The following are
the most important dive sites,
more than 50 sites
within the archipelago.
ACADEMY BAY This is Academy bay in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island with 4 dive sites all within 20 minutes from Puert Ayora-Santa Cruz. Three of the sites are generally calm with little current; ideal for students or novices. At the other site, the dives can be a little more complicated if there is a current so they are suitable for intermediate or expert divers. Frolic with sea lions or listen as the damselfish munches away at its algae farm. You may also see marine iguanas, rays, and even sharks
SANTA FE This island is a solid structure of basaltic lava rocks about an hour away from our base. The 4 dive sites here generally have excellent visibility and mild currents, making these sites ideal for novices. At the same time, the animals and topography (including a spectacular arch) make them interesting for intermediates and experts. We can see stingrays, eagle rays, garden eels, turtles, sea lion colonies, morays, pelagic fish, and maybe white tip reef sharks and/or hammerhead sharks.
BEAGLE ROCKS These are 3 exposed rocks located south of Santiago Island, about hour and a half cruising from Itabaca channel. This ginner/intermediate dive site starts on a 12 meters deep platform and leads to a wall, covered with black coral and sea fans, that drops to more than 60 meters. Pelagic species that can be observed include hammerheads, Galapagos sharks, mantas during the hot season, small rays, turtles and sea lions.
PINZON This island of Pinzon is located on the west side of Santa Cruz Island,
about an hour and a half cruising from our base. This ginner/intermediate dive site is on the east side where 2 tower-shaped rocks emerge. A wall covered in black coral drops to 10 meters and from there it’s a sandy slope that drops to more than 50 meters. Species commonly observed include the red lipped bat fish, sea horses, sting rays, turtles and white tip reef sharks.
COUSINS ROCK An islet with a wall dropping from the surface , Cousins Rock is home to a big area of sloping rock plates , about two hours from Santa Cruz. There can be strong currents here that separate the productive and unproductive sides of the dive site. Cousins’ is full of spectacular endemic young black corals and other marine fauna may include frogfish, fur seals, sea turtles, sea horses, and
usually, hammerhead sharks.
NORTH SEYMOUR North Seymour is an uplifted island of lava flow about 90 minutes north of our dive base. There are 5 dive sites suitable for all levels of divers, although sometimes the currents can be strong. These sites have the most different species per square foot of sandy bottom. We can see cleaning behavior, a large garden eel colony, sea turtles, sea lions, fur seals, eagle rays, yellow-tailed grunts, big-eyed jack, and frequently white tip reef sharks and hammerheads. Occasionally, Galapagos sharks can also be seen here.
FLOREANA This island, about 50km to the south of Santa Cruz has a small settlement, Puerto Velasco Ibarra. Most visitors go to the north, to Punta Cormorán to see the sea lions and the lagoon with the mangrove forest, where flamingos can be most of the days.
Corona del Diablo (Devil's Crown): This dive site is the eroded remains of a volcanic cone, a series of rocks with a shallow center pool. You dive on the outside on sand with huge jagged boulders reaching up to the surface. On the outside of the rocks where it is deeper and larger fishes like Jacks and sometimes hammerheads and reef sharks and turtles can be found. Fish cover everything like a moving carpet so sometimes you nearly don't see the rocks and the sand underneath. On the sheltered areas between the boulders are sometimes white tipped reef sharks and stingrays resting. A good chance to go close and have a good look. You will find smaller fish like hawkfishes, filefishes and schooling fishes like the King angelfishes, Creole fishes and grunts. East of the crown at about 20m depth is a colony of endemic garden eels. A well known place also good for snorkeling. The coral cover isn't so good anymore, since the El Nino event, when a lot of them died.
