Diving

Galápagos dive sites

The center of the Galapagos Archipelago

Print Version of this page - Photos taken in the Galapagos - Galápagos dive info (dive operators, liveaboards, dive safety) - Galápagos maps (print version - in color) - Marine animals seen underwater in the Galapagos (print version)

Academy Bay - Albany Rock - Bainbridge Rocks - Baltra - Bartolomé - Beagle Rocks - Coamaño - Cousin's Rock - Daphne - El Bajo Solmar - Gordon's Rock - Guy Fawkes - James Bay - La Lavadora - Mosquera - Nameless Rock - North Seymour - Piedra Blanca - Pinzon - Plaza islands - Punta Estrada - Rabida - Santa Cruz - Santa Fe - Santiago - Sombrero Chino

The center islands of the Galapagos are surrounded by water that is not so deep as in the north or west. Most places are more protected and the water generally is somewhat warmer (21 to 26°C around Santa Cruz and slightly cooler around Santiago). Dive sites are very varied and can be combined with land trips to the different islands. There are nice reefs near Floreana (Devil's Crown, Onslow island) and Bartolomé island.

Most of the scuba diving in this area is done in day trips from Puerto Ayora, where there are several dive operators with small, but fast boats. Your other choice is to go on a liveaboard trip which either gets you around the central and southern islands or to the north and western part of the Galapagos.

Map of the dive sites in the central islands of the Galapagos
(Santiago, Santa Cruz, Santa Fe and surrounding smaller islands) - print version

Galapagos center islands - Galapagos Inseln im Zentrum

Click on the names to jump to the dive site.
Google Earth pictures: Bainbridge Rocks - Baltra, Mosquera, Seymour - Bartolomé (Details) - Beagle Rocks - Caleta de Tortuga - Cousin's Rock - Daphne - Gordon Rock - Guy Fawkes - Nameless Rock - Piedra Blanca - Plaza islands and Gordon's Rock - Plazas - Puerto Ayora - Rabida - Santa Fe

Santiago (San Salvador / James)

Santiago is dominated by Cerro Cowan (907m), a large volcano in the northwestern side of the island. There is much evidence of volcanic activity such as lava flows, boulders and black volcanic sand on the beaches. I was specially impressed with the large lava field in the Sullivan Bay and Bartolome, where a very liquid type of lava has covered large stretches and forms interesting whirls, waves and bubbles (hornitos - small ovens). Santiago Geology - Santiago (Global Volcanism Program)

Albany Rock lies in the northwest of Santiago a short distance south of the well known Buccaneer's Cove (mainland Santiago with saltwater lagoons where flamingos live). Albany Rock is a small crescent shaped island. You dive at a protected cove with little current. There is a sloping rock wall covered with sea fans and yellow black coral and large boulders, rocks, and underwater pinnacles with many crevices. Marine turtles, barracudas, golden and spotted eagle rays and Galapagos shark have been seen here and on the rocks live groupers like the common flag cabrillas (Epinephelus labriformes) and on the sandy plateau red lipped bat fishes have been found. Piedra Blanca is also a dive site, though I don't have any information about it. Google Earth pictures: Piedra Blanca

James Bay (Puerto Egas) has a large fur seal colony. Fur seals and sea lions are seen underwater on most dive sites. Here they are extremely playful, come close to the diver, play with you, literally swim hoops around you, going straight for your head and turning aside at the last possible moment. Then they hover close by and seem to imitate you by letting air out of their mouth, push you a little here and there and check out your fins. While the females come close, the males patrol more on the edge of the group and try to keep their females together. Fur seals and sea lions can also be seen while snorkeling. This is a interesting dive site because you can find some animals here that you usually only find in Isabela such as sea pens, horn sharks and sand anemones because the water is quite cold here. Also good for scorpionfishes, seahorses, iguanas, sea robins and moreys.

Cousin's Rock is a well known dive site and is situated off the east coast of Santiago (north of Bartolome). This is one of my favorite dive sites, mostly because of the combination of nicely covered rocks and the possibility to see large animals as well. The rock has a triangular shape and rises about 10m out of the water. Underwater it is steep on the northern and western side and sloping on the eastern side. In the south lies a large rock separated by a narrow channel from the island.
We started on the steep wall and basically just jumped right into a enormous school of black striped salema (Xenocys jessiae). It was so enormous, that when we swam into the school we were completely surrounded by fish, it actually became dark and even for our bubbles the fish wouldn't budge much. I stayed still and stopped breathing and the fish closed in and nearly touched me.

