The Galápagos Marine Reserve is one of the most biodiverse places on earth. Established in 1998, it is the second-largest marine preserve in the world.
The Marine Reserve has been added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001. There’s excellent recent news too… In November 2021 the Presidents of Ecuador, Costa-Rica, Panama, and Colombia announced the expansion of the reserve by almost 40%, going all the way to Cocos Island!
Even though there are two seasons for marine life in Galápagos, it is possible to dive year-round!
December to May is when manta rays are more commonly sighted, and it’s also the best season to see plenty of hammerheads.
It is the warmest season, however, there can be some showers and cloudy skies.
June to November is when the Humboldt current comes up from the south, bringing with it plankton, and making this the best time for seeing whale sharks. You can also see many hammerheads this season.
All in all, you can go year-round, and once you will have dived there, you’ll certainly want to go again, so pick up a different season each time!
To go liveaboard diving in Galápagos, yu must have an Advanced Open Water or above, at least 50 dives under your belt, and feel confident in currents.
Because there are some currents, negative entries are the way to get in the water.
If diving with a liveaboard, you’ll have time to practice with two days of diving before getting to Darwin and Wolf. These two islands host dive sites that are the highlights of the Galápagos, and because they are so remote, they are only accessible with a liveaboard.
There will be medium to strong currents in Darwin and Wolf. You’ll be mostly descending in protected areas. Once in the current, which is where you’ll get to see all the hammerheads, you’ll have the opportunity to hang onto rocks using one hand or your reef hook. Because of this, the dives are less physically demanding than one would expect!
The visibility can vary from 10 to 30 m (30 to 98 ft).
If diving from land, there will be fewer currents than in Darwin and Wolf… However, you’ll miss these sites that are considered the most exhilarating on earth.
Read our guide to Diving The Galápagos with a Liveaboard or a Dive Shop to decide on what’s best for you, or contact SeaCrush for some personalized advice!
They can be strong however, with a bit of experience and good guides, it’s manageable. In most cases, you’ll have two days before reaching Darwin and Wolf, where the currents are expected to be the strongest, so you’ll have time to practice beforehand.
Of course, if you can have some experience in similar diving conditions beforehand, it’s better. Diving the Azores in Europe is a good place to do so!
Located at the confluence of three ocean currents, the extraordinary diversity of marine life in Galápagos is unmatched anywhere else in the world.
Nearly 20% of marine life in Galápagos is endemic, found nowhere else on earth, such as the world’s only marine iguana, the most northern-living penguin, and Galápagos sharks!
It is the only place in the world where you can see scalloped hammerheads, oceanic mantas, mola-mola, dolphins, Galápagos sharks, marine iguanas, whale sharks, sea lions, and many more species …in only one dive trip!
Scalloped hammerhead sharks are classified as an endangered species due to overfishing and illegal capture. It’s a privilege to see them as they swim in huge schools in Darwin and Wolf.
Have a look at our November 2021 video diving in the Galápagos on the Aqua liveaboard, one of our favorite partners there:
Between June and November, it is also one of the few areas where gigantic whale sharks, measuring an average of 10–12 meters in length (or 32 to 39 feet), are regularly seen by divers. They are most commonly seen at Darwin, which is 300 km north of Puerto Ayora.
Finally, there’s a lot to see too on land, with the Galápagos giant tortoise, the blue-footed bobbies and plenty of other birds!
Some of the most famous dive sites are:
Darwin’s Island, with Darwin’s Arch, or newly called the Pillars of Evolution, and the Theater and El Arenal is famous for its schools of hammerheads, Galápagos sharks, and in season, huge whale sharks passing by.
Wolf island, with The Landslide and Shark Bay is THE place in Galápagos to see the biggest schools of scalloped hammerheads! And of course, green turtles, leatherback turtles, and dolphins passing by too.
On Isabela island, Cape Marshall, and “Manta Ray city” is famous to see oceanic manta rays. Vicente Roca Point is a site where you can frequently see mola-mola or sunfish!
On Fernandina Island, you can dive with marine iguana at Cape Douglas! Between 11 am and 1 pm when the sun is strong, they get in the water to eat.. and they are not shy!
On Santiago Island, be prepared to dive at Cousin’s Rock with friendly sea lions!
Most of these islands are between eight to 12 hours of navigation time, so this is why the cost of liveaboards is high. This is also the main reason why you’ll see the best of Galapagos marine life if you can go on a liveaboard trip!
To give you a clear picture, in the same week, you can have temperatures of 22° to 27°C (72° to 81°F) on Darwin and Wolf, and a much colder 12° to 16°C (54° to 61°F) in other sites of Isabela, Fernandina, and Santiago islands.
You will most probably do only three or four dives on the most southern islands, however, you’ll be glad to have the warmest insulation possible for these.
