Snorkeling in Galapagos is the ideal way to view some of the amazing marine life that surrounds the islands. It can be learned in a few hours, and even children can do it, opening up a wonderland of lifeforms that you would completely miss if you stayed on the land. Keep in mind, the waters around the Galapagos have been declared a Marine Reserve (largest marine protected an area in the Americas) and are also a UNESCO World Heritage Property.
Snorkeling is one of the best ways to see marine life in its natural setting. Quite different than scuba diving, the main advantage of snorkeling is the freedom from high-tech gear and the need for certification. All you need is a mask, snorkel, floating vest, and fins. You may want to wear a wetsuit if you are exploring the islands during the dry season (June-November) when the water is cooler for tropical standards. Expedition vessels have wet suits onboard all-year-round, though. Snorkeling gear and wet suits are also available for kids.
If you visit the Galapagos on an expedition cruise, snorkeling equipment is available onboard. Naturalist guides will help you see and recognize the varied marine life that you will encounter.
Sea turtles are marine reptiles that gently patrol the ocean and despite their large size, they are extremely efficient swimmers and migrants. They swim with ease and seem not bothered by the presence of snorkelers or divers. One of the best places to swim with sea turtles is Punta Vicente Roca on Isabela Island. The soft, black sand makes the water look dark, and the nearby sheer drop-offs allow clear views of them in the deep blue water. Another great location is Champion Islet on Floreana Island. You may observe sea turtles resting near shallows as well as underwater. These calm and confident animals sway with the sea currents and while in the open ocean will go after jellyfish and floating tunicates. Their peaceful, relaxed demeanor is contagious and everybody loves finding sea turtles in the water.
These fascinating lizards are only found on the Galapagos Islands. They have adapted over the millennia to feed on algae and seaweed; thus becoming well adapted to the marine environment. They are great swimmers and show a long flat tail propels them through the water very fast. You will also see them resting on the shore rocks, and sometimes they sneeze to expel the salt that accumulates in their nostrils as part of their constant desalination. It is this puff of powdered salt that made the first explorers think the iguanas were dragons. A good place to find marine iguanas and sea turtles grazing is the underwater pasture in Punta Espinoza, Fernandina Island as well as Rabida Island.
Champion Islet on Floreana Island is a worn-down volcanic cone. It offers a wild ride for snorkelers as the currents take you around one side with hardly any swimming effort. The waters here are sheltered and home to a huge variety of marine life that you will see on your tour around the crown. Wrasses, groupers, snappers, amberjacks, parrotfish, angelfish, rays, and reef sharks are just a few of the marine animals you will see. What is so bizarre here is that you find a wild combination of tropical and subtropical species of fish; in fact, a natural aquarium. Sea turtles and sea lions may also join you on your wild ride. Many consider this location one of the finest snorkeling and scuba diving sites in the Galapagos.
Snorkeling in Galapagos with the small, agile Galapagos penguins is a real treat. They zigzag through the water at amazing speeds when chasing schools of small fish. At Chinese Hat Islet and Bartolome Island, you can snorkel with penguins and other animals such as sea lions, green turtles, and reef sharks. The sea lion pups stay in a secluded cove where they are safe while their mother is out looking for food. Sea lions will often blow bubbles at snorkelers and perform fantastic underwater feats to impress them.
At Rabida Island or at Gardner Bay on Española Island, very calm bays bring a different marine environment. These places are the ones where sea lions really put on a show for snorkelers. Expect to see some rewarding marine life here, although the sea lions will steal the show. They seem to love to tease and impress snorkelers, and the snorkelers love it too.
Prince Phillip’s Steps on Genovesa (Tower) Island is the place to see hammerhead sharks while snorkeling in Galapagos, although there is no guarantee every time we get in the water there are sharks waiting. In fact, sharks are animals that require constant movement, and so it is more luck than anything else that will match our time with their presence. In general, it is not common to see sharks while snorkeling, but if you ask your guide, you may be able to locate them by exploring a bit more in detail. Darwin Bay is actually a submerged caldera (possibly just a giant pit crater) of this flat pancake-like island. This is the place to see large fish and a wide variety of colorful tropical fish. Because of its northerly location, some warm water fish species may be spotted including boxfishes, wrasses, and convict tangs.
The Galapagos is one of the best places in the world to dive or snorkel. The number and variety of underwater life are staggering, and, in many cases, the animals welcome you into their world. Furthermore, it is the true hidden secret of the islands, as media generally covers more on the land species and little on the marine side of the archipelago. Yet, when you put your mask on a whole new adventure begins, and that is exactly how the spirit of discovery lives so well in the Galapagos.
One of the best ways to have a great experience snorkeling in Galapagos is on an expedition cruise. There are many advantages, including traveling to different islands at night, so you have more daylight hours on land or underwater. You will have a trained guide and can be sure that your trip is eco-friendly because the cruise captain and crew follow strict environmental practices. Now, for a big surprise, if you don’t plan to snorkel don’t get disappointed; expedition vessels that have a glass-bottom boat will focus on the understanding and viewing of the marine environment for non-snorkelers.