This island has an amazing shape - like a half moon with extremely steep outer walls similar to Tortuga island on Isabela - You start the dive at the inner sides and dive down to about 17m on a sandy area with large rocks and a lot of black coral bushes (Galapagos black coral Antipathes galapagensis). Then you continue east towards the tip of the half moon. When you reach a steep slope look our into the blue for the larger animals like sharks and rays. On our dive there was also a large school of barracudas hovering over the area. We dived down to 27m and also saw an eagle ray from up close. Currents picked up a bit and there was also some down current. When you reach the tip there is often a current against you, but if you manage to go around,you reach after a while a steep wall going down several hundred meters. On one dive we had so much current against us, that we just dived over the rocks and into a sheltered area. A huge school of black striped salema (Xenocys jessiae) was just hovering here over the sand, forming a tighter ball when we approached. Underneath our dive guide Leandro found a yellow Pacific seahorse (Hippocampus ingens). We saved its life, because a wrasse was attacking it and we chased him off...
Champion Rock is a beautiful drift dive on a wall. The walls are covered with black coral bushes and yellow cup corals and if you take a close look you are likely to find a Pacific seahorse with its tail around a branch of black coral or some of several species of hawkfish (Oxycirrhites typus, Cirrhitichthys oxyphalus, Cirrhitus rivulatus) hiding among them. Here you also find green turtles which like to rest among the coral. There are always large schools of salema or surgeonfishes but If there is current there are also a lot of pelagic fish like sharks and rays gathering here. On the southwestern side there is a small cave near the surface
Española is not so high (206m) and is mainly known for the large colony of Galapagos Albatross birds living here. I had a close encounter with one of these bird while sitting on the edge of a steep cliff. Suddenly an Albatross coming from behind ran past me, not quite brushing me with its flapping wings. Albatross usually need to do some running, before they have enough velocity to take off, so it was quite fast. Of course I nearly dropped off the cliff from fright! The bird jumped over the edge and I just sat there and stared, while he glided gracefully over the water. There is also quite a large colony of blue-footed and Nazca boobies living on Española and a really nice landmark is the huge blowhole on a rocky plateau at Punta Suarez. Don't go too close or you get doused by the exploding water spout
You dive at Islote Gardner and at the northeast side of the small island where the dive site is called Gardner's Seamount. Actually it is a bit confusing since there are two places on the Galapagos, called Gardner - one on Española, the other on Floreana, but most divers only visit this one lying to the northeast side of Española.
Islote Gardner: You dive on mini-walls with sand bottom, lava tunnels and towards the south large boulders and several caves. One of them is quite large and you can swim through to where it opens into a large chamber. Normally the currents are moderate but if they get stronger you can also see large pelagics here like sharks and rays and even hammerheads.
Gardner's Seamount (Gardner's Shallows or Bajo Gardner) lies to the northeast of islote Gardner and consitst of a couple of rocks which form the top of a sloping seamount. There usually is a moderate current which makes for relatively easy diving though there are often thermoclines. This is a nice dive site with much to see. If you are lucky you can encounter large schools of eagle rays, manta rays, Jacks, Galapagos shark, white tip reef sharks lying on the sandy area, mackerels and sea lions. This is a good place to see large schools of fish. On the sand there are garden eels and perhaps you you are likely to also see the redlipped batfish here and on the rocky areas you might find tiger snake eels (Myrichthys tigrinus) who have large dark oval spots.
DAPHNE This is an isolated offshore tuff cone with vertical walls all around it about one hour from Santa Cruz. The main dive site is a shelf of boulders at about 60 feet and the diving can be difficult depending on the currents and surge. We usually see many Galapagos sharks here, some schools of pelagic fish, and multicolored sponges on the rock wall.
GUY FAWKES These 4 islets are located on the northwest side of Santa Cruz Island,
about 1h15’s cruise from Itabaca channel. In general the ocean bottom descends in slopes, some almost vertical. The walls of the islets are eroded, full of cavities in some parts, and big rocks covered in black coral in others. At this intermediate site divers can observe pelagic species such as Galapagos sharks, white tip reef sharks, turtles, and a wide variety of reef fish and sea lions.
GORDON ROCKS This tuff cone formation is a world famous dive site about one hour from Santa Cruz. There are 4 dive sites in the area, but only two are for novices. The other two sites are for intermediates and experts because there can be strong currents and surge. The Gordon Rocks dive sites are mostly walls with a deep bottom. Blend in and blow few bubbles and you may be blessed with a hammerhead sighting! Hammerhead sharks are the main attraction of Gordon Rocks, where they often conglomerate in large schools. you're likely to also see reef fish, large pelagic fish, golden rays, stingrays, eagle rays, turtles, morays.
