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THE BEGINNERS GUIDE TO DIVING IN THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

The Galapagos islands are host to some of the rarest land animals in the world, attracting visitors all year round. The same holds true when you dip your head under the waves, with the volcanic rock formations and ocean currents around the islands drawing in a diverse range of sea creatures, both big and small. Visiting the Galapagos islands over land can be a bit of an organisational mess if you don’t know what you’re doing (so you may want to read our guide here to get you started with planning) and the same can be said for diving in the Galapagos Islands: with multiple islands to stay on, multiple dive sites from each island and also the option of staying on a dive boat. Planning your dives can get a bit confusing. Luckily for you we've broken it down into this simple article for you, detailing each island we visited, the dives we did there, and all the other useful advice you need on dive companies, cost and the best times of year to visit. We also include some great advice on how to get the cheapest and best deal on a liveaboard dive boat so keep reading.

DIVING IN THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS: GENERAL INFORMATION

The three inhabited islands on the Galapagos islands are San Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Isabela. Each island has its own sites and companies. As we only visited and dived from San Cristobal and Santa Cruz, we will only be covering these in this post.

 

How Much Does It Cost?

A single day two tank dive costs on average, between $150-180 on the Galapagos islands.

 

Conditions and Difficulty

Not only is the water cold enough to warrant a 5mm or 7mm wetsuit, but there can be strong currents and choppy waters that require experience beyond casual open-water certification.

 

Requirements

Galapagos diving is for advanced divers. All the dive companies we went with on our trip asked for a minimum of 30 dives completed and your last dive to have been within the last year.

BEST TIMES OF THE YEAR FOR DIVING IN THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

You can dive all year round on the Galapagos and there really isn’t a ‘best’ time to do it as it is all down to personal preference. The Galapagos Islands has two seasons: Wet and Dry.

 

Wet Season / Manta Ray & Hammerhead Season

Wet season ranges from January to June, with mostly sunny weather (average air temp of 30°C) and short, heavy downfalls of rain.

 

The water temperatures ranges between 20-25°C and ocean conditions are a lot calmer. 

 

During the wet season on the island, you will get the Manta Ray/Hammerhead season under the sea (Dec-May). Whilst you can see them all year round, there is a greater occurrence of Hammerhead sharks and Manta Rays during this time (it’s thought that they come for the large number of cleaning stations available around the islands).

 

Dry Season / Whale Shark Season

Dry season lasts from July to December, with a lot less rain and cooler temperatures of around 22°C.

 

Water temperatures drop slightly and average between 17-20°C.

 

Dry season coincides with Whale Shark season in the ocean (June-November).

Ocean currents hit the flanks of seamounts and deflect upwards upwards. These upward currents bring with them a rich soup of nutrients, attracting smaller fish which in turn attract the large predators such as whale sharks in huge numbers. The trade-off here is a drop in visibility due to increased nutrients in the waters.

 

Like we said, there really isn’t a best time to do it. You will still see what is likely to be the highest amount of large marine life you’ve ever seen diving, with numerous species of sharks, sea lions and rays. The choice comes down to what conditions you prefer and whether you want to see whale sharks or huge schools of hammerheads.

DIVING ON SAN CRISTOBAL ISLAND

  • Cost per dive: $150-180
  • Popular Dive Sites: Kicker Rock
  • Our Recommendation: Blue Evolution
  • Level: Advanced Open Water and 30+ Dives
  • Marine Life: Sea lions, Scalloped Hammerheads, Galapagos sharks, White tip sharks, black tip sharks, Sea Turtles

Best Dive Site: Kicker Rock

Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido in Spanish, meaning sleeping lion) is the most famous and popular dive site of Galapagos islands, with the volcanic rock formation jutting out of the middle of the ocean, creating an impressive spectacle.

 

Bird species such as pelicans and blue footed boobies nest on the white cliff edges and sea lions lounge lazily before plunging into the ocean to hunt. Under the sea, ocean currents mix around the rocks creating upwells of nutrients which draw smaller marine life.

 

All this small marine life will then attract the larger animals which we are hoping to see: Scalloped Hammerheads and Galapagos sharks being some of the main attractions.

 

We dived Kicker Rock at the end of September which is the best time for seeing the larger animals, however there’s the tradeoff of reduced visibility and colder temperatures. On our dive we saw Galapagos sharks, white tips, black tips, sea turtles and sealions.

