Scuba Dive and Travel: Galapagos, Ecuador

Scuba Dive and Travel: Galapagos, Ecuador

Made famous after Charles Darwin, Galapagos is a dream destination for many scuba divers. Considered one of the best destinations for wildlife-viewing, this wonderland is home to some unique life forms in the world.

There is something for everyone here. From whale sharks to the iconic marine iguana, from birds to the famous Galapagos giant tortoise.

Not only wildlife, but environmental conditions, like the cool marine currents and equatorial climate, contributes to this paradise. Furthermore, the archipelago remained isolated for a long time, which has contributed to make Galapagos a unique destination.

History and culture in Ecuador

Quito, ecuadorian capital - Photo by Richard Droker at Flickr
Quito, ecuadorian capital – Photo by Richard Droker at Flickr

Ecuador is a beautiful country with a rich history. It is home to a vast rainforest that takes one third of its territory, contributing to a massive biodiversity, both under and above water. Home to some of the most important pre-Columbian sites, you can still feel the presence of these cultures today when visiting places like Quito’s Plaza Grande and Montecristi.

The country’s culture is heavily influenced by Amerindian groups. Ecuador has been home to people for over 10,000 years and houses the Quechuas, the largest indigenous communities in America.

Quito is Ecuador’s capital, known for its historic buildings such as Iglesia San Francisco, which was founded in 1535 by Spanish conquistadores and is one of the oldest churches in Latin America.

What Ecuadorian gastronomy is like

Ecuadorian gastronomy is a cuisine that uses the country’s bounty of fresh produce and herbs to make mouthwatering dishes. There are many dishes to choose from, including mondongo, a hearty soup made with tripe. Lomo saltado, which consists of beef strips sautéed, with onion and garlic and then topped with tomatoes and fried potatoes.

Ceviche, omnipresent in South American cultures, consists of raw seafood marinated in lemon juice and peppers. One popular street food is fried plantain, which is cut down the middle and stuffed with mozzarella before being grilled.

History and facts about Galapagos

Sunset at Galapagos Islands - Photo by Pedro Szekely at Wikimedia Commons
Sunset at Galapagos Islands – Photo by Pedro Szekely at Wikimedia Commons

The Galapagos Islands were formed through volcanic activity. The islands were made from the detritus of a series of eruptions, and are located in the Pacific Ocean about 600 miles (1000 kilometers) west of Ecuador.

The islands are home to unique species that evolved in isolation, such as giant tortoise and giant marine iguana. Galapagos is a world-renowned destination for scuba diving, with an abundance of wildlife to see and explore. 

This area is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and draws large numbers of visitors each year.

There are more than 450 species of fish living on the Galapagos archipelago, including some endemic species found nowhere else in the world.

The Galapagos ecosystem has been affected by human activities – fishing, tourism, pollution – but there is still much to see for divers lucky enough to visit this location!

What you MUST do while in Galapagos

Galapagos Giant Tortoises

Galapagos giant tortoise - Photo by budgora at Flickr
Galapagos giant tortoise – Photo by budgora at Flickr

Rancho Primicias and El Chato are both excellent places to see and learn about the Galapagos giant tortoise. At Rancho Primicias, you can get up close and personal with these gentle giants, while El Chato offers a more natural setting in which to observe them.

Charles Darwin Research Station

Charles Darwin Research Station is a scientific research center on Santa Cruz Island. It is operated by the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and was founded in 1964. Their mission is to provide knowledge and assistance through scientific research and complementary action to ensure the conservation of the Galapagos archipelago, as well as Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. The station also provides environmental education to visitors from around the world.

Lava Tunnels

The Lava Tunnels, El Chato Ranch - Photo by Elias Rovielo at Flickr
The Lava Tunnels, El Chato Ranch – Photo by Elias Rovielo at Flickr

The lava tunnels in Santa Cruz, Galapagos are a popular tourist destination. The dark, twisting tunnels are formed when a large lava flow begins to harden on the surface, but the innermost part is still hot and soft. This portion continues moving, producing a hollow space. The end result is a complex network of tunnels large enough for an adult to walk through without having to crawl.

Marine Iguanas

Marine Iguana - Photo by Richard Droker at Flickr
Marine Iguana – Photo by Richard Droker at Flickr

Punta Espinoza is located on the eastern end of Fernandina Island, one of the Galapagos Islands. This area is well known for its populations of marine iguanas, which can be found lounging on the beach or wading in the water. Sea lions, turtles, and penguins can also be seen in the vicinity.

