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Lots of bucket lists in the dive world work down from the Galápagos. This big animal destination exceeds expectations with wagon trains of whale sharks that don't just pass, they circle around until you run low on air. Any dive can produce massive schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks, sea lions, penguins, marine iguanas, and other marquee stars of the sea. Most destinations stake their reputation on one of these kinds of interactions, the Galápagos revels in a three-ring circus of mega-fauna that makes up almost every dive experience. Of course, topside these islands off Ecuador are more than well known thanks to Darwin and his theory of evolution. You won't want to miss seeing the giant Galápagos tortoise, the boobies nesting on the beach, and the world's only marine iguanas. And, all of the animals evolved without fear of predator, so you can almost walk up and give them a kiss to thank them for the photographs and an experience that will lodge deeply in your memory.

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Destination Information

When to go:

Wet season runs from January to June, but diving is enjoyable year-round.

Marine Life Seasons:

Whale sharks can be seen from July through September.

When to Get the Best Deals:

No real off season. The seasons are aligned with the marine life.

What to Pack:

7 mm wetsuit, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, camera is a must, sturdy shoes for day hikes, DAN card, inflatable safety tube for the drift dives.

Water Temperatures:

Seasonal averages: January to June is the hot season: 22 - 28°C/70 - 85°F; the July to December is the cold season: 21º-27º C/70º- 80º F.

Air Temperatures:

Seasonal averages: January to June is the hot season: 25 - 30°C/78 - 88°F; July to December is the cold season: 20 - 28°C/68 - 80°F.

Currency:

US Dollar; Credit cards are accepted in larger venues.

Visa/Passport Requirements:

Valid passport; check with local immigration office for visa requirements.

Departure Tax:

Usually included in your airfare.

Immunizations:

None required.

What to Eat:

As you might expect, seafood is plentiful in the Galápagos. Try some shrimp ceviche, encebollado (soup with fish) and lobster prepared as you like it. For a real local experience, indulge in sea cucumber.

What to Drink:

Tropical fruit juices are readily available, and the Ecuadorian beers available are Pilsner, Club and Beila. You'll find excellent and reasonable Argentinean and Chilean wines.

Top Adventures/Shopping/Culture:

Exploring the unique fauna, the marine iguanas, boobies, sea lions, penguins, giant tortoises and birdlife.

Customs and Culture:

Ecuadorian people are open and friendly, but the Galápagos is all about the wildlife. Tipping, however, is expected everywhere.

Electricity and Internet:

110v/60hz. Internet is common in hotels.

Drink the water?

Bottled water is highly recommended.

Language:

Spanish, but English is widely spoken.

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Amazing Marine Life

Marine Iguana:

The only place in the world where iguanas take to the sea to feed.

Octopus:

Wily and secretive, the octopus is often found in holes and crannies of reefs.

Galápagos Penguin:

The only place in the world where penguins occur on the equator.

Bottlenose Dolphin:

This playful little cousin to the whales is usually found cavorting with a group (or pod) in open water, sometimes swimming alongside dive boats.

Red-lipped Batfish:

Bottom dweller with unique, almost lipstick red lips.

Whale Shark:

While the whale reference in its name refers to its mammoth size (up to 12 meters/40 feet), this spotted goliath is actually the world's largest fish. Can be seen seasonally and in large aggregations.

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark:

Remarkable for their wide-bladed heads and quick maneuverability, these large sharks are breathtaking icons of the deep.

Galápagos Shark:

Despite its name, the shark is not endemic to the Galápagos, but is commonly seen here. It grows up to 3 meters/10 feet long, gray-brown above and white underneath, and feeds on sea lions and marine iguanas.

Sea Lion:

These playful and curious mammals cavort in the water, rest on the rocks, and occasionally get inquisitive about divers.

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Top Dive Spots

Gordon Rock:

This site is a volcanic crater 90 meters/300 feet across. At 27 meters/90 feet, you can find a colony of burrowing garden eels on the sandy bottom alongside hammerheads, stingrays, white-tip reef sharks, sea lions, moray eels, horse conches, sea turtles, rays, large jacks, groupers and snappers.

Darwin Arch:

Marked by a distinctive stone arch above the water, this underwater plateau is teeming with life. Hammerhead sharks swim over the sandy areas, arriving to be cleaned by king angelfish. Schooling gringos, mackerels, snappers, rainbow runners, tuna, and jacks swarm above the plateau, while large moray eels, moorish idols, coronet fish, trumpetfish, parrotfish, scorpionfish, flounders, and octopus swim near the coral. Swimming out into the blue depths, divers may see dolphins, a whale shark, schools of hammerheads or a Galápagos shark.

Wolf Island:

Warmer water surrounds this island, allowing for reef life that won't be seen elsewhere. Look for green-spotted morays, trumpet and coronet fishes, schooling jacks, rainbow runner, barracudas, tuna, big-eyed jacks, wahoo, bacalao, salemas, gold-rimmed surgeonfish, and turtles. On the wall itself, you'll see tube corals, small sponges, and barnacles, as well as several species of large moray eels. Hammerhead sharks gather here, as well as occasional Galápagos sharks and eagle rays.

Genovesa (Tower):

This extinct volcano is open to the sea on the south side, with the caldera forming a sheltered cove, Darwin Bay. Divers can explore either the inner or the outer wall of the volcano.

Marchena (Bindloe):

Diving at this active volcano, you will see fumaroles (steam vents) and new black lava. Look for cow-nosed rays, turtles, schooling hammerhead sharks, blue striped snappers, grunts, surgeonfish, spotted moray eels, scorpionfish, and red-lipped batfishes.

Cousin's Rock:

A favorite with photographers, this rock boasts spectacular endemic black corals, red-lipped batfish, Galápagos seahorses, frogfish, octopus, eagle and manta rays, hammerhead sharks, sea turtles, fur seals, and Galápagos sea lions.

Roca Redonda:

This tip of an active volcano exudes bubbles of hydrogen sulfide through the sandy bottom. Look for red and dog snappers, amber jacks, barracudas, tuna, groupers, scorpionfish, rays, eels, sea lions, scalloped hammerhead sharks, yellow-tailed surgeonfish, Galápagos grunts, and the occasional whale shark.

Gardner Bay:

This bay is frequented by a transient colony of sea lions, and is a major nesting site for marine turtles.

North Seymour:

Frequent sites include a large colony of Galápagos garden eels, sea turtles, sea lions, fur seals, golden eagle rays, yellowtail grunts, big-eye jacks, schools of snappers as well as frequent sightings of white-tip reef sharks, hammerhead sharks and Galápagos sharks.

Devil's Crown:

The jagged points of this partially exposed extinct volcanic cone give the site its name. Inside the crater you'll find a shallow pool with sandy slopes and numerous boulders, pinnacles, tunnels and caves. Look for playful sea lions, schools of large yellowtail snapper, barberfish and grunts, black-spot moray eels, hawkfish, filefish, king angelfish, creole fish, jacks, turtles, octopus, golden eagle rays, hammerhead sharks and white-tip reef sharks.

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