NAMELESS This nameless islet is located offshore on the west side of Santa Cruz
Island, about 90 mts. Cruising from Santa Cruz. This intermediate/advanced site is exposed to strong currents and surge. It is mostly a wall dive where many species of coral, sponges and gorgonians can be observed and where a good control of buoyancy is mandatory. Since the site is exposed to strong conditions it attracts mainly large pelagic species such as hammerheads, Galapagos sharks, barracudas, tunas, turtles and a wide variety of reef fish.
Darwin (Culpepper) Darwin is the northern most island and about 4 hours or more by boat from Wolf. Darwin is 165m high, with vertical walls and a huge rock arch in the east. There is no possibility to visit the island. This dive area is not very protected, so dive conditions can be rough with waves, surge and changing currents. The currents are normally from the southeast and split right in front of the Rock Arch but also occasionally from the north. Not for beginners! The cold Humboldt current has little effect so far north, so the water is warmer by a few degrees (Dec - April: 24°C - 27°C and May - Nov: 22°C - 25°C ) so there are different corals here, than around other islands, though also not very abundant. See Galapagos weather information.
Darwin's Arch (Rock Arch and Underwater Rock): On the east of the island there is an underwater plateau where a prominent rock arch rises. This is the main dive site in Darwin. Depending on the currents you start either from the south and go north or vice versa. Usually part of the dive is spent over the sandy areas where the hammerhead sharks swim over in small groups. They come here to get cleaned by the Kings's angelfish (Holocanthus passer). These angelfishes rise in small groups and start picking at the hammerhead sharks, thus getting rid of their parasites. The angelfishes also clean the eat skin parasites off the jacks that venture close. Large schools of gringos also gather here, mixed with mackerels, snappers, rainbowrunners. Tunas and Jacks are hunting and the fish schools suddenly swerve to the side and form a tighter ball or walls, when these fish appear.
The area southeast of the Arch falls down steeply in steps. Each plateau is covered with large rocks where you can hang on. It can be an advantage to bring a reef hook to this place. If carefully attached on the rock (not the corals!) it is much better than hanging on with your hands. Everywhere are fat morey eels (mostly fine spotted morey eel, Gymnothorax dovii) lying around. They don't even hide like they do in tropical waters. Turtles (green turtle Chelonia mydas and hawksbill turtle Eretmochelys imbricata) swimming by lazily. Mexican hogfish, Moorish idols, coronet fish, trumpetfish, parrotfish, scorpionfishes are found here and in the rubble on the bottom live flounders and octopuses.
On each dive you also should to go out into the blue. Sometimes you have to wait around a bit, but on each of our dives we saw something interesting - dolphins coming down from the surface to take a look at us or play, yellowfined tunas in groups, a whaleshark slowly passing by, large schools of hammerheads consisting of hundreds of animals swimming slowly along and Galapagos sharks coming in fast, swerving and disappearing again. To finish the dive you usually make a safety stop in the blue, but all the time watching out for another interesting animals passing by!
Here and at the other dive sites called the Tower Rock (small rock in the west if the island) and the Channel (between the Arch and the island), you might also encounter Galapagos sharks, silky sharks, dolphins, yellow fin tuna, big eye jacks, mobula rays, eagle rays, golden cowrays and mantas. From June to October there is a very good chance to see whale sharks. I heard, there are even sometimes tiger sharks, marlins and whales.
Wolf (Wenman) Wolf is a small uninhabited island, that rises steeply to 253m. As around Darwin, the water is several degrees warmer here than in the southern islands. Wolf is quite exposed with waves, surge and strong shifting currents, eddies and down currents. Definitely only for experienced divers! Wolf has extremely steep walls, there are some plants growing up on the tops on the flatter surface and birds are everywhere.
