The Galapagos Islands are a world class destination for underwater wildlife lovers, and the best news is that you don’t even need to be a diver to see the best of the action! Galapagos Snorkeling gets you up close to playful sealions, chilled out turtles, tame sharks, and even penguins, so get your snorkel, mask and fins at the ready, and let’s jump right in!
Read on to learn where to find the best Galapagos snorkeling sites, which Galapagos animals you can expect to find, as well as heaps of useful snorkeling tips and tricks.
You’ll find spectacular Galapagos snorkeling sites on most of the different islands of the Archipelago, but of course some will get your heart racing more than others, so here is a quick guide to some of our favorites.
On a Free Day: Great sites to visit in your free time, just rent snorkel gear and head out.
On a Galapagos Land Tour: Sites that can be visited from inhabited islands, as part of a guided day tour.
On a Galapagos Cruise: Snorkel sites accessible only on a liveaboard cruise.
Sea Turtles are a common sighting at Galapagos, often found in open sea, or in more sheltered coves. Fortunately they are easy to spot as they frequently surface for air, and make for great snorkeling partners as they don’t travel fast or mind being followed.
Playful Sealions are often the biggest crowd-pleaser for Galapagos snorkelers! These tricky fellas love to play around like underwater puppies, and though it’s impossible to keep up with them, they usually travel in packs and will surround curious humans instinctively. They’ll get bored of you first!
Galapagos is the only place in the world where you’ll find iguanas who have learnt to swim. Marine Iguanas dive for algae, swinging their impressive long tails to steer, providing a truly unique snorkeling experience.
Snorkeling with penguins is another favorite highlight for most, although you’ll need a little luck to pull this one off. Galapagos Penguins are the second-smallest species in the world, and the only one to live in the tropics; they can sometimes be spotted floating/swimming on the surface, or darting like a rocket through the water.
Snorkeling with sharks sure makes an impressive story to take home with you, with no better destination for it than Galapagos. Here you can drift over motionless White-tipped Reef Sharks and scary-looking Galapagos Sharks, or hit the jackpot with a rare Hammer-head sighting.
Few marine species are as graceful as Sea Horses as they glide effortlessly through the water. At Galapagos they grow up to 30cm, and are a common sighting in the clean waters at Los Tuneles Snorkeling site off of Isabela Island.
Last but not least the Galapagos reefs are home to many species of colorful and exotic fish, so many in fact that we recommend buying a book or guide to help you identifying them. Some that you can hope to tick off include Rays (Manta, Sting, Eagle and Golden), Eels and over 450 different species of Tropical Reef Fish, including many that can only be found in Galapagos waters.
Of course there are also many other underwater creatures waiting for you to discocer at the Galapagos Islands, just get yourself our here and start adding to our list 🙂
Snorkeling at the Galapagos Archipelago means swimming, so spending time at your local pool or favorite beach before getting on the plane is a good way to prepare. Getting practise into your legs, building up swimming stamina, and developing more confidence in the water will all help once you take the plunge in Galapagos waters. Practise diving down a few meters will also be useful, as at Galapagos you might occasionally want to get closer to underwater wildlife.
At Galapagos, snorkelling in calm coves or off of beaches is often easy, and mostly involves floating and simple direction changes. While in open seas the current will be stronger, requiring more resistance swimming and technique, and can even be dangerous if you are underprepared or not a strong swimmer.
So always check with your guide before you enter the water at a new snorkelling site, or stay close to the zodiac boat and guide to assess conditions yourself. Snorkel sites like Kicker Rock and the Devil’s Crown in particular have amazing wildlife, but can be challenging for first-time snorkelers, where strong currents push towards the rocks, so take extra care or if in doubt avoid.
The two distinct weather seasons of the islands bring different creatures to the waters, as well as changes in temperature. Typically, from January to June the ocean is warm between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, while from July through to December the waters cool down to high 60s / low 70s.
The cooler waters bring richer nutrients, attracting creatures from far and wide to feed in the Galapagos National Park waters. This is a particularly wonderful time of year for Galapagos snorkeling as marine species are at their most active, although you should consider using a wetsuit to stay warm.
Check out our more detailed Galapagos Weather blog for more detail about average water temperatures each month.
Snorkeling gear isn’t complicated. A mask, a snorkel tube, fins, and sometimes a wetsuit are the only things needed. All cruise yachts and day tours either include or rent out snorkeling equipment on board, or you can opt to bring your own mask and tube if you prefer. Try out the equipment first to be sure you get the correct size. Guides are well versed in helping you figure out how the equipment works, and after a few times out it becomes less of an adjustment.
