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Scuba Diving in the Galapagos: Your Complete Guide

Discover more about scuba diving in the Galapagos and scuba diving tours in the Galapagos, including best time to dive, best dive sites, what you’ll see, and how to book your trip.
Sea turtle is a common sighting when scuba diving Galapagos. Image: "Green sea turtle" by David Ceballos, used under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped and compressed from original.
Sea turtle is a common sighting when scuba diving Galapagos. Image: "Green sea turtle" by David Ceballos, used under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped and compressed from original.

If you are a scuba diver, The Galapagos Islands should definitely be on your must-dive list. With some of the rarest and most fascinating sea creatures on the planet, you’ll enjoy exploring waters that are virtually the same as they were in prehistoric times.

This preserved gem of an archipelago has strong conservation laws protecting it, plus a remote location in the Pacific ocean more than 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. This means the pristine sea is replete with turtles, sharks, manta ray and colorful reef fish. When it comes to scuba diving Galapagos tours, there are some things you should know to maximize your experience, like best times, best dive spots and how to book your tour.

Scuba Diving Galapagos Guide

Table of Contents

Best Time to Dive

Diving is great year-round in the Galapagos. The wet/warm season, between December to June, is considered by many the best time to scuba dive Galapagos. This is because there is calmer, warmer water and better visibility. This is also the season to see manta rays and hammerhead sharks. This time of year brings an average air temperature of 86 degrees and average water temperature of 70-75 degrees.

However, others (especially advanced divers) will dispute that the dry/cool season, from July to November, is the best time to dive. This is a very popular time because you can see whale sharks, one of the most majestic creatures of the sea. This time brings chillier water and choppier seas, with average air temps of 70 degrees and water temps between 62-68 degrees.

Moral of the story? Any time is potentially the best time to dive the Galapagos, depending who you ask. However, if you want the best of both worlds, May is a sweet spot for diving in terms of wildlife. In May, not only do you have a chance to see manta rays and hammerhead sharks, but there is a possibility you will see some early-arriving whale sharks as well.

Scuba diver submerged in blue waters of the Galapagos Islands surrounded by a school of fish.

Image: Helen with Fish” by Anthony Patterson, used under CC BY 2.0 / Compressed from original.

Diving Difficulty

While there are dive spots for beginners and intermediates, generally speaking the Galapagos are better suited to advanced divers. This is especially true between the months of June and November (dry/cool season), when waters are colder and rougher, with strong currents and rocky underwater surfaces.

The depths for Galapagos diving are often between 70-114 feet, while beginner depths are typically between 30-67 feet. If someone with limited diving experience wishes to scuba the Galapagos, it is best at an easier site between the months of December to June when the waters are calmer and warmer. Jump ahead for best dive spots and their difficulty level.

A hammerhead shark in the Galapagos Islands, a sighting for lucky scuba divers in the Galapagos.

Hammerhead sharks are most active December-June. Image: Hammerhead” by Anthony Patterson, used under CC BY 2.0 / Adjusted brightness and compressed from original.

Who Can Dive?

All divers must be PADI or SSI certified. Beyond that, there are dive sites for all levels from beginner to intermediate to advanced. There are even some scuba schools on the island that allow complete beginners to take their very first practice dives with qualified instructors. Many of the sites have a minimum number of required dives, with intermediate level sites typically requiring around 10 logged dives and more advanced sites requiring 15, 20 or even 30 logged dives.

A sea lion plays near the water’s surface off the Galapagos Islands, a common sighting for divers.

Sea lion playing at the surface. mage: GOPR5410” by David Ceballos, used under CC BY 2.0 / Compressed from original.

Diving Safety

In the Galapagos, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to diving:

  1. Watch out for strong currents and rips around the islands as they tend to be strong. It can be common to be pulled out to sea or separated from your group. Remember the boat will always be nearby to find you, should this happen.
  2. It is smart to use a surface marker buoy, Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) or personal location device. Some tour companies supply these and they can be used to locate you in case you’re pulled out to sea.
  3. Have extra equipment on hand. The strong currents can cause items like dive masks to potentially be pulled away.
  4. Avoid decompression sickness by surfacing slowly from the depths.
  5. You should wait 24 hours after diving to take your flight back from the Galapagos to the mainland. This is because nitrogen levels in the blood need to stabilize after diving before you can fly.
  6. Be sure to pay close attention and strictly adhere to any guidance, safety tips and regulations given by your guide. This is paramount as they are experts to the area.
  7. For more general scuba diving safety and tips, you can refer to this list.

*A qualified travel advisor will book your trip ensuring all of these safety measures are met.

