Get the Most Out of Your Underwater Adventure on These Islands!
Some people will argue that Galapagos under the sea offers even better wildlife observation opportunities that what you can find on land. Recognized as a World Heritage site in 2001, the Galapagos Marine Reserve is one of the largest in the world and covers an area equivalent to the size of Greece.
There are good reasons for this.
Fishing is solely permitted to locals, and only artisanal fishing practices are allowed. The large international tuna fleets are kept out, operating just beyond the limits of the marine reserve, 65 kilometres / 40 miles out from the nearest land point. As a result, you’ll be hard-pressed to find more pristine ocean waters anywhere else. It is worthwhile to perfect your snorkelling skills before starting your Galapagos vacation to ensure you get the most out of your time in the islands.
We asked 12 Galapagos naturalist guides who have worked a combined total of 231 years to evaluate all the snorkelling sites accessible to visitors (39 in all). They rated them from 0 to 100. Here's what they found:
Champion Islet - Score: 96%
Located just off the island of Floreana island in the southern part of the archipelago, this small island’s eastern side is bathed by ocean currents, which bring up rich nutrients from deeper waters. Naturalist guides rate the snorkelling around Champion as the best in Galapagos. Sea lions, sea turtles, white tip sharks, sea horses, schools of tropical fish - and if you're lucky, hammerheads, giant manta rays dolphins and eels can be spotted here.
Score Punta Mejia - Marchena Island: 94%
Located on the northern edge of the main group of islands, this rarely visited snorkelling site is rated as among the top snorkelling sites in Galapagos. Deep, calm and clear waters of the northern archipelago along with jagged topography of the place give the feeling of witnessing the first years of our planet and its underwater world. In addition to a wide variety of fish, snorkelers often see stingrays, sea turtles, reef sharks and from time to time, some marine mammals such as false killer whales and pilot whales.
Devil's Crown - Floreana Island: 91%
Coral formations can be found in this flooded volcanic crater. They attract other marine animals, making it one of the best snorkelling spots in the Galapagos. You can see sea lions, sharks, stingrays, tropical fish, eels and sea turtles or watch a blue-footed booby as it dives into the water to catch their prey. The outer rim of the crater is a paradise for birds, including boobies, pelicans, frigates and red-billed tropical birds.
Score Punta Vicente Roca – Isabela Island: 90%
Located off the northwestern coast of Isabela Island, the waters here are bathed by the nutrient-rich Cromwell current. You’re likely to see mantas, sea turtles, marine iguanas and sea lions. The famous mola mola (ocean sunfish), a very large, unusual fish might be spotted. With some additional luck, you could actually see a whale shark cruising by (more likely between June and November). You’ll almost certainly see penguins. Above the waves, onshore, blue-footed and Nazca boobies preen alongside an occasional flightless cormorant.
North Seymour - 86%
This is the only one of the 5 best snorkelling spots that can be visited by land-based visitors (via a full day trip). North Seymour is located just off Baltra Island (a.k.a. South Seymour) – where the main airport in Galapagos is located. You’re almost certain to swim along with white-tipped reef sharks and with as are a variety of other tropical fish such as angelfish, stingrays, parrotfish and sea lions – who are like underwater puppy dogs.
The waters of the Galapagos are the warmest from January to May and the coolest from August to November. People used to swim in cold waters can do without a wetsuit at any time of the year, but generally, at least one shorty is appreciated from June to December, and most should be able to do without a wetsuit between February and April.