Galapagos Diving: Your Ultimate Guide to a Thrilling Journey

Embark on an unforgettable journey with our Ultimate Guide to Galapagos Diving - your gateway to pristine waters, shark diving and vibrant marine life awaits!"

Diving in the Galapagos Islands, an experience placed amidst a fantastic assortment of marine life, shark diving and the breathtaking panorama of the underwater world, is a dream for many diving enthusiasts. Before you embark on this unforgettable journey, Josef Litt compiled answers to the most common questions about Galapagos diving to help you plan your adventure meticulously.

Land-Based vs. Liveaboard Galapagos Diving: What’s the Difference?

One of the pivotal decisions to make while planning your Galapagos diving adventure is whether to opt for a land-based or a liveaboard diving experience. Here, we detail the distinctive features of both to help you make an informed choice:

Land-Based Diving

A quick search will deliver several dive centres in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristóbal. Santa Cruz is a more advantageous starting point for diving thanks to its central location in the archipelago. The price for a two-tank dive trip start around $250. Some of the well-established dive centres are Scuba Iguana and Academy Bay Diving in Santa Cruz.

Limitations: Land-based diving allows easy access to nearby dive sites, generally limiting to areas around the central islands where day trips are feasible. Encounters with wildlife are more fleeting and limited than in the remote places accessible by liveaboard. It is possible to see sharks, but proper shark diving encounters happen on sites out of reach of day trips.

Flexibility: Land-based diving allows you to explore other island attractions, combining diving with other land-based activities like hiking, wildlife watching, etc.

Comfort: After a day of diving, you can retreat to the comfort of your hotel, enjoying amenities that might not be available on a boat.

Cost: Generally, it tends to be less expensive than liveaboard options, especially if you plan a few days of diving interspersed with other activities.


Galapagos Sky is the ultimate liveaboard for Galapagos diving and shark diving at Darwin and Wolf

Galapagos Sky LIveaboard in front of the recently collapsed Darwin’s Arch.

Liveaboard Diving

Ten liveaboards operate in the Galapagos, offering ultimate shark diving trips to Darwin and Wolf Islands. The prices start between $4,750 and $7,300 for a week of diving (8D/7N) in the most remote areas of the archipelago. Additional fees are not included in the base price; check the terms and conditions carefully to understand the total cost. Some liveaboards offer 11-day itineraries with extended diving in Darwin and Wolf Islands. Smaller (and cheaper) liveaboards need more time to travel between islands, which might result in fewer dives in attractive locations. Before making a decision, compare the itineraries.

Extended Reach: Liveaboards offer the opportunity to explore remote dive sites that are not accessible on day trips. The most iconic dive sites, Darwin Island, Wolf Island and Cabo Douglas, are only accessible on a liveaboard. Liveaboard diving puts Galapagos at the top of the world-class diving list. This is the ultimate shark diving in an area with the world’s scientifically largest mass of sharks.

Immersive Experience: Being on a liveaboard means diving by day and sailing by night, offering a truly immersive marine and shark diving experience without wasting time on transfers.

Community: Liveaboards foster a sense of community where you can connect with like-minded divers and share experiences.

Convenience: Liveaboards offer the convenience of having everything in one place, simplifying the logistics of multiple dive days.

Cost: While liveaboards might seem costlier, they offer an all-inclusive Galapagos diving experience, covering accommodation, meals, and multiple dives per day, providing value for money for serious divers.

An advice I gave on the We ❤️ Galapagos! Facebook group to a person looking for a honeymoon recommendation:

There are ten liveaboards going to Darwin and Wolf. They differ in price and comfort.

The smallest and cheapest one, Nortada, offers four cabins for 12 people. I will leave it to you to consider if it is the best choice for your honeymoon.