A reef shark, active year round, floating over the illuminated, sandy ocean floor in the Galapagos.

Reef shark. Image: Shark” by Rinaldo Wurglitsch, used under CC BY 2.0 / Compressed from original.

What Will You See?

The flora and fauna is so pristine you will think you dived into prehistoric waters. When scuba diving in the Galapagos, aside from the amazing and colorful coral, algae and seaweeds you’ll see, here are some of the animals you can spot and when they are most commonly spotted:

  • Whitetip reef sharks (year round)
  • Blacktip reef sharks (year round)
  • Bull shark (Oct-April)
  • Tiger shark (slight possibility to see June-November)
  • Whale sharks (June-November, with August-October being best times)
  • Seahorses (year round)
  • Seals (year round)
  • Dolphins (year round)
  • Sea turtles (year round)
  • Manta rays (December-April)
  • Eagle Rays (December-April)
  • Humpback whales (August-September)
  • Pilot Whale (August-September)
  • Reef fish (year round)
  • Penguins (year round)
  • Fur seals (year round)
  • Marine iguanas (year round)
An eagle ray with white spots soaring in the depths near the ocean floor of the Galapagos Islands.

Eagle ray. Image: eagleray2.jpg” by taquiman, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 /Compressed from original.

Best Galapagos Dive Sites

Galapagos has world class diving that brings some of the most amazing creatures of the sea before your very eyes. Check out these top Galapagos dive sites, ranging from beginner to intermediate to advanced.

Academy Bay

Academy Bay is located at Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. Here, divers have a chance to see (depending on the season) Galapagos sea lions, manta ray, green sea turtles, spotted eagle ray, hammerhead sharks and whale sharks.

Nearest Main Island: Santa Cruz Island
Difficulty Level: Beginner

Camano islet

A relaxed dive site off Santa Cruz Island (about two miles off the coast from Puerto Ayora) where divers of all levels may catch a glimpse of white-tipped reef sharks, sea lions, marine iguanas and seahorses.

Nearest Main Island: Santa Cruz Island
Difficulty Level: Beginner

North Seymour

North Seymour Island is an exciting, open level dive site where divers can see turtles, sea lions, eagle rays, reef fish, Galapagos garden eels, white-tip reef sharks and even some hammerheads depending on the season.

Nearest Main Island: Baltra Island
Difficulty Level: Beginner

Mosquera Island

This small island with calmer waters and sandy ocean floors is an excellent place to spot garden eels, colorful fish and hammerhead sharks in the right season. It is conveniently located between Baltra and North Seymour Islands.

Nearest Main Island: Baltra Island
Difficulty Level: Beginner

Champion Island

This small island just north of Floreana Island is an amazing spot for lovers of the flora of the sea. Down the rock wall you can see fascinating black coral bushes and yellow cup coral, along with some curious green turtles, surgeonfish, Pacific seahorse and hawkfish.

Nearest Main Island: Floreana Island
Difficulty Level: Beginner

Tijeretas Hill

This dive site off a famous hiking point on San Cristobal island is known for its calm clear waters that welcome divers of all levels. Here you have a chance to spot green sea turtles, rays, Galapagos garden eels, angelfish, grunts and playful sea lions.

Nearest Main Island: San Cristobal Island
Difficulty Level: Beginner

Kicker Rock

This is one of the most famous dive sites in the Galapagos, located off San Cristobal Island. The amazing rock formation is the ultimate habitat for an abundance of marine life, like pelagic and reef fish, whitetip sharks, Galapagos sharks, huge rays, sea turtles and sea lions.

Nearest Main Island: San Cristobal Island
Difficulty Level: Beginner

Cousins Rock

This is a fascinating spot to see the famous flora and fauna of the Galapagos. One of the most popular dive sites, here you can see sea lions, sting rays, eagle rays, manta rays, Galapagos sharks, white tip reef shark, sea horses, barracudas, turtles and reef fish among the black coral and colorful algae.

Nearest Main Island: Santiago Island
Difficulty Level: Intermediate

Punta Vicente

Dive into the waters of Punta Vicente Rock, located to the northwest of Isabela Island. These biodiverse seas are bursting with vibrant reef fish, stingrays, manta rays, Port Jackson shark, Pacific green sea turtles, marine iguanas, Galápagos fur sea lions, sea lions, white-tipped reef sharks, hammerhead sharks, playful penguins and more.

