Diving in the Galapagos

Galapagos Spotlight: Diving at Academy Bay

This week we put our Galapagos Spotlight on diving at Academy Bay. The bay’s convenient location on the island of Santa Cruz and its four sites of varying levels of difficulty make it a popular diving spot for beginner, intermediate and experienced divers alike.

Academy Bay is located close to the town of Puerto Ayora. It’s easily accessible and is one of the few dive sites that can be visited in half a day. The whole trip generally lasts around five hours.

There are four sites, two of which have calm currents and are ideal for non-experienced divers. The other two sites are more suited to intermediate or advanced divers as the current is stronger.

You will see a variety of marine life at Academy Bay, including reef fish, sea lions, sting rays, golden rays, eagle rays, invertebrates, morays, garden eels, turtles, marine iguanas and white-tipped reef sharks.

There are several agencies in Puerto Ayora offering trips to Academy Bay, either as a single trip or in combination with a visit to another dive site.

Academy Bay’s four sites are:

  • Punta Estrada: this site is located in one of the calmer areas and is therefore ideal for those who haven’t dived before. The site has an abundance of golden rays and white-tipped reef sharks, and, as this is also a sea turtle canyon, you’ll have the opportunity to dive with green sea turtles.
  • Caamaño Islet: this is the second of the sites offering calmer currents and is also suitable for beginners. You’ll spot a variety of tropical fish, marine iguanas and playful sea lions.
  • Punta Nuñez Cliffs: here you’ll find lava rock cliffs with underwater lava tunnels which form wonderful caves – great for exploring. You’ll see sea turtles, stingrays, tropical fish, white-tipped reef sharks and sometimes manta rays. This site is suitable for intermediate divers.
  • El Bajo: the ocean currents are usually calm but stronger than the other sites. This is a submarine platform that has mini-walls and a great quantity of marine life such as large schools of reef fish, rays, white-tipped reef sharks and sea turtles. Intermediate and experienced divers will love this site.

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Photo credit: Flickr/Anthony Patterson

Man arrested for attempted smuggling of Galapagos iguanas

The Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment has reported that a man has been arrested for attempting to smuggle 11 iguanas out of the Galapagos Islands. 

The man, who has not been named but is said to be Mexican, was caught with the iguanas in his vehicle in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island on Sunday 6 September. Officials believe he was attempting to smuggle the iguanas with the help of others who had been posing as tourists. The suspect is said to have a history of trafficking animals and previously served a 4.5 month prison sentence for illegally smuggling reptiles out of New Zealand. The arrest reportedly follows a three-month investigation by the Ministry into an international network of wildlife trafficking.

The suspect has now been transferred to a prison in Guayaquil on Ecuador’s mainland, and is facing a possible three year sentence if found guilty of attempting to smuggle a protected species. 

The iguanas – nine marine iguanas and two land iguanas – were said to be in a good condition and were being monitored by officials. 

In 2013, a German man was also caught attempting to smuggle iguanas out of the Galapagos Islands and was subsequently sentenced to four years in prison.

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Photo credit: Flickr/Rudy R

Tortuga Bay

Spotlight: Tortuga Bay, Galapagos Islands

A vast expanse of brilliantly-white sand. A perfectly preserved beach, unspoiled by man. Curious sea lions, marine iguanas, white-tipped reef sharks. Where in the world is this dreamy place?

The answer? It’s the Galapagos Islands’ beautiful Tortuga Bay. It’s a must-see for anyone visiting the island of Santa Cruz, or for anyone visiting the Galapagos for that matter – it’s consistently called the best beach in the whole archipelago.

The beach is part of the Galapagos National Park, but tourists can visit independently (though plenty of agencies also offer tours), and there is no entrance fee.

