The Galapagos Islands are a dream, a promise, an overwhelming expectation. The Galapagos Islands deliver. But don’t believe it will come easy. The Galapagos are the Olympics of scuba diving. You’ll face turbine-like currents and chilling water temperatures. The diving conditions of the Ecuadorian archipelago of the Pacific will test all your diving training. Honestly, I didn’t feel 10 years was too much to wait to be fully prepared for it.
The reward? Dives beyond your imagination. You may see hammerhead sharks, eagle rays, dolphins, turtles, mola-molas, and sea lions simultaneously. Lucky divers will even meet a whale shark or two, or even orcas! The Galapagos were the pinnacle of all my previous 700 dives. On this one trip, I got to see what took me a decade to see around the world in different locations.
By reading this introduction, I apologise if I scare you regarding the experience you need to fully and safely enjoy your dives in the Galapagos. But it also depends on your expectations. I promise you’ll want more than just surviving underwater at the budget level of the Galapagos. The good news is there is a way to enjoy the Galapagos Islands as a beginner diver.
Organising a diving trip to the Galapagos is a full-time job when you don’t have an entire month like me and want to make the most of your time. That’s why I tested a little bit of everything so I could help you plan for your first and maybe only trip to the Galapagos Islands as a scuba diver. I’ve covered everything from which islands to visit, where to stay, how to travel between islands and ways to balance your budget by snorkelling in the best free spots. Ready? Let’s dive in!
Diving in Galapagos at a glance
How good diving in Galapagos is?
Where is the best diving in the Galapagos Islands?
Among the numerous dive sites across the archipelago, Darwin and Wolf islands are usually, and rightfully, on the top of the podium. Even if I had a blast there, my favourite was Isabela Island.
However, not all scuba divers will get there if their budget doesn’t allow for a liveaboard. Depending on your scuba diving level and your budget, here are the main diving areas in the Galapagos Islands and what you can expect in each.
Scuba diving in Darwin & Wolf (liveaboard only)
We could argue Darwin might be the most famous dive site in the world. Indeed, it gained fame for its incredible sightings of both whale and hammerhead sharks. While this is where I was lucky enough to see my first whale shark while scuba diving, generally speaking, I found all my dives in both Darwin and Wolf were equally exciting.
I wasn’t expecting so many hammerhead sharks in June. It was a festival on every single dive at Shark Bay (Bahia de Tiburones), Landslide (El Derrumbe) and Darwin Arch (or Arco de Darwin, which I’d prefer to call Darwin Columns – Columnas de Darwin – since its collapse in 2021). This is why I wanted to report on both islands together. They are 4 hours of navigation apart, while Wolf Island is 26 hours of navigation from Santa Cruz. This is why Darwin and Wolf can only be accessed by boarding a one-week liveaboard cruise.
The water entry procedure was similar and sporty for almost all dives: a back roll from the dinghy boat into a negative entrance where you immediately need to swim down against the surface currents until you grab a rock while equalising your ear and trying not to empty your tank by over ventilating.
I was impressed by our dive guide, who could see where to jump from the boat in the choppy water and anticipate how much the current would push us back. We almost “landed” on the same point every time for the dive sites we visited several times. Now, that is called experience. The dive guides of the Galapagos are my new heroes.
The start of the dive looked more like underwater rock climbing than a relaxed hoovering swim. Then we reached an observatory (nicknamed the “Theater” in Darwin’s case) and waited to see something cool. Now, you’re mistaken if you think this is a relaxed dive from there. Thankfully there isn’t much coral in the Galapagos because you’d better hold tight to that Rock (gloves mandatory, I use these 2mm neoprene gloves).
Depending on the conditions, we changed our observation point up to 2 or 3 times. It had to be done with the utmost care to avoid getting dragged away by the current. To put it simply, these are the strongest currents I have ever experienced; they didn’t even beat my 2 years of diving in Scotland.
Can you picture the face of a dog passing its head through the window with the wind in its face? That was almost me. The current was sometimes so strong that it would push on the purge of my regulator. I had to somehow put my head at an angle to protect myself from it.
