Dive the Galápagos

Freediving and scuba diving are the best ways to explore the Galápagos

Dive the Galápagos

Originally published January 29, 2018

Diving in the Galápagos quickly became one of my top goals after completing PADI Open Water and Advanced certifications over Labor Day weekend in 2017.

Just before the New Year’s holiday, my friend Joe and I headed south to explore the islands and document the marine life.

Based on our experiences, I prepared a guide to help make the trip logistics a little less daunting for others.

Know before you go

  • Book your hotel in advance using a site like Bookings.com. In addition to online reviews, we considered details like proximity to the main pier, restaurants, and dive shops.
  • The internet speed on the islands was… the worst. Tanzania and Nepal had much faster wifi. It was hard to check reviews and prices for hotels, dive shops, etc. after we arrived. Plan accordingly.
  • Bring US dollars; it is Ecuador’s official currency. The smaller the bills, the better. You will use cash for everything, and the ATMs can be hit or miss. Cards are rarely accepted and, if they are, usually incur a 7-8% fee. We burned $1500-1800 cash per person for a two week stay. This included everything – all dives, hotels, food, ferries, taxis, tips, souvenir t-shirts, etc.

At the airport in mainland Ecuador

Buy a Galápagos Transit Control Card. When you arrive at the airport in Ecuador to fly to the Galápagos, you must purchase this card. There was a little booth next to the airline check-in counters selling them and inspecting bags. It cost $20 USD cash. Put it in a safe place and DO NOT lose it. An airport employee will ask to see it when you fly back from the Galápagos to the mainland.

Upon arrival (Baltra Airport)

  • The Galápagos Islands have a $100 USD cash entry fee.
  • Use the restrooms at the airport. It will take 1.5hrs to get to your hotel in Puerto Ayora.
  • As you exit the airport building, turn right. There are free shuttles that will take you to the ferry dock.
  • The ferry ride to Santa Cruz Island lasts about 3 minutes and costs $1 cash.
  • Take a taxi for ~ $20 or bus for $4 to Puerto Ayora. We took the bus. It was fine. You must negotiate for taxis.
  • If you opt for the bus to Puerto Ayora, you can also take a taxi to your hotel once you arrive at the main pier. It cost me $2. Or, just walk to your hotel using Google Maps (download the area to your phone before you go).
  • Puerto Ayora is pretty small. Walk around. You’ll quickly learn the main streets.

Returning to Baltra Airport from Santa Cruz

  • Do not worry about taking the bus. Just call a taxi, negotiate the ride down to ~ $20, and split it with a friend.
  • The ferry from Santa Cruz to Baltra seemed to run every 30 minutes the day of our flight.

Groceries and toiletries

  • Shop around. The prices varied wildly – e.g. Agua con gas ranged from $1 to $4. Baby shampoo (aka mask defogger) ranged from $3 to $6 for the same tiny bottle.
  • Puerto Ayora’s main grocery story, which sells essentials like TP, is west of the pier. There are several other shops selling similar goods scattered throughout the area.

Meals

  • There are lots of restaurants along Charles Binford Ave. On most nights, there were about 75-100 people eating at tables in the middle of the street. The atmosphere was great.
  • Galápagos Deli – This place is great for breakfast. A tip from watching locals… If you order a meal with eggs, save some of the bread they give you – it’s a lot – and make a breakfast sandwich with it.
  • Isla Grille – This was our go-to lunch and dinner spot. The wifi was hard to beat anywhere else on Santa Cruz (only took 30 seconds to upload a photo to Instagram). There was also a decent pizza place next door.

Coffee (nothing amazing)

  • OMG Coffee – Decent lattes and café con leches
  • Isla Grille – Decent café con leches

Diving and snorkeling pricing

The following prices are from January 2018.

  • Academy Diving – $170 for 2-dive day trip, $120-30 for 2-snorkel day trip.
  • Natural Selection – $130 for 2-snorkel day trip (8AM-4PM) at Pinzón. No trips offered to Isabela.
  • Galápagos Dreams Adventures – $100 for Isabela snorkel day trip (7AM-4PM). $165 for 2-dive day trip. Every day.
  • Ninfa Tour – $130 for day trip to Isabela that included snorkeling and other activities. $100 for 2-snorkel trip to Santa Fe. No diving offered.
  • Albatros Diving – $180 for 2-dive trip to Seymour. Overall limited availability.
  • Nauti Diving – $180 for 2-dive trip to Daphne. No snorkeling offered. Gordon rocks required 20 dives.

