Destination Fact File
If Carlsberg made dive locations, this would probably be one of theirs.
This legendary Ecuadorian diving destination is often considered by experienced divers to represent something of a pinnacle in their diving careers. In that sense, many agree that the Galapagos Islands have, quite simply, the best liveaboard diving cruises in the world, plus incredible non-diving wildlife adventure cruises. Such is the range of creatures, that it is difficult to avoid lists when discussing Galapagos scuba diving. Imagining a dive holiday involving sea lions, penguins, eagle rays, Galapagos sharks, turtles, hammerhead sharks, iguanas, golden rays, seals and whale sharks is a phenomenal experience. These encounters, which are at once educational and exciting, make the appeal of the archipelago obvious.
While many places have superior reefs, sea conditions and ease of accessibility, there is no other island chain here, the area is in a huge protected marine reserve and virtually free of commercial fishing, and the waters are densely populated by a vast and disparate array of marine creatures. Since the Galapagos are volcanic oceanic islands, unconnected to the continent, deep sea upwelling’s make the waters rich in nutrients and therefore thriving with life.
Learning about evolution by natural selection in a place where the evidence is so compelling and where historically, the Galapagos Islands played such a major role in the development of Darwin's revolutionary thinking is truly a unique experience. To do so in a place where each dive promises extraordinary sightings is nothing short of a ‘must do once in a lifetime’ experience for any semi-serious diver.
Top Dive Sites:
“Wolf Island Caves” - It is easy to exaggerate in the world of scuba diving. One can forget the boring phases of a dive and focus only on the positive. One can make them sound more fascinating on paper than they may have been in reality. Not this dive site. Words seem inadequate. Listing creatures certainly won't do justice to this parade of aquatic wonder.
As with all dive sites around Wolf Island there are going to be sharks and turtles; that is a given. There may also be eagle rays and dolphins. Yet this is a site whose backdrop is a series of swim-throughs and a cave which would be fun enough to explore anywhere. When you consider that on exiting each one you could be greeted by hammerheads, white-tip reef sharks or eagle rays, it dawns on you that you are, undeniably, scuba diving in the Galapagos Islands. Where else can you even struggle to pay attention to the briefing when there are dozens of dolphins breaching all around the boat? Bottle-nose dolphins are around Wolf in huge numbers, so you have every chance to see them playing near the surface or even indulging in some carnal shenanigans.
“Darwin Island” ¬- The northernmost island of the Galapagos chain is, together with nearby Wolf Island, the focal point of any dive trip to the Galapagos and no serious liveaboard will neglect this area. Surface conditions and current can be tricky here; water temperatures tend to hover around the low-to-mid 20s. There are therefore some warmer water species here. You can expect to see trumpetfish, trevally barracuda. Parrotfish, angelfish, surgeonfish and the delightful racoon butterflyfish are also frequently present, adding a dash of colour to the sites.
However it is for the breathtaking Galapagos Islands diving that Darwin is famed. Your breath may be taken away by the sight of vast schools of hammerheads or close encounters with individuals plus eagle rays, Galapagos sharks and turtles. These sites can be so thick with action that it is difficult to recall all the species that have come into view but mackerels, manta rays and even dolphins might put in an appearance. If you are lucky you might have an encounter with a whale shark, especially between the months of June and October.
It is said that there is only one dive site at Darwin and admittedly the starting point is always the same, in the region where the famous Darwin arch is located.
There will likely follow a succession of hammerheads, some distant, some very close weaving their way through the current. This dive gives you a great chance to really look at them in close proximity and marvel at their curious beauty.
On quiet times you can look at the little hawkfish and blennies in and around the rocky slope while the occasional Galapagos shark and pelagic fish species may put in a brief show in the blue. But this is really a one creature dive. It is all about the hammerhead sharks. You won't be finning around anywhere until it is time to let go and be whisked away through and up the water column to your safety stop. Here, a couple of playful sea lions might flash past your eyes and frolic around the hanging divers.
Butterflyfish and angelfish are numerous as are a variety of wrasses, damsels and anthias. Also look out for lobsters lurking in the crevices. This can feel much more like a warm water dive than any of the other dive sites in the Galapagos Islands. Of course behind these brightly coloured fish flitting to and fro you will see the large ominous shapes of Galapagos sharks and hammerheads.
As is a feature of diving in the Galapagos Islands, your safety stop is not an exercise in mundanely watching your 3 minutes tick down. If there are not sea lions to amuse you then there may be dolphins swimming by, close enough to make meaningful eye contact, and make your heart sing.
Hundreds of garden eels stretch up from their burrows and starfish are scattered all around the sea-bed. You can expect inquisitive turtles and juvenile moray eels to also be among the marine life investigating the substrate. Sticking close to the sea bed, you will be looking up to see the hammerheads, Galapagos sharks and if you are lucky, the imposing mass of a passing whale shark.
Darwin is clearly not an area for beginners. Current, choppy seas, jagged rocks and more may be enough to spook the less experienced diver. Those with good buoyancy, who are comfortable in the water and have done a few dives in differing conditions, will be too distracted by the outrageous marine action to notice anything else.
“Vincente Roca” - If any dive site in the Galapagos is going to test whether you brought enough equipment with you to withstand the cold, it is Vincente Roca, located on the north-eastern tip of the island of Isabela. Temperatures can get down into the teens here and an icy blast will greet you as soon as you roll in. The chill will stay with you until you emerge, so wear your hood and everything else you brought with you.
In most places this level of cold would mean an unpleasant experience. Not so in Galapagos. As if showcasing the archipelago's diversity, this Galapagos dive site offers up a whole range of creatures vastly different to those you will have seen before. Mola Mola are frequently sited here sometimes several moving their curious forms around with their two main fins above and below their bodies.
Dropping down to a sandy floor at around 18 to 22m you will be on the lookout for red-lipped batfish resting on the sea floor. Bringing a light along will really bring out the bright red colour of their eponymous lips. They may scuttle away over the sand with their leg-like fins much to the fascination of anyone watching.
Rising up from the sandy floor, you will find along a wall with ridges, grooves and ledges all worth checking out. It also takes your mind off the cold to hunt around for the spider crabs and slipper lobsters and morays that live in the crevices. Cleaner shrimps are about and will crawl over anyone with the courage to expose the flesh of their hand.
Also look out for the rare horn shark, aka the Galapagos bullhead shark, on this dive - a small blotchy reef shark. Sea horse and even penguins add to the riotous fun of this chilly playground. Sea lions can be in playful form here, and you may even be treated to their antics of pestering a puffer fish, fully extended for its own protection as the sea lions prod and poke it just for fun.