The current was so strong that as I was holding my camera in one hand and the Rock in the other, the tiniest balance mistake got me rolling on my back; my regulator hose got stuck onto a rock, making me lose it for a few seconds. You better know what to do in this case.
Beyond testing every point of my diving training (including sharing air at the safety stop more than once), what I saw underwater was insanely good. The visibility was sometimes tricky in June. We could only see the sharks at the very last moment. The amount of food in the water is why the visibility is low but also why it’s one of the largest shark concentrations in the world.
Seeing at the same time eagle rays, turtles, hammerhead sharks and dolphins (yes, all at once sometimes) is something I never even considered or dreamed of before. Note that 50% of the remarkable encounters are not only from these static observation spots but also ascending to the safety stop, pushed by the current in the blue. That’s how we saw a whale shark, two silky sharks and a pod of dolphins.
With 4 dives a day starting at 6 am, yes, it was intense. Some people already gave up on doing all the dives on the first day. By the end of the liveaboard, we were only 3 divers out of 7 who did all the dives. Me, proud of being one of them? Just a little… but the truth? It took me 48 hours after the liveaboard to recover. But it was all worth it.
Diving parameters in Darwin
Dive #1 – max depth 26 m – dive time 36 min – water temp 22°C
Dive #2 – max depth 22 m – dive time 46 min – water temp 22°C
Dive #3 – max depth 36 m – dive time 51 min – water temp 22°C
Dive #4 – max depth 16 m – dive time 48 min – water temp 22°C
Diving parameters in Wolf
Dive #1 – max depth 26 m – dive time 36 min – water temp 22°C
Dive #2 – max depth 22 m – dive time 46 min – water temp 22°C
Dive #3 – max depth 36 m – dive time 51 min – water temp 22°C
Dive #4 – max depth 16 m – dive time 48 min – water temp 22°C
Dive #5 – max depth 33 m – dive time 51 min – water temp 21°C
Dive #6 – max depth 28 m – dive time 52 min – water temp 21°C
Dive #7 – max depth 24 m – dive time 44 min – water temp 22°C
Dive #8 – max depth 24 m – dive time 51 min – water temp 22°C
Scuba diving in Isabela
Isabela is the largest island in the Galapagos. While you can stay in the south of Isabela by taking a “ferry” from Santa Cruz and organise a diving day trip to a nearby area called Tintoreras, the most exciting dive sites of Isabela are in the north. They are only accessible with a liveaboard cruise. For information, Tintoreras in Isabela is also a snorkelling spot that can be accessed by kayaking.
In Isabela, I got to scuba dive in Punta Vincente Roca, its northwest point, and in Roca Blanca, off the east coast. The two were very different, but in each case, I found them to be the most scenic underwater landscapes thanks to the excellent visibility and gorgonians gardens.
The only thing with Isabela, especially on its west coast, is the water temperature which can go down to 14°C. I guess I was lucky with 16°C, but after 3 intense days of diving in Darwin and Wolf, I was freezing. I knew the water was colder in the Galapagos, but this? I had no idea!
But you’re going to say there’s got to be a reward to it, isn’t it? Indeed… The other thing I didn’t know was in Punta Vincente Roca, thanks to this cold water, it’s actually a mola-mola hotspot! And we did see two, which was terrific.
Besides, both Punta Vincente Roca and Roca Blanca are good spots to see manta rays. We saw one in Punta Vincente Roca. I wasn’t too disappointed not to see any in Roca Blanca because for me, seeing the golden cownose rays was way cooler and rarer than manta rays in my case.
The trade-off of the cold water was gentle currents which helped me enjoy taking underwater photos. I think I took all my best shots in Isabela because I could mix marine life and underwater landscapes while waiting for the perfect moment quietly.
And if I needed another excuse to explain why Punta Vincente Roca was maybe my favourite dive site in the Galapagos: this is where I saw my first Galapagos penguins!