 

Recommended Company: Blue Evolution

We went with Scuba Eden as they were cheapest in comparison to others at $150. However, we wouldn’t recommend them. A lot of diving companies on the island also offer snorkeling at the same time to make more money.

 

The boat was crowded with divers and snorkelers, 1 dive master for 6 divers and before we signed up, they didn’t ask us about our previous diving experience. Everything just seemed a bit unprofessional (especially in comparison to our dive company on Santa Cruz island).

 

We didn’t personally go with Blue Evolution but before we checked them out they asked us how many dives we had which is usually a good sign! So we would suggest you check them out, however, they cost more at $180 per dive.

DIVING ON SANTA CRUZ ISLAND

  • Cost per dive: $160-190
  • Popular Dive Sites: Gordon Rocks
  • Our Recommended Company: Academy Bay or Eagle Ray Divers
  • Level: Advanced Open Water and 30+ dives
  • Marine Life: Sea lions, Scalloped Hammerheads, Galapagos sharks, Eagle Rays, Manta Rays, Sea Turtles, Mola Mola

Best Dive Site: Gordon Rocks

Gordon Rocks is another set of volcanic rocks jutting out of the ocean. Not as impressive as the towering kicker rock but equally as diverse once under the water, the rock formations create currents and upwells of nutrients similar to kicker rock that attract a wide range of animals.

 

We enjoyed this dive more than kicker rock as we saw a lot more but it really is down to luck at the end of the day. We saw schools of hammerheads, eagle rays and a manta ray. There were also feeding stations all around the rocks frequented by turtles and big fish.

 

Recommended Company: Academy Bay

The dive company we chose was Academy Bay which we would highly recommend. An amazing dive boat only for divers, six divers per boat and two diver masters. Our dive masters were informative and helpful, and the lunch was amazing.

 

You always need a good feed in between dives and Academy Bay provided us with tea, fruits, biscuits and a simple but delicious rice and fish dish. We paid $170 for a two tank dive but after this dive they asked if we wanted to return and do more diving, and offered us another trip for $160 and so we suggest you start your bargaining at this price.

LIVEABOARD DIVEBOATS & THE DARWIN AND WOLF ISLANDS

If you want to dive at Darwin and Wolf islands, known as the shark sanctuaries of the oceans (a place where you can see the some of the highest concentration of sharks in the world along with other large marine life, mola mola and humpback whales) then the only option is a 7 night/8 day liveaboard dive boat.

 

These two islands are at the most northern part of the archipelago and require an overnight boat to arrive there, hence the minimum amount of days offered by all companies is 7.

 

Is a Liveaboard Worth it?

These dive boats are for experienced divers and you are required to have 50+ dives and a nitrox qualification as a minimum.

 

The boats won’t accept you on without these credentials or they may offer you additional courses during the trip (such as a nitrox course at $150) which doesn’t seem worth it. The main advantages with a dive boat is that you will get lots of dives over the course of the week (sometimes up to 4 a day totaling around 18 dives over the trip) so the chances of you seeing the best and most interesting marine life is heavily increased.

 

The huge disadvantage is that this is very costly. From our own research and talking to friends and other divers, the cost of a live aboard dive boat for a week ranges between $3,500 and $7,000 with most averaging around the $5,500 mark. These prices don’t include scuba gear rental which is an additional $250.

 

Many people book these boats a year in advance for this price. The best website to review the cruise dates, locations, prices and what the cruises offer is on www.liveaboard.com. We explored this option at first and whilst their customer service was quite poor when we had questions, it’s a good place to start researching the right boat for you.

How To Get The Best Deal On A Liveaboard

As I’m sure you’re thinking, those prices are extortionate but there is a way to get on these tours for a hugely reduced price.

 

If you have flexibility with your travel, even if by a few days you can book the tour directly on Santa Cruz Island last minute (not online) and get the tour for almost half the price. Often the boats don’t sell all their spaces and will reduce the costs massively to fill them.

 

We had a close friend who got a 7-day boat with Aqua for $2,200 which is a reduction of $1,100 off the normal price. This was during low season (May to June) and autumn (September and October).

 

An alternative to the dive boats is to buy a hotel based diving package, however, we don’t recommend doing this as booking as a package will lead you to overpaying.

 

A 3 night 4 day package could set you back $1,000-$2,000. We booked our individual single day dives, saw what we wanted to see and saved thousands of dollars and we think you are better off booking the dives yourself as well.

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