Galapagos Scuba Diving Sites

diving site

Galapagos Scuba Diving Sites

BARTOLOME ISLAND

  • Pinnacle Rock (snorkeling)

For a snorkeling experience, think Bartolome Island´s  “Pinnacle Rock” – probably the most photographed volcanic formation in the archipelago.

Located just off the east coast of Santiago, travel time to this small volcanic islet is about 90 minutes by boat from Santa Cruz’s northern dock at the Itabaca Channel. Bartolome’s total land area is around one half square mile (1.2 square kilometer).

Around Pinnacle Rock, the beautiful large black eroded lava formation off the island’s orange northern beach and surrounding coastline, is a great for swimming and snorkeling side-by-side with sea lions, rays, reef fish, docile whitetip reef sharks and …penguins? Imagine …penguins living on the equator. These little birds use their wings as flippers and really look like they’re flying through the water. The penguins there at Pinnacle Rock they have established a small breeding colony in a cave.

The water there drops down to a depth of about 43 feet with good visibility, though the currents are medium to strong.

Experience level: From un-experienced snorkeling on up
Good for sightings of: Sea lions, rays, reef fish, docile whitetip reef sharks and penguins
Number of Dive sites: 1
Depth: 43 feet (13 meters)
Visibility: Variable
Currents: Medium to strong
Surge: Variable
Access: Land or liveaboard

 

  • Cousins Rock

diving siteOne of the most famous Galapagos dive sites, Cousins Rock is located northeast of the coast of Santiago Island and north of Bartolome, about 2 1/2 hours by boat from Santa Cruz’s northern dock at the Itabaca Channel.

This exposed triangular-shaped rock rises about 35 feet out of the water, while beneath the surface it’s steep on the northern and western sides and sloping on the eastern side. On the south lies a large rock separated by a narrow channel from Santiago.

Cousins Rock is one of the most photographically productive dives in the central islands. Be prepared, because it may offer some of the best fish and macro opportunities of your whole trip.

Diving there is doneon a series of ledges made up of many layers of volcanic rock and overhangs alternating with steep slopes and walls of black coral. The wall and slope are nicely covered with black coral, small hard coral, sea fans, hydroid bushes and red sponges. Because of the many ledges and overhangs, small animals can hide well – including giant Galapagos sea horses, Longnose hawk fish and even frogfish. Out in the blue you might even spot mobula rays, mantas, whitetip reef sharks and hammerhead sharks, or a large school of pelican barracuda. Cousin’s Rock is also known for the large groups of spotted eagle rays seen here, in addition to the many sea lions there that like to chase the schools of salema.

Experience level: Great place for un-experienced and seasoned scuba diver alike (however its wall dive is recommended only for experienced divers)
Good for sightings of: Different species of hawkfish, nudibranchs, sea horses, frogfish, mobula rays, mantas, sharks (white tipped reef sharks, hammerhead sharks), spotted eagle rays and sea lions
Number of dive sites: Extended
Depth: 10 – 90 feet (3 – 27 meters)
Visibility: 29-59 feet (9 – 18 meters)
Currents: Medium to strong
Surge: Moderate in the shallow areas
Access: Liveaboard

 

DARWIN ISLAND

  • The Arch

 diving site“Is Darwin’s Arch the “best dive in the world”? If it’s big animals you crave, then yes, Darwin’s Arch is the best dive in the world. It’s got everything, really (except for macro and reefs): massive whale sharks that patrol the blue, so many turtles you’ll experience burnout, burly Galapagos sharks, tiger sharks on the safety stop, free-swimming moray eels, eagle rays and — lest we forget the stars of the show — schooling hammerheads that blot out the sun. This isn’t a list from a single destination; it’s a list from a single dive. A dive you’ll soon declare is the very best in the world.”                                                                        

Sport Diver Magazine

Located on the Southeast corner of Darwin Island, the “Arch” sits above the surface on a wide, flat plateau (a rock platform). Many travelers believe it to be the best dive site in the “enchanted islands” and one of the best sites in the world, even though it’s the only dive site on Darwin Island, especially exciting from June to November.

Diving here involves a rapid descent through heavy current followed by your having to anchor yourself in the rocks while watching the show pass by, at least until you swim out into the blue to swim alongside a whale shark.

