Underwater in the Enchanted Isles: Diving in the Galápagos National Park
The Galápagos Islands are a nature lovers’ dream destination with unique endemic plant and animal life both onshore and below the Pacific Ocean that surrounds these “Enchanted Isles”. Scuba Diving here is unlike any other place on Earth and allows you to encounter a wide variety of marine species. The sea life you will observe depends on when you visit as there are two distinct diving seasons within the waters of the Galápagos National Park. While both are amazing for different reasons, December through May is the warmer season and is the best time to observe schools of hammerheads and other shark species and often provides better visibility. The cold season is from July to December and is the best time to spot whale sharks, penguins and mola mola. Be sure to bring a thick wet suit during the cooler season because the waters during this time of year are in the mid-sixty degrees Fahrenheit.
Depending on your charter yacht amenities, you will more than likely be rendezvous diving with professionally trained dive operators who are up to date on the best destinations for your group’s preferences and abilities. No matter where you are in the Galápagos Islands, you will be in proximity to excellent dive sites.
Unfortunately, the top two scuba diving sites in the Galápagos National Park are in the most remote locations about 173 nm from Santa Cruz so they are not possible for day trips. However, if you are able to charter a yacht with live-aboard diving capabilities, what you will experience at either site is well worth the time it takes to reach the destinations. The best site is Darwin Arch, a small islet off the coast of distant Darwin Island in the far northwestern reaches of the archipelago. Here divers come upon whale sharks, schools of Galápagos sharks, hammerheads, and a variety of other shark species. Additionally, sea turtles, Manta rays, dolphins, and plenty of other colorful fish are abundant, all at an average depth of thirty feet. About 25 miles away is the location of the second most amazing scuba site, El Derrumbe, on the southern coast of Wolf Island. With an abundance of sharks, sea turtles, Manta, Eagle, and other rays, this is truly a remarkable locale for sea life. From May to November, divers are very likely to observe the graceful giant whale sharks as they converge here. While Darwin Arch is suitable for both intermediate and advanced divers, the Wolf Island site has swift currents and lower visibility and is recommended for advanced divers.
If you are limited to rendezvous diving, there is no need to fret because there are still amazing scuba diving and snorkeling spots closer in. One of the most popular is the advanced site of Gordon Rocks near Santa Cruz, where the swift currents attract schools of hammerhead sharks. There are also five additional dive sites nearby including Guy Fawkes Rocks, Punta Carrion, South Plaza, Punta Estrada, and another very notable spot for beginning divers Caamaño Islet, with an abundance of vibrant corals, sponges, and other sessile organisms.
Isabela Island features many scuba diving sites including acclaimed Punta Vicente Roca. With a maximum depth of 88 feet, this is a great place for intermediate divers along a sloping wall with interesting geological formations. Here you will encounter seahorses, sea lions, and diving penguins, but the stars of this cold water dive are the huge sunfish or mola mola who hang out along the outer wall. Other predatory marine animals also come here to feed such as whales, dolphins, and tuna, and they share the bounty with feeding blue-footed and Nazca boobies. Additional sites around Isabela include Four Brothers, Tortuga Island, Urbina Bay, Tagus Cove, and Cape Marshall. Just to the north, the small island of Roca Redondo is the best place to see volcanic bubbles emitting from gas fumaroles, colorful nudibranchs, and plentiful Galápagos sharks.
There are also many amazing things to see around North Seymour Island such as yellowtail grunts, blue stripped snapper, large groups of rays, and hammerhead sharks. Divers are often thrilled when blue-footed boobies swim past as they feed on the abundant supply of fish. The rocky sloping terrain makes this a great location for even beginner scuba divers. There are three additional dive sites between North Seymour and Baltra, including several off the tiny sandy islet named Mosquera. Each of the sites provides opportunities to observe sea lions, schools of fish, sharks, rays, and sea turtles.
Santiago Island has seven dive sites that showcase amazing underwater geological formations. One of the best locations for intermediate divers is Cousins Rock along the northeastern shore, where black coral-covered terraces step down to a maximum depth of 130 feet. The overhangs are great spots to see Moray eels, the Pacific Seahorse, sea turtles, barracuda, and reef sharks. Other nearby destinations for divers include Puerto Egas, Albany Islet, Piedra Blanca at Buccaneer Cove, Bainbridge Rocks, Don Ferdi Rock, and Beagle Rocks. These sites are concentrated along the northern and southeastern coast of Santiago and offer glimpses of sea lions, fur seals, rays, sharks, and other large fish.
Another dive site that is worth your while, is located along the larger portion of the island of Bartolomé. At Bartholomew Point, divers can see Galápagos penguins, sea turtles, sharks, rays, and the unique red-lipped batfish.
Along the northwestern edge of San Cristobal, there are four sites suitable for all levels of diving. The Kicker Rock site is also a nice place to snorkel. This location earned its name because one of the rocks that juts up out of the water resembles a boot. That rock is actually a tuff cone, made when boiling lava enters the ocean. Diving in between two formations brings you close to sea turtles, rays, wrasse, giant angelfish, and Galápagos sharks. At nearby Lobos Islote, divers can engage with a playful colony of sea lions. Five Fingers is a diving site noted for the colorful benthic organisms and Whale Rock is the fourth site off of San Cristobal Island.
This is just a sampling of the many sites available for underwater exploration in the Galápagos Islands. Scuba diving in the Galápagos National Park is an outstanding experience that provides opportunities to see rare and large sea life unlike anywhere else in the world. If you have made it all the way to this remote archipelago and enjoy diving, you should definitely spend some of your trip beneath the sea that surrounds this uniquely fascinating ecosystem.
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