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Galapagos - Diving and Snorkeling

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Galapagos - Diving and Snorkeling

When Is the Best Time 

In general, Galapagos is a world-class destination at any time of the year. For divers, the best time is from June until November, when also Whale Sharks can be spotted. For snorkelers, warmer ocean temps from January to April may suit better. The sea is calmer, but rain can occur usually; in the afternoon.

Colorful Land Iguana on the Galapagos Islands

Galapagos; a once in a lifetime destination. Pristine nature with endemic flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth. There are plenty of boat and cruise options, but traveling independently from island to island works as well. You almost can’t explore the islands on your own only with a naturalist guide. However, most of the islands offer unlimited access to one or two awesome places for locals and visitors alike. We try to give you all the needed information for your Galapagos Adventure from another perspective. It is possible to plan your trip by yourselves if you are not focused to experience a special kind of wildlife or marine life. To be honest, we came here with high expectations and experienced immense happiness and satisfaction. Each day got topped by the next day.

Climate/Weather Galapagos and Seasons

Galapagos red-orange crabs

The islands have a cool microclimate although located in the tropics. The annual rainfall is on average around 500 mm depending on the elevation. The weather is influenced by the Humboldt current, different ocean currents, El Nino in the rainy season, and La Nina in the dry season. El Nino occurs every 5 to 7 years and causes a high amount of precipitation, a warmer ocean temp around 30°C / 86°F and even higher. Many marine mammals, reptiles, and birds die when the real El Nino occurs. The last El Nino happened in 2016. La Nina has a strong effect on the temperature; the air and ocean temps are much colder, it causes a drought. Usually, most precipitation occurs during March.

  • Rainy Season - Snorkel Season 
    Green Sea Turtle in front of a Snorkler


    December through May is the rainy season, however, often sunny and warm expect afternoon showers. The sea is calm with a good visibility and the sea temperature is between 21°C and 26°C / 70°F and 79°F. Sea lions mate in the rainy season and you might see the newborn seal pups around March and April. Due to the higher amount of precipitation the islands are in full bloom from February to April. Continue reading to figure out the best snorkel spots and tours. 
     
  • Dry Season - Diving Season 
    Free Divng at the Galapagos Islands; LosTuneles


    The Humboldt current brings cold water to the islands from June to November. The sea is nutrient rich which attracts a huge variety of fish, therefore sharks as well, seabirds like the albatross, and penguins as well. It's mostly cloudy with a higher surf. During August and September, the sea is very rough. The sea temperature varies between 18°C and 24°C / 64°F until 75°CF. From September to November the Galapagos Islands are an outstanding place to enjoy marine-life. You are able to find schools of hammerhead at Darwin & Wolf Island. Hammerhead sharks occur throughout the year at Leon Dormido (Kicker Rock). It is easy to get to Leon Dormido by guided boat trour from San Cristobal.
Peak Season 

The number of visitors is limited to the Galapagos Islands National Park. The islands are very busy around Easter, from June to early September, and again for Christmas holidays from mid-December until mid-January. Booking far in advance is advisable. Tours are fully booked and accommodation prices are on a high level. 

Low Season

Although, it is always said you have to book far in advance for Galapagos it's not true! There is a low season where you get last-minute prices for different offered tours for diving, snorkeling, and on land. These months are November and mid-January to the end of February. Mid-September and October are also not any longer super busy. You don't need to book accommodations and tours far in advance. Fly to one of the main islands; Santa Cruz (airport on Isla Baltra) or San Cristobal. The local people are attentive and appreciate having tourists on their islands. Stay in one of the many guest houses or hotels and book your excursions just one or two days before.

You like to know how to travel around the Galapagos Islands affordable ?! The team of When to be Where is updating this breathtaking place continuously now this summer 2019.

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Review and Tips 

Galapagos is the most outstanding destination for diving, snorkeling, birding, and wildlife watching on our planet. The uninhabited islands were declared a National Park in 1959 and as the first World Heritage Site in 1978. It became a Marine Reserve in 1998. The spoken languages are English and Spanish. Communication is very easy on the islands and locals will assist you where ever needed.

Blue-footed booby on the Galapagos Islands

Charles Darwin arrived on the Galapagos Islands for the first time in 1835. He became famous due to his theory of evolution. The exhibition on San Cristobal is dedicated to Charles Darwin and explains the different currents and their influence for such a rich biodiversity. 

How to Get to Galapagos

Galapagos - small plane for Isabel

You need to fly to Quito first. Stay close to the airport otherwise it’s a far travel to Quito city center. The Wyndham Hotel is located next to the Mariscal Sucre Airport. Other hotels and guesthouses nearby (Bookmark the Link for your future booking). Consider if you prefer to stay in the Quito city center you need to take a taxi for around $30 for each ride. Safe taxis are the ones with a yellow/orange sign. Take a flight to Galapagos the next day either to the main airport of the Galapagos Islands to Baltra; a small island located north of Santa Cruz or to San Cristobal. Avianca, Tame, and Lan serve the Galapagos Islands from Quito and Guayaquil in the south. Book your return flights in advance same for flights from San Cristobal to Isabel especially for the peak season. Usually flights from Quito take roughly 3 h with a short stop at Guayaquil. Prices vary a lot depending on the season.

