Galápagos Islands

Home to a marine life found nowhere else in the world, the Galápagos archipelago is a legendary snorkeling destination. This chain of 19 islands and dozens of islets situated in the Pacific Ocean, about 600 miles west of South America, existed mostly untouched for millions of year. Due to a lack of natural predators, the wildlife in the Galápagos is extremely tame, with no fear of humans. Around the islands, you will snorkel with sea turtles, penguins, sea lions, marine iguanas, reef sharks, rays, and a whole host of reef fish.

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Excellent snorkeling spots can be found all over the islands. Almost all of them are located in the Galápagos National Park, which covers 97% of the land areas of the archipelago. Access to the Park is regulated and you will need a permit ($100 per adult) and an authorized guide to snorkel in the area.

A few sites, located at the edge of the National Park, can be snorkeled without a guide. Playa de los Alemanes, right south of Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz Island), and Concha de Perla, in Puerto Villamil (Isabela Island), are among the best sites for shore snorkeling outside the National Park.

To reach almost all the other world-class snorkeling spots the Galápagos has to offer, you will then have two options. The first is to take part to day boat tours to uninhabited islands and islets in the archipelago. These tours are departing from the the three inhabited islands of Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal, and Isabela. Cost of most of day tours ranges between $100 and $300 per person, including guide. You will stop on several sites (up to 3 snorkeling spots can be visited on the same day), sometimes on two different islands.

The second option is to visit the Galápagos on an expedition-style cruise. There are approximately 80 live aboard tourist vessels in the waters around the Galápagos Islands. They offer 4 to 15-days all-inclusive itineraries, meaning you can visit many islands, including remote ones with unique wildlife viewing opportunities. You will snorkel almost every day, sometimes on the most untouched spots of the archipelago. A wide selection of cruises is available, from budget to luxury, but do not expect to pay less than $400 per day and per person (discounts are sometimes available for last minute bookings).

Panamic cushion star and diamond stingray at Concha de Perla, and view on Kicker Rock

The Galápagos Islands are not a coral reef snorkeling destination, even if the islands are also home to young (and not very colorful) coral colonies. Instead, you will enjoy snorkeling with big animals, in particular the marine iguana, the Galápagos fur seal and the Galápagos penguin (the 3 most famous endemic species of the archipelago you will encounter in the water). Green sea turtles, eagle rays, manta rays and white-tip reef sharks are also common on many snorkeling spots around the island, as well as hundreds of fish and invertebrate species, including angelfish, sea horses, octopuses and starfish.

Isabela, the most extended island of the Galapagos, features some of the most popular snorkeling spots of the archipelago, especially at Punta Vincente Roca (a favorite spot to see large creatures like manta rays and sharks), Los Tuneles (a labyrinth of underwater lava tubes) and Tagus Cove. Devil’s Crown (an eroded volcano crater sheltering a coral reef off Floreana Island), Pinnacle Rock (next to Santiago Island, famous for snorkeling with penguins) and Kicker Rock (one of the best site to snorkel with sharks) also have earned a well-deserved reputation as some of the top snorkeling sites in the islands. In Santa Cruz, Las Grietas is often cited as the most beautiful spot on the island, while Punta Espinoza is the most visited in Fernandina.
When to go snorkeling the Galápagos Islands?

There are two main seasons in the Galapagos. The hot season, from December to May, is tropical, with warm and humid weather (79°F/26°C to 85°F/30°C). The water temperature, around 79°F/26°C, is ideal for snorkeling, but shower rains are frequent. June through November, the weather becomes dryer and the air temperatures drops to 72°F/23º to 79°F/26ºC. It is recommended to wear a wetsuit, as the water temperatures can be as low as 20°C, with cloudy sky.

Where to spot them?

Galápagos fur seal

Galápagos penguin

Whitetip reef shark

Spotted eagle ray

Diamond stingray

Passer angelfish

Cortez rainbow wrasse

Blue sea star

Green sea turtle

Razor surgeonfish