Situated in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Ecuador, and straddling the equator is the world’s most unique and biologically distinguished archipelago – the Galápagos Islands.
There is an endless array of natural wonders to uncover, both above and below the water. As these islands have never been connected to a continent, the vast majority of species that you find here are endemic. Additionally, given that there are no large mammals on the islands, the lack of predation has resulted in animals being almost inherently tame and approachable. The protection afforded in being declared a marine reserve, a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site has contributed to this lack of instinctual fear.
Some of the more well-known endemic species that you can expect to see are the Galápagos giant tortoise, marine iguana (the only sea-faring lizard in the world), Galápagos penguin (the sole penguin species in the Northern Hemisphere), Galápagos sea lion, flightless cormorant, and red-footed and blue-footed boobies, among many others.
The Galápagos Islands have a climate that is almost as unique as the wildlife – it is both tropical and semi-arid with distinct wet and dry seasons. The confluence of a cold ocean current from the south and a warm ocean current from the north results in a brisker climate than you would expect of a region hugging the equator.
Dry Season: June to December
This is the cool season when you can expect daytime temperatures of 25ºC, low-lying cloud cover, and misty conditions.
Wet Season: January to May
The rains at this time of year are not abundant and generally tend to occur in the late afternoons. Expect up to 8 hours of sunshine and daytime temperatures of 30ºC.
The wildlife of the Galápagos Marine Park provides divers and snorkelers with an underwater extravaganza.
Dip your head below the surface of the ocean and get ready to have unforgettable, up-close and personal interactions with an exquisite array of mammals, fish, pelagics, and reptiles.
Clown around with sea lions, glide along with Golden Rays, Spotted Eagle Rays, Stingrays & Mantas Rays or whizz through the water with the penguins. Encounter massive schools of scalloped hammerheads, and cruise through the deep blue with Galápagos and white tip sharks. On occasion, you might be lucky enough to see whales, the ever-gentle whale shark, and thousands of dolphins.
There are a few factors that may make diving in the Galápagos challenging. Surface conditions can be choppy, visibility ranges from 10 – 25 meters, and descending currents are often encountered. Blue water safety stops are standard, so divers are required to have good buoyancy control. Likewise, currents can be strong, resulting in drift dives being common. Divers should have experience with cold water diving in addition to diving in surge and strong currents.
The water temperature varies during the year:
January to June: 21°C to 27°C
A 5mm wetsuit with gloves and hood are strongly recommended. February to April is when the water is at its warmest.
July to December: 18°C to 23°C
A 7mm wetsuit with a hooded vest and gloves will keep you comfortable. September to November is when the water is at its coldest.
Diving is available year-round.
Wet Season: The water temperature hovers between 20 and 25°C. January to May are the months with the best visibility, the calmest seas, and the greatest concentration of hammerhead sharks, manta rays, and eagle rays. This is also the best time to see adorable sea lion pups along the beaches and in the shallows.
Dry Season: The water temperature ranges between 17-20°C. Between July and December, visibility is generally between 15 – 20 meters due to an increase of nutrients in the water. These nutrients attract large numbers of pelagics which makes this the best time to see migratory whale sharks and humpback whales.
The best way to dive the Galápagos Islands is from a liveaboard, which can get you out to the more remote and biologically diverse dive sites.
Santa Cruz Island:
Dive sites in this area range from reefs littered with boulders to dazzling drift dives. Share the water with pelagics, including white tips, Galápagos sharks, the occasional hammerhead, turtles, and eagle, manta, and stingrays. Amberjacks, Peruvian grunts, bonitos, and moray and garden eels are also common sightings. The sea lion colonies in the area will provide you with a few playful interactions and some comic relief.
Known as the 'crown jewel' of the Galápagos, diving in this area takes place on reefs and walls. Here, you will be fortunate enough to observe schooling pelagics in the form of hammerheads, white tips, silkies and Galápagos sharks, as well as whale sharks (May to November). Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, turtles, barracudas, red-lipped batfish, moray eels, and hundreds of species of schooling fish.
The best dive site in this area is at Cape Douglas. Zip through the water with the penguins, interact with the lively sea lions and fur seals and marvel at the vast number of marine iguanas that congregate on the wall to feed.
Shallow reefs, steep walls and underwater volcanoes make for some incredible diving in this area. Sharks that you can see include hammerheads and scalloped hammerheads, silkies, white tips, Galápagos, and the occasional Port Jackson. Other pelagics that frequent these waters are manta, mobula, and cownose rays, in addition to turtles. Be awestruck by large schools of tuna, barracuda, black-striped salema, and big eye jacks. You might even get lucky enough to see the shy and very rare Mola Mola. Camotillo, seahorses, frogfish, octopus, long-nosed hawkfish, nudibranchs, and flatworms can be spotted along the reefs.
Dive along a coral-covered rock and lava flow where you will see ledges and overhangs adorned with red sponges, sea fans, hard corals, and hydroid bushes. These features provide a safe home for hawkfish, seahorses, nudibranchs, frogfish, and scorpionfish. This area also welcomes larger visitors such as hammerheads, giant mobula and manta rays, and spotted eagle rays. Why not finish your dive on a high note and rendezvous with the playful sea lions in the shallows.
Some fauna and flora are characteristic all around the Galápagos while others are only found on specific islands. There are over 60 sites that you can visit, through the Galápagos National Park Directorate, to fully appreciate and experience all the wonders that this archipelago has to offer.
If you love what you see and experience in the Galápagos and you want to contribute to conserving this unique habitat, spend some time giving back through volunteering. The Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galápagos National Park Directorate both offer fantastic volunteering opportunities and they appreciate any time and energy that you can donate to assisting them in preserving one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world.
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