This is a cleaning station for huge schools of hammerheads, sometimes hundreds; as well as Galapagos Sharks, silkies, Black-tips, huge schools of jack, Angelfish, free-swimming morays and more.

Dives around the Arch can be absolutely overpowering, and divers often return to the boat in awe from their experiences.

Experience level: Suitable for advanced divers
Good for sightings of: Whale sharks, schools of hammerhead sharks, morays, lobsters, bottlenose dolphin, silkies, Black-tips, huge schools of jack, Angelfish, and free-swimming morays
Number of Dive sites: 2
Depth: 9 – 40+ meters (30 – 130+ feet) /
Visibility: 12 – 24 meters (40 – 80 feet)
Currents: Moderate to very strong (“ripping”), drift diving
Surge: Moderate in the shallows
Access: Liveaboard

 

FLOREANA ISLAND

Located directly south of Santa Cruz, travel time to Floreana Island is about 2 hours by boat from the main dock in Puerto Ayora. Floreana has an area of 173 square kilometers (~67 sq mi).

Enderby Islet, Punta Ayora, Champion Islet and Devil’s Crown are the dive sites where you will experience sea lions, turtles, exotic fish, thousands of tropical fish, barracudas, black coral, whitetip and Galapagos sharks, moray eels, some hammerheads and eagle rays.

During the boat trip to and from Floreana, you will have an excellent opportunity for dolphin watching – not to mention the local marine and bird life, such as sea lions, blue footed boobies, frigatebird, penguins and marine iguanas from the boat.

Floreana Island contains a numerous dive sites, all of which usually have calm water. Therefore , should the current become strong at one site, you can easily head on to another one. This flexibility makes Floreana an ideal Galapagos Island scuba diving site for all levels of divers.

In these waters, it is possible to see coral heads, endemic black coral, reef fish; sting and eagle rays, turtles, a sea lion colony, barracudas, pelagic fish, white-tipped reef sharks, Galapagos sharks, hammerhead sharks, sea horses, morays, garden eels and invertebrates.

Experience level: All levels, varying according to dive site
Good for sightings of: coral heads, endemic black coral, reef fish; sting and eagle rays, turtles, a sea lion colony, barracudas, pelagic fish, white-tipped reef sharks, Galapagos sharks, hammerhead sharks, sea horses, morays, garden eels and invertebrates
Number of Dive sites: 9+
Depth: According to dive site
Visibility: According to dive site
Currents: Calm to strong
Surge: Calm to strong
Access: Liveaboard

 

ISABELA ISLAND

  • Punta Vicente Roca

diving siteIsabela is the biggest island of the archipelago, and it is shaped roughly like a seahorse. On its northwestern side, in what would be the “mouth” of the seahorse, is Vicente Roca’s Point. Here, the remains of Volcano Ecuador forms two beautiful coves with a bay protected from the ocean swells. Part of the volcano slid into the ocean, leaving a spectacular cutaway view of the volcanic caldera.

The upwelling of Cromwell current, one very rich in nutrients, gives rise to an abundance of marine life which, in combination with the protection of the coves, make Punta Vicente Roca one of Galapagos’ top diving destinations.

You start your dive on a shallow wall that becomes a steep drop-off down to around 150 feet. The wall is full of crevices and narrow shelves and is nicely covered with sponges and corals, where you can also find nudibranchs, crabs and Slipper lobsters.

Sea lions, turtles, “mola-mola” (sunfish), puffer fish, Marlin, Galapagos’ penguins and, with some luck, even the Galapagos’ bullhead shark are often present here. As for smaller fish, Punta Vicente Roca offers you frogfish, electric rays, seahorses and red lipped batfish.

Here you can also find schools of barracudas and salemas, and even the occasional sunfish and marlin has been spotted here.

It’s a colorful dive — mostly drift diving — but the water can be breathtakingly cold, so it’s a relief to ascend into warmer shallows, where there are schools of native salema (a small member of the grunt family and the favorite diet of fur seals and sea lions).

There are also some serious down currents on this site, so dives can be called off or aborted, which is a shame as the life is impressive and includes hammerheads, king angels and schooling surgeonfish.

Punta Vicente Rocafuerte is one of the best wall dives in the Galapagos and allows a completely different landscape.