Bring a 7 mm wetsuit or semi-dry. Some people say you can dive with a 5mm, however, there are thermoclines, and if the temperature is not an issue at Darwin and Wolf which are battered with the warm Panama current, some other dive sites are much colder. We recommend having your own wetsuit and hood, as it will have a big impact on how comfortable you’ll feel in the water.
Hood and gloves are mandatory. Bring a 5mm hood. Gloves will be useful as you hang on rocks at the Amphitheater in Darwin, a fantastic place to watch hammerheads schools passing by! You can rent gloves, or buy them as the cost is usually the same as a weekly rental.
Bring a reef hook if you know how to use it. It’s nice to use your buoyancy and hang out there! You cannot rent these so buy one beforehand.
Several dive companies will lend you a Nautilus lifeline for the duration of the trip, an SMB, and even an audible device.
Currents can be strong so make sure your fins are appropriate for these conditions.
Aside from the usual diving equipment, you can bring several bathing suits as you’ll want to stay dry between dives, some warm and comfortable clothes for the evenings (a couple of sweaters, some leggings), a hat, and a windbreaker.
Take along some sea sickness tablets if you’re prone to it, and don’t forget plenty of battery and SD cards for your camera!
Nitrox helps extend your bottom time, which will be particularly helpful in Galápagos when most of the time will be spent between 20 to 25 m (66 to 80 ft) depth.
You’ll be able to dive with shorter surface intervals, which is useful when you do up to 4 dives a day.
Leading groups with similar dive profiles leads to increased safety.
Diving on Nitrox reduces the risk of having a decompression sickness accident, as you’ll have less nitrogen in your body than when diving with air. It is even more important to be safe when diving in remote locations.
For all these reasons, you’ll want to dive on Nitrox, and the liveaboards will strongly encourage you to do it. If you’re not Nitrox certified yet, you’ll be able to do it onboard.
Since the year 2000, the official currency of Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands is the US dollar. It is best to use cash and cards. Bring small notes.
The crew mostly lives on tips, and it’s customary to leave 10 to 15% of the total cost of the trip. If you bought the trip on sale, please leave 10% of the original cost of the trip, as it makes a big difference to the crew! Tips can only be given in cash so think of how much you’ll need ahead.
You need to first go to Quito Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO) or Guayaquil (GYE) in Ecuador. Domestic flights between the mainland and the Galápagos leave before international flights arrive, so plan to arrive in Ecuador mainland at least one day before the cruise departure.
The next day, take a domestic flight from Quito to Seymour Airport (GPS) in Baltra island.
Before checking in your luggage, you’ll need to buy the Tourist Control Card at the INGALA booth at the airport - there’s a administration fee.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ll have to show your vaccination card and/or PCR negative test result to the desk before getting the TCT.
So the order of things to do will be 1) Vaccination and/or PCR card 2)TCT, and 3)Checking-in at the airline counter
Plan to be at the airport at least 2 hours before departure.
When landing at Baltra Airport (GPS), foreigners will have to pay for the National Park Entrance Fee of .
All in all, you’ll need two hours between the Galápagos airport and Puerto Ayora:
Exiting the airport, take any of the “Lobitos” buses which will transfer you from the Airport to the Itabaca Channel which separates Baltra Island from Santa Cruz Island.
This transfer has a cost of per person and the bus voucher must be bought at the Airport Desk in front of the parked buses, before boarding the bus.
Once at the Itabaca Channel, you will take a Ferry or a water taxi that will transfer you to the Santa Cruz side of the channel. Cost per person, and it is a 5 minutes ride.
The Bus operators will take care of your luggage and put it on the ferry, at the Itabaca Channel. Don’t worry if they put it on another boat than yours, they will all make the crossing.
Once on the Santa Cruz side of the canal you can rent a taxi to the tourist dock. Cost is for a 4 persons' taxi. The taxi is faster than the bus. Count 45 minutes for the taxi. Or take the Bus to Puerto Ayora Land Terminal; cost is per person for the bus, and it roughly takes an hour.
Total cost if you do it by yourself will be less than . If you ask a hotel to pick you up, the cost is usually per person, and they will do the same trip. The only difference is that they will offer you to stop on the way to El Chato Tortoise Reserve. You will probably visit El Chato Tortoise reserve on your own later in the week if you dive from land, or with your liveaboard on the last day anyway.
On the Galápagos Islands, the power plugs and sockets are North American type.
For a liveaboard recommendation to go to the Galápagos, and to get some help to organize your trip (flights, dives before or after, hotel recommendations…) without any added fees, contact SeaCrush , the only reef-friendly dive travel agency. As you can tell from reading this article, we’ve been there and can tell you all about it!
SeaCrush Pick: 👉 if you’d like to join a small group of reef-friendly divers, join us on our next trip to Galápagos SeaCrush trip to Galápagos (7 nights starting from ...).
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