You dive on 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 corals, small hard corals, sea fans, hydroid bushes and red sponges. Because of the many ledges and overhangs small animals can hide well - you will find different species of hawkfish (Oxycirrhites typus, Cirrhitichthys oxyphalus, Cirrhitus rivulatus), nudibranchs, sea horses and even frogfishes. Out in the blue you can see mobula rays, mantas and sharks (white tipped reef sharks, hammerhead sharks). Cousin's Rock is also known for the large groups of spotted eagle rays seen here and there are a lot of sea lions which like to chase the salemas.
Around the southern part there is also a nice area with a large rock separated from the mainland by a small channel. The rock has a huge longish overhang where black coral bushes grow. There can be current here, so it is not always not be possible to swim around it. Just go back and cross over through the small channel. Google Earth pictures: Cousin's Rock

Invertebrates in the Galapagos - fact sheet marine animals / Photos of invertebrates

Molluscs: There are over a hundred species of Mollusks found in the Galapagos, about 18% of the shallow water mollusks are endemic. Among them are several nudibranchs that are probably endemic to the Galapagos islands. The starry night nudibranch (Hypselodoris lapislazuli) has a dark blue body with yellow dots. Creme to brown colored border and gills. Length 3 to 5cm. Feeds on sponge. The Ruzafa Doris (Chromodoris ruzafai) has a pale-blue body with irregular reddish band marked with yellow spots. Pink gills and dark brown rhinophores. The blue-striped sea slug (Tambja mullineri, also called Mulliner Doris) has turcoise-blue stripes with dark blue rhinophores and gills, 2 to 4 cm large. The Carolyn Doris (Platydoris carolynaeare) has a flattened cream colored body with black and brown pigment and a large elongate black spot on the back with dark rhinophores and gills. There is also two species of intertidal slugs (living in estuarine mangroves or on rocky coasts), lung breathing dark colored oval slugs, which are endemic to the Galapagos. / Photos of some of these animals

There are more nudibranchs living here, such as Robastra, Flabellina marcusorum, Aplysia cedrosensis, Aeolidiella indica and A. alba, Berthellina engeli, Cadlina sparsa, Hypselodoris agassizii. They are not endemic, but also found around the east Pacific coast (Costa Rica, California).

Many octopuses (Octopus oculifer and other species) are found in the rocky areas. It is worth to take a close look at the rocks because although they might sit in plain view, they are so well camouflaged, that they are easily overlooked. they seem to be not very shy and when we found one, it was moving slowly around and didn't hide straight away as I am used to from tropical water. So called paper nautilus or argonauts (Argonauta pacificus) can also be found on the Galapagos and flying squids (Sthenoteuthis ovalaniensis) are common food for birds. / Photos of some of these animals

Corals: The Galapagos black coral (Antipathes galapagensis) is actually of yellow color and builds large bushes. It is called black, because when dried, the internal skeleton has a black color. Black coral is harvested commercially and used for jewelry and and thus is often overexploited. Black coral is a soft coral and does not form a corallite. Most of black coral in the Galapagos were not affected by the 1982 / 83 El Niño event, because they live not so close to the surface. There are also a lot of tube corals living here, which are also called popcorn corals. The orange cup coral (Tubastrea cocinea) and the pink cup coral (Tubastrea tagusensis), gorgonians sea fans as well as the small Mexican anemones (Bunodactis mexicana) and some tube corals (Pachycerianthus fimbriatus) grow around the Galapagos. Photos of this animal / More about corals.