Like Darwin this is a very good place to see schooling hammerhead sharks and silky sharks. Because of the warmer water you will also find many warm water fishes found nowhere else. There are green spotted morays, trumpet and coronet fishes, schools of jacks, rainbow runner, barracudas, tuna, big eyed jacks, blue spotted jacks, wahoo, bacalao, salemas, goldrimmed surgeonfish and also marine turtles. Large pelagic fishes like whale sharks, Galapagos sharks, marbled rays, spotted eagle rays have also been seen here and on the island live sea lions.
Landslide (Wall): The rocky cliffs drop steeply to below the ocean's surface, part of the wall has slid down and large boulders form a nice rocky slope that bottoms out around 50m. Tube corals and small sponges and barnacles grow here. In the crevices morey eels live (fine spotted morey eel, Gymnothorax dovii and zebra morey Gymnomureaena zebra), they are really quite large and fat und frequently hunt outside.
This dive site is mostly known for the hammerhead sharks that gather here in large groups. There are also Galapagos sharks to be seen, eagle rays and turtles. On the dive site next to it - Shark Bay - we saw a wall of hammerheads out in the blue, all swimming in the same direction and on the shallower parts smaller groups of seven or twelve were seen swimming over the rocks to get cleaned. Schools of gringos and bluestriped chubs darken the water and tunas, rainbowrunners and mackerels dart between. A great dive site!
At the Pinaculos (pinnacle) you mostly do a drift dive, but there are several swim throughs and a cave and you can make your safety stop at the pinnacle. You can also dive at Hat Island and the Rock, although in the south there usually is a strong surge, which makes it difficult to surface.
You anchor in the sheltered to the west, the Anchorage. This place is known for the redlipped batfish (Ogcocephalus darwini), a strange looking bottom dwelling fish related to frogfishes. It walks and hops about mostly on sand and rubble, seen mostly at night.
Genovesa is known more often by its English name of Tower and lies north of the equator. Genevosa is the remains of an extinct volcano that is open to the sea on the south side. The caldera of the volcano forms a cove, the Darwin Bay, which is sheltered by high cliffs. The island is very dry and flat and mostly inhabited by birds. There are large colonies of red-footed and Nazca boobies. The water can be warmer than at the central islands, thanks to the Panama current. Darwin Bay: It is possible to either dive along the inner wall or go to the outer wall, which is less protected. An other possibility is to dive from the outside of the volcano through the channel into the caldera. You might see groupers, jacks and barracuda, eagle rays, tunas and schools of smaller fish and sometimes mantas or hammerheads.
Roca Redonda is located off the northwest tip of Isabela Island, separated by about a 30km stretch of very deep water. This is the tip of a submarine shield volcano that rises nearly 3000m from the sea floor and emerges from the water as an island. The underwater area of this volcano is said to be about 18 kilometers wide. The island is about 300 meters high with steep cliffs and a flat top. Several lava flows can be observed on the island and in the shallow water and there are various caves. Seabirds live here, for example the swallow tailed gulls (Larus furcatus). These gulls are endemic to the Galapagos and the world's only night-feeding gull. It has unusual large eyes and feeds on squids that come to the surface, usually about 15-30km distance from the nearest land.
This dive site is visited either on the way up to Wolf and Darwin in the north or as part of a tour around Isabela. The water temperatures are very low here, because of the cold Cromwell current. Diving can be difficult because of the strong currents, unpredictable downcurrents, eddies and the heavy surge. If conditions are not right, your dive guide might advise you against diving. You dive around several underwater rocks and pinnacles always accompanied by sea lions. This is a good place to find schools of scalloped hammerheads, yellow tailed surgeonfishes, barracudas, jacks, Galapagos grunts and king angelfishes. Galapagos sharks and whitetips, mantas, and even the huge sunfish visit this remote place. With luck you can also find sea horses among the rocks in the shallows.
A special attraction is on the Southeast Side of the island. There are several underwater fumaroles (steam vents) in the shallows (12 to 18m) and you can see gas bubbles rising to the surface which indicate that the volcano is probably still active. I have visited a place similar to this in Siau, Indonesia, where there was hot sand and so many bubbles, it looked like a curtain, and found, that some species of marine animals grow much larger because of the abundance of some minerals. Anayway - it's also just interesting to touch hot rocks below the water and swim among bubbles..