Experience level: Advanced (CMAS/AOW)
Good for sightings of: Invertebrates, sea horses, frog fish, deep “mola mola” (sun fish), hammerheads, King angels and schooling surgeonfish, green turtles, harlequin wrasse, schools of native salema (a small member of the grunt family and the favorite diet of fur seals and sea lions)
Number of Dive sites: Extended
Depth: Wall dive to a maximum depth of 90 feet (27 meters)
Visibility: Visibility can be challenging in the shallows with averages of 5 – 15 feet (2 – 5 meters) in the colder times of the year. Deeper than 40 feet (12 meters) visibility usually increases to 40 – 80 feet (12 – 24 meters) and temperature drops rapidly
Currents: Negligible to strong
Surge: Can be moderate in the shallows
Access: Liveaboard

 

NORTH SEYMOUR ISLAND

North Seymour (named after English nobleman, Lord Hugh Seymour) is a small island located north of Baltra. Travel time to North Seymour is about 30 minutes by boat from Santa Cruz’s northern dock at the Itabaca Channel. The island has an area of about 0.7 square miles (1.9 square kilometers).

On the east side of the island, North Seymour contains five dive sites that are suitable for all levels of divers, despite occasionally strong currents.

The North Seymour topography consists of gradual steps off the island shoreline, declining 25 feet to a beautiful rock reef, before reaching the sandy bottom at 52-59 feet (16- 18 meters). Diving at Seymour provides the opportunity to swim with many white- and black-tip reef sharks, as well as its being a favorite resting place for large numbers of green sea turtles.

Though Seymour does not have the notoriety for hammerhead sharks, it is still possible to see small schools there swimming through the channel and around the point through the current. Large schools of barracuda, snapper and other reef fish are also in abundance, and the rock reef is an excellent place to search for the well camouflaged octopi. A common favorite, however, are the schools of spotted eagle rays that glide through the channel along the sand, occasionally joined by devil and manta rays.

North Seymour is a “nightmare” for underwater photographers because of how great it is for everything, from tiny nudibranchs to Mantas (especially between December and April).  One could add to that all the rays (spotted eagle rays, marble rays, golden eagle rays, stingrays), the “piles” of sleeping whitetip reef sharks, sea lions, sea turtles and hammerhead sharks. Several thick schools of grunts and snappers are always present.

Experience level: Suitable for all levels of divers
Good for sightings of: Eagle Rays, Manta Rays, Hammerheads, White-Tipped Reef Sharks, Galapagos Shark, Stingrays, Marbled Rays, Tiger Snake Eels, Moray Eels, Garden Eels, Sea Stars, Sea Turtles, Jacks, Blue and Gold Snappers, Flag Cabrilla, Creolefish, King Angelfish, Barracuda, Heiroglyphic Hawkfish, Frogfish, Yellowtail Surgeonfish, Spotfin Burrfish, Scorpionfish, Cardinalfish, Nudibranch and more.
Number of Dive sites: 5
Depth: 5 – 27 meters (15 – 90 feet).
Visibility: 9 – 15 meters (30 – 50 feet)
Currents: Moderate to strong (perfect for drift diving), though the currents can be moderate to strong on occasion
Surge: Can be strong in the shallow areas
Access: Liveaboard

 

SANTA CRUZ ISLAND

  • Academy Bay

The bay of the charming town of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island offers five separate dive sites within ten to twenty minutes by boat. Three of these sites are generally calm with little current; ideal for novices, however diving at the other two sites (El Bajo and Punto Nunez Cliffs) can get a bit more complicated if a current is present; so these sites are suitable for intermediate or expert divers only.

“El Bajo” is a submerged platform that has mini-walls and a ton of marine life.  The bizarre surge creates a cradle effect when you’re above the platform (i.e. you’re literally swayed back and forth), which is why this site isn’t good for beginners. For more advanced divers, there’s also “Punto Nunez Cliffs,” which is located beyond the Darwin Station side of Puerto Ayora along the lava rock cliffs. Under the water are lava tunnels which form wonderful caves to explore, often filled with resting whitetip reef sharks, rays and other pelagic life.  There, too, you will find plenty of reef fish, turtles, possibly eagle rays and more.

The nicest thing about diving at Academy Bay is that this is the only place where you can actually get in two dives in one afternoon due to its proximity to the town of Puerto Ayora.  If you’re short on time or short on days and want to maximize your time, these two sites are a good option.