Pinnacle Rock

Pinnacle Rock is a unique landmark in the Galapagos Islands. Made of volcanic rock and very sharply shaped, this is an inspiring sight to be seen and a great location to take awe-inspiring photos. It is also home to nesting sea turtles, and it is possible to see sea lions and penguins there as well.

Best time to scuba dive in Galapagos

Galapagos is a great destination year-round, but usually divers choose the time of year according to what they want to see.

From June to November, water is colder due to the Humboldt Current and frequently is below the 20º C. This current brings nutrient-rich waters, a perfect condition for marine life, that gets more active and abundant. It is also the best season to meet whale sharks that comes to feed on the plankton. This means a windy weather, that translates into a choppy sea, and a slightly reduced visibility.

From December to May is the warmer season, and water temperatures rises to an average of 25º C. Seas gets calmer, and this is the best time of the year to see giant mantas and huge schools of hammerheads.

No matter when you decide to go, one thing is certain. Galapagos is the place to go to check some of those bucket list animals that you still haven’t met underwater.

What can you expect to see while scuba diving in Galapagos?

Hammerheads school - Photo by Ryan Espanto at Flickr
Hammerheads school – Photo by Ryan Espanto at Flickr

Galapagos is a place where you can find an abundance of marine life. Almost guarantee that you will meet some of those marine animals in your bucket list, Galapagos Islands are known for huge schools of hammerheads, whale sharks, giant mantas and the endemic marine iguana.

You can expect to encounter sharks, sea lions, penguins, dolphins, turtles, and even marlin. But there are not only big creatures. Many small animals can be found, like seahorses and nudibranchs.

What are the best dive sites in Galapagos

Darwin’s Towers – Darwin’s Island

Darwin's Arch before collapsing in 2021 - Photo by Antje Schultner at Flickr
Darwin’s Arch before collapsing in 2021 – Photo by Antje Schultner at Flickr

Home to the most iconic dive site in the whole archipelago, Darwin’s Island is accessible only by Liveaboards. In 2021, the Darwin’s Arch collapsed, and is now known as the Darwin’s Tower. But this has not changed a bit, the awesomeness that this dive site is. With huge schools of hammerheads, this is considered by many the best dive site in the world. On top of that, this is the place to go to see whale sharks, mantas rays, galapagos sharks, dolphins, turtles, schools of fish.

Wolf Island

Whaleshark, the gentle giant - Photo by Derek Keats at Pexels
Whaleshark, the gentle giant – Photo by Derek Keats at Pexels

Just like its twin sister Darwin’s Island, strong currents, choppy seas and rough dive conditions, makes these dive sites exclusive for advanced divers.

Punta Vicente Roca

Sheltered from the ocean swells, Vicente Rock Point is a dive spot well suited for beginners and even snorkelers. Currents are responsible for filling the area with a rich stock of food, what makes this place an all-you-can-eat buffet for many animals like whales, dolphins, birds, sea lions, penguis and many more. Even Mola Molas are seen around, getting cleaned by smaller fishes.

Roca Redonda

Formed from volcanic activity over 50.000 years ago, this round rock is the go-to spot in Galapagos to experience its volcanic nature. Fumaroles is the name given to the stream of hydrogen sulfide bubbles that arise from this dive site, and is proof of the ongoing volcanic activity. Large schools of barracudas, hammerheads, galapagos sharks, yellow tailed surgeonfish and manta rays are spotted here. Remember to keep an eye out for some occasional Mola Mola appearance.

Camaño Islet

Another dive site suited for beginners, this is a great option for those that do not want to face all the rough dives around the archipelago. Great visibility and with a average maximum depth of 15 meters, makes this an easy and nice dive site. Here you will find groupers, sea lions, seahorses and batfishes. Keep an eye open for marine iguanas searching for a mean underwater.

There are so many incredible dive sites in the Galapagos that it’s hard to say which is the best.

How to get to Galapagos

First you will have to fly to mainland Ecuador, and then to Galapagos. Air is the only way to get to the archipelago. Quito is the capital and the choice for those who want to spend some time exploring the ecuadorian history and culture. If you choose Quito, remember to consider a few extra days, as volcanic activity can cause delays.

Guayaquil is the preferred choice for those exploring Galapagos, because it is closer to the archipelago and the airport is located closer to town than Quito’s.

Galapagos have two airports, Seymour Airport (GPS) in Baltra Island and San Cristobal (SCY) in San Cristobal Island. If you are planning to explore on a Liveaboard, keep in mind that all departures are from Balta Island, so flying to Seymour Airport (GPS) is more convenient.

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