Seahorse at the Los Tuneles Excursion - Galapagos

The biggest islands which are easier to reach are: San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, and Isabel. If you’d never been here before you may experience already the most stunning and breath-taking pristine nature on these three islands and in the ocean as well. Each island offers places around the main village/town of awesome nature which can be explored by yourselves. However, it’s a very well protected National Park and most of it has to be visited guided. This makes the difference. The animals and marine creatures are not scared. We never experienced turtles, big fish, etc. in such a high number very close. The different offered tours are limited and likely to be sold out far in advance during the peak season. However, it doesn’t matter which tour you book; all of them are spectacular.

Huge school of fish at the Galapagos Islands

How Much Time to Spend on a Cruise and the Galapagos Islands

Cruise Ship in a Lagoon at Galapagos

First of all, it depends on your preferences. Of course, a cruise along these outstanding islands is a once in a lifetime experience. Usually you can’t visit all of these islands in one cruise. Depending on the National Park permits the offered cruises are separated in sections. Some visitors just make a cruise for a couple of days while others stay here for weeks. Each island is different, every day is extraordinary and unforgettable. Stay at least a week, better two to explore several islands. To get the most out of your stay book a cruise and spend a couple of days on Galapagos. We travelled independently and spent eight days here which was too short in our opinion. We plan to go here again at least for two weeks.

Are the Galapagos Islands Safe for Traveling 

Concha de Perla - Pearl Shell on Isabela
We always left our valuables at Concha de Perla where tourists and locals are alike

What we experienced they are utterly safe not like anywhere else in Ecuador or especially in Quito. Most of the 40 thousand residents depend on tourism on their islands. They don’t earn much from the cruise ship tourism. English is commonly spoken, and all the people we met were friendly and attentive.

How Much Does a Vacation on Galapagos Cost 

Iguanas at the beach on Isabela Island
Do you see the iguana next to me

The used currency is USD. The following list should give you an idea of how much to calculate for each day during the low season: 

  • National Park fee for the entire time it doesn’t matter how long you stay on Galapagos $ 100 per adult and $ 50 per child paid at Quito airport before departure.
  • Fee for San Cristobal $ 20
  • Fee for Isabela $ 25
  • Hostel expenses maximum $ 50 per night. There are cheaper rates for basic accommodations available and luxury hotels as well.
  • The local restaurants offer quality meals for affordable prices for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Food and beverages for one day, depending on where you like to eat roughly a maximum of $30 per person if eating out twice a day. We often went out for breakfast and dinner, lunch was included in our guided boat trips. Some hostels included breakfast and most of the hotels.
  • Calculate for a half day tour roughly $ 50 – full day between $ 80-120. The big difference makes the gas used for the boat. Nearby destinations are cheaper; a guided boat tour to Bartolome, for example, is pretty expensive around $120 due to the far distance but definitely worth it.
  • Boat transfer from Isabela to Santa Cruz $ 25, duration roughly 2 hours.
The Main Galapagos Islands
San Cristobal

Sea Lions are everywhere on San Cristobal; this one is occupying a bench

This was the island where we started our Galapagos adventure. It's the oldest Galapagos Island and the second most populated with approx. 6 thousand residents. The airport and the main village are located in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (Link Google Maps). When you arrive, private taxi drivers are already waiting for guests. It’s a cooperative of taxi drivers which you will find in the entire village. The price for a ride is just a small amount of $ 2-3. In Puerto Baquerizo Moreno you can walk independently to explore the beaches and interpretation centre of the National Park. There are several restaurants along the Malecon and also two dive centres. They offer snorkel and dive trips together.

Guided Boat Trip along the coast of San Cristobal - Frigate Birds and Pelicans can be seen at the sky

What to Expect and How Long to Stay on San Cristobal

Sea lion at a cafe in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal
Sea lions are everywhere, not only at the beach. Restaurants and cafes are fenced to be protected from the curious and hungry sea lions.

Interpretation Center San Cristobal
Explore the exhibition in the interpretation centre.

Swallow tail gull at Mirador Cerro Tijeretas
Walk to the Mirador Cerro Tijeretas and enjoy the excellent view. You may spot swallow tail gulls which are nocturnal.

Turtle at Muelle Tijeretas - San Cristobal
Bring your snorkel equipment and look for turtles at Muelle Tijeretas. Snorkelling is advised during calm sea only. It takes roughly half an hour to get here from the main village.

Frigate Birds on San Cristobal
Bring a binocular or a good zoom camera to spot frigate birds, blue boobies to mention just a view.

The beach at Punta Carola is full of sea lions
Walk to Faro and Punta Carola; the beach is full of sea lions and puppies. You may spot frigate birds as well.