Other invertebrates: The most well known crab is the sally lightfoot crab (Grapsus grapsus) who lives on the shores of all islands. They are scavengers and feed on almost anything. They climb over the lizards and groom them, eating parasites and algae growing on the skin. Of course there are also a lot of hermit crabs and shrimps as well as slipper lobsters and other lobsters. You will also often find several different species of sea stars and sea cucumbers. There are pencil urchins (Eucidaris thouarsii) which eat corals or toxic sea urchins like Toxotneustes roseus. Photos of invertebrates / About the largest starfish

Bartolomé island

Bartolomé island lies close to Santiago island, only separated by the shallow Sullivan Bay. Bartolome is famous for its landmark, the jutting Pinnacle Rock and the really beautiful view you have over two beaches and the bay, when you climb up to the hilltop (114m). This place is really good to see different volcanic formations and lava fields. You can dive or snorkel around this rock but also at the East Point. Already close to the beach you will find sea anemones, sea urchins and I even saw an octopus while snorkeling in the northern bay. While diving you will find morays and schools of the Panamic sergeant major (Abudefduf troschelii - Fishbase) and the Bullseye puffer (Sphoeroides annulatus - Fishbase) on the walls, slopes, overhangs and around the caverns and crevices. Google Earth pictures: Bartolomé (Details)

     

Bartolomé island

    

Lava formation Sullivan-Bay

Further south there is a group of rocks and small islands with several dive sites, such as the Bainbridge Rocks and Sombrero Chino with the Beagle Rocks even further south towards Rabida island. Google Earth pictures: Bainbridge Rocks - Beagle Rocks

Sombrero Chino(Chinese hat) is a small island formed by a single extinct cone. It is quite a well known dive site with nice rock formations underwater, volcanic rubble and sharp outcroppings.

The Beagle Rocksare two large and a small rock, the remains of a tuff cone. A nice dive site with really a lot of fish, schools of grunts, snappers, surgeonfishes and salema.

Galapagos penguins (Spheniscus mendiculus), which are the second smallest penguins in the world and the only species also found north of the equator live here. Standing up they are about 35cm high, the total length is about 50cm. On land they are very slow and clumsy. But underwater they are very interesting to observe, they always leave a visible track of bubbles behind them and move at incredible speeds. Penguins have a very special swimming style. Using their wings as flippers they literally zip around the water, they are able to make sharp turns, swim in zigzag and even make flips. The Galapagos penguin is mainly found in the western islands where the water is cooler, but also around Santiago and Floreana. They breed at any time during the year, their clutch is two eggs, but most times only one will survive. Fact sheet marine animals

Rabida island (Jervis)

Rabida is a small island to the southwest of Santiago with interesting redish lava. There is a large saltwater lagoon with flamingos and a colony of pelicans. Isla Rabida is actually the best place to see breeding pelicans. You dive on the western side of the island (West Cove) and the north (North Point), where it drops down to over 30m. There is a large colony of sea lions and you can of course also encounter them underwater. Eagle rays, white-tip and Galapagos sharks, schools of salema and sea turtles are also seen here. The place is also good for observing marine iguanas feeding underwater. Google Earth pictures: Rabida

 

Around Baltra (South Seymour)

On Baltra is the main airport of the Galapagos, where flights from Ecuador mainland land. There are two islands north of Baltra, the small island Mosquera and the larger North Seymour with narrow channels separating them. This area offers superb diving (if the visibility is fine). Google Earth pictures: Baltra, Mosquera, Seymour

North Seymour

North Seymore: We did several dives on the northeastern part of Seymore, some starting just at the corner, some a bit more south. You dive on a rocky slope and end up in the shallower area close to the island. Jacks, manta rays, eagle rays, marble rays, stingrays and even hammerhead sharks and marlins have been seen here. There are also lots of reef fishes like Yellowtail grunts and bluestriped snappers (rayado) and salemas in schools. Since there are a lot of fish here, you can often observe birds like boobies diving into the water from above and swimming down to catch them and of course there are also sea lions here.

Seymour Channel (to the south) can be an excellent dive site. The area is not very deep (about 20m) but sometimes there is quite a lot of current. You start from the eastern corner and following the major currents, you dive relatively fast over the rock plateau. Galapagos sharks cruise around and there are fish everywhere. There is a large sandy area at 15m with a colony of endemicgarden eels and white tipped reef sharks sleeping. You finish the dive either over this sandy area or you cruise along the slope of Seymore and end up north of the beach.

Mosquera

Mosquera is a large sand bank which lies north to south on a shallow area between Baltra and Seymore. There are two dive sites, West Beach and East Mosquera. Check dives are done here frequently because it lies close to Baltra.

