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.
Photo credit: Rinaldo Wurglitsch