Nearest Main Island: Isabela Island
Difficulty Level: Intermediate

Gordon Rocks

This dive site to the northeast of Santa Cruz Island is one of the most popular dive sites for intermediate and advanced divers. Sometimes called the washing machine because of its strong currents, the site requires 30 minimum logged dives. Among the commonly spotted creatures are hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks, mola mola, giant sea turtles, mobula rays, sting rays, eagle rays, Galapagos eels, barracudas and more.

Nearest Main Island: Santa Cruz Island
Difficulty Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Tortuga Island

This hidden gem of a dive spot is one of the best in the islands, though not as talked about as the more popular Gordon and Kicker Rocks. Located southeast of Isabela Island, here you can spot Galapagos sharks, Galapagos sheep head, Galapagos groupers, mantas, stingrays, sunfish, and maybe even hammerhead sharks and white-tipped sharks.

Nearest Main Island: Isabela Island
Difficulty Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Bartholomew Point

Bartholomew Point is on Bartholomew Island, a small island east of Santiago Island that offers some excellent diving. With a fascinating underwater cliff, you’ll feel like you just submerged into a mystical fairytale. The moderate currents bring with them turtles, white tip reef sharks, reef fish, barracudas, sea horses, sting rays, stone fish and invertebrates.

Nearest Main Island: Santiago Island
Difficulty Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Darwin’s Arch

Aside from being one of the best dive spots in the Galapagos, Darwin’s Arch is believed to be one of the best dive spots in the entire world. Here is a spot where hammerhead sharks congregate and you can swim with giant whale sharks. Extremely remote and with limited access, this site is just off Darwin’s Island and those lucky enough to dive it also can spot green turtles, majestic manta rays, dolphins and more.

Nearest Island: Darwin Island
Difficulty Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Wolf Island

Dive around these massive volcanic rocks off the tiny, remote Wolf Island. The island has many dive sites with varying difficulty levels, where you can spot eagle rays, iguanas, turtles, Galapagos sharks, hammerhead sharks, sea lions, penguins, whale sharks, seals and more. Wolf Island Galapagos is located not too far from Darwin’s Island, and both are reserved exclusively for divers.

Nearest Island: Wolf Island
Difficulty Level: Advanced

Person diving towards a giant sea turtle resting in a shallow area in the Galapagos Islands.

Diving with sea turtles is an unforgettable experience. mage: GOPR5410” by David Ceballos, used under CC BY 2.0 / Compressed from original.

Booking Your Dive Tour

At Peru for Less, we offer a variety of custom Galapagos tours. Divers can enjoy an land-based island-hopping tour, or they can savor the Galapagos by sea on a cruise. Our expert travel advisors work closely with each and every traveler to build the ultimate trip.

Here are some FAQs with answers from our expert travel advisors Adam, Rylee and Jackie!

Galapagos Tours:

How do we work with our clients to create the ultimate diving experience?

Adam: They inform us in advance of their diving experience and what types of wildlife they might be hoping to see. Certain locations might be better for seeing hammerhead sharks, for example, and that is important to note so that we can provide them with the best experience possible.

Jackie: We also ask them about their dive preferences, and their experience level: are they advanced divers? Only have 1-5 logged dives? Etc. We will then find out their travel time frame, and customize an experience that works for their dates, number of available days, and dive experience.

Can scuba diving be included in both Galapagos land and cruise tour options?

Jackie: Short answer: yes! Long answer: it’s MUCH easier to include diving in a land package. This is because divers must wait 12-24 hours after flying to dive, or after diving to fly. Since cruises only offer diving on set days, it’s hard to include this for a traveler (especially if they have a diving area they are interested in). Land packages allow the flexibility of diving on any day of the package, which makes it easy to line up dive days with fly days.

Rylee: In addition, like the rest of the Galapagos, the diving spots are highly regulated and you can only dive in government-selected sites, which is why certain sites are not available on every cruise. An island hopping route is much easier to coordinate and they could even schedule more than one day of diving.

Do divers go out with a group/guide?

Adam: Yes, they will always have a certified diving guide with them and most are in groups. A lot of diving companies have set departures for diving sites based on levels and the number of dives completed.

Jackie: Of course, if no one else has signed up for the scuba that day, it may be just them and the guide.

Note: An additional private guide may also be available at an additional cost, if the diver is with kids or feels they need special attention.

Can we schedule them at specific desired dive sites?

Adam: Yes and no. If they have a specific site in mind we may need to shift their itinerary around so it hits that day. As the companies only have permission to visit certain sites on particular days, we cannot guarantee that unless they are a bit flexible with their schedule.

Rylee: Usually, it’s difficult to confirm an exact spot as the Galapagos regulations often change and only allow a certain amount of people per day in certain areas. For example, if a provider has specific days of the week that go to certain famous destinations (Gordon Rocks, etc.), there’s still a risk that things can change based on Galapagos availability.