Diving parameters in Punta Vincente Roca
Dive #1 – max depth 36 m – dive time 33 min – water temp 16°C
Dive #2 – max depth 32 m – dive time 37 min – water temp 17°C
Diving parameters in Roca Blanca
Dive #1 – max depth 19 m – dive time 60 min – water temp 20°C
Dive #2 – max depth 20 m – dive time 49 min – water temp 20°C
Scuba diving in Fernandina (liveaboard only)
I went scuba diving in Fernandina the same day I was diving in Punta Vincente Roca in Isabela. It takes about 1 hour to cross the channel between the two islands in the direction of Cape Douglas (Cabo Douglas).
There we went first for a dive that could have been done snorkelling as we were so shallow (less than 5 m deep). It was so much fun to see the marine iguanas swimming and feeding underwater while the sea lions were playing around us in a gentle tidal current. This experience is only available for those who book a one-week liveaboard cruise.
The second dive was much deeper with only one goal: meeting the alien-like fish named the red-lipped batfish! A few more pictures of the elegant gorgonians, a Galapagos searobin, a torpedo ray hiding in the sand, and the cold water got to us all after 30 minutes. At least there was almost no current there.
Diving parameters in Cabo Douglas
Dive #1 – max depth 4 m – dive time 27 min – water temp 17°C
Dive #2 – max depth 24 m – dive time 37 min – water temp 17°C
Scuba diving in Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is the first island where I went on a diving day trip while staying on land. The usual choice of dive sites from Puerto Ayora is:
- Gordon Rocks
- Daphne Island
- Seymour Island
- Mosquera Island
You must know that from Puerto Ayora, the central touristic hub on the south coast of Santa Cruz, you must drive all the way to the Itabaca Canal at dawn to board your scuba diving boat. It takes 45 minutes after a meet-up at 6.30 am at the dive centre.
It then takes an hour of navigation to Gordon Rocks. It is a bit less for Seymour, Mosquera and Daphne as they are closer to the Itabaca Canal. If Santa Cruz is your only go at scuba diving in the Galapagos and if you’re an experienced diver, don’t hesitate to book Gordon Rocks. It was sincerely almost as good as Wolf Island regarding sharks, strong currents included.
I have no means to verify if it was true, but apparently, 3 days before my group, the divers saw a whale shark. I was happy enough with all these hammerhead sharks, eagle rays and the greatest concentration of sea turtles I have ever seen… seriously I stopped counting after 40; there were maybe more than 100 turtles in the water around us!
The diving route will depend on the current conditions of the day, but it will be more or less a mix of wall diving and diving in the blue above a sandy bottom at 32 m deep. Not only were the currents strong, but I also found they were maybe the trickiest I’ve seen in the Galapagos with quick changes of directions, including ascending and descending currents. It might be time to grab the nearest Rock if you feel like your fins work for nothing.
From an underwater photography point of view, it was by far the most challenging dive as we were moving all the time, and due to the currents, it was impossible to spend even one minute somewhere without losing the group. Indeed, this is the dive site where I took the smallest number of pictures. An action cam, especially the GoPro HERO11, is the best option in these conditions (alternatively you can also invest in a phone diving case)
Diving parameters in Gordon Rocks
Dive #1 – max depth 31 m – dive time 49 min – water temp 22°C
Dive #2 – max depth 30 m – dive time 36 min – water temp 22°C
Scuba diving in San Cristobal
If your budget only allows for scuba diving day trips and if you have to choose only one island, San Cristobal is definitely where to go. I would even go as far as saying that if you are a scuba diver travelling on a budget to the Galapagos, fly direct to San Cristobal and stay there.
Why? Great hiking and snorkelling spots are accessible within 30 minutes of walking from town. Fantastic dive sites are directly accessible by boat in 10 to 30 minutes from the harbour. Besides, the airport is right next to the centre, which means no long and expensive transfer to pay (contrary to Baltra Airport near Santa Cruz).
Of course, I’m glad I got to explore almost most of the archipelago, but honestly, by staying in San Cristobal, you could still get 75% of the Galapagos experience. The only things I didn’t see in San Cristobal were a whale shark, mola-molas, penguins and flamingos. I saw everything else including loads of hammerhead sharks, sea lions, turtles and blue-footed boobies.