A few handy tips for snorkeling gear:
Common sense and awareness are the keys to safety when snorkeling in the Galapagos. Mostly you will find yourself snorkeling in a group, together with your guide, but it is easy to become seperated in strong currents, so keep popping your head up every few minutes to check your surroundings – are you close to rocks? where are the rest of your group and guide? where is the zodiac boat in case you want to get out of the water?
If you are not a confident swimmer or it’s your first time snorkeling, then let the guide and zodiac driver know beforehand. If the waters look too rough then skip the activity for the time being and find a calmer spot later. Also don’t be shy about getting back in the zodiac if tired – just wave to the driver to attract his attention, and he’ll bring the boat over to you.
Fortunately the Galapagos wildlife is not usually dangerous or aggressive, reef sharks are small and stay away from people, while sealions are playful but harmless. However, of course animals can be unpredictable, so remember to keep a safe distance away, and avoid dominant male sealions or animals with their young.
There are many different snorkel sites in Galapagos – some in shallow clear and calm waters, and others in deep cold waters with strong currents.
Snorkeling in very deep waters can be a bit scary at first, especially when you can´t see the bottom of the sea! So for your first time, choose a more relaxed snorkel site, such as Los Tuneles in Isabela, las Tijeretas on San Cristobal, Santa Fe Island, Bartolome, or go snorkeling from one of the local beaches, this gives your kids time to practise and gain confidence, while mum and dad can gauge what level they are at.
If your child has never worn a snorkel mask before, take your time to practice before diving in. I took my youngest daughter snorkeling for the first time off the beach in Tortuga Bay. At first, she had difficulties to calmly breathe through her goggles, but after just 10 minutes she was just like a sea lion in the water!
When snorkeling off the beach, take your time to get all equipment on and then walk backwards in the sea… or you will look just like a Boobie walking silly on its big blue feet!
Most day-trip boats will have a mask, tube, fins, and wetsuits for kids to rent. It´s important to do a fitting of all equipment before taking off on your snorkeling activity to make sure that everything fits ok, and the kids are comfortable.
Fins are very important for snorkeling as they give you speed and help you dive too. Make sure the fins are just the right size and on the tight side, if they are too big, they will come off.
This is a picture we took at Los Tuneles – our number 1 favorite snorkeling site! Notice her happy turtle smile!
Snorkeling looks so effortless and easy that you forget that it can also be dangerous, especially when there are strong currents or you are snorkeling close to rocks! Kids are quick inside the water and can get out of reach really fast, so take these precautions for a safe & enjoyable trip:
• Use an inflatable floatie: especially for open water, these are very useful and usually have bright colors so you can easily see your child underwater. This device is worn around the neck and self-inflated. The floaties that we used, gave my kids lots of confidence to even swim by themselves. You can either bring your own or ask your snorkel company to lend you one.
• Use a life vest: every boat in Galapagos has life vests available, also for children. A life vest works perfectly as well. My daughter said it also helped her to keep warm.
On several snorkeling trips, our guide snorkeled together with the group and brought a floating ring that your child could grab and hang on to if needed. In deep snorkel sites, we preferred to just hold hands and snorkel together.
You should also inform your guide and crew members that your child is a beginner and ask them to keep an extra eye on you!
Galapagos waters can be quite cold, and children tend to cool down a lot quicker than adults, so it is a good idea for them to use wetsuits.
Ask your child during the activity several times whether they feel cold because they won´t know when to stop! Have a towel ready to keep them warm as soon as they get out of the water. Snacks are also great to restore lost energy after snorkeling!
Most wetsuits are shorties which means you have to protect your legs, arms, and neck against the sun – in the cold freshwater you won´t notice a sunburn – don´t forget your ears!
Snorkeling in Galapagos with your kids will be an unforgettable experience! So remember to have fun while in the water – my kids invented underwater signs to communicate…a sign to ask if ok, a sign to point out a beautiful fish, and a sign for sharks! They also kept a diary with drawings of the fish we saw and looked up their names on the internet.
Another good idea is to bring your underwater camera to create fun memories from your Galapagos snorkeling trip. A go-pro with stick works well to get close to wildlife – do make sure to have a strap so you don´t lose your camera underwater.
I really hope that other parents find this trip report useful; please do add any of your own tips in the comment section below, we would love to hear them.
Above all, enjoy snorkeling with your kids in the paradise that is Galapagos!
To plan a Galapagos vacation to experience the exotic underwater wildlife that makes the Galapagos archipelago the ultimate snorkeling destination, check out our Galapagos Land Tours, Galapagos Cruises, or Contact a member of our team through this site or by using are our toll-free number.
Written by Eva Merkx & Jon Jared
This is a personal review from one of the owners of Happy Gringo, Eva about her experience snorkeling with her kids in Galapagos. Eva is from Holland but has lived more than 10 years in Ecuador.