Fascinante y en constante evolución.
This trip to the Galápagos Islands would be my first international dive expedition since the COVID-19 pandemic. We had to postpone our scheduled 2020 departure to May 2021, so I had plenty of time to research the destination. The last time I’d dived the Galápagos was in 2006, and my memories were hazy.
Lo primero que hice fue buscar en algunas ediciones anteriores de Alert Diver para ver lo que mis colegas habían destacado como los recuerdos más perdurables de sus viajes. Tanto Alex Mustard como Brandon Cole habían hecho un buceo específico tan especial que habían decidido comenzar los informes de sus viajes con él.
In 2018 Alex wrote about his encounters with huge whale sharks, Galápagos sharks and hammerheads during a dive on Wolf Island. Brandon found inspiration at Darwin Island, where he experienced the sight of a massive school of hammerheads before swimming through Darwin’s Arch to a world of jacks, tuna, dolphins, silky sharks and moray eels.
After returning from my recent trip, having experienced the Galápagos once again, I pondered what single dive would be significant enough to count as the best. I’m not surprised that it was Darwin Island, as it was for Brandon, although his narrative about Darwin’s Arch wasn’t the case for me. The day before we arrived, the top portion of the famed arch collapsed, leaving Darwin’s Pillars, or whatever name popular consensus bestows upon it in the years to come.
Al llegar al aeropuerto Seymour en la isla Baltra en las primeras horas de la tarde, nos dirigimos a nuestra embarcación de vida a bordo y recibimos un relajante informe de buceo y de seguridad del barco. Nuestro buceo de verificación a la mañana siguiente en la North Seymour Island had the potential to be great. We descended along a rocky ledge, where crevices provided moray habitats, to a sand seafloor at 45 feet littered with whitetip reef sharks. The abundant schooling fish included bluestripe snappers and Galápagos grunts. The dive was a mixed bag because of the turbid water — great critters but marginal visibility.
We spent the afternoon topside on North Seymour. The Galápagos has amazing terrestrial attractions, but most liveaboards can do only a couple of land tours during their week at sea. A second week on a boat dedicated to land tours would be a more immersive adventure for anyone with ample time and money. The guides are extraordinarily knowledgeable, and even our short excursions to see frigate and booby birds, land iguanas and sea lions were inspiring.
A la mañana siguiente estábamos en Wolf Island, where I expected significant current, but that wasn’t the problem — instead, surge limited us to diving only Shark BayEnormes olas en el otro punto de buceo destacado, Landslide, made it unsafe, and the visibility would have been lousy. Landslide is a very productive site for capturing the iconic walls of hammerheads for which the Galápagos is famous, but Shark Bay offered a glimpse of how good it could be. We had some reasonably close encounters with Galápagos sharks, but the hammerheads were shy. Our whole dive group did everything right — tucking into the rocks, spreading out and not chasing the sharks — but the encounters still were modest. It was bad luck that the weather kept us from diving Landslide, but that’s typical of Galápagos diving, and you have to be adaptable.
Navegamos durante la noche y nos despertamos en Darwin IslandDespués de navegar por una superficie ligeramente agitada en nuestro bote de buceo, seguimos instrucciones de descender hacia una plataforma a aproximadamente 18 metros (60 pies) y esperar a que la procesión de peces pasara frente a nosotros. Eso era más fácil decirlo que hacerlo; si bien no padecimos las corrientes extremas que a veces azotan a este lugar, tuvimos una marea considerable incluso estando a profundidad. Era molesto prepararse para fotografiar a una tortuga mordisqueando una roca cubierta de algas y luego ser arrastrado 3 metros (10 pies) más allá del alcance de la cámara justo antes de presionar el obturador.
Me había resignado a capturar imágenes de tiburones martillo diminutos en la distancia y peces mariposa con movimientos involuntariamente fuera de foco en una estación de limpieza cuando una serie de golpes en el tanque y gesticulaciones de nuestro guía de buceo anunciaron que algo magnífico se aproximaba. Señaló reiterada y enfáticamente hacia las aguas azules del mar y supe que tenía que ser un tiburón ballena. Pero estábamos en mayo, que no era la temporada regular de tiburones ballena. Hoy en día, cualquier cosa que esté relacionada con el clima es difícil de predecir; entonces, ¿por qué la migración de tiburones ballena debería ser diferente?
