It wasn’t until recent years that the Galapagos Islands were really put on the map as a world class diving destination. Nowadays, thanks to the world renowned and the very popular BBC series of ‘Blue Planet’ and later ‘Galapagos‘, awareness and appreciation of this archipelago was delivered to the masses. Ever since listening to Sir David Attenborough describing the stunning location and it’s magnificent abundance of life, it shot straight to the top of my diving wish list.
How could it not? With the BBC showing scenes of walls of hammerheads, marine iguanas, huge bait balls and so on, I knew I had to visit what looked like one of the best kept secrets on earth. It offered so much potential and would be completely different to any other diving trip I had embarked upon. When the opportunity came I could not resist, I always feel like I have to do things when I’m in the right ball park on the globe. In 2018 I was in Central America and started playing with the idea, after lots of time online I knew in myself that there was no way I could return to the UK without going. I managed to find a discounted liveaboard trip on the right dates and that was that, click, BOOKED..
As far as destinations go, this isn’t one of easiest. Depending on where you’re coming from it may take a number of flights as you need at least one to Ecuador and then another to the Islands themselves. Either way, in my opinion it is totally worth it, even if I wasn’t able to cutout a long flight departing from the UK. Once you arrive you will know that it was all worth while, the islands have a real sense of uniqueness, as if you could be on another planet. I spent a couple days on the island before boarding my new home for 7 days of diving, it was easy to see why this was also very popular for land tourism as well as diving. I plan on writing about this in a future blog.
After a couple days exploring the island of Santa Cruz it was time for the main event, I was about to sail out to some of the sites where the BBC filming had taken place. I was ecstatic at the thought of seeing these same scenes unravelling in front my eyes and not though a TV screen. I was mostly excited for Wolf Island and Darwin’s Arch, my prior research had confirmed these were the 2 most thrilling dives, where the concentration of whale sharks and hammerheads were. I would recommend only booking a liveaboard that will reach these islands, they are further north and so many do not visit here even though they are considered the best of the Galapagos. A true trip to the Galapagos should not miss these, for most visitors it is a once in a lifetime trip so why regret not seeing the best of the best.
Bucket List Ticks
This place makes it easy to tick off dive related bucket list items, just stepping foot here is already a big fat tick. I had so many first encounters here I began to lose track, mine included snorkelling with a humpback whale(with dolphins joining in!), tracking down and photographing marine iguanas, taking in the spectacle of playful sea lions, finally seeing a mola mola and more. Enjoying a hot tub after a dive with the untouched islands as a backdrop was also something special. I had my favourite ever encounter with a whale shark here, it eclipsed anything before, mostly because it was a true one to one, a truly humbling experience as we looked into each others eyes with nothing else in sight.
Guaranteed Action? Whale shark highway
Every other liveaboard I’ve been on, the briefings were always conservative, using phrases like “if we see….”, “hopefully we will see” or “if we’re lucky we might see”. Not here, the dives at Darwin’s Arch were as if everything there was on cue, every dive was spectacular. I was there in September which is considered more whale shark season, they got that right. During the briefing the dive guide used the phrase “when we see”, I noticed this instantly and can only assume they really are as close as guaranteed here as they can be. After hearing this I was confident that the seals and marine iguanas were also included in this assured sightings line up.
The first dive at Darwin there’s so much to take in, although the dive is based around whale sharks there is so much more going on. A constant aquarium of hammerheads, Galapagos sharks, turtles and many colourful fish all goes seemingly unnoticed as the majority of divers look out to the drop off for passing giants. The idea here is to stay low so the huge whale sharks don’t see the group and divert off route.
Patiently waiting, after not long at all, a shape begins to emerge, then…Bang bang bang, the guide is hitting his tank to alert everyone now is the time. It’s then a bit of a race at an upwards diagonal angle to get close enough to see it in all it’s glory, while keeping distance being respectful of it’s space. They have BIG whale sharks here, I’d seen many small ones snorkelling and a couple mid sized on scuba but not like this, the guide estimated some to be 12 metres or more. The astounding animal would then continue it’s journey and we would wait for another to pass by. This was essentially the dive plan for the hour and rightly so, some dives here we saw upwards of 6 different individuals. The other sharks, rays, turtles were just a glorious sideshow to take in while waiting. Even if there were no whale sharks here it would be an amazing site, I spent a lot of time trying to get close to hammerheads for a photo, they are definitely one of the more timid species.
Sea lions and Marine Iguanas
After all the excitement of the whale sharks we still had 2 more events in store, meeting the iguanas and sea lions. With the iguanas, I got the impression timing was key to seeing them in the water and if we didn’t get it right they would already be up on the rocks taking in the sun. This was like an Easter egg hunt, we all got into a shallow rocky bay and then were free to set off in search of one of these peculiar creatures. Focusing so much on searching made it easy to turn into a solo diver, there was no set path or particular area you would find your prize. After 15 minutes or so I had found only rocks and fish, interesting but not what I was there for. A few more minutes passed, popping my head up to see if I could see any surface swimmers, I did set off in the direction of one or two but nothing came of it. Then a glimpse of one munching on some algae, unfortunately a buddy pair had already began taking pictures and observing. I carried on searching until there it was, I spotted one swim down and clamp itself onto a algae covered rock. Fascinated, I watched as it sat there and ate, looking up at me wondering what I was so interested in. After eating it swam up to the surface and headed over to land. I managed to find and shoot a couple more before they all started to head away from the water, watching them eat, swim and climb was a lot of fun.
The seal lions were also very entertaining, twisting and turning in every direction before darting off like a rocket. I’d never dived with sea lions or seals before and what better place to do it than here. They really put on a show and are such curious and playful animals. I think we only had 1 dive with them but I could have repeated it a few times with no complaints.
I cannot recommend this place highly enough, I plan to one day have visited Socorro and Malpelo to make a comparison. Cocos Island was also stunning and will feature in a blog in the near future. I just hope the increased tourism of the Galapagos is controlled and doesn’t become detrimental to one of earth’s most unique destinations.
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