Snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are one of the most stunning places on Planet Earth for snorkeling. Its underwater world is home to myriads of vibrant fish and other sea creatures including sea lions, marine iguanas and penguins.


What You Need to Know

Although the Galapagos Islands straddle the equator, the waters are not warm year-round. This is due to the cold Cromwell Current that flows from the west, and the Humboldt Current which surges northward from Antarctica. Between June and October, ocean temperatures are 18-22 ºC (64-72ºF), thus necessitating a wetsuit. The Humboldt begins to weaken in December. Between December and May, the water is much warmer (23-25ºC / 74-76ºF), calmer and clearer – thus creating fantastic conditions for snorkeling adventures.

Most boats cruising the Galapagos Islands supply snorkeling gear to their guests. Check to see if there is an additional charge for the use of gear or a wetsuit.

If you prefer to use your own snorkel, face mask and fins, it is quite easy to pick them up at home or in the major Ecuadorian cities, Quito and Guayaquil. Shops in the Galapagos towns also sell gear, though it will be more expensive than on the mainland, and some tour agencies rent it.

Another nifty item to have in your luggage is an underwater camera. It will let you capture and share the magical marvels you saw in the Galapagos.

If you are a newbie to snorkeling, try practicing in a local pool or pond before you take your Galapagos vacation. Guides on cruise ships can also teach you (and children) how to enjoy this easy sport.

To help preserve the Galapagos’ pristine environment, remember to keep respectable distance from animals (2 meters / 7 feet, according to Galapagos National Park regulations). Also, do not to stand on or touch coral reefs, as this can cause them to die.


 What You Can See

Because the Galapagos Islands lie at the confluence of three major currents – the cold-water Cromwell and Humboldt currents, and the warm Panamanian Current from the north – the waters surrounding the archipelago are rich in marine fauna. Hundreds of species reside here, with new ones being discovered every year.

Large schools of colorful fish brighten the deeps. These include Sergeant Major, striped deep blue with yellow fins; King Angelfish, pale blue with peach and brilliant yellow fins; Blue-chin Parrotfish, a green-rose-blue rainbow; and Yellowtail Surgeonfish, among many others.

Other creatures you may see are seahorses, sea slugs, starfish and sea stars. Eagle, golden and manta rays are also present (more common May-December), as are moray and other eels. Most Galapagos visitors, though, dream of snorkeling with sea lions, penguins, white-tipped sharks, marine iguanas and sea turtles.

Certain marine fauna can only be seen in certain areas of the Galapagos archipelago. If specific ones – like white-tipped sharks or penguins – are on your “to snorkel with” bucket list, then plan to visit their regions.


Best Places to Snorkel

Several Galapagos Islands have reefs that allow for fantastic snorkeling. Luckily, many of these are on the multi-day and day cruise ship itineraries. These include Devil’s Crown on Floreana Island, and nearby Onslow and Champion islets.

Bartolomé Island has not only reefs, but has a colony of Galapagos penguins. Another prime place to see this equatorial penguin species is on Chinese Hat Islet, off the southeast coast of Santiago Island. Here, you can also swim with sea lions, sea turtles and reef sharks. James Bay on Santiago is known for penguins, as well as sea turtles, sea lions, fur sea lions, and gold and spotted rays.

Many Isabela Island snorkeling sites offer not only penguins, but many fish species not found in other parts of the archipelago. Punta Vicente Roca is one of the most prized places to explore underwater. Tagus Cove is the only place where you can see giant sea stars.

Kicker Rock, northwest of San Cristóbal Island, is a dramatic snorkeling site where sea turtles, sharks and manta rays are easily observed. Also near San Cristóbal are Isla Lobos, renowned for its sea lions, and Islote Five Fingers, rich in bottom-dwelling fauna like sea urchins. In these sites, Galapagos sharks, eagle rays, multitudes of fish species and sea turtles are frequently seen.

North Seymour Island, north of Santa Cruz Island, has a fascinating array of fish, including damselfish, king angelfish and parrot fish. Black-blotched rays and sea lions are also common.


Have you gone snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands? Tell us about it in the comments below.


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Photo credit: Rinaldo Wurglitsch

9 Galapagos Day Cruises - Kicker Rock

9 Galapagos Islands Day Cruises

Land-based tourism in the Galapagos Islands doesn’t mean you’ll be confined to dry land on San Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Isabela islands. You can see the archipelago’s incredible wildlife on the uninhabited islands, too. Here are nine Galapagos day cruises you can add to your itinerary.

Navigation times are usually under two hours. Guides and lunch is included (and if the start time is early, also breakfast). Be sure to check whether snorkeling gear and wet suits are included in the price of the tour.

From San Cristóbal Island

Kicker Rock  Also known as León Dormido, this snorkeling or scuba diving tour is highlighted by three species of shark – white-tipped, Galapagos and hammerhead – and eagle rays. Frequently, tours include swimming and snorkeling at Manglesito Beach on Isla Lobos, home to a large sea lion colony.

Española  A day cruise to Española Island features snorkeling at Gardner Bay and hiking to Suárez Point.  This island’s unique Galapagos wildlife include waved albatross (April-December), marine iguanas (to see them blazing red and green, come in January), masked boobies and lots of land birds.

