Regaldive's John Butland Finally Get to Grips with the Galapagos Islands
I'm sure most divers have a wish list; some might call it a bucket list. I'm also sure that many of those lists will include the iconic Galapagos Islands. I realised a long held ambition to visit there recently and had been excited about going since I booked it seven months earlier.
Of course, like many far-flung destinations, they take a bit of getting to: after a 14 hour international flight, I spent a couple of nights on mainland Ecuador before finally taking a flight out to the easterly island of San Cristobal where we would rendezvous with our accommodation for the week: the stunning Galapagos Sky. She is a lovely and comfortable boat, with service that is second to none. We were provided with excellent food and wine too.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a bit of a wimp as far as water temperature is concerned, and many took great delight in warning me how cold the water would be in Galapagos. Because of this I chose my time carefully, going in May when the water is at its warmest. However, what I found most surprising was how much it varied between the different diving locations. The first day it was a reasonable 24 degrees, then up to a very pleasant 26, before plummeting to a just about bearable 20 degrees. If you are planning a Galapagos trip then it’s best to keep more layers of neoprene, gloves and hood in reserve.
After our first full day’s diving around Bartolome we had a lovely dinner, accompanied with a few glasses of wine, and eventually settled into our beds while Galapagos Sky motored up to what most divers consider to be the highlight of any Galapagos liveaboard trip: the islands of Wolf and Darwin.
On our first day’s diving on Wolf we undertook three day dives and a night dive. Justifiably famous for their sharks, we weren't to be disappointed. It would be difficult to have counted the number of Hammerheads and Galapagos Sharks that we saw on the day dives, but certainly enough to keep any shark lover happy. On the second dive we got a special bonus; a Whale Shark passed us twice. This was particularly noteworthy, as May is generally considered to be low season for these majestic creatures.
Another shorter, overnight passage took us up to the island of Darwin, and we awoke to a stunning view of the iconic Darwin's Arch. Often seen on Galapagos documentaries, it was amazing to finally see the real thing. On every dive there you head straight towards it in the RIB, are dropped quite close, and then it towers over you as you surface from the dive.
As with Wolf, the diving at Darwin is all about the big stuff, lots of Hammerhead, Galapagos Sharks and plenty of Green and Loggerhead Turtles too. That day’s bonus was a pod of Bottle-nosed dolphins that went overhead during the dive and then came nice and close as we were about to exit the water.
Needless to say, we hung about in the water with cameras at the ready for another 10 minutes. They also followed us back to Galapagos Sky, often leaping out of the water, to the delight of us all.
One of the aspects I love about being a diver is visiting amazing places that few people experience. That's certainly the case with Darwin, and we were the only boat present for the day and a half we spent there.
After five dives at Darwin we returned to Wolf for a further two dives, and this is probably where we had our best Hammerhead action during the whole trip. These dives involve quickly dropping down onto the sloping wall of the island, hanging on to the rocks for 20 to 30 minutes and just watch what goes by.
Luckily it's here that the water is at its warmest, so staying put did not mean getting cold. The number of Hammerheads seen on those two dives must have run into the hundreds, often passing by in a stream of 50 or so at a time. Certainly a sight I will never forget.
Sadly our time at these iconic islands had to come to an end and we returned to the main islands via the east side of Isabella. The water here was the coldest we encountered as it receives the colder currents from the south and west.
The attraction here was the famous Marine Iguanas, who sit on the rocks and warm up in the sun before they enter the water to feed. There must have been 30 or 40 on the surface as you take the RIB towards the shore, but they are actually a bit harder to spot underwater, although we got nice and close to three or four of them on one dive. There were plenty of turtles about in the area too.
Our final afternoon consisted of a choice between two dives or one dive and a trip in the RIB to see Blue Footed Boobies and Penguins. I wanted to dive as much as possible, so chose two dives and was glad I did: I saw a small Bullhead Hornshark, which was a first for me. On both dives we were buzzed by inquisitive Sea Lions which certainly spiced up the safety stop.
The final afternoon involved a land visit to the island of Santa Cruz, mainly to see the Giant Tortoises. A fun way to spend one’s time when not able to dive.
My trip to the Galapagos Islands was everything I had hoped for. I met some lovely people, saw some amazing animals and experienced a great boat where service is paramount. My first, but hopefully not my last trip to this iconic destination. I would certainly urge every diver to experience the Galapagos Islands at least once in their life.