The Galapagos Islands are an alluring place to visit, but most people do not explore it’s underwater treasures. Read this guide to Galapagos Islands scuba diving holidays to find out why it should be top of your bucket list.
Situated over 900 km off the west coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos are an archipelago of volcanic islands distributed around the equator in the Pacific Ocean. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a biological marine reserve they’re one of the most protected environments on earth.
The islands are famed for their vast number of endemic species of both flora and fauna, especially land animals, which were first studied by Charles Darwin. So as you might imagine, Galapagos Islands scuba diving holidays offers some extraordinary delights.
For many, myself included, it’s one of the ultimate dive destinations. This is because it is totally different from the clear, tropical waters I – and a lot of divers – are more familiar and comfortable with.
But also because the journey and commitment needed to dive the islands represents a unique challenge. And finally because it offers a fantastic opportunity for exploration and discovery on land as well as underwater.
The Galapagos Islands scuba diving is – with very few exceptions – only for experienced or intermediate divers. The water generally is cold; there are strong currents and underwater surges, plus waves on the surface.
The rocks available to hang onto volcanic in origin meaning they are sharp and jagged. Furthermore, the nearest recompression chamber is a very long way away.
Underwater visibility in the Galapagos Islands averages around 12 to 18 metres, and is poorest during the rainy months of February to April. The warm season is May to December, but it can be windy and choppy in July to October. But essentially, divers can visit all year round.
Because of the cooler waters and seasonal currents, marine life in the Galapagos is very rich, though not so varied as in warmer tropical waters. There are so-called reefs but they are more like rock gardens with a meagre covering of corals, sponges and algae.
Since the Galapagos are surrounded by deep ocean, some of the main attractions for divers are the pelagic marine life. Yay!
There are many species of shark including: whale shark, white tip, mako, thresher, several species of requiem shark, hammerhead and Galapagos shark. You’re also likely to see rays, mantas, eagle rays, mobulas, tuna, jacks, marlin, swordfish, batfish and the huge, gorgeous and quirky sunfish.
Large schools of fish, sea turtles, sea lions, iguanas and penguins can also be seen throughout the year. An exhilarating feast for the senses for anyone lucky enough to experience this underwater showcase.
Visiting divers can either stay on one of the inhabited islands and make day trips via one of the resident dive centres. Or can join a 7 to 10 day liveaboard, to explore around the islands.
There is quite a selection of options and operators to choose from. Don’t be led by cost alone. This is likely to be your only Galapagos Islands scuba diving holiday – as they don’t come cheap – so make sure it suits your needs.
So research itineraries thoroughly to understand which areas, islands and sites are featured on dive trips. Also, be sure to choose the season carefully as there are different conditions and wildlife opportunities, for example mating seasons.
Liveaboards especially will have fixed routes so make sure it’s the right one for you. Also for boat trips, book well in advance as visitor numbers are tightly controlled and monitored.
It is beyond dispute that the islands of Darwin and Wolf, in the far north of the region, are the jewels in the diving crown of the Galapagos. Only liveaboards can access these sites.
You can expect breathtaking dives here, which may feature vast schools of hammerheads, elegant eagle rays, Galapagos sharks and turtles. These sites can be so thick with action that it is difficult to recall all the species that have come into view from mackerel to manta rays and even sea birds that dive underwater with you.
These islands are also protected by the national park, which prohibits land visits. There are other sites less remote from the main islands, and these too are visited as part of liveaboard schedules and are also accessible for land-based Galapagos Islands scuba diving holidays.
Unfortunately, there is no night diving permitted in the Galapagos Islands. Conditions are changeable and at some sites, cold current and other factors make the sites challenging. Adding darkness into the mix is generally considered too great a risk.
Furthermore, the Galapagos Islands National Park regulations changed in 2011 and now require companies with permits to choose either land excursions or diving with no permits offering both. This means liveaboards are therefore no longer allowed to take their customers ashore on to uninhabited islands.
While this may be sad for us, it’s probably best for the long-term future of the environment. Don’t let it put you off, with careful research, planning – and plenty of cash! – you can still do both in one trip and if you’re going to get yourself all the way there, you definitely should.
It is fairly difficult and expensive to get there, plus pretty pricey once there but it is so worth it. In my opinion gorgeous Galapagos is a worthy contester for the scuba ‘trip of lifetime’ title.
We hope you found this guide to Galapagos Islands scuba diving holidays interesting. Be sure to check out our scuba diving discounts as you could save a packet!