Ferries on Santa Cruz

You can purchase ferry tickets at several locations in Puerto Ayora – e.g. Cab Martus – near the main pier. The price was $30 for a 2hr ferry to Isabela (one way). The ferries to Isabela departed at 7:00AM and 2:00PM. Return ferries to Santa Cruz left at 6am and 3pm. Book ferries the day before departure to ensure you get a seat. We saw multiple tourists who tried to book the day of and were turned away. Some of the ferries were also fully booked a day or two out.

Sample itinerary

Below is a quick overview of our itinerary. Feel free to follow in our footsteps!

Day 1 – Wednesday

  • Flew to Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador
  • Spent the night at a hotel in Guayaquil

Day 2 – Thursday

  • Flew to the Galápagos (Baltra Island)
  • Walked around Puerto Ayora
  • Started obtaining quotes for dive/snorkel trips

Day 3 – Friday

  • Snorkeled in the AM near the Charles Darwin Research Station and saw a large Green Sea Turtle
  • Talked to more dive shops about prices
  • Snorkeled in the PM near the Charles Darwin Research Station

Day 4 – Saturday

  • Snorkeled at German Beach near Las Grietas. The water taxi from the main pier cost $1. It was only a 5-10 minute walk from where we were dropped off. We saw a Green Sea Turtle, a variety of fish, and an eagle ray.
German Beach on Santa Cruz, Galápagos, January 2018

Day 5 – Sunday

  • Snorkeled near the Charles Darwin Research Station. Saw a ray.
  • Enjoyed a $17 New Year’s Eve lobster dinner

Day 6 – Monday

  • Snorkeled and did some freediving at Santa Fe Island with Eagle Ray tours for $120. The dive shop picked us up from our hotel. This trip had great viz and some close encounters with sea lions. Saw lots of other fish. There were a couple of Green Sea Turtles at the second snorkeling spot on the tour, but the viz was much worse.

Day 7 – Tuesday

  • Dove at Santa Fe Island with Academy Diving. Met the dive shop employees near their shop around 7AM. We did not see much on either dive. There were a couple of sea lions far away. Terrible viz.
  • Moved to a new hotel (due to room availability issues)

Day 8 – Wednesday

  • Paid a cab driver near the pier $40 to go visit the tortoises at El Chapto. The manager at El Chapo gave us 30 minutes to wander around for $5. The driver waited in the parking lot. When we got back in the car, the driver offered to take us to a volcanic crater for $10 more, but we declined.

Day 9 – Thursday

  • Snorkeled and did some freediving at Daphne with Planeta Azul. We met their staff in the morning near the shop. On the trip, we encountered one white tip shark, a Green Sea Turtle, and a sea lion.

Day 10 – Friday

  • Took the Blue Fantasy ferry to Isabela for $30. Bumpy ride. Before we boarded, we had to exchange our purchase receipt for lanyards from people at the dock.
  • Cost $10 cash to enter Isabela and $1 – each way – for the water taxi to the ferry
  • Snorkeled at Isabela in the morning and afternoon. Saw a sea lion, Green Sea Turtle, and an eagle ray, but the viz was not great. Isabela was definitely the best place we visited for Marine Iguanas.
  • Food was not great. Santa Cruz had much better options.
  • Truck taxi was $3 from our hotel to the ferry

Day 11 – Saturday

  • Went freediving and snorkeling in the morning. Saw an octopus, Green Sea Turtle, and a baby sea lion nursing.
  • Took the ferry back to Santa Cruz in the afternoon

Day 12 – Sunday

  • Took the ferry to San Cristóbal
  • Went freediving and snorkeling at Cerro Tijeretas, a 20 minute walk from our hostel. Saw a sea lion. Good viz. Other snorkelers saw lots of turtles.
  • Found an amazing bakery near the hostel

Day 13 – Monday

  • Snorkeled and went freediving at Kicker Rock off of Cristóbal with Galápagos Cruising Muran S.A. Boat was tiny and did not include a bathroom. Trip lasted from 10:30AM - 2:30PM. We saw a pod of dolphins on the way to Kicker Rock and one hammerhead upon arrival. We also saw a few white tip sharks, a sea lion, large schools of Black-striped Salemas, and two Green Sea Turtles. At a second snorkeling spot, we saw a few sea lions and a number of fish. This was probably the best snorkeling and freediving of the entire trip.
  • Took the “Andy” ferry back to Santa Cruz at 3pm

Day 14 – Tuesday

  • Went freediving at Seymour with a company called Dive Center. Saw several turtles and a few black-tip sharks.
Freediving in the Galápagos, January 2018 | Photo credit: Joe Ensley

Day 15 – Wednesday

  • Flew back to Guayaquil
  • Flew back to Miami