Experience level: From novices to expert divers – depending on the diving site
Good for sightings of: Reef fish, sea lions, stingrays, golden rays, eagle rays, invertebrates, morays, garden eels, turtles, marine iguanas and white-tipped reef sharks
Number of Dive sites: Four dive sites (three are generally calm with little current – ideal for students or novices, while the current at the other site is suitable for intermediate or expert divers)
Depth: 100+ feet (30+ meters)
Visibility: 40 – 70 feet (12 – 21 meters)
Currents: Moderate from either south or north
Surge: Light to moderate
Access: Liveaboard
  • Gordon Rocks

diving siteGordon Rocks is located just north of the Plazas, located on the east coast of Santa Cruz. Travel time to Gordon is about 40 minutes by boat from Santa Cruz’s northern dock at the Itabaca Channel.

Gordon Rocks is a highlight of any diving experience in the Galapagos. This rock formation of two large rocks protruding above the water about 100 yards apart is the top of a submerged cone at the northeastern end of Santa Cruz Island.

It’s sometimes referred to as “the washing machine,” and for good reason.   The exposed northern and southern rocks are what remains of a caldera.  Below the water are submerged pinnacles and a channel between these that can make for very strong currents, surge, down currents; plus the site is deep. So this area of the site is for advanced divers.

While there is lots and lots to see, there’s one reason people head to Gordon Rocks: Hammerheads. Lots of hammerheads, up close and really personal.

Then too you’ll find Eagle Rays, Stingrays, Marbled rays, mantas, Whitetip reef sharks, Galapagos sharks, jacks, turtles, heiroglyphic hawkfish, Flag cabrillas, blennies, wrasse in various growth stages, cardinal fish, King angelfish, sea lions, Yellowtail surgeonfish, King angelfish, barracudas, jack and more…but people remember one thing: Close encounters with Hammerheads.

Experience level: Novice to advanced, depending on dive site
Good for sightings of: Hammerhead sharks are the main attraction of this site, often appearing in large schools. Here it is also possible to see reef fish, large pelagic fish, golden, sting and eagle rays, turtles, a sea lion colony, endemic Galapagos fur seals, morays, invertebrates and white-tipped and Galapagos sharks
Number of Dive sites: 5  (though only 3 are for novices due to the currents and surge)
Depth: Avg.  20 – 130+ feet (6 – 40+ meters)
Visibility: 6 – 18 meters (20 – 60 feet)
Currents: Strong at times
Surge: Strong at times
Access: Liveaboard

 

 

  • Guy Fawkes

These four islets are located on the northwest side of Santa Cruz Island, a little more than an hour from the channel side of Santa Cruz.

Created from the remains of two adjacent tuft cones, the crescent edge faces the current creating a protected leeward side. The ocean bottom descends in slopes, some almost vertical forming walls with corals, sponges and fish. The walls of the islets are eroded, full of cavities in some parts and big rocks covered in black coral in others.

This diving site is on the east side of the islet, where there sprout out two tower-shaped rocks. You’ll find a wall covered in black coral that drops to 30 feet, and from there it’s a sandy slope that sinks to more than 150 feet.

Experience level: Novice/intermediate (on the east side where 2 tower-shaped rocks emerge). Not suitable for learners due to the 20 meter depth
Good for sightings of: Pelagic species such as Galapagos sharks, whitetip reef sharks, red lipped bat fish, sea horses, sting rays, turtles and a wide variety of reef fish and sea lions.
Number of Dive sites: Extended
Depth: 0 – 24 meters (80 feet)
Visibility: 15 meters (50 feet)
Currents: Slight
Surge: Slight
Access: Liveaboard

 

SANTA FE ISLAND

Santa Fe Island (also known as “Barrington Island”) is located in near the center of the Galapagos Islands, southeast of Santa Cruz. Travel time is about 40 minutes by boat from the main dock in Puerto Ayora. Santa Fe is a relatively small island, measuring only around 9 square (24 square kilometers).

Diving at Santa Fe is most known for its cave of turquoise water as well as marine life like rays, sea lions, moray eels, sharks, manta rays, reef fish, lobster and octopus. You can even find marine cleaning stations around Santa Fe Island.

