema. This site has mild to moderate currents suitable for all divers.

Cousins

Located just north east of Santiago Island, Cousins is one of the few sites where divers can encounter Galapagos black coral. With a plethora of vibrant invertebrate life, this site is great for macro photography. During the surface intervals, we will be on the lookout for the Galapagos penguin. This site has mild to moderate currents suitable for all divers.

sea horse

When to Visit Galapagos

As a naturalist guide in Galapagos, one of the most common questions I get is: when is the best time to come? Truthfully, and this may be a frustrating answer for some people, Galapagos delivers year round when it comes to marine life. However, there is some variability in water temperature that might be of interest for those of you that prefer warmer waters.

The average sea surface temperature in the wet season (January – May) is approximately 75F. During the dry season (June – December) the average sea surface temperature cools to approximately 71F. Note that this varies geographically, with cooler waters on the western and southern regions of the archipelago. Large pelagics such as sharks tend to be observed more frequently at the daily dive sites during the wet season when the sea surface temperatures are higher. However, higher primary production during the dry season may increase the probability of observing megaherbivores such as marine iguanas and sea turtles feeding.

woman in dive shop

Our Local Galapagos Dive Instructor

Shania Rendon is a proper Galapagueña. Her family roots run deep on the island of Santa Cruz, where she grew up diving and surfing. Her father, a local fisherman, took Shania on her first dive when she was 12. She was trained as a PADI dive instructor in Taganga, Colombia. Shania is also a certified adaptive dive buddy for a non-profit organization called Diveheart, where she supports people of all abilities in their diving adventures. She is as patient and calming as she is enthusiastic and hardworking. Shania is passionate about the ocean and sharing the marvels of her home with visitors from all over the world.

 

Contact Come To Galapagos to plan your dive vacation today!

 

About the Writer:

Alexandra is a naturalist guide and marine scientist in the Galapagos Islands. She has spent the past 12+ years working in marine conservation in the islands. Her experience as a naturalist guide runs the gamut, from large liveaboard vessels and yachts to island hopping trips and daily tours. Alexandra has guided groups comprised of various demographics, including children and families, younger couples, and individual travelers. Her perspective on tourism in Galapagos is informed by her passion for conservation and maximizing visitor experience.