East Mosquera: You start in the southeast corner and then go to the north. The eastern side forms a vertical wall with large boulders, the top is around 15 to 22 meters. You start your dive on a slope with boulders which at some places gives way to a mini wall and then reach a drop off where you usually find schools of grunts and snappers. The current comes from the east most of the time and can be quite strong in the channels north and south of Mosquera.

West Beach: There is a large colony of sea lions on the western sandbar.

Daphne island (Mayor and Minor)

Daphne Mayor: Here you dive in the south on a flat slope with large rocks between. It is worth to go close to the island on the last part of the dive, because there are areas with corals and with sea urchins, sea stars and everything is covered with cardinal fishes. We saw manta rays, green turtles, Almaco Jacks, sea lions, yellowtail grunts, large flag cabrilla and lots of blue striped snappers. Sometimes sharks and eagle rays are also seen here. Google Earth pictures: Daphne

Daphne Minor: You can dive around the smaller of the two islands in one dive, specially if the currents help you part of the way. This is mostly wall diving, though there is a shallower plateau where you can make your safety stop. The walls are nicely covered with black corals and Gorgonians. A lot of small fish hiding there, marine turtles and sea lions join you and Gringos (Creole fish) school close to the rocks.

Piedra Ahogada (Drowned Rock): I heard, that this is a place, that pieces of machinery and small lead bombshells are lying around, probably from the U.S. Air Force which had a base on the Galapagos during World War II. It is said that this rock was much larger before it was used for target practice by the U.S. Air Force. Close to Daphne there is a dive site Tiburon Arecho (Horny Shark) which is a seamount that peaks at about 16m.

Santa Cruz (Indefatigable)

The main settlement on the Galapagos is in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz. You can easily spend some extra days before or after a liveaboard trip here, walk to Tortuga Bay, see the lava tunnels and visit the Darwin station to observe the different species of endemic giant turtles or visit the highlands. Puerto Ayora lies at the Academy Bay which offers several dive sites within easy reach (10-20 min by boat). The dive operators here also offer day trips to the dive sites up the coast, for example Gordon Rocks or Plazas islands. Some trips also go even further north to Baltra (North Seymour, Mosquera, Daphne islets) and even to Santiago (Bartolome, Cousins) and south to Santa Fe. There is also the possibility to make a two-day tour to Floreana.
Santa Cruz Geology - Santa Cruz (Global Volcanism Program) / Google Earth pictures: Caleta de Tortuga - Puerto Ayora

  

Caleta Tortuga Negra - marine turtle in the lagoon

Caleta Tortuga Negra or black turtle cove lagoon (not the same as Tortuga Bay close to Puerto Ayora) is not a dive site, but still interesting for people who like marine animals. The cove lies to the north of Santa Cruz, close to Baltra. The boat ride through the small labyrinthine channels of mangroves is incredible. In the shallow water we saw golden cownose ray (Phinoptera steindachneri) and eagle rays (Aetobatus narinari) that glide through the shallow water and small white tipped sharks between the mangroves. In December to February the green marine turtles are mating here.

Gordon's Rock (La Lavadora)

Gordon's Rocks (Roca Gordon) is said to be one of the best dive sites around Santa Cruz. The rocks lie a short distance north of the Plazas islands off the east coast of Santa Cruz. You dive in remnants of an old crater about 100m across. There are two large crescent shaped rocks on the north and south (the rim), and a smaller rock with a channel and 3 underwater pinnacles in the west. In the middle of the area lies another pinnacle jutting up to about 17m. You can dive on all sides of the crater, both inside (sandy area) and out (vertical walls, very deep). Currents can be very strong here, the local name for the dive site is La Lavadora (washing machine). Since there are often heavy currents, eddies and down currents, swells and surge (specially inside the caldera) and the water is deep, this dive site is not for beginners.

