Since they straddle the Equator, I expected the Galápagos to be hot, humid, and tropical. It was not, and this was great news for a family that isn’t really into tropical weather. If given the choice, we generally head north. There are roughly two seasons in the Galápagos: the warm, wet season and the cool, dry season. The warm, wet season runs from December until May and the cool, dry season runs from June until November. The weather patterns are a result of the complicated interplay of tradewinds and the currents that swirl around the islands. The hot season is quite warm, with rain falling nearly every day. When we were there, (late June to early July) however, the weather was dominated by the Humboldt Current, which sweeps north from Antarctica and eventually reaches the islands.
The Humboldt Current is cold and very rich in nutrients. This has three effects. First, the nutrient-rich water means that the cold season is a very active one both for marine life and the birds that depend on fishing. Whales and dolphins migrate through the islands at this time, and whale sharks congregate there to feed. Second, underwater visibility is worse than in the warm season, since there’s so much stuff in the water. Although crystal clear waters would have been fantastic, the constant activity around us more than made up for that. Third, the water (and air above) is cool. It’s perfect weather for hiking, but less so for swimming. Our ship, and most others, have wetsuits available for snorkeling. I tend to get cold in the water and was thankful for the wetsuit.
Underwater, a world of activity greeted us. The waters around the Galápagos are protected as part of the Galápagos Marine Reserve. Snorkeling in these waters should be a part of every trip to the Galápagos. In fact, except for our one land-based cruise day, our tour brought us snorkeling every day, and sometimes twice a day. La Pinta also had a glass bottom boat for those guests who didn’t want to snorkel. We snorkeled every opportunity we got.
At Punta Vicente Roca (Isabela Island), which our guides referred to as “turtle soup,” we snorkeled with dozens of green sea turtles. They gather there to be cleaned by small fish. As we all got sloshed around in the waves, it was easy to bump into turtles, who don’t try to avoid swimming close.
Sea lions were our constant companions. The smaller, younger ones seemed genuinely interested in playing with snorkelers. When we snorkeled at Post Office Bay (Floreana Island), a small group of young sea lions darted around us for what seemed like ages. What an amazing experience. The kids were enthralled and it was one of my favorite parts of the trip. One sea lion seemed particularly interested in my underwater camera and swam right up to me, stopping just inches from my face. We stared at each other for a few seconds, frozen and floating, as I recited my new mantra “they don’t bite underwater, they don’t bite underwater.” I hoped our guides were right about that. Once the sea lion left, I put my head above water and found myself near another guest on our trip. We hadn’t gotten to know each other; she did not speak English, and I don’t speak Spanish. But we looked at each other, laughed, and repeated “wow” over and over.
During our snorkeling time, flightless cormorants dove for fish around us, and penguins swam nearby. On one lucky day, marine iguanas swam past us, heading out from the beach to feast on algae.
The fish were stunning as well, though they often took a back seat to the bigger animals. Huge schools of surgeon fish were everywhere, as were parrotfish, and innumerable small and colorful tropical fish. The sound of parrotfish chewing coral was constant, and sounded like millions of tiny bubbles popping and crackling around us. There were seastars that looked like they were covered in chocolate chips, and urchins that stuck out from crevices in the rocks. Pufferfish swam where the bottom was sandy. G. and I saw an eagle ray, and some guests saw sharks. A scorpionfish sat on a rock outcropping, camouflaged so perfectly that it was difficult to see even after it was pointed out to us.
I’ve done my fair share of snorkeling in Hawaii, Belize, and Australia. The Galápagos were truly special.
Note on photos: Laura’s photos were taken using the Olympus Tough TG-6; E’s are stills from his GoPro videos.