How to get there: 

  • Tortuga Bay is located 1.5 miles (2.4 km) outside of the town of Puerto Ayora, the Galapagos Islands’ main residential and commercial hub on the island of Santa Cruz. The beach can only be reached on foot, on a paved trail that weaves its way through cacti and palo santo trees. It’s a relatively easy walk, though there are some small hills and it gets hot under the strong sun – bring a hat!
  • The trail starts from Puerto Ayora’s main street and takes around 30 to 45 minutes to complete. Along the way, you’ll spot a number of birds, including Galapagos mockingbirds and finches. Note that the trail and beach are open from 6 a.m – 6 p.m. 

What you’ll see:

  • Tortuga Bay consists of two beaches, Playa Brava and Playa Mansa. Playa Brava is a wide, lovely expanse of beach that stretches for half a mile; note that the currents here are strong and swimming is prohibited, though you’ll often see sufers. A path leads west from Playa Brava to a beautiful cove, Playa Mansa, where the waters are calm and sea lions lazily hang out. There’s also a lagoon here which is ideal for snorkeling.
  • Along with sea lions, you’re likely to see marine iguanas, lava lizards, a variety of shorebirds, lava gulls, pelicans and blue-footed boobies. If you’re snorkeling, you can spot sea turtles, reef fish, rays and white-tipped reef sharks.

What to bring:

  • Plenty of sun cream
  • A sun hat
  • Comfortable shoes that are suitable for walking on rocks. A pair of sandals is also recommended
  • Swimming and snorkeling gear
  • Plenty of drinking water
  • Snacks (there are no trash cans, so be sure to bring back any trash with you to dispose of)

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Photo credit: Francisco Laso 

Traveler Spotlight: island-hopping in the Galapagos

In the second of our monthly Traveler Spotlights  where we interview tourists about their experiences of visiting the Galapagos Islands – we spoke to Lynn Min, who visited the islands on an island-hopping tour.

  • What type of trip did you go on in the Galapagos Islands? A land-based tour.
  • Where did you say? We stayed at the Crossman Hotel (Santa Cruz island), Paraiso Isabela (Isabela island) and Blue Marlin (San Cristobal island). We liked all of them; Blue Marlin was our favourite.
  • How long was your trip? 8 days, 8 nights.
  • Which islands did you visit? Santa Cruz, Isabela, San Cristobal.
  • What was your favorite experience? Many, top three being Kicker Rock [off San Cristobal Island], Volcan Chico [Isabela island] and the Highland Tour [Santa Cruz island]. Swimming/snorkeling with white sharks, tortugas and the sea lions was priceless.
  • Would you have done anything differently? We are glad that we chose the land based tour rather than a cruise. In addition to being more affordable it gave us far more flexibility, enabled us to enjoy great local food (the kiosks in Puerto Ayora), absorb local culture (we also took the Christmas train ride in Puerto Ayora; husband/son played soccer on turf with local men at Puerto Villamil), and sleep in late if needed.

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Photo credit: Flickr/Allan Harris

Lava tubes, Galapagos

Mapping the underground world of the Galapagos Islands

A team of American scientists are exploring and mapping the lava tunnels and caves of the Galapagos Islands.

Aaron Addison of Washington University, Missouri, and his team are carrying out a total of five expeditions which will see them explore the many lava tubes – caves formed by flows of ancient lava – that can be found on the island of Santa Cruz.

The island was formed between 0.7 and 1.5 million years ago; during the island’s formation volcanic activity saw the outer skin of molten lava solidify while underneath, liquid magma continued to flow in tunnels up to several kilometers long, leaving behind a series of empty tubes. The group are producing maps of the tunnels in order to “engage in various types of scientific study [and] management activities”, explains Addison. They will do this by using GPS devices to first locate the entrances of the caves and then – as GPS doesn’t work underground – utilize laser distance meters and clinometers to measure the dimensions of the tubes.

Computer programs will later be used to collate the field data into maps and profiles of each of the tunnels. The group will also study any life found inside the undiscovered caves – and perhaps even stumble upon a new Galapagos species. 

Read more about the expedition here.

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 Photo credit: Flickr/Marshdude