The Galápagos Islands, a magical snorkeling adventure with creatures found nowhere else on earth

Top snorkeling spots can be found all over the Galápagos. 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 in 2023) and an authorized guide to snorkel in the area.

Snorkeler with a sea turtle and a sea lion in Rabida Island
The wildlife of the Galápagos is extremely tame. In this picture, a close encounter with a Galápagos green turtle and a Galápagos sea lion in Rabida Island.

A few sites, located at the edge of the National Park, can be self-snorkeled (without a guide), especially in San Cristóbal and Isabela. To reach almost all the other world-class snorkeling spots the Galápagos has to offer, you will then have two options:

Option 1 is to take part in day boat tours to uninhabited islands and islets in the archipelago, if you are on a land-based trip. These tours are departing from the three main inhabited islands of Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal, and Isabela. The cost of most day tours ranges between $100 and $300 per person, including a guide. You will stop on several sites, sometimes on two different islands.

Las Tintoreras and Isabela Island, Galapagos
Aerial view of Las Tintoreras snorkeling site, with Isabela’s coast and Puerto Villamil in the distance.

Option 2 is to visit the Galápagos on an expedition-style cruise, aboard one of the approx. 80 liveaboard yachts operating on the islands. They offer 4 to 15-day all-inclusive itineraries (such as our Snorkeling Report liveaboard, 10-21 march 2024), meaning you can visit many islands, including remote ones, not accessible by day tours, with unique wildlife viewing opportunities. You will snorkel almost every day, sometimes in the most untouched spots of the archipelago.

Here, we’ll share the best Galápagos snorkel spots based on the island so you can start planning your underwater adventure!

Green sea turtle and Galápagos black-striped salema in Las Bachas
A green sea turtle and a school of Galápagos black-striped salema in Las Bachas, Santa Cruz.

Snorkeling in Santa Cruz and Baltra

Santa Cruz and Baltra, only separated by a narrow channel, are the main gateway to the Galápagos. These two islands host the largest city and the main airport in the archipelago. This is where most visitors start their Galápagos trip.

Before boarding your cruise or starting your island hopping, you can spend a few days in Puerto Ayora, from where several snorkel spots can be accessed.

Shore snorkeling in Puerto Ayora is just decent, but you can try Playa de Los Alemanes, located in front of the Finch Bay Hotel, or Tortuga Bay, a 1.5-mile walk from the city. These two locations can however have bad underwater visibility because of the nearby mangroves.

Las Bachas, Santa Cruz
Las Bachas beach, Santa Cruz. The rocky point on the left has good snorkeling.

Las Grietas, south of Puerto Ayora, is a natural pool that can be enjoyed after a short walk. It is only accessible with a guide. Its rocky seabed is gorgeous, but you’ll see almost no fish.

A popular destination for cruises and day trips, Las Bachas is a gorgeous white sand beach nestled on the north coast of Santa Cruz, accessible by boat only. It has good snorkeling along its rocky point, visited by sea turtles and reef fish. Santa Cruz is also the starting point for day tours to Pinzón: This small island lying 10km west of Santa Cruz is loaded with whitetip reef sharks, turtles, and sea lions.

White tip reef sharks in Pinzon
Pinzón island is known for its large populations of whitetip reef sharks, a common species all over the archipelago.

Snorkeling in Isabela and Fernandina

With their volcanoes, lunar landscapes, and preserved shores, Isabela (the largest of the Galápagos islands) and its neighbor Fernandina are probably the most iconic islands in the archipelago. Their waters filled with plankton attracts large populations of marine mammals, sharks, rays, and birds along their coasts.

Isabela and Fernandina are the only areas where the fascinating flightless cormorant can be seen. It also shelters not less than 90% of the Galápagos penguin population. Snorkeling with these two diving birds is a memorable experience.

Galapagos penguins in Las Bachas, Santa Cruz
Concha de Perla is probably the snorkeling location with the best chances of Galápagos penguin encounters in Isabela.

Puerto Villamil, on the south shore of Isabela, is one of the three main inhabited areas in the Galápagos. If you spend a few days on the island, don’t miss Concha de Perla, just a few minute’s walk from Puerto Villamil. Rays, iguanas, penguins and sea lions abound in this sheltered part of the lagoon, the only snorkel location accessible without a guide in Isabela.

From Puerto Villamil, two other sites can be visited with day tours: La Tintoreras, just a few hundred meters south of Concha de Perla, and Los Túneles, a maze made of volcanic rock pools where green sea turtles, Pacific seahorses, and whitetip sharks are easy to spot.

Pacific seahorse in Los Tuneles, Galapagos
If you want to see Pacific seahorses, then head to Los Túneles, where this fascinating fish is quite easy to spot.

Fernandina and the western shores of Isabela are some of the most remote and pristine parts of the Galápagos. Only reachable by naturalist cruises, they are home to some of the most exceptional snorkeling locations in the archipelago, including Vicente Roca Point and Tagus Cove in Isabela and Punta Espinosa in Fernandina.

Snorkeling in San Cristóbal

One of the few inhabited islands in the Galápagos, San Cristóbal probably hosts the best free shore snorkeling in the archipelago. If you are on an island hopping trip, a stay in San Cristóbal (plus an extra day trip to neighboring Española) will allow you to fully enjoy the area.

Darwin Bay, San Cristobal
View over Darwin Bay, San Cristóbal.

Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the island’s village, has good shore snorkeling. The most popular locations are Darwin Bay and Playa Punta Carola, located north of the city, next to the Interpretation Center. When the sea is calm, it is also possible to snorkel off La Loberia beach, only a few minute’s taxi ride from the waterfront.

All other snorkeling spots in the area can only be visited with boat trips or naturalist cruises. Head to Kicker Rock (aka Leon Dormido, a sharp rock emerging a few kilometers off the island’s north coast, famous for its hammerhead sharks), Isla Lobos, or Ochoa Beach.

Snorkeler and Galapagos sea lion in Gardner Island
Galápagos sea lions are so inquisitive and playful. Here, on Gardner Island.

San Cristóbal is also the starting point for day tours to Española Island: the southernmost island in the Galápagos is a fantastic place to swim with sea lions, especially in Garder Bay and Gardner Island.

Snorkeling in Santiago, Bartolomé and Rabida

Santiago, Bartolomé and Rabida are three uninhabited islands in central Galápagos that can only be accessed by boat with a National Park guide. Santiago and Bartolomé are open to day tours from Santa Cruz, but only naturalist cruises can stop in Rabida.

Galapagos cushion sea stars in Bartolomé Island
A pair of brightly-colored Galápagos starfish in Bartolomé Island.

Sullivan Bay is the most popular snorkeling spot in Santiago. It faces Bartolomé Island, another prime snorkeling spot in the area, just 700 meters off the main island. Bartolomé is a recommended location if you want to see the Galápagos penguin, quite common around the island, as well as sea stars. Playa Espumilla, Puerto Egas, and James Bay are also very popular snorkeling locations in Santiago.

Rabida, less than 3 miles off Santiago’s south shore, is a small island famous for its red sand beach. Its large populations of sea lions make snorkeling on its rocky coast an amazing experience.

Parrotfish and king angelfish in Rabida Island
Rabida Island’s seabed is very lively, supporting large populations of bluebarred parrotfish and king angelfish.

The remote islands: Marchena, Pinta, Genovesa and Floreana

If you are boarding a naturalist cruise, your itinerary will probably include some of the remote islands of the archipelago. The islands in the north of the archipelago boast some of the most pristine snorkeling locations, which include Darwin Bay and Prince Phillip’s Steps in Genovesa and Punta Espejo, Punta Mejia or Playa Negra on (least visited) Marchena.

30 miles south of Isabela and Santa Cuz, Floreana is the fourth inhabited island in the archipelago but it is not easy to reach as it has no airstrip. Devil’s Crown, a tiny eroded crater just off its north coast, is considered one of the best snorkeling spots in the Galápagos. Its shallow turquoise lagoon is home to sea turtles, rays, and tropical fish.

Galapagos marine iguana in Concha de Perla
A Galápagos marine iguana swimming in Concha de Perla turquoise waters.

What will I see when snorkeling the Galápagos Island?

Due to their isolation and unique climate conditions, the Galápagos Islands are home to some of the most biodiverse wildlife on the planet. About 80% of the land birds and 97% of the reptiles and land mammals living in the archipelago are endemic to the islands.

The highlights of a snorkeling trip to the Galápagos are the many close encounters with their unique and inquisitive wildlife, which includes the Galápagos sea lion, the Galápagos green turtle, the marine iguana, the Galápagos penguin, the flightless cormorant and many more. If sea lions, turtles, sharks and iguanas can be seen almost everywhere, the penguin population is restricted to Isabela, Fernandina, Santiago and Bartolomé.

Reef fish in Bartolomé Island
Sea life in Bartolomé Island. In this picture, a razor surgeonfish, a king angelfish, a juvenile Mexican hogfish and a Galápagos starfish.

Galápagos is not a coral reef snorkeling destination, even if in some locations you will notice recent, not very colorful hard coral reefs. Hundreds of fish and invertebrate species live in the shallows, including the King angelfish, butterflyfish, parrotfish, hogfish, the Pacific seahorse, octopuses, as well as several species of starfish. Rare (but possible) encounters in the open sea are orcas, whale sharks, and mola mola.

A small octopus in Tagus Cove
A small octopus noted in Tagus Cove, Isabela.

What is the best time of the year to snorkel the Galápagos Islands?

There are basically two seasons in the Galápagos archipelago. The warm season, from December to May, is almost tropical, with warm and wet weather (79 to 86°F/26 to 30°C). Water temperature (around 79°F/26°C) is then ideal for snorkeling, but rain showers occur quite often.

From June to November, the weather turns dryer, and temperatures lower down to an average of 73-79°F/23-26°C. During this season, consider snorkeling with a wetsuit: water temperature can get down to 64°F/18°C, often under cloudy skies.

Bartolomé and Sullivan Bay
Bartolomé Island, and Sullivan Bay and the coasts of Santiago, in the distance.

Check this video made with a GoPro 👇👇👇 with the very best of our snorkeling in the Galápagos Islands. Sea lions, penguins, marine iguanas, sea turtles, whitetip sharks… You never know what shows up!

There are very few places around the world where it’s possible to share such close proximity to wildlife without them turning fearful. At 00’43” you can even see a flightless cormorant trying to unzip my wetsuit in Tagus Cove!

 

 

Planning a trip to the Galápagos? Embark on our snorkeling liveaboard to the enchanted islands from 10-21 March 2024 and experience the archipelagos’ fascinating wildlife! Small group liveaboard (max. 14 passengers), 16 snorkeling locations. More info here.

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