AQUA Galápagos is a bigger boat with eight cabins for 16 guests. I was on Aqua, and it does the job. The level of comfort is not as great as on bigger boats. Smaller dining place, smaller deck and smaller diving deck for getting ready for diving. Very limited space for cameras. Also, the smaller boats are slower, requiring more time in the long transfers. Compare itineraries to see the number of dives in interesting places.

I was also on Galapagos Master and I am going on Ecoventura’s Galapagos Sky. Both are large boats with a great level of comfort.

I was with Aggressor Adventures fleet in other destinations, and I trust they provide the same level of great services on Galapagos Aggressor III too.

I’ve never been on Calipso Dive, just only visited Humboldt Explorer, never been on its sister boat Tiburon Explorer of Explorer Ventures, nor on Galagents Galapagos Cruises’ Galaxy Diver I and Galaxy Diver II.

My experience is that you get the space and comfort you pay for. The crews are generally professional and friendly, and some became friends over time. You can choose between 7 nights/8 days itineraries and 10 nights/11 days itineraries. Ensure that your itinerary includes diving with marine iguanas at Cabo Douglas dive site on Fernandina Island.

Making Your Choice

Choosing between land-based and liveaboard Galapagos diving depends mainly on your preferences, desired marine exploration intensity, and budget. A liveaboard would be ideal if you are keen on delving deep into shark diving and don’t mind spending a bit more. Conversely, if you prefer mixing diving with other island activities and like returning to a comfortable hotel at the end of the day, land-based diving could be your go-to option.

Galapagos diving with a green turtle at Darwin Island

A diver admires a green turtle
This image was taken in 2019 at Darwin Island.

Photograph © 2019 Josef Litt

Before the Galapagos Diving Trip

What is the Best Time of Year to Dive in the Galapagos?

The Galapagos Islands offer a year-round diving experience, but the best time depends on your preferences. You can expect warmer water temperatures and calmer seas from December to May. If you are keen on shark diving, spotting whale sharks around Darwin Island, hammerhead sharks and perhaps whales and manta rays, consider visiting between August and November when the waters are colder and nutrient-rich.

Do I Need a Specific Level of Diving Certification to Dive in the Galapagos?

Yes, due to the strong currents and sometimes challenging conditions, it is recommended that divers have an Advanced Open Water Certification or have logged at least 20 dives for central islands and 50 for Darwin and Wolf.

What Kind of Marine Life Can I Expect to See While Diving in the Galapagos?

The marine life in the Galapagos is amazingly diverse and the shark diving is incredible. You can expect to see hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks, sea turtles, manta rays, sea lions, moray eels, and a vibrant array of fish and coral species. Whale sharks frequent the waters around Darwin Island between August and November.

Are There Any Specific Health or Fitness Requirements for Galapagos Diving?

Given the sometimes challenging diving conditions, divers must be physically healthy. You should be able to manage strong currents and potentially cold water. A medical check-up before the trip is advisable.

What Kind of Diving Equipment Will I Need?

You will need the standard diving gear, including a mask, snorkel, fins, wetsuit, buoyancy control device (BCD), regulator, surface marker and a dive computer. The general recommendation is if a diver is bringing one suit, a 7 mm with hood/hooded vest and layering garments. Dry Suits are commonly used in Galapagos, with lighter undergarments in the warmer water and heavier undergarments in the colder water. However, trilaminate wetsuits are prone to damage caused by the rough surface of rocks and are not recommended. Divers must bring and wear gloves to protect their hands. If a diver is experienced and comfortable with reef hook use, they may bring their own along with a small cutting tool to cut themselves free if needed. Divers not highly experienced with reef hook use should not attempt learning during Galapagos diving due to strong currents.

Can I Rent Diving Equipment in the Galapagos, or Should I Bring My Own?

Both options are available. Many diving operators offer rental equipment, but you can bring your gear.

“If you are keen on shark diving, spotting whale sharks around Darwin Island, hammerhead sharks and perhaps whales and manta rays, consider visiting between August and November when the waters are colder and nutrient-rich.”