From Santa Cruz Island

Being in the center of the Galapagos archipelago, Santa Cruz is the launching point for many day cruises. Most depart from Canal de Itabaca, the channel between Santa Cruz Island and Baltra.

Bartolomé  Home of turquoise waters fringed with white-sand beaches, penguins (mating season in September) and nesting sea turtles (January-March). The tour includes a hike to the viewpoint of iconic Pinnacle Rock, and snorkeling with sea lions, white-tipped sharks and multitudes of colorful fish. Some tours continue to Sullivan Bay on the east coast of Santiago Island, where you can see the lava formations left by the 1903 eruption.

North Seymour  This destination features a two-kilometre (1.2 mile) trail through colonies of blue-footed boobies and frigatebirds. To see the boobies’ mating dance, plan your visit for April-May. Frigatebirds show off their red throat pouches year round. You can also snorkel with Galapagos sharks and sea turtles. Some tours to North Seymour also spend time at Bachas Beach on the north coast of Santa Cruz Island.

South Plaza  This islet is home to one of Galapagos’ largest sea lion colonies. Also resident are land and marine iguanas (and hybrid iguanas!), masked and blue-footed boobies, and tropic birds. Tours may include snorkeling at Carrion Point at the northeast tip of Santa Cruz.

Santa Fe  This island lies 40 minutes south of Puerto Ayora. Wildlife includes two species of land iguanas, Galapagos hawk and sea lions. Swimming and snorkeling with sea turtles, stingrays and tropical fish in the island’s crystalline waters is also on the agenda.

Floreana  On a day cruise from Puerto Ayora, you’ll hike to Asilo de Paz and other sites in the highlands, and snorkel at Black Beach. Unfortunately, visits to Post Office Bay and Devil’s Crown are limited to multi-day cruises.

From Isabela Island

Day tours to Isabela from Santa Cruz Island include the giant tortoise breeding center, flamingo-dotted lagoons and either Las Tintoreras or Concha de Perla. If you spend a few days on Isabela, though, you can see much more on cruises originating from the main town, Puerto Villamil.

Las Tintoreras  These small isles are located just off shore from Puerto Villamil, the main village on Isabela Island. They are named for the white-tipped sharks (tintoreras) that rest in the narrow inlets carved into the lava. Other residents are sea lions, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies and penguins. Some tours to Las Tintoreras also include snorkeling at Concha de Perla lagoon.

Lava Tunnels  Also known as Cabo Rosa, the speed boat goes along the south coast of Isabela Island to tunnels formed by hot lava as it entered the sea. This landscape is home to sea turtles, sea lions, white-tipped sharks, rays and iguanas, as well as blue-footed and masked boobies, frigates and other birds. This tour includes snorkeling at Finados and a cruise around Roca Unión islet.


Have you taken a Galapagos Islands day cruise? Tell us about it in the comments below.


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Photo credit:Eric Schmuttenmaer

Multi-Generational Galapagos Vacations

3 Tips for Multi-Generational Galapagos Islands Vacations

The Galapagos Islands is an ideal vacation destination for the entire family. Not only mom and pop and the kids, but also grandparents or other generation of kinfolk can explore these incredible isles together.

Having three or more generations embarking on such a journey together poses some challenges. Here are three tips to help you plan your dream Galapagos adventure and create enchanting family memories.

Brainstorm Together

Lay out the snacks and sit down together (or schedule a Skype conference call). What would you like to see? What activities – birdwatching, snorkeling, bike riding, kayaking, hiking, scuba diving – would each of you like to do?  What are the younger travelers’ attention (and patience spans) like? Does anyone have physical limitations? Be sure to also discuss the budget of each of the participants.

Island Cruising or Land-Based Tourism?

The next decision to make is whether to take a multi-day Galapagos cruise or to island-hop through the archipelago.

Galapagos cruises last from four to ten days. Many larger ships offer separate activities for children, with programs and activities specially tailored for them. These boats also offer alternative activities for those with mobility issues. If your group is large enough, you may consider booking an entire, smaller yacht for your clan. All cruises have itineraries that allow for resting between visitor sites, and you don’t have to worry about finding a place to eat. All your needs aboard ship are taken care of. No matter if you choose a small or large ship, be sure to check for children discounts!

Land-based tourism is another choice, which would allow family members to rest more between activities, or set off in small groups to do different things. This is also a better option if someone in the family suffers from sea sickness. Many day trips can be planned on Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal and Isabela islands that the entire family can participate in, and it is easy to travel by local ferry or plane between the islands.

All Together to Create the Family Scrapbook

In the days of old, scientific expeditions to the Galapagos Islands included an artist, a photographer and a historian aboard. Your entire family can join their creative talents to create a scrapbook that will be an ever-lasting memento of your multi-generational vacation to these isles. The album can also include drawings, photographs and a video, and perhaps a bit of poetry.


To get more tips for planning your vacation, also check out those offered for family and older travelers to the Galapagos.

The Galapagos Islands has a bit of everything for everyone in your family, whether 7 years old or 77. You will create memories together that will last for generations to come.

Are you planning a multi-generational trip to the Galapagos islands? Or have you done one? If you have any tips to share with other travellers please leave a comment below.


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Photo credit: NAParish