We Mapped the 4 Best Places to Dive in Ecuador

Diving in Ecuador

At Wolf Island and Darwin’s Arch, you’ll be diving the most exciting sites of the planet!

  • Have an adrenalin rush with schools of hammerhead sharks at Wolf Island!
  • Swim with whale sharks at Darwin’s Arch, and oceanic mantas at Cabo Marshall
  • Explore the islands’ unique landscapes, the Sierra Negra volcano or the Lava Tunnels, and relax on the white sands of Tortuga Bay
  • Discover Galápagos endemic species: the Giant Tortoise, the Blue-Footed Booby, the Marine Iguana and more

Located at the confluence of three ocean currents, the Galápagos offer an extraordinary diving experience: schools of hammerheads, Galápagos sharks, oceanic mantas, eagle rays, whale sharks and schooling fish in their thousands.

The Galápagos Marine Reserve has been established more than two decades ago and it’s the second largest protected area in the world. Also recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the quantity of marine life is heartwarming. The marine life is extremely diverse and rich: almost 20% of the Galápagos marine life is endemic - you wouldn’t see it anywhere else.

While the Galápagos most famous dive sites are only accessible by liveaboard, it’s also possible to explore the Galápagos from land - we’ll tell you how.

The 4 Best Places to Dive in Ecuador

The Galápagos with a Liveaboard or a Dive Shop?

To dive on the best sites of the Galápagos, you’ll need to embark on a liveaboard. Go with a reef-friendly dive operator expert of the sites, check out our liveaboard trip to the Galápagos (7 nights starting from ...)

To dive without breaking the bank, and also have more time to explore the islands, prefer a land-based trip to the Galápagos! (7 nights starting from ...)

Scuba Diving Galápagos With a Liveaboard

Wolf Island and Darwin’s Arch are the main reasons why scuba divers put the Galápagos at the top of their bucket list. The islands are uninhabited exctinct volcano tops, located more than 300 km (186 miles) off the main island of Santa Cruz. They can only be reached with a liveaboard.

Galápagos liveaboards take turns visiting Wolf and Darwin Islands, so you’ll be diving “en petit comité!”

You’ll get to see schooling hammerheads, but not only: up to 32 species of sharks have been recorded in the Galápagos. You can also dive in season with multiple whale sharks at a time, see some oceanic mantas, sea iguanas, speedy penguins, schools of throusands of fish and an incredible macro.

Most of the dive sites accessible with a liveaboard are for experienced divers who are comfortable in strong currents. The visibility may be limited in some areas as the water is very rich in nutrients.

best liveaboard diving in galápagos

The high cost of liveaboards is explained by the fact that you are very far from the mainland, and you’re diving in challenging conditions. This requires even higher levels of safety than usual: boat, crew, dive guides, equipment, do not skimp on any detail!

Few licenses are issued: about fifteen liveaboards operate in Galápagos, and the good ones are rare. They are often full months and even years in advance. If there are still sometimes one or two spots with a last minute discount, they sell out very quickly. Last minute flights are expensive too. All in all, it’s a trip worth planning in advance.

Galápagos Best Dive Sites Accessible Only with a Liveaboard

  • Darwin’s Arch: the dive starts in the surge of the Arch. You’ll need to make a negative entry and quickly descend to 30 feet (9 meters). The quantity of pelagic life at this site is overwhelming: hammerheads, Galápagos sharks, reef sharks, silky sharks, whale sharks in season, plenty of turtles, schools of jacks etc. It’s common to do 5 or 6 dives at this site

  • Wolf Island: the island reaches 780 feet (253 meters) above sea level. It’s there that you’ll get to see hundreds of scalloped hammerheads passing by, the famous “wall” everyone’s talking about! Expect to see plenty of other sharks too, rays and turtles, schooling fish, some dolphins, and even the endemic red-lipped batfish. It’s a similar dive profile to Darwin’s Arch, with a negative entry. You’ll also have the opportunity to do several dives at Wolf island - get ready for some of the best dives of your life!

  • Cabo Marshall, or Cape Marshall: the site is famous for its oceanic mantas. You’ll drift dive above coral reefs and along walls, see plenty of sharks again, and often some big schools of black striped salema

  • Punta Vicente Roca: a dive site where you can see sunfish all year round. Galápagos Sea Lions, Galápagos Penguins and some huge schools of black Striped Salemas are often seen too

  • Cabo Douglas, or Cape Douglas: on the North West side of Fernandina Island, Cabo Douglas is a fantastic dive site where you’ll see penguins, Galápagos sea lions, fur seals and the endemic marine iguanas!

  • Roca Redonda, Cousin’s Rock, Tagos Cove and Punta Albemarle are dive sites also frequently visited by Galápagos liveaboards

darwin's arch in Galápagos

Diving Season

You can dive in the Galápagos at any time of the year:

  • December to May: best season to see oceanic manta rays and hammerheads. The water is warmer, with daily rain showers and cloudy skies
  • June to November : the Humboldt current comes up from the south, bringing with it plankton, and making this the best time for seeing whale sharks. Expect cooler temperatures with occasional showers

Dive Conditions

  • The water temperature at the Galápagos ranges from 21° to 30°C (70° to 86°F)between December and May, and between from 16° to 24°C (61° to 75°F) between June and November
  • You’ll have the best visibility between December through May, when there’s less plankton in the water
  • Expect some strong currents, especially in Darwin’s Arch and Wolf Island

Scuba Diving Galápagos From Land

If you choose to be land-based, know that there are plenty of dives and land excursions you can do. It’s much more affordable than going on a liveaboard (one third to half the cost) and a really good alternative for divers traveling with non-divers, or for divers who don’t like strong currents.