In San Cristobal, the star dive site is Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido in Spanish). But there are many more, including Roca Ballena, Cueva and the Caragua shipwreck. Unfortunately, it was the end of my stay, and I was short on time to do them. But the good news is I’m returning to San Cristobal soon, so I hope to update this section in the near future.
There are good reasons Kicker Rock became such a popular dive site. It is accessible (only 30/40 minutes by boat from the main harbour of San Cristobal, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno) and relatively sheltered from currents thanks to its high and deep walls (so much that the tour is also available to snorkellers). Besides, it is hard not to see hammerhead sharks there. So if you’re not a very experienced diver, this is where you have the most chances of having a fantastic dive in the Galapagos without suffering too much, especially if you board the Sharky catamaran, which offers plenty of space and smooth navigation.
The dive route in Kicker Rock is mainly along a deep wall covered in gorgonians where coral hawkfish love to hide and turtles like to float peacefully. At any point, hammerhead sharks can come to check you out, so always keep an eye in the blue. Sometimes the visibility can be reduced so you may see them at the last moment before they disappear again.
I particularly loved swimming through the dense school of black-striped salemas where sea lions, black-tip and silky sharks are often seen hunting. The canyon separating the rocky islet into two is also a memorable experience with sting rays and sharks swimming in its current.
The opportunities to take wide-angle shots are fantastic since the conditions are much more relaxed in Kicker Rock than in Gordon Rocks. I regretted my macro lens due to the numerous lovely nudibranchs I found on its walls.
With other dive sites accessible to beginner divers, San Cristobal is definitely the best island to start your underwater adventures in the Galapagos if you still need to gain experience. Why not warm up there and gain more confidence before moving to more challenging dive sites?
Diving parameters in Leon Dormido / Kicker Rock
Dive #1 – max depth 26 m – dive time 48 min – water temp 22°C
Dive #2 – max depth 21 m – dive time 57 min – water temp 22°C
Liveaboard vs Land-based day trips: which one is the best option?
Can you believe this is finally in the Galapagos that I went on my first liveaboard? After more than 10 years of dive trips around the world, this is the destination that finally convinced me it was worth being locked down with strangers on a boat for a week (I’m half joking here because I have always loved the freedom I have when at a land-based dive centre). But in a nutshell, everyone was so lovely, primarily solo travellers like me in love with the ocean, and we bonded immediately.
This must tell you something about how fantastic boarding a liveaboard in the Galapagos is if your budget allows it. The main incentive for me was to reach Darwin and Wolf islands which can’t be visited as a day trip (they require a day of navigation from Santa Cruz Island). The itinerary also had other excellent surprises I discovered once on board (mola-mola in the north of Isabela).
Besides, having up to 4 dives per day in mostly the same sites gave me more opportunities to see incredible things and understand the conditions to take photos and videos. And let me tell you, I struggled with my camera in the Galapagos. Due to the currents, the reduced visibility and the impossibility of getting closer to the animals as a consequence, I used my camera very often in video mode, unable to do better. For the underwater photos I could take, if I compare my photos between the liveaboard and my day trips, there is no comparison. I took my best shots during the liveaboard. But again, I also think the repetition of similar conditions was key.
Having a month in the Galapagos allowed me to explore the inland part of the islands and go on some additional scuba diving day trips and take advantage of great free snorkelling spots. And that’s the thing: no land activity is included during a scuba diving liveaboard. And there is so much to explore on Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela and Floreana islands, even by yourself.
This being said, while liveaboard cruises in the Galapagos take you to the best dive sites in the archipelago, the strength of their currents requires experience and a good level of scuba diving.
Sorry to say, but even 50 dives, worst if there were only in calm, warm waters, is not going to cut it. Local dive guides and instructors are incredibly experienced and knowledgeable to keep everyone safe. Still, I saw 80% of the divers in Galapagos being shit scared by the currents, half of them emptying their tanks in 20 minutes. Indeed, a negative entry in a strong surface current while equalising your ear is not easy if you have never practised it before.
