If you have never snorkelled before, the Galápagos Islands just might be a good place to start! You won’t just see another part of this special environment, its undersea worlds, but you may also get the chance to interact with the animals that are most at home there such as sea lions and possibly penguins. We didn’t see the latter, but we saw sea lions several times, and had one very memorable encounter with a group. We also saw marine iguanas feeding on the rocks beneath the surface (very bizarre to see a lizard underwater!), sea turtles, rays and even sharks!
In our group we had very experienced snorkelers, some like me who had done it occasionally, and a few who had never done so. One of the latter spent much of the week getting used to it, but by the final day had mastered the use of the mask and snorkel sufficiently to enjoy our frolic with the sea lions off Santa Fe – you can imagine how pleased he was that he had persevered!
Snorkelling in the Galápagos really was a special experience, and doing so from the Angelito meant that everyone was well taken care of. Fabian usually came in the water with us, although on one occasion another of the crew did so, and on another he kept watch from a panga nearby. And when we came back on board there was always a hot drink (chocolate or a herbal tea) and a snack awaiting us, as well as crew members to shower us down with the fresh water hose (warm water!) and help us out of the wetsuits. Don’t miss the chance to experience this for yourself!
Equipment: If you have your own equipment, bring it, but it isn’t necessary. All but the cheapest boats have good quality snorkelling gear. I was impressed with that on the Angelito, which was very new and clean, and the crew took the trouble to make sure we had masks and flippers that fitted well. If like us you are visiting in the cool dry season you will also almost certainly want to wear a wetsuit – again, these are available on the boats, usually at a small charge ($25 for the week on the Angelito), but it you have your own do bring it as you’ll be sure of a perfect fit. Again though, I was happy with the one I hired, although I was glad of the advice of a couple of the more experienced snorkelers in the group who encouraged me to squeeze into the smallest possible when the crew member assisting us would have me settle on the first I tried – apparently the tighter the fit, the warmer the suit, and the sea was decidedly chilly! Don’t let nervousness about wearing a wetsuit for the first time put you off by the way – just think how much longer you’ll be able to stay in the water if you aren’t freezing!
I bought a waterproof camera especially for this holiday - a Nikon Coolpix. It's only a compact (I wouldn't be able to cope with anything more complicated underwater) but you can use it down to three metres so it's fine for snorkelling, and once I got used to it I got some great photos. Apart from the sea lion, the others here were taken off Santiago..
Next tip: ”Sea turtles”
One afternoon I rented a bike in Puerto Villamil on Isla Isabela. To rent a bike was $2.50 per hour (July 2011), and the bike was okay to use on the bumpy dirt road to Muro de Las Lagrimas. There are several places of interest to stop at along the way and the best is to see them on the way to Muro de Las Lagrimas as it is more uphill that way. Along the road I also saw a few Giant Tortoises, which was fantastic!
There was no lock on the bike but I was told it didn’t matter as no one would steal it anyway, it’s safe on Isla Isabela. I used the bike for a bit more than 3 hours and was charged for three hours, so I paid $7.50. There are no paved roads on Isla Isabela and not too many roads either.
You can also rent bikes in Puerto Ayora and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, but I didn’t. If I come back to visit the island independently I would though. For example rent a bike in Puerto Ayora and visit places in the Highlands of Santa Cruz and the beach at El Garrapatero.
No trip to the Galapagos Islands is complete without getting below the water's surface. There is so much to see under water and it's one place to escape the crowds. Well, to be honest, it's not all that crowded on the Galapagos but the serenity of being under water is something you shouldn't miss. Also, though it's quite cool to see a sea lion or turtle, it's quite another to see one coming at you under water. It's one experience I think that separates the Galapagos from other destinations. So, get in the water and enjoy all of the Galapagos has to offer.
Equipment: Though you could bring all your gear for either scuba diving or snorkeling it is readily available there. If you are traveling around Ecuador, it would be a lot to lug around. So, unless you are very into diving, just use what is available there. We found the equipment to be fine and cheap to rent. In fact, if you book your tours through one operator they will throw it in or at least let you use it during the week even when you are not on a tour. We used Charles Darwin Agency and the owner was quite helpful.
If you are a scuba diver, the Galapagos represents one of those "holy grail" kind of places. You want to go, you hope you will be able to some day, but you don't really expect to make it all the way there. It's a long way away from everything and conditions are challenging. But isn't that part of the allure, after all?
As I may have mentioned about a dozen times (more?) the water is cold. Extra thick wetsuits are essential, layered one on the other, hoods are a must, and if you don't wear gloves, you will find you have shredded fingers from holding onto barnacle-covered rocks in surge zones. Because divers wear so much protective clothing in the Galapagos, the amount of weight needed to get below the surface is impressive. I was taking 10 to 12 kg (22 to 26 lbs) down with me every dive, and still hd to fin head-down to get past the first few meters!
Divers enter the water from pangas (dingys) that each dive boat carries with it. The ones from my dive boat were rubber zodiacs. You gear up on the dive deck, hop into the panga, zip over to the dive site, and enter the water with a backwards roll. Getting into the water is the easy part. Getting back *out* and into the panga after the dive was the greatest challenge of each dive, for me. Of course you remove your gear first, but it always took a lot of hoisting and struggling for me to flop myself into the panga like a drunken sea lion.
Equipment: I took my own equipment, except for the wetsuits, which I rented locally. I used Extra Divers, whose web address is given below. I had two checkout dives with Extra Divers before boarding my dive boat, just to make sure the wetsuits fit properly and to get my weighting down before the "real" diving got started.