Highland bike tours and kayak tours are offered in the village. Spend at least three nights on San Cristobal. Book your trips on the day of arrival at one of the dive centres. Explore the area around the village and the National Park exhibition independently. It’s absolutely worth to visit San Cristobal.

Offered Guided Boat Tours

Leon Dormido - Kicker Rock - Galapagos
Leon Dormido for snorkelling and diving; famous for mantas and hammer sharks. On the way back stop at a secluded beach and a second one for relaxing and swimming.

Blue-footed Booby nesting
360° - boat trip around the entire island with a short snorkel stop at Leon Dormido. The reason for this boat trip is Punta Pitt famous for spotting a colony of blue and red footed boobies. Red footed boobies are rare to see - blue are common.

Accommodations San Cristobal - Puerto Baquerizo Moreno

There is a huge variety of hotels and hostels available in Puerto Baquerizo. Some hostels are much better rated than the hotels. Check them out before you arrive and make an advanced booking. As soon as you get to San Cristobal, enjoy the breathtaking surroundings. Have a look at the dive shops and book one of the offered boat trips. Hotels and Hostels in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (Bookmark the link to get the best available prices).

Isabela Island 

Beach in Puerto Villamil in front of the Albermale Hotel

This island is easy to reach either by plane from San Cristobal or by boat from Santa Cruz. It is the largest Galapagos Island with roughly 2000 residents only. There are six volcanos several are still active. You arrive in the main town Puerto Villamil. The small boat harbour is nearby. For the airport you need to arrange a pick up from your accommodation. It’s a small airport without any taxis waiting in front. Puerto Villamil is far less developed than Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal or Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz. This makes the difference, it’s a quiet retreat with lovely little restaurants and bars.

What to Expect and How Long to Stay on Isabela

Sea lion in the Concha Perla - Pearl Shell Lagoon during low tide
Visit Concha de Perla for snorkelling twice; once at low tide to explore the lagoon and again at high tide. If snorkelling during high tide be aware of the strong current. At high tide turtles frequent the lagoon more often. During low tide, you may spot iguanas swimming, and sea lions are having fun while playing with you. The lagoon is a little busy in the afternoon when the children come here after school.

Albermale Hotel next to the beach
The beaches on Isabela are like paradise. We had an awesome view from our balcony at the Albermarle Hotel. You can walk along the beach for several kilometres from here. We had the best stay with included breakfast at this hotel on our entire journey on the Galapagos Islands.

Tortoise Breeding Center on Isabela Island
Visit the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center. Some of the turtles have a long neck which is unusual but essential to reach their food. It’s a 20 minutes walk but plan extra time. You pass a lagoon on a boardwalk where pink flamingos filter the water with their long beak.

Los Tuneles Tour
Don’t miss the exceptional Los Tuneles excursion; just a short boat ride to mangroves where we got a seahorse shown. We spotted several male turtles trying to breed with a female from the boat, went snorkelling, dived through the tunnels, spotted resting white tip reef sharks, and at the end of the tour we stopped at Los Tuneles with breeding blue-footed boobies. There is a special kind of cactus growing one meter in 100 years.

Stingray in the Las Tintoreras Lagoon
Another awesome snorkel tour is the Las Tintoreras; just a 5 minutes boat ride to a lagoon for $ 25. The duration of the trip is three hours and takes part during low tide when the ocean life stays inside the lagoon. When we left the harbour, we spotted penguins on a rock. In the lagoon were green turtles, rays, huge fish. The visibility was excellent.

  • Take a horse to the summit of the Serra Negra with an enormous crater on 1124 m elevation. Hike from here to Volcano Chico, last eruption in 2005. Your accommodation can organize the excursion for you. It may cost roughly $50. Check the alerts first. We skipped this tour because some parts and the summit were closed. Bring a rain jacket; the volcano is often covered in clouds.
  • Visit the Wall of Tears if you have a day to spare. Prisoners built the wall in the penal colony between 1944 and 1959.
  • Spend at least three nights better four on Isabela. We loved the relaxed atmospehre and the slower pace on Isabela.
Santa Cruz the Main Island

Tortuga Bay with marine iguanas on Santa Cruz - Galapagos

More details about the main Galapagos Island Santa Cruz can be found here soon this July.

Galapagos Map

We had the luck to see every kind of life in the ocean; whale sharks, manta ray, hammerheads, whitetips & even sunfishes (3 at one dive). More pictures can be found here: Link Galapagos Pictures 
Reviewed by Leif

(Updated by When to be Where) 

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Comments

Dec 10, 2018

I visited the islands for five days only which was much too short. San Christobal and the main village Baquerizo Moreno where you arrive by plane was a lovely location for diving. I came here in February and it wasn't busy. Dive and snorkel trips were combined. The rock Leon Dormido was breathtaking for diving; because of a current plenty of sharks and rays to see. A playful seal was swimming around us after the dive.