Jackie: This would be challenging because…

  1. The travelers would need to have very flexible dates and day ranges, so we can include the package that accommodates the specific dive site they want.
  2. Dive sites at the Galapagos are sometimes closed (due to weather, number of excursions already booked to that site on a specific day, etc). Another reason the traveler would have to be totally flexible with date and day ranges.

For our tours, do they usually bring their own gear or is that supplied?

Rylee: Gear is included in the cost of the tour.

Adam: Note that they do have a 12-liter tank included but if you want a bigger tank of air it’s usually extra. Also you can pay extra for NITROX Tanks.

What are the prerequisites for scuba diving in the Galapagos?

Adam: The first thing all travelers should know is that they must be dive certified to do any diving in the Galapagos. Some sites as well will require a minimum of open water dives to be completed before visiting. Most of the sites though are open for all levels of divers.

Rylee: As mentioned, some areas are “advanced” and others are “beginner”, so it’s good to get an idea how experienced the divers are; and how many hours of diving is required to dive in a specific site.

Jackie: You can be even a beginner or intermediate diver to dive in the Galapagos! We will just need to ensure we schedule a dive site that is suitable for your experience level.

What is a sample scuba diving Galapagos tour itinerary?

  • Monday: Arrival in Galapagos
  • Tuesday: Diving San Cristobal
  • Wednesday: Diving Floreana
  • Thursday: Diving Seymour/Mosquera
  • Friday: Diving Gordon Rocks
  • Saturday: Sailing or Land Tour
  • Sunday: Departure

*Please note this is a sample only. Exact dive spots are determined based on time of year/week traveling, National Park restrictions and weather patterns.

What is a sample dive day like?

  • 7:45 a.m. – Join at meeting point (determined and communicated ahead of time) and quick overview of the day over a hot morning beverage
  • 8:00 a.m. – For most dive sites you will travel by taxi to boat and by boat to the dive site (45-90 minutes depending on the site)
  • 10:00 a.m. – Diving begins. Guides will brief you as you approach the site so that when you arrive you can gear up and get started.
  • 11:00 a.m. – You will surface after a 1-hour diving session and warm up with some hot drinks and snacks.
  • 12:30 p.m. – Round two of diving. You will have another site-specific briefing then hit the waters for another 1-hour dive.
  • 01:30 p.m. – You will conclude your last Dive for the day. Now you can dry off, have a hot lunch and talk about your amazing day with fellow divers.
  • 03:15 p.m. – Arrive back to your point of origin to log your dive, and enjoy the rest of the day at your leisure.

*Please note this is a sample only. These times can be different depending on the tour operator and distance of the sites.

Group of fish swimming together in a circle in the blue waters of the Galapagos Islands.

Image: P7020280” by Anthony Patterson, used under CC BY 2.0 / Compressed from original.

Diving Packing List

If you’re scuba diving in the Galapagos, these are the items you will want to make sure you have. While some of the more basic items can be rented, experienced divers tend to prefer to use their own for better fit and reliability.

  • Dive certification
  • Proof of dive insurance
  • Nitrox certification
  • Wetsuit
  • Rash guard (for colder dives)
  • Reef hook (for stronger currents)
  • Dive gloves (helpful for both the cold and the currents)
  • Two dive masks (always smart to have backup)
  • Inflatable signal marker buoy (for safety)
  • Buoyancy control device (for safety)
  • Scuba regulator
  • Fins
  • Dive boots (for colder dives)

For a general Galapagos packing list, see our Ultimate Galapagos Packing List blog.

A person with a yellow dive mask and oxygen tank diving near the ocean floor in the Galapagos.

Image: Must write that review” by Anthony Patterson, used under CC BY 2.0 / Compressed from original.

Diving in the Galapagos is an unbelievable experience, and allows you to grasp the magnificence of these preserved islands and their surrounding seas. Due to protection and conservation of the island, and the differing wildlife sightings depending on the year and weather conditions, it is a good idea to work closely with a knowledgable travel advisor who can take care of the details. They can book you the ultimate diving trip, so you can spend less time worrying about logistics, and more time spotting sharks, turtles, dolphins and more on the dive of a lifetime!

 Gina Cronin
Gina Cronin
Gina loves the hidden turquoise rivers of the Andes, the magical pink dolphins of the Amazon, and the lush ocean-view parks of Lima. She finds Peru to be the most inspiring country in the world, and has been exploring and writing about this sacred place since 2014.
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