Experience level: Ideal for scuba novices (or snorkeling with sea lions at the surface), though the wildlife species and topography make this Galapagos dive spot interesting for intermediates and experts as well
Good for sightings of: Whitetip reef sharks, occasionally a couple of hammerheads, reef fish; sting and eagle rays; garden eels, turtles, a sea lion colony, invertebrates, morays and pelagic
Number of Dive sites: 4
Depth: 30 – 50 feet (9 – 15 meters)
Visibility: Average of 30 – 40 feet (9 – 12 meters)
Currents: Mild
Surge: Depends on the swells
Access: Liveaboard

 

SANTIAGO ISLAND (Beagle Rocks)

Three large exposed rocks, located on the southeast of Santiago Island about one and half hour from the channel.

The dive begins along a underwater platform, leading to a sloped wall covered with black coral and sea fans. Normally there are no strong currents; this is a reef dive with many corals and sponges.

Here you will find an abundance of fish including grunts, surgeonfish, yellowtail snapper, king angelfish, butterflyfish, creolefish, flag cabrilla, and schools of brown-stripped salema. Moray eels, golden eagle rays, golden cowrays, turtles, hammerheads and Galapagos sharks are also frequent sights.

Experience level: Beginner/intermediate scuba diving
Good for sightings of: Hammerheads, Galapagos sharks, mantas during the hot season, small rays, turtles and sea lions, grunts, surgeonfish, yellowtail snapper, king angelfish, butterfly fish, creole fish, flag cabrilla, schools of brown-stripped salema, moray eels, golden eagle rays and golden cowrays
Number of Dive sites: extended
Depth: 10 – 120 feet (3 – 37 meters) , where ate 40 feet deep the platform leads to a wall covered with black coral and sea fans, that drops to more than 60 meters
Visibility: 9 -18 meters (30 – 60 feet)
Currents: Light to moderate
Surge: Variable but can get strong at times
Access: Liveaboard

 

WOLF ISLAND

  • The Pinnacle

The Pinnacle, at the base of Wolf’s sheer cliffs, is a rock spire with a point just 20 feet beneath the surface of the water and a base of 120 feet.  Nearby is a wall of large boulders interspersed with several caves.

Due to the local currents, strong even by the challenging standards of the Galapagos, the Pinnacle is done as a drift dive.

That current becomes harsh near the pinnacle itself, earning the site the nickname “the Washing Machine” for its propensity to spin divers around and spit them out.

Nevertheless, the site is populated by marble rays, and at the end are some underwater caverns inhabited by whitetip reef sharks.

Experience level: Advanced
Good for sightings of: Morays, Galapagos sharks, whitetip sharks, hammerheads, tropical fish and other pelagics
Number of Dive sites:
Depth: 6 – 37 meters (20 – 120 feet)
Visibility: Averaging 12 – 21 meters (40 – 70 feet).
Currents: Light to moderate but can become heavy toward the end of the dive when divers approach the Pinnacle. Changes can be sudden and vertical currents are often present
Surge: Moderate in the shallows
Access: Liveaboard
  • Mosquera

Mosquera is a large sand bank located north to south on a shallow area between Baltra and Seymour. Travel time to Mosquera is about 30 minutes by boat from the northern dock of Santa Cruz at the Itabaca Channel.

There’s a cleaning station at about 50 feet, where snappers are in abundance and hammerheads may gather. The large colony of garden eels often has a large field of cushion just beyond. The surface interval is in a shallow sandy bottom where you may snorkel with large colonies of sea lions.

Experience level: Suitable for snorkeling and all levels of divers (although sometimes there can be strong current)
Good for sightings of: Sea Lions, Eagle Rays, Hammerheads, White-Tipped Reef Shark, Garden Eels, Snake Eels, Jack, Mackerel, Threebanded Butterflyfish, Sea Turtles, Yellowtail Surgeonfish, Yellow and Blue Striped Snappers, King Angelfish, Parrotfish, Yellowtail Grunt, Peruvian Grunt, Cardinalfish, Galapagos Grunt, Sea Stars and more.
Number of Dive sites: Extended
Depth: 20 – 90 feet (6 – 27 meters)
Visibility: Averages 40 – 50 feet (12 – 15 meters)
Currents: Usually moderate to strong
Surge: Usually moderate to strong
Access: Liveaboard