If your budget or level doesn’t allow you to join a liveaboard, no worries, there are other excellent diving spots that have nothing to be ashamed of, even in comparison to Darwin and Wolf. I was genuinely impressed by Gordon Rocks in Santa Cruz and Kicker Rock in San Cristobal. I don’t recommend Gordon Rocks for beginners, but I found Kicker Rock more accessible.
Can you visit the Galapagos Islands as a beginner scuba diver?
If your goal is to be surrounded by hammerhead and whale sharks in Darwin and Wolf, I’ll say make sure to log a few more dives (ideally 100+) in places other than the Caribbean or the Red Sea that offer among the easiest dive conditions in the world. Someone with 50+ dives almost only in the UK will be better prepared than someone with 200+ dives in the Red Sea. Please, be realistic about your level and experience.
But there are also dive sites accessible to beginner divers on Santa Cruz and San Cristobal islands. These sites won’t have as much current so that you shouldn’t struggle too much. Also, remember the water is colder in Galapagos despite being on the Equator due to the currents coming from Antarctica. Consider the fact you will dive with a full wetsuit, booties and potentially a hood (which I recommend). If you have only scuba dived in a shorty in warm waters before, this is something you want to experience first in an easier spot. The uneasy feeling of restriction is real for many the first time.
On the other hand, if you are already passionate about scuba diving and want to become a more experienced diver, then the Galapagos Islands are among the best places to reach that point. But you’ll need to budget for more dives until you get to the point of diving comfortably in the best dive sites of the Galapagos.
Here is an idea for you: Why not stay a little bit longer on San Cristobal Island upon your arrival and pass your advanced Open Water certification? The dive sites are much more accessible than in Santa Cruz (10 to 30 min boat ride only), and you can gradually increase the difficulty until you go diving in Kicker Rock which is still easier than Gordon Rocks in Santa Cruz.
What about snorkelling in the Galapagos?
There are many opportunities to go snorkelling in the Galapagos, and it’s good news because it is the chance to extend your underwater adventures without breaking the bank further. Here are my favourite snorkelling sites you can explore for free or not for a crazy amount of money.
Snorkelling in San Cristobal
There are a few options in San Cristobal, but the spot that totally stole my heart in the entire archipelago was, without a doubt, Tijeretas. It takes about 30 minutes walking to reach the pier of the creek if you walk via the beach of Punta Carola.
There the water is clear, and the sea lions are curious and playful. But not only you’ll see them putting on a show, but the site is an excellent example of the marine life of the Galapagos with turtles and schools of surgeonfish. With depths from 5m to 10m, it’s also a fantastic place for freediving. And the best of all? It’s completely free.
My recommendation, come with your wetsuit, booties, mask, snorkel and fins. The water can be chilly, and there is enough to swim with sometimes a light current for the fins to be a comfortable choice. I used my mesh bag like a backpack to walk to the site. I even packed my underwater camera (without the strobes) in my wetsuit.
Bonus: the viewpoint above the creek is breathtaking. But will you be brave enough to climb up there with all your gear? The truth is, I visited this site 3 times in total to appreciate all the opportunities this beautiful place offers, including the 1-hour hike to Playa Baquerizo.
Snorkelling in Floreana
It was a part of the day trip I booked to explore Floreana, but you can also just decide to take the “ferry” (speedboat) and stay overnight. Access to the Loberia and Playa Negra is free, and I had one of the most memorable snorkelling in each spot with sea lions and penguins! Seeing penguins swimming and fishing underwater at Playa Negra was just one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen underwater. They are even faster than sea lions!
Snorkelling in Isabela
While Tintoreras is one option that usually requires paying for a tour or renting a kayak, I chose to spend my last morning in Concha de Perla. This natural sea pool is next to the main pier of Puerto Villamil, about a 10-minute walk from the centre.
Same again, I packed my snorkelling gear in my mesh bag used as a backpack. After a short walk through the mangrove, there is a pontoon with a changing area where you can hang your bag and clothes. I recommend coming without any valuables, though.
Talking with other snorkelers the day before, I heard many saying they had seen a flock of eagle rays in the pool of Concha de Perla. Although I didn’t have that luck, in addition to turtles and stingrays, I quickly saw a penguin swimming! That definitely made my day. Again, access to this site is free.
