Ask any SCUBA diver to name his or her dream dive destination and SCUBA diving in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador is likely to be on the list. After all, the Galapagos offers some of the most famous and most exciting diving in the world. When we finally got the chance to spend a week on a liveaboard dive boat exploring remote and extreme dive sites in the Galapagos archipelago, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978, the adventure was even better than we expected. And, yes, there were sharks. Lots and lots of sharks.
SCUBA diving in the Galapagos Islands
You can book SCUBA diving day trips from San Cristóbal Island and Santa Cruz Island to explore nearby dive sites. However, divers who want to see large numbers of open ocean species including sharks and other pelagics will need to book a trip on a liveaboard dive boat to reach the very remote and very little-visited northern area of the archipelago.
The best diving in the Galapagos happens around Wolf Island and Darwin Island where cold and food-filled currents lure in big, exciting marine species sometimes in very large numbers. But reaching this underwater paradise isn’t easy.
Wolf and Darwin Islands are located more than 120 nautical miles north of the heart of the Galapagos archipelago and the journey to reach them takes around 20 hours–and sometimes even more than that depending on currents and the speed of your dive boat.
Another thing to know is that liveaboard dive boat trips in the Galapagos are for very experienced only. That’s because these dives are extreme including relatively deep depths (averaging 100 feet/33 meters), very cold water (between 69 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the month), strong currents (we wore transponders while diving so that we could be located if a current swept us away from the group), and sometimes limited visibility.
In addition, water conditions are often rough which means just getting off the main dive boat and into the zodiacs that take divers to the dives sites can be a dangerous challenge. And you will be in the water a lot with up to four scheduled dives per day.
Dealing with all of those factors requires experience so liveaboard dive boats in the Galapagos require that divers have a minimum of 50 dives including drift dives. Your itinerary will also likely include an easy dive before the boat starts motoring to the north so that divemasters can personally assess each divers’ skills. Divers in the Galapagos are also required to have nitrox certification since nitrox is used in the dive tanks to keep divers within recreational no-decompression limits while diving so deep and so frequently.
We did our SCUBA diving in the Galapagos from the 16-passenger M/V Galapagos Sky liveaboard dive boat operated by Ecoventura which we boarded for a week of focused and exciting diving. Our itinerary included 18 scheduled dives (including some night dives) during the course of the week.
Wolf Island was named for German geologist Theodor Wolf. Darwin Island and Darwin’s Arch were, of course, named for Charles Darwin. Only a handful of authorized dive boats and a few private boats visit these islands and we spent days around Wolf and Darwin on the Galapagos Sky without seeing another boat. Land visits are not allowed on either island. Out here, it’s all about the underwater world.
Four of our dives were done in a spectacular area near Darwin Island and Darwin’s Arch called The Arch where we enjoyed good visibility, tons of hammerheads (we saw scalloped hammerheads and great hammerheads), and we encountered whale sharks even though we were diving in December which is the tail end of whale shark season in the Galapagos.
During the first of many dives around Wolf Island, we were in the water with dozens of hammerheads (we counted 50), the biggest spotted eagle rays we’ve ever seen, a Galapagos shark, turtles, a manta ray, eels, and lots of reef fish. A few days later, dolphins followed our zodiac as we headed for our last dive in the far north at a site around Wolf Island called The Landslide.
We put the most epic underwater moments into our SCUBA diving in the Galapagos video, below, including close encounters with massive whale sharks, a weird (and rare) sunfish, spotted eagle rays, big schools of hammerhead sharks, playful sea lions (don’t miss the footage of a pair using a whitetip reef shark as a plaything), sea turtles, schools of fish (including swimming through an enormous school of Black Striped Selma), and much more. Dive in!
For more from onboard the M/V Galapagos Sky liveaboard dive boat, read our day-by-day account of the adventure for Luxe Beat magazine.
More Galapagos travel tips
Use our Galapagos Islands Travel Guide index post to quickly navigate through the entire series, or choose specific posts below.
- Part 1 in our Galapagos Islands Travel Guide series gives you the facts you need to plan your trip to the Galapagos Islands.
- Part 2 is our Santa Cruz Island Travel Guide including what to do and where to sleep on this tourist hub island.
- Part 3 tells you what to expect during boat trips to landings around Santa Cruz Island.
- Part 4 covers highlights from North Seymour, South Plaza, and Daphne Islands.
- Part 5 is our San Cristóbal Island Travel Guide.
- Part 6 covers what to expect during boat trips to Cerro Brujo, Punta Pitt, and Kicker Rock around San Cristóbal.
- Part 7 reveals highlights of visiting Santa Fe Island.
- Part 8 tells you what to expect on Genovesa Island.
- Part 9 gives you travel highlights from Fernandina Island.
- Part 10 helps you explore Isabela Island.
- Part 11 takes you around Santiago Island.
- Part 12 tells you what to expect on Floreana Island.
- Part 13 reveals what makes Española Island so special.
- Part 14 tells you how to take the best photos in the Galapagos.
- Part 16 helps you pack like a pro for the Galapagos.
- Part 17 delivers answers to 5 top Galapagos travel questions.
- Part 18 reveals our favorite shots of wildlife in the Galapagos.
- Part 19 reveals our favorite shots of landscapes and sunsets in the Galapagos.
Here’s more about travel in Ecuador
Here’s more about Island Travel
Here’s more about Galapagos Travel
Here’s more about Adventure Travel