Marbled stingray at North Seymour dive site in the Galapagos taken by Josef Litt
Marbled stingray at North Seymour dive site, Galapagos

Photograph © 2019 Josef Litt

During the Trip

Are There Guided Diving Tours Available?

Numerous guided diving tours are available, often including knowledgeable guides who can enhance your experience with their expertise about the local marine life and ecosystems.

What Are the Most Popular Galapagos Diving Sites?

Darwin Island and Wolf Island are the world’s top dive sites, only available on a liveaboard. Some other popular sites include Cabo Douglas, Punta Vicente Roca (both also only via liveaboard) and Gordon Rocks, known for hammerhead sharks sightings.

What Safety Measures Are in Place for Divers in the Galapagos?

Diving operators adhere to safety protocols, including briefing divers on local conditions and safety equipment like surface marker buoys and ensuring that divers are equipped with the necessary safety gear, for example, sound horns and emergency beacons for liveaboard diving.

What is the Visibility Like in the Galapagos Waters?

Visibility can vary from 10 to 20 meters, depending on the season and specific dive site conditions.

What is the Water Temperature in the Galapagos at Different Times of the Year?

Water temperatures vary seasonally and between the islands. See the water temperature statistics table below.

Water Temperature for Galapagos diving and shark diving
Statistics of water temperatures in Galapagos per month and area.

Other Miscellaneous Questions

Are There Decompression Facilities Available in the Galapagos?

Yes, decompression facilities are available in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz island.

How Can I Ensure I Am Diving Responsibly and Not Harming the Marine Environment?

To dive responsibly, follow the guidelines provided by your dive operator and adhere to the principles of sustainable diving. This includes not touching or disturbing the marine life and being mindful of your buoyancy to avoid damaging the environment.

Are There Any Photography/Videography Guidelines or Restrictions While Diving?

While flash photography is forbidden on land, it is tolerated while diving. Photographers mustn’t disturb marine life. Always maintain a respectful distance and never chase or harass the animals for a photo.

What Kind of Accommodation Are Available for Divers in the Galapagos?

The Galapagos offers a range of accommodations, from luxury resorts to budget-friendly hostels. Many divers choose liveaboard boats for a comprehensive diving experience.

Is It Possible to Combine Diving with Other Tourist Activities in the Galapagos?

Absolutely! The Galapagos Islands offer many activities, including hiking, wildlife watching, and visiting the historic and scientific sites on the islands. Even the liveaboard cruises usually have a land-based visitor site in their itineraries, for example, North Seymour or Bartolomé.

What is the Cost Range for a Diving Trip in the Galapagos?

The cost can vary widely depending on the type of diving experience you choose. Liveaboard trips can range from about $5,000 to $8,000 or more, while day trips might start at around $250 per person per day.

Can I Undertake a Diving Course in the Galapagos?

Yes, some operators offer a range of courses from beginner to advanced levels, including speciality courses such as underwater photography. Diving courses are generally not available on liveaboards.

Are There Any Specific Regulations or Rules That Divers Need to Follow in the Galapagos?

Divers are expected to adhere to the park regulations, which include:

  • Not removing any natural objects.
  • Not feeding the wildlife.
  • Diving only in designated areas.

How Can I Prepare Myself to Maximize My Diving Experience in the Galapagos?

Before your trip, brush up on your diving skills, perhaps with a refresher course. Also, read up on the specific marine life you might encounter to enhance your understanding and appreciation of this unique environment.

South oceanic sunfish at Punta Vicente Roca, Isabela, Galapagos

Southern Ocean sunfish. It is a challenge to differentiate between the oceanic and the southern sunfish species without an x-ray or a dissection. I believe that it was the Southern Ocean sunfish, Mola alexandrini, we encountered at a small platform at 30 metres (100 feet) depth at Punta Vicente Roca early in the morning.

Photograph © 2016 Josef Litt

Gallery of Galapagos Diving Photographs taken by Josef Litt

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