Scuba diving at