Snorkelling in Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz may have one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen worldwide (Turtle Bay), but it doesn’t have a great snorkelling spot accessible without paying. The best snorkelling I did in Santa Cruz was near the access pier of Playa de Los Perros. Despite relatively low visibility, I saw many turtles, king angelfish, razor surgeonfish and barracudas. I only saw a small black-tip shark quickly.
The other popular site in Santa Cruz is Las Grietas. This canyon is indeed pretty but small. It was rather overcrowded and hence difficult to appreciate fully. The water in the canyon was clear, but snorkelling there had limited interest. A guide is now mandatory to access. I couldn’t stay in the water for more than 5 minutes.
What to see underwater in the Galapagos?
The Galapagos Islands are the place to see big marine animals and not so much about coral and macro critters (even if there are some). If you are into sharks, rays and sea lions, this is simply one of the best destinations in the world.
I listed below some of the incredible marine wildlife you will be likely to meet during a trip to the Galapagos that I could see myself in 28 dives:
Sharks & rays
- Whale shark
- Scalloped hammerhead shark
- Galapagos shark
- Silky shark
- Galapagos bullhead shark
- White-tip shark
- Manta ray
- Mobula ray
- Golden cownose ray
- Spotted eagle ray
- Marbled ray
- Diamond stingray
- Peruvian torpedo ray
- King angelfish
- Razor surgeonfish
- Guineafowl pufferfish
- Galapagos pufferfish
- Harlequin wrasse
- Giant hawkfish
- Coral hawkfish
- Three-banded or Panamic fanged blenny
- Red-lipped batfish
- Galapagos searobin or gunard
- Black nosed butterflyfish
- Mexican hogfish
- Ringtail damselfish
- Yellowtail damselfish
- Pacific creole fish
Other marine species
- Sea lion
- Bottlenose dolphin
- Galapagos penguin
- Marine iguana
- Hawksbill & Green sea turtle
- Mola-mola (sunfish)
- Pacific seahorse
When is the best time to go scuba diving in the Galapagos?
The Galapagos Islands are good to dive all year long but for different reasons. You may want to avoid the coldest and roughest sea conditions, but by doing so, you may also miss the peak of the whale shark season. Choices, choices, choices…
So, it depends on you and what you want:
- Easier diving conditions or having the whale shark time of your life?
- Warmer water or clearer visibility?
- Dry season or rainy season?
Each season has its rewards, but here is the key information to make the best choice for you.
Seasons in the Galapagos
The dry season is from June to November when you have more chances to have a clear blue sky. It can still rain, but it is more like a misty rain that never lasts long.
The wet season is from December to May. The sun will still shine at some point between the clouds, but you can expect showers every day for an hour or two. The rainfall is at its worst in March and April.
If you are prone to seasickness, you may want to know the swell is at its worst from August to October. Anyway, I would recommend stocking up on seasickness pills for your entire trip. The few times I forgot them, I deeply regrated them, even in June. Note that on my liveaboard, I managed to get out of the seasickness pills after 3 days.
Last but not least, you may want to avoid the high peak tourist seasons, which are July and August, and then Christmas and Easter holidays. September and October usually have the lowest number of tourists.
Water temperatures in the Galapagos
The water temperature is cooler to colder from June to December, with temperatures from 22°C to 14°C where the Humboldt current flows from Antarctica. Bringing a semi-dry suit could be a good idea. Otherwise, hood and cloves, or even better, a hoodie top to put below your wetsuit is a must! Due to the currents, I don’t necessarily recommend a dry suit (even if I sometimes missed it).
The water temperature is warmer from December to May, with temperatures going up to 26°C with a minimum of 20°C. The Panama current brings warm water from Central America, but still, a 7mm wetsuit is a more comfortable choice than a 5mm if you can bring your own. Dive centres and liveaboards usually only rent 5mm wetsuits.
