Snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands is a naturalistís dream; the bounty of unique species that inspired Darwinís theory of evolution is no less wondrous today- in water, as on land- and visitors who donít snorkel miss half the fun. The Galapagos snorkeling experience is inherently one-of-a-kind because of the countryís many endemic animals (creatures that occur in only one geographical location, and evolved to fit the unique specifications of that habitat). But endemic or not, the animals that you can see in this UNESCO World Heritage Site and marine reserve are all breathtaking, and span a wider diversity than most other snorkeling locations worldwide.
Marine Life in the Galapagos Islands
A snorkel trip to the Galapagos means swimming with animals you may never have imagined beside you, like penguins and iguanas! It also offers plentiful opportunities to swim with playful sea lions, a dream of many marine life lovers. On top of these, tons of turtles, sharks, and tropical fish crowd the scene at many snorkel spots. Coral reef is present at a couple locations, but the Galapagos is not about the colorful coral and clear water. Instead, visitors snorkel the Galapagos for big animal encounters, unique species and habitats, and land tour options.
Best Snorkel Sites in Galapagos
Punta Espinosa on Fernandina Island is a prime snorkel site in the Galapagos, near the diving site of Cabo Douglas on Fernandinaís east side. The marine mammals are unbelievable, with dolphins, orcas, humpbacks, and pilot whales in attendance- you may even be able to swim with them. In addition, the waters hold plentiful Galapagos marine iguanas munching algae, sea lions, turtles, Galapagos Penguins, and flightless cormorants. Punta Espinosa is the closest snorkelers will come to Galapagos liveaboard diving sites, since Punta Carrion, and Wolf and Darwin Islands, lie to far out to sea.
No snorkel tour in the Galapagos is complete without visiting Los Tuneles, a half-submerged, shallow maze of volcanic rock arches and tunnels, formed by hot magma when it cooled in the ocean. Snorkelers and boats can pass under the arches, while visitors on foot can walk the bridges to view blue-footed boobies and other birdlife of the area. At Los Tuneles, expect to snorkel with sea turtles, rays, penguins, white-tipped reef sharks, sea lions, and tropical fish. The water is calm and very clear, making much of the underwater scene visible even from a boat.
One of the best snorkel sites in the Galapagos is Devilís Crown, off of Floreana Island. Devilís Crown is an ancient submerged volcano, and the center which was once full of fire is now a tropical coral reef. The current is a key feature of the site; it whirls constantly, giving snorkelers a kick-free drift experience with the boat following. A wide variety of coral reef life is present here, such as snappers, groupers, angelfish, turtles, eagle rays, and sometime white-tip reef sharks and mantas.
Bartolome Island is perhaps the best of the Galapagos snorkel sites if you want to encounter Galapagos penguins. These birds are the only penguins in the northern hemisphere, and they are the second smallest penguin species in the world. They live in a huge colony on the rocks of Bartolome, so their fishing ground is also your snorkeling area. If youíre lucky, you may even see all of them jump in at once! Green sea turtles, sea lions, sharks, and colorful fish also frequent Bartolomeís rocky underwater landscape.
Kicker Rock off of San Cristobal island is an oft-photographed volcanic cone poking from the water. The marine life along its submerged vertical walls is even more fascinating. At Kicker Rock you may see white-tip reef sharks, turtles, and eagle rays, as well as sea lions. Galapagos sharks and dolphins also frequent the area. Usually itís only divers who get to see the hammerheads down in the depths, but thereís no harm in hoping.
Lobos Islet, another area near San Cristobal Island (also called Isla Lobos), is all about sea lions. There is a protected cove on the west of the island, where the open ocean only enters through a narrow passage. The white-sand cove is full of swimming sea lions who live in colonies on the rocky shore of the island. The clear water make for a prime opportunity to observe these animals and their intricate social dynamics. However, youíll probably get delightfully distracted by the pups, which are known for playing with visitors- sneaking up close to them, diving beside them, and blowing bubbles into snorkelersí masks!
Best Time to Snorkel in the Galapagos
The Galapagos waters can get quite cold from June through November- 16 to 18 C! If you want 23 to 25 C, along with calmer seas and slower currents, visit between December and May. (Whale sharks at Darwin and Wolf are common in the colder months, but only diving liveaboard tours usually venture that far from the main archipelago anyway.) Visibility is not one of the Galapagosí strong suits, with a range of 10 to 20 meters, but the copious large wildlife can usually be seen at close quarters. A lot of Galapagos snorkeling sites are only accessible by boat, so be prepared to weather some swells and breakers on your commute. You may also want to ask your tour operatorís advice on exposure suits before you travel, especially if you get cold easily.
How Do I Get To The Galapagos?
To reach the Galapagos, fly first to Ecuador. The Galapagos is only a 2 hour flight farther, from either Guayaquil or Quiton International Airports. LAN, Tame, and Avianca are frequent flight operators on the Galapagos route. (Be aware that volcanic activity in Quito sometimes affects flight schedules.)
The Galapagos' endemic plant and wildlife are highly protected; every visitor must pay 20 USD to get luggage checked for biological contaminants. Hiking boots must be free of plant matter (to temper the threat of invasive species.) Everyone also pays a national park fee on arrival, of 100 USD.