It’s possible to go on day trips to dive sites that are close to Santa Cruz Island. Don’t forget that you’re still 600 miles (1,000 km) from the continent, so you’ll get to see plenty of marine life too. This Galápagos dive shop has set up a daily dive program to cover the best dive sites. You’ll leave at 7am and return by 3pm.

scuba diving with a dive shop in galápagos

The other days, you can explore the Galápagos National Park, established in 1978. There’s plenty to do besides diving. Some of the most popular activities are:

  • a visit to the famous Charles Darwin Station
  • El Chato Tortoise Reserve
  • Tortuga Bay
  • a hike to the Sierra Negra volcano
  • some birds watching tours
  • some snorkeling at Isla Isabela

Check out out Galápagos program for divers and non-divers (7 nights starting from ...)

Galápagos Best Dive Sites Accessible from Santa Cruz Island

  • Gordon Rocks: it is the most famous site you can go to with a dive shop from Santa Cruz Island. For experienced divers preferently as there is often some surge necessiting a quick negative entry, and some currents. Gordon Rocks is an underwater volcanic crater. Because of the currents, it is a place of choice to see hammerhead sharks: schools of sometimes 50 individuals or more circle the rocks. You’ll probably also see some sea lions, turtles, stingrays, eagle rays and mantas and large schools of pelagic fish. This dive shop based in Puerto Ayora goes twice-weekly to Gordon Rocks.

  • North Seymour: with a maximum depth of 60 feet (18 meters), and some occasional currents, this dive site is appropriate for beginner and experienced divers. Along the rock reef, you’ll get to see some reef sharks, some turtles, some schools of spotted eagle rays and pelagic fish

  • Mosquera: another favorite site close to Seymour, that can be done as a drift dive with moderate currents. Expect to see sea lions, green turtles, some white tip and black tip reef sharks, and sometimes even hammerheads and manta rays

  • Daphne Minor: a beautiful wall accessible to divers of all levels. Very popular site as you can often spot there manta rays. With little current, there’s usually plankton in the water so visibility might be limited. You may also see there some Galápagos sharks and reef sharks

diving from santa cruz in galápagos

Dive Safety Recommendations

We always recommend to have your own dive gear, well maintained, you’ll be safer and more comfortable. Light and compact dive gear is particularly suited for travels.

Currents in the Galápagos are some of the most challenging ones on the planet. We recommend you to have a Nautilus Lifeline, a GPS that once activated sends a distress message to boats around you up to a range of 34 miles (54 km). Always bring with you a surface marker buoy too, and know how to use it.

If you’re not comfortable in currents, always tell your dive guide ahead. Remember that it’s okay to skip a dive if you feel tired, or just don’t “feel” it. You may also prefer to go on a Galápagos land-based trip during which you’ll be able to dive in sites that are less challenging than Wolf Island or Darwin Island.

Finally, remember to pack a reef-safe sunscreen.

Top Experiences Besides Diving in The Galápagos

Observe the Galápagos Giant Tortoise in Santa Cruz Island

Imagine walking into the wild and having a chance to see the impressive Galápagos Giant Tortoise. The tortoise can weigh up to 880 pounds (400 kg), and its ancestors first arrived to the archipelago 2 to 3 million years old. The Galápagos archipelago is actually named after these amazing creatures: Galapago is an old Spanish word for “tortoise”. Galápagos Giant tortoises cross the reserve on their permanent migrations from the coast to the highlands. The reserve is also a great area to see some endemic birds such as the short-eared owl, Darwin’s finches, or the yellow warblers.

galapagos giant tortoise

Swim and Chill at Tortuga Bay in Santa Cruz Island

Long of 1.2 miles (2km), Tortuga Bay is one of the most beautiful beach of the Galápagos… and it’s only 1.5 miles (2.4km) away from Puerto Ayora! You can walk there from Puerto Ayora, or take a water taxi. The first beach you’ll see has strong currents and is not suitable for swimming. Walk a little further and you’ll find another beach, perfect for swimming, snorkeling and kayaking. You’ll get to see on the bay the famous marine iguanas, and other endemic species on land too such as the Blue-Footed Boobies.

tortuga bay in galápagos

Snorkel at Los Tuneles in Isabela Island

The Tuneles are lava formations inhabited by varied endemic Galápagos species. It’s usually visited on a day trip with two to three stops for snorkeling. The water around the Tuneles is crystal clear, shallow, and with lots of life. You’ll get to see lots of fish, turtles, seahorses, white tip reef sharks, penguins, sea lions and more! On land, you’ll see many birds such as the endemic Galápagos Royal Frigatebird and the Blue-Footed Bobbies, and also some flamingos, albatrosses and more.

snorkeling in the galápagos

How to Get There

You first need to fly to Quito Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO) in Ecuador. Most international flights will arrive into Quito after the domestic connection to Galápagos has departed, making an overnight stay a necessity.

Take a domestic flight from Quito (UIO) to San Cristobal airport (SCY) or Seymour airport (GPS), depending on where your liveaboard embarks.

If you’re doing a land-based trip, you will land at Seymour (GPS), the gateway to Santa Cruz Island.

Ecuador Entry Requirements

  • You must have a valid passport to enter Ecuador, and a return ticket
  • Most citizens do not require a visa to stay in Ecuador for up to 90 days
  • Ensure your passport is valid for at least 6 months beyond the period you intend to stay
  • Always check the current visa policy that applies for your country
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