Sure enough, a small whale shark swam into view with our dive guide furiously finning to keep up. I kicked into overdrive to stay ahead of them for the brief time I could sustain it. The whale shark foreground and diver background made for a great scale reference. While this might have been only a juvenile, “small” is relative — it was still an impressive 20-foot fish. I knew I had a significant shot in the can and thought I could go back to the ledge and catch my breath for a moment, but no. What had been a marginal dive just 10 minutes before now brought another whale shark, this time a 45-foot behemoth. My 16-35mm lens was racked out as wide as it would go, and there was still way too much fish for my proximity. I was going to settle for just a headshot when I saw another diver swimming flat-out alongside me to get a closer view. I slowed down and let them both occupy the same frame for another shot. With a tail swish the whale shark continued into the distance as we realized we were uncomfortably far from home base and called off the encounter.
The group had two passes with the juvenile and the adult as they swam wide loops around our platform. As we swam seaward for our boat pickup, a massive school of bigeye trevally swirled about, cheerleaders for what had become a stellar dive. In retrospect, that’s another thing the Galápagos is all about — the predictably unpredictable pace of the encounters. We did three dives on Darwin that day and saw whale sharks on each. The last dive of the day delivered two whale sharks, a pod of dolphins, six turtles and dozens of scalloped hammerheads. The light was low and the water clarity marginal, but the action was off the charts.
Divers usually spend one full day at Wolf and another at Darwin since the islands are only 25 miles apart. That’s what our itinerary with the Galápagos National Park stipulated, but we requested an extra day to dive Darwin in the morning and use our lunch break as a surface interval and cruise time back to Wolf. It didn’t inconvenience any other liveaboards in the region, so the park administration agreed, and we had another incredible dive to start the day at Darwin.
In the afternoon we were back at Wolf, but Landslide was still too bumpy to dive. We had become familiar enough with what to expect at Shark Bay that we all loaded up with whatever lens would work best — I chose a 16-35mm zoom. By this time in the trip I knew my hammerhead possibilities were almost over, and I didn’t have what I wanted. In the last 10 minutes of the final dive at Wolf, however, I had one nice pass from a school of hammerheads. I’ll always wish I had been closer, but it was good enough for this trip anyway. I’ll have to try harder when I go back in 2024.
The liveaboards have refined their dive adventures in the western islands over the past few years. This area is also known as the Ice Box for the colder ocean currents that sweep the region, so you will want to be prepared for water temperatures in the low 60°F range. While that seems unpleasant for tropical dives on the equator, without the cool water you wouldn’t have the Galápagos penguins or the star of our morning island cruise: an orca.
Cargamos ambos botes con cámaras y bolsas secas. Nuestra intención era pasar el rato en Cabo Douglas en el lado sudoeste de la Fernandina Island para capturar imágenes en la superficie del barco a la costa de iguanas marinas, pelícanos, cormoranes y pingüinos. Vimos un chorro de exhalación a lo lejos y nos desviamos de nuestro curso, pensando que podía ser una ballena. En cambio, vimos a una orca solitaria que patrullaba la costa, supuestamente en busca de un desventurado león marino. Más tarde, me enteré de que esta área tiene un grupo de orcas residente y que el encuentro no fue inusual. Una vez que nuestra creatividad quedó saciada, dejamos a la orca tranquila y regresamos a la costa para fotografiar a las iguanas y las aves marinas.
Bird-watching was a great way to spend the morning while waiting for the marine iguanas to get warm enough by sunning themselves on the shoreline to dive into the shallows and gorge on the algae cloaking the rocks. Then we would dive in as well. Once settled in to eat, the iguanas are indifferent to divers and strobe flashes, providing interesting photo opportunities — and making it worth including these islands in the cruise itinerary. Adding the wall dive at Punta Vicente Roca lo hace incluso más especial, con la posibilidad de ver peces Mola mola en una estación de limpieza a una profundidad de 24 a 30 metros (80 a 100 pies) y leones marinos sumergiéndose en las aguas superficiales.
There are many dives in the central islands — more than we had time for on this cruise. If you stay in a hotel on Santa Cruz Island and dive with the day boats, you could spend a week here and never do the same dive twice. Since we spent our last night on the boat anchored off Santa Cruz, we did our final two dives nearby at a Galápagos favorite, Cousins Rock.
Cousins Rock is great for macro. The small rock just off the north coast of Bartolome Island has seahorses and hawkfish among the black corals and Gorgonia sea fans. However, I couldn’t resist another dive with my 16-35mm wide-angle zoom, which turned out to be a fortunate choice. Not only were parrotfish and whitetip reef sharks tucked into the striated ledges, but eagle rays and a large school of barracuda also came into view just over the drop-off into the blue.