Bring a couple of pairs of gloves along, in case one pair gets torn. Consider bringing three pair if you are shooting pictures since you will not want thick gloves for that, and the thin ones will tear more quickly.
You can rent a hood, but they get little tears around the face-hole and can let water in if they are not tight enough. My solution was to take my own warm-water hood along with me and to layer it under the rental hood.
If you can find dive socks, bring them, too. It's awful putting on cold, wet booties, and the socks help.
The Galapagos's underwater world is just as interesting as the islands themselves, so do yourselves a favour and don't miss out .... there is plenty to be seen and experienced: like sharks, rays, playful sea lions, penguins, a multitude of fish, diving seabirds etc etc.
Equipment: Enquire about cruises especially targeted for diving
For snorkelling just bring along a wetsuit (or else rent one) in the cold season (especially august -november) - The water can be surprisingly cold! It is best to get your own masks ... but fins can be rented from the yacht. Always enquire beforehand for availability.
We were on the cheaper tours which are about US$80 per day on boats that hold about 9 people.
The people who went on "organised" scuba dives were constantly frustrated by the disorganisation of the equipment and dive masters Or lack of. There were no real complaints about the actual dives themselves. There seemed to be a lot more shark sightings for the scuba divers compared to us snorkellers
Equipment: I was snorkelling only. I hired my equipment from my travel agent who wanted US$15 but I talked them down to US$10 quite easily.
My snorkel had no release valve so it didnt work at all. My flippers were a little rough and cut my toes but the goggles were fine.
The water in the South of the Galapagos Islands is cold. No one will tell you this. Sometimes the crew have wetsuits which may or may not fit. They cost about US$2 per day to hire. I recomend hiring a wetsuit from the Galapagos Island mainlaind before you leave on your boat tour.
Part of the reason we selected the Seaman was because it offered diving but wasn't a 5-6 dives/day diving enthusiast cruise.
The boat had a good set-up for diving - nice large platform on the back, but because diving is done from the pangas (dinghies) you pretty much suit up, lunge into the dinghies, motor a short distance to the site, and back-roll into the water.
We did three dives: Cousin Rock, Enderby, and Devil's Crown. We saw sharks, turtles, rays, sea lions, and schools of fish so thick that you could not see through them.
The only problem we had (other than the whopper of a current at Devil's Crown) was that the weights weren't labeled, so on the first dive I thought I had 22 pounds of weight while I only had 12. This meant that, with my super buoyant 5mm wetsuit there was no way in hell I was going to be able to descend and had to request more weight. By my calculations I had close to 40 pounds for the first dive. At the next snorkeling stop, we all tested our weighting and I learned that I had only 12 pounds - no WONDER I couldn't descend.
Pictures and full trip report available on our web site
We went on three dives with SCUBA Iguana, and it was honestly the best diving we have ever done.
Our first two dives were at North Seymore. We say white tip sharks, tons of sea lions, morays, green sea turtles, giant spotted eagle rays, garden eels, fish cleaning stations, puffers, and I'm sure many other things I'm forgetting.
We also did a night dive in Academy bay, where we saw sea turtles, sharks, and lots of phosphorescent plankton. It was freaky but VERY exciting and rewarding!!!
THe best part of SCUBA iguana was the staff. Our guide was Paulo, who spoke perfect English, and knew the sites like his own backyard. He was able to find every animal we wanted to see except for the hammerheads, which I'm sure is not his fault! He was incredibly friendly, and set up and broke down all of our equipment. At this place, you don't touch the equipment unless it is on your back!!!
The prices are great - two day dives for 105-120, including lunch at a restaurant and all equipment. The night dives were $75.
The boats they use are fast and safe, so you don't have to wait around very long. They are comfortable as well. All the staff is very friendly.
Equipment: Unless you love your equipment and only your equipment, don't bother bringing it. You need a 7mm farmer john even in the warm months because the water is so cold down deep. A good mask, if you have one, would be good to have, as well as a snorkel. The hassle of bringing all the rest might not be worth it unless you are going on a liveaboard!!! There is only a 10% discount off the price for having your own, so why bother.
Although it's not my thing to seek out extra adrenaline rushes (I feel my life has offered me plenty for free), those of you who wish to can dive with the hammerheads can go to a submerged volcanic crater at Gordon Rocks.
I hear the sightings of whale sharks are abundant and incredible around Wolf & Darwin Islands. Darnit, I didn't have my C-Card yet when I was there, only snorkeled!!
Equipment: Be sure you bring a wetsuit along. Despite the equatorial position these islands occupy, the water can be quite cool for swimming, snorkeling and diving. Those on our trip who had wetsuits to wear enjoyed the experience much more than those of us who didn't.
If you do the boat trip down to the southern islands, you are likely to stop at Floreana where there is a football pitch marked out in the sand. We had a match where the crew played the passengers - very entertaining and good exercise before cooling down in the surf afterwards. Each night the locals back in Porto Ayora get together to play volleyball in the center of town. It's quite a social gathering where everyone's welcome.
Equipment: A pair of trainers would have been a lot more useful than my sandals in the football match.
Puerto Villamil, Isabela Galapagos Islands, , Ecuador
Good for: Solo
Barrio Punta Estrada S/N, Puerto Ayora, 00000, Ecuador
Good for: Business
Isla Isabela, , Puerto Villamil, Galapagos
Good for: Business