We did several dives here and depending on the current we started the dive either along the wall or with a visit to the pinnacle in the middle. This pinnacle is beautifully covered with black corals. At the top are large clouds of endemic blacktip cardinal fishes (Apogon atradorsatus) covering everything. After you take a good look around you should start towards the three pinnacles in the northwest which connect the rocks underwater. They jut up to nearly the surface (6-2m) with deeper channels (15m) between. There is always some current and swell here, but it is easy to shelter on the lee side. Channels, crannies and cracks run down the rock, good places to see stingrays and sleeping reef sharks. On our dives we literally swam in fish soup, sometimes you felt like you had to push the fish away! You can also dive on the outer side of the rock, here it drops nearly vertically down to several hundred meters. There is a good chance for schools of hammerheads, whitetips and Galapagos sharks, amberjacks and pompano, eagle rays and golden cowrays, marlins and green turtles. This is also a good place to observe fur seals underwater. Google Earth pictures: Gordon Rock

Fur seals are not so common in the Galapagos, but at Gordon rocks and James Bay (Santiago) there are large colonies of them. Fur seals generally prefer rocky shores with sea caves for breeding while sea lions prefer beaches. There are two species of pinnipeds living on the Galapagos islands - the Galapagos fur seals (Arctocephalus galapogoensis / español: Lobo de dos pelos or lobo fino / Deutsch: Pelzseelöwe oder Galapagos-Seebär) and the Galapagos sea lions (Zalophus californicum wollebacki / español: lobo de mar / Deutsch: Seelöwe). Actually the name "fur seal" is misleading, since they are not true seals but also sea lions, the correct name should be fur sea lion. Photos of this animal

The Galapagos islands lie on the equator and actually these two species of pinnipeds have reached the islands coming from very different directions. Fur seals are believed to have come from the south (their ancestor is the South American fur sea lion) and sea lions came from the north (their close ancestor is the Californian sea lion).

They differ by their size - the fur seal is smaller and more compact with large eyes and ears that stick out noticeably. Fur seals have a thick, dense coat consisting of two layers, an outer layer of long hairs and an inner one of short dense fur (thus the name fur seal). This thick fur is of course a relict from their origins in cold southern water and it was the reason why they were hunted nearly to extinction before the Galapagos island became a National Park. Fur seals have a broader head, whereas sea lions have a pointed head.

Fur seals feed primarily on fish and cephalopods, close to shore and exclusively at night when their prey migrates closer to the surface. Breeding time is between mid-August and mid-November, most pups being born between late September and early October.

Sea lions normally dive down quite deep, from 20 to 70m. They are often seen where large schools of their preferred prey, sardines are. Breeding time is from May - January.

Seal conservation society on Galapagos fur seals - Seal conservation society on Galapagos sea lions - Fact sheet marine animals

     

rocks with fur seals - swimming fur seal - sea lion on the beach- more Photos

Plaza islands

The two islets, North and South Plaza are only divided by a narrow channel, the bottom is fine sand and silt. Currents can be strong here. There is a large colony of sea lions here and you meet them underwater, where they come close to you, make sharp turns underwater and play with you. Watch out for the male - he doesn't like it, if the females come too close to you. Along the south shore of South Plaza there are patches of coral reef. Here you can see butterflyfishes, damselfishes, wrasses, moorish idols as well as juvenile barracudas and sharks. The water around the northern shore of North Plaza is calmer and there are numerous crevices and caves. Google Earth pictures: Plazas

Academy Bay, Puerto Ayora

I recommend, that you check out all the dive operators first, before you choose one. Some have relatively slow boats, some have better equipment than others. All dive sites are within easy reach of Puerto Ayora, the dive sites in the sheltered bay are also good for beginners and since they lie close to Puerto Ayora, they are very convenient for the dive operators. These dive sites are interesting, but there are better dive sites further north (for example Gordon Rock). The visibility there is also better than in the Bay itself. Outside of the bay there can be strong currents, but there is a better chance to see sharks and other large pelagic fishes. Google Earth pictures: Puerto Ayora

Coamaño Island (Caamaño) is a small island just outside the bay. An easy dive. Sea lions join you as soon as you enter the water. There are also marine iguanas and tropical fishes.

Punta Estrada (Sea Turtle Canyon) is a point to the west of Academy bay. Waves and currents are quite moderate here. You can see stingrays, marine iguanas feeding, sea lions, green sea turtles, golden rays, whitetip reef sharks. If you go to the east side of the point where a channel leads towards the mangroves you might also see pelicans which dive into the shallow waters there.