Our second and final shore excursion was to the highlands of Santa Cruz Island to see the totem of the Galápagos: the giant tortoise. Once so abundant, with a population thought to be more than 200,000, the 13 remaining species of tortoise comprise just 10 to 15 percent of that number. A 40-minute bus ride into the highlands brought us to a private tortoise reserve. Measuring more than 5 feet long and weighing more than 500 pounds at their largest, the tortoises are hard to miss and easy to photograph as they meander through the lush grasses.
I gauge the success of a dive trip by how soon I’d like to return. The seven days in the Galápagos went by too quickly, and I was ready to come back before I had even left. The Galápagos National Park and the tour operators greatly respect the destination, and conservation is their primary goal. Even with all the protections in place, the fishing industry, climate change and ocean health pressure the archipelago. Every tourist dollar that goes into the Galápagos adds persuasive emphasis that this is a place that deserves ongoing and stringent protection.
Cómo bucear en este lugar
Ubicación Located nearly 600 miles west of Ecuador, the archipelago has 19 large islands among its approximately 128 islands, islets and rock formations, but people inhabit only four. The Ecuadorian government manages Galápagos National Park, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It protects 97 percent of the land, which hosts hundreds of endemic wildlife species.
Cómo llegar: The Galápagos has no direct flights — international arrivals are at either Guayaquil or Quito in Ecuador. Visitors usually spend the night before boarding a short domestic flight to Baltra Island or San Cristobal Island.
Clima: The Humboldt, Panama and Cromwell currents influence the area’s climate and sea conditions. Because the Humboldt and the Cromwell surge from the great depths just offshore, they bring massive amounts of nutrients and keep the waters cool despite their equatorial location. The Humboldt Current is a vibrant ecosystem that influences life both above and below the waterline. It is strongest from June through November, which is also whale shark season, but grows weaker as the warmer Panama Current strengthens in December.
Galápagos penguins depend on the confluence of the Humboldt and Cromwell currents for cool water, and the sea lions feed on the fish that the Humboldt transports. Wildlife typically seen far to the south, such as albatrosses and orcas, are here due to the Humboldt. In El Niño years, the reduced upwelling and weaker trade winds keep the water warm. This unusual warmth means divers need less thermal protection, but fewer nutrients are available for creatures throughout the islands.
Temporadas: Galápagos has two discernible seasons. The high season for dive tourism is from July to November. Despite the diminished water clarity and stronger currents, there are abundant whale shark sightings. You can see hammerheads and much of the other prolific marine life that defines the Galápagos underwater world year-round, but in low season the water is warmer and the visibility is better.
Condiciones: Because of the currents, average water temperatures vary between the mid-60s°F and 80s°F, depending on the season and location. Thermoclines can dip significantly colder in Punta Vincente Roca and Cabo Douglas, but the tradeoff is seeing creatures found nowhere else in the islands and the best underwater marine iguana encounters. I brought both 5 mm and 7 mm wetsuits for this trip and layered them with a hooded vest. I wore open-heeled fins so I could use booties, and I had gloves for gripping the rocks in current and surge as well as for thermal protection. Tropical gloves were fine for most of the trip except the colder western island dives. Galápagos is a destination for at least intermediate divers. A beginner might find the temperatures and currents on some dives challenging and stressful.
Su agente de viajes o la embarcación de vida a bordo será su mejor fuente de información actual respecto a los requisitos de viaje e ingreso por el COVID-19, pero también puede visitar el sitio web de la Embajada de los Estados Unidos en Ecuador, ec.usembassy.gov, para obtener actualizaciones. ec.usembassy.gov for updates.
Alojamiento y consideraciones: You can stay in a hotel on Santa Cruz Island and make day trips, but you’ll need to book a liveaboard to get north to Wolf and Darwin islands. Most diverse and productive diving in the Galápagos is from liveaboards.
It’s necessary to carry some cash, and Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar. I brought cash for the $75 antigen test for reentry into the U.S. (I had a swab arranged in advance and taken on my liveaboard), $35 recompression chamber support fee, $100 for the cash-only Galápagos National Park entry fee, a $10 mandatory transit card fee, and extra money for gratuities.
Puede acceder a abundante información adicional sobre viajes en igtoa.org/travel_guide.
See more of enchanting Galápagos in Stephen Frink’s bonus gallery.https://dan.org/alert-diver/article/galapagos-photo-gallery/embed/#?secret=20DbfKprs1
© Alert Diver — Q3/Q4 2021