Isabela (Albemarle) Punta Vicente Roca lies at the northwestern point of Isabela close to the volcano Ecuador. There are two beautiful coves which lie on either side of the eroded remains of a volcanic cone. You start your dive on a shallow wall, that becomes a steep drop-off down to 50m. The wall is full of crevices and narrow shelves and is nicely covered with sponges and corals and you can find nudibranchs, crabs, slipper lobsters. There are several really interesting species of fishes living here, the red lipped batfish, frogfishes, seahorses, electric rays and the endemic camotillo. Here you can see schools of barracudas and salemas and even the occasional sunfish and marlin has been spotted here. Mostly drift diving. Night dives possible - good for crabs, shrimps and lobsters and other invertebrates.
Tagus Cove : This is a large and deep bay on the western side of Isabela with no beach. In the north, divided only by a small stretch of land is the Darwin lake, which is a saltwater lake. There is a lot of upwellings of cold water here, so temperatures can get very low (Galapagos water temperatures). A lot of sponges and tunicates and non-reef building corals grow here and there are plenty of the black coral bushes here (Antipathes galapagensis) which hide animals like seahorses (Hippocampus igens) and the longnosed hawkfishes (Oxycirrhites typus). Frogfishes are also said to be seen here and stone scorpionfishes (Scorpaena mystes / Pacific spotted scorpionfish) and player scorpionfishes (Scorpaena histrio) have been found here. These are cryptic fishes which lie unseen on the reef top waiting for small fishes to pass by. Their spines are highly poisonous. Night dives possible A weird looking fish which is found here is the red-lipped batfish (Ogcocephalus darwini / español: Pez murcielago labio rojo / Deutsch: Rotlippen-Fledermausfisch). As it's name suggests it has bright red lips and is about 17cm large. Walking batfishes have modified fins, that are used to walk (or rather hop) across the sea floor. They only swim occasionally and in a rather cumbersome fashion by spreading their pectoral fins. Like the frogfish (they also belong to the order of Lophiiformes) they have a modified first dorsal spine with a long rod (illicium) and an attached lure (esca). This rod is usually tucked into a depression above the mouth. Feeds on small invertebrates like crabs and mollusks. The snout of batfishes varies in shape and length, when they grow, it becomes smaller and more knob like. Red lipped batfishes usually live on sand, rubble or rocky bottoms from 3 - 76 m. Common in the entire Galapagos archipelago, active at night.
South of Tagus Cove lies Urbina Bay (or Urvina). This is not a dive site, but this place is interesting, because in 1959 the coastal area was uplifted 5m above sea level in a matter of hours. You can still see the remains of the marine animals that died, when it happened, really large coral heads surrounded by plants! Elizabeth Bay is a large sheltered bay with mangroves in the very west of Isabela where Whale sharks have been sighted. They seem to migrate south from Darwin and Wolf and pass this area in December / January. Punta Morena further down are rarely visited for diving, I have read, you can find the Pacific seahorse here. The place is very impressive with large lava fields from both Cerro Azul and Sierra Negra.
In the very south of Isabela are several dive sites situated close to Puerto Villamil: Los Hermanos (Crossman island) and Tortuga Island. This area is not very well known, there might be also some good diving around La Viuda and Punta Ventimilla in the north, Roca Union and Cabo Rosa in the south and around Roca Blanca in Cartago Bay even further north. Sunfishes have been reported from these waters.
Fernandina (Norgorough) Since Fernandina lies to the very west of the Galapagos archipelago it has no introduced species, and as a consequence remains as the Galapagos were before being colonized. La Cumbre (the summit, about 1500m) is a highly active volcano with a large caldera and surrounded by several smaller craters. Most of the island is covered in lava flows, so there is not much vegetation. The island is surrounded by shallow rocky reefs that are covered in the green algae that is the only diet of the marine iguana.
There is only one dive site, Cape Douglas, because on Punta Espinoza which is located in the northeastern point of Fernandina island at the Bolivar channel between Isabela and Fernandina diving is not permitted anymore. The water here is cold all the time, since Fernandina lies smack in the zone of major upwellings from the Cromwell submarine current.
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