El Bajo Solmar, a nice dive site which lies in the south of the Academy bay. A bajo (Spanish for low) is the name for a submerged shoal. Around these places usually a lot of fish gather. You might find whitetip sharks, morays, eagle rays, stingrays and turtles.

Punta Nuñez Cliffs lie to the east of Academy bay. I read it is wall diving and there is even a cave.

  

Tortuga Bay - Giant turtle at the Darwin station - more Photos

Nameless Rock (Isla Sin Nombre)

Nameless Rock lies to the west of Santa Cruz towards Pinzon, it is actually only a single large rock! It is a difficult dive on a steep wall with strong currents, down currents and surge. It is worth it, though, you might see Galápagos sharks, schools of pelagic fish, turtles and rays and there are sponges and small corals on the rocks. Only for experienced divers. Google Earth pictures: Nameless Rock

Guy Fawkes Island

The Guy Fawkes island are two crescent-shaped islands and two small rocks and lie to the northwest of the coast of Santa Cruz. Diving here is easy with not much current. Google Earth pictures: Guy Fawkes

Pinzon (Duncan)

Isla Pinzon lies on the northwest side of Santa Cruz. The dive sites here are not so well known, beacuse the island is visited infrequently. Currents can be a bit tricky and the dive sites are quite deep. There is an underwater plateau where you can find eagle rays, mantas, marine turtles, eels, seahorses and lobsters. In the shallow area near the tower rocks you might also find horn sharks and red-lipped batfishes (Ogcocephalus darwini).

Santa Fé (Barrington)

There are three dive sites around Santa Fe island, the Lagoon, La Botella and the Caves (a cavern with a tunnel).

La Botella: The dive site lies on the west of Santa Fé close to a sandy bay where you can anchor. This is a very easy dive, no current at all, so the dive center we dived with traditionally goes there on Sunday mornings - so if the guests still have a hangover from Saturday night they can still manage this dive! You dive along a slope over boulders with black coral bushes. We saw a couple seals and rays and a large school of yellowtail surgeon fishes (Prionurus laticlavius). There are also small nudibranchs (Tambja mullineri) and hawkfishes and small colorful gobies are found between the rocks. Google Earth pictures: Santa Fe

More information

Bathymetric Map of the Galapagos Islands with dive areas - print version

Galapagos map of dive sites - Galapagos Karte der Tauchgebiete

0-200m / 200-400m / then 400m-contour intervals to 3200m below sea level
Click on the names to jump to the dive areas.

Galápagos scuba diving pages:

Information

Photos taken in the Galapagos
Fact sheet for the Galápagos Archipelago (liveaboards, dive operators, weather and climate, dive conditions, dive safety, hotels)
Selection of Maps of dive areas in the Galápagos Archipelago
Marine animals of the Galápagos

Galapagos North

Anchorage - Channel - Darwin - Darwin's Arch (Rock Arch) - Darwin Bay (Genovesa) - Genovesa - Hat Island - Landslide (Wall) - Marchena - Pinaculos - Pinta - Punta Espejo - Shark Bay - Tower Rock - Underwater Rock - Wolf

Galapagos West

Cape Douglas - Cape Marshall - Elizabeth Bay - Fernandina - Isabela - Los Hermanos - Punta Albemarle - Punta Espinoza - Punta Morena - Punta Vicente Roca - Roca Redonda - Tagus Cove - Tortuga

Galapagos Center
(on this page)

Academy Bay - Albany Rock - Bainbridge Rocks - Baltra - Bartolomé - Beagle Rocks - Coamaño - Cousin's Rock - Daphne - El Bajo Solmar - Gordon's Rock - Guy Fawkes - James Bay - La Lavadora - Mosquera - Nameless Rock - North Seymour - Piedra Blanca - Pinzon - Plaza islands - Punta Estrada - Rabida - Santa Cruz - Santa Fe - Santiago - Sombrero Chino

Galapagos South and East

Champion Rock - Devil's Crown - Enderby - Gardner (Española) - Española - Floreana - Hancock Bank - Leon Dormido (Kickers Rock) - Punta Pitt - Punta Suarez - San Cristobal - Santa Maria

Lots of information about scuba diving in Southeast Asia (Borneo, Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia east coast, Philippines, Thailand). With photos, maps and fact sheets.


. Copyright Teresa Zubi