No trip to the Galápagos Islands is complete without exploring the diversity of marine life below the surface. Most people don’t realize that you will be snorkeling at least once a day when you are traveling via cruise, so make sure that you practice the basics and feel comfortable snorkeling if this is a new activity for you before you arrive in the islands. There is so much to see underwater that you won’t want to miss a second messing around with your gear!
Bringing Your Own Gear versus Renting or Borrowing
If you have already booked a cruise, make sure that the snorkel gear is already included. We recommend bringing your own if you have it because equipment you know is better than equipment you don’t and having the right fit for your mask can make a big difference in terms of your underwater experience. I use a panoramic dive mask with expanded peripheral view so that I have smaller blind spots when underwater – you definitely won’t be getting self-purging masks or expanded range of view masks as the free gear included with your ship, so I think it is definitely worth bringing your own so that you have more control over your experience.
Plus, there are lots of free places to snorkel at your own leisure and you won’t have to rent a snorkel and mask on the island – you can just jump into a tide pool and look at the life teeming underwater where you go during your stay.
Also, double check if a wetsuit is included in the cruise price or if there is an additional rental cost – this is one of the items that you might not realize are going to an extra charge on top of the base cruise price. These little extras can add up quickly and will certainly cost you more than if you had bought them on your own (and now you will have for your own future adventures!).
Even if you are visiting when the waters are warmest, they can be quite cold in the Galápagos due to the confluence of currents that meet in the archipelago. The fit of a wetsuit is even more important than the fit of your snorkel and mask and sizes can often be limited. I had to squeeze into a far-too-small wetsuit when we snorkeled at Pinzon despite being assured that they had ample size choices. Most reputable tour agencies will allow you try on a wetsuit the night before day trips to make sure you have the right fit before committing to the ticket price – don’t be afraid to ask for this opportunity to try on in advance if you are worried about size availability.
You will want a 3MM spring shorty at a very minimum if you are sticking to snorkel sites in the central islands, and definitely a fullsuit 3MM+ (we are bringing 4/3MM cold-weather lined wetsuits for our trip) if you are visiting Fernandina, the remote north of Isabela or taking a western route cruise during your visit as these tend to be the coldest. The cold water is no joke – a woman on our snorkel trip to Pinzon who wore just a shorty in November (and an experienced snorkeler who brought all of her own gear, no less!) got very sick from the cold exposure and spent most of the return trip being ill over the side of the boat from the shock of the cold.
You will definitely see locals and guides who will swim in just their trunks no matter the location, but having a wetsuit will make it more enjoyable and you will be able to spend more time in the water comfortably. The last thing you want after travelling all the way to Fernandina by boat is to have your snorkel cut short because you are too cold and don’t have the stamina to keep exploring!
Tip: We recommend checking out wetsuits via Backcountry, Divers Direct or Divers Supply. If possible, try to go to a local dive shop and try on a wetsuit in person to make sure that you know your size in your brand. If this is your first wetsuit purchase, the gearheads at Backcountry are super helpful and available via online chat to talk about sizing differences between brands (I learned the hard way that Billabong runs basically a size smaller than Bare and Henderson) and their return/exchange process was fairly painless.
Top Snorkel Sites in the Galápagos
I’ve put together a list of some of the most notable snorkel sites below and noted how much travel will be required to reach each site (either a day trip or a multi-day cruise).
I’ve also included information on whether the snorkel trip will be a wet landing (entering open water from your transport vessel or a panga) or dry (possible to make shore or enter the water from shore), but know that this can vary based upon the tour agency and their particular permits.
Also included are the wonderful site illustrations from Tui de Roy, a noted naturalist and photography who has worked extensively in the Galápagos for all the sites where they are available; sites without these illustrations below are generally the open-water wet landing sites where you will enter from the side of your vessel or a panga to start your underwater exploration.
I’ve also included information on some of the formations and wildlife that you may see in the area – know that sea lions, reef sharks and marine iguanas are fairly pervasive and will be seen in most locations. Also, there is never any guarantee that you will see all of the wildlife listed during your particular visit. I was lucky enough to snorkel with penguins during my visit to Bartolome, but I’ve met many other individuals (including people on my same trip!) who didn’t get to see the same encounter.
One final note – it is important to know that even if you are dead-set on visiting a particular site, sometimes nature gets in the way and there is no place where that is more true than the Galápagos. You may choose a (pricey) cruise to ensure you get to visit that site such as Fernandina, but it is up to the authorities at the national park and your cruise’s crew to determine the safety and viability of each stop given the days conditions. There are no refunds or compensation for itinerary changes and the fine print of every cruise lets you know that the itinerary can change up until the day you arrive at the location. The cruise will often have a secondary choice or activity nearby where the conditions may be more favorable, but I think every visitor to the islands should properly understand that there are never any guarantees for particular site visits or marine encounters.