Marine animal migrations in the Galapagos
When the water is warmer and clearer, this is also when there are fewer fish to see… Why? The colder water of the Humboldt current brings a lot of food (plankton lowers the visibility) and attracts a more diverse range of marine species.
The whale shark season is from June to November, with September being the peak of the season (yes, when the sea conditions are at their worst, enjoy).
The hammerhead sharks are around the islands almost all year long. To get a clear view of them schooling in numbers, it is indeed in the warmer season that you are more likely to get this kind of experience.
Which scuba diving centre to choose in the Galapagos?
If you’re setting your eyes on a liveaboard in the Galapagos, the best is to check the latest prices and availabilities on liveaboard.com to check what fits your dates and budget best. All the boats are good, but the price reflects the level of comfort and luxury (the most expensive have jacuzzis on board). You have to know that the crews are shifting between ships so that you can have the same dive instructors on a budget or a luxury boat!
My biggest surprise was that there were not so many ships. Be aware that the prices range between 3,500 and 7,500 USD a week. And if, like me, you are dreaming of grabbing a last-minute price, well, in this case, better to have 3 to 4 weeks like me on the islands. But even in my case, I booked my liveaboard about 10 days ahead online because even if June is not the high season, there weren’t so many spots left. I know a liveaboard in the Galapagos doesn’t come cheap, but if you’re a passionate diver, save up and make yourself this gift of a lifetime.
Then there is the solution of organising a land-based diving trip in the Galapagos. For a 2-tank day trip, count about 200 USD. Depending on the site’s distance, it can be a little below or above that price. I decided to book with local family businesses on Santa Cruz and San Cristobal islands. Their knowledge and experience of the islands and their dive sites are beyond compare:
- Macarron Scuba Divers is a family of scuba divers from Santa Cruz; they have their own boat stationed at the Itabac canal and take you every morning at 6.30 by car from Puerto Ayora to the best dive sites in the north and the east of Santa Cruz. Experienced divers will love Gordon Rocks.
- Chok’s Scuba Dive Centre is new in San Cristobal, created by a former park ranger with more than 20 years of experience diving in the Galapagos National Park. In San Cristobal, the meet-up times are much more relaxed since the dive sites are much closer; you usually start the day at 9 am. Experienced divers will love Kicker Rock.
Don’t be surprised if your wallet empties fast when diving in the Galapagos. The truth is, in my case, I’ve never been happier to do so. For a trip of a lifetime, I was suddenly in a “take my money” mode.
It is possible to avoid bankruptcy by balancing things with hostels and shopping at markets to prepare your meals, but don’t expect to spend less than 2,500 USD. For this amount, I just counted 2 diving day trips. Liveaboards are obviously excluded at this budget level. If you want to do both a scuba diving liveaboard and day trip tours around the islands, you are looking at a total budget of a minimum of 5,000 USD.
How to go island hopping in the Galapagos?
Before getting to the Galapagos Islands, you must get to Ecuador first. There is no direct international flight to the Galapagos Islands at all. The islands have a semi-autonomous status with specific migration rules (tourists can only stay for a maximum of 60 days over a 12-month rolling period). There is some paperwork to do in Quito or Guayaquil airport before your domestic flights to Baltra Airport or San Cristobal Airport. Make sure to have already your return flight. The transit card costs 20 USD.
Be careful when booking your flight to the Galapagos Islands, it is sometimes not so clear, but you have to book the most expensive fare. Only Ecuadorian citizens and residents can book the cheaper options. If you fail to do this, you will pay a 150 USD fine each way at the airport. To make the most of your time, I recommend flying to Baltra Airport and then back from San Cristobal Airport. To find the best prices on flights, I highly recommend checking out Kiwi.com because the cheapest company is not always the same.
Once at the airport, on Baltra Island or San Cristobal, this is where you pay, in cash only, for the entrance to the National Park (100 USD for foreigners). Baltra Island is a small island north of Santa Cruz. They make you pay 5 USD to take the airport bus to the Itabaca Channel, where you pay 2 USD to cross it by boat (only 5 minutes). Then to reach Puerto Ayora, you can choose between the bus (5 USD) or a taxi (25 USD). Luckily, speaking Spanish, I met locals on my plane to Baltra, and they offered to join them in a cab and share the cost. I paid the same as the bus, but it was quicker and more comfortable, plus I got dropped off at my hostel.
You can choose between flying between islands or taking “ferries”. Obviously, the small planes will be more expensive than the boats. Each flight is about 100 to 150 USD. The ferries were at 30 USD at the time of my visit in the summer. Due to the increased cost of gasoline, their price has already increased to 35 USD each way.
While everyone calls them ferries, please be aware we are talking of speed boats. It’s 2 hours each way minimum, whether between Santa Cruz and Isabela or Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. It’s only 1 hour from Santa Cruz to Floreana. In any case, it’s a bumpy ride, worse if you sit at the front. At the back, the boats are open, and you’ll likely get wet. The problem is depending on where you are in the queue on the pier, you might not be able to choose. So remember: be there early to queue and take a seasickness pill, you’ll thank me!
Following a recent “ferry” accident involving casualties, be aware you should absolutely have a life vest with you on board. If you don’t see any, ask for one. If there’s none, contact the travel agency you book your trip with (you can’t book the ferries directly). This is why it’s essential to have a local SIM card on your phone to contact people on Whatsapp, which is common practice in Ecuador. And then ask to rebook on another boat. If some passengers don’t have a seat, this is a big red flag which means the boat is exceeding its capacity.
Where to stay in the Galapagos?
If you decide to stay on the islands after a scuba diving liveaboard or if your budget only allows for diving day trips, in each case, you may want to find budget accommodation. It took me three trials on Santa Cruz, but I was right on the first one on Isabela and San Cristobal. Below you’ll find my favourite hostels in the Galapagos that offer private rooms at a very reasonable price.
It was one of the biggest surprises I had in the Galapagos. You can find budget accommodation in private rooms with ensuite bathrooms at a price generally similar to what I found later on the mainland of Ecuador, between 20 and 35 USD a night. Many of these places have a kitchen for the guests, and you can buy food at the local farmers’ markets for a reasonable price. So definitely, this part of my trip was surprisingly affordable (thankfully, given how much money I spent on my liveaboard and my day trips).
Best accommodation on Santa Cruz island
My third hostel in Santa Cruz was finally my favourite guesthouse in all the Galapagos Islands. I loved the Hostal Vista Al Mar (which doesn’t have a sea view but a lovely garden) so much that I stayed an entire week there to slow down and recover from all my adventures.
Thanks to the guest kitchen and the large communal table in the garden with hammocks around, it’s easy to meet other travellers and share tips and experiences to organise your daily adventures. They also have their own travel agency, and if I had known them before I would have booked everything with them: at 9 pm, they found me a day trip to Floreana with a 40 USD discount.
For 35 USD, I had a private double room with my bathroom and even a desk where I could do some work. Outside my room, I had a string between two trees to dry my scuba diving gear, so it was perfect! I made good use of the kitchen, and Santa Cruz’s market was only 10 minutes walking away, so I saved a lot of money this way. They also offer dorm rooms if you want even to save further.
For those who need more luxury and are ready to splurge, you should have a look at the Hotel Solymar!
Best accommodation on Isabela island
No kitchen for guests, but at 25 USD a night at the Hostal Sandrita, including breakfast, my double room with ensuite bedroom was perfect for the 2 nights I stayed there. One tip, try to get a room on the third and last floor near the terrace. The view is fantastic, and you’ll have space to dry your diving/snorkelling gear.
For those who need more luxury and are ready to splurge, you should have a look at the Hotel Volcano!
Best accommodation on San Cristobal island
It was much smaller than my Santa Cruz hostel, but I felt good at the Hostal Gosen. For 23 USD a night, I had a small private double room with a tiny bathroom and access to a shared kitchen.
The garden was lovely, but due to its small size (it’s more like a courtyard), it was trickier to dry my scuba diving gear. While I did my best not to spread my things all over, the owner was friendly and never complained. He even offered me a water hose to rinse my gear in the street!
For those who need more luxury and are ready to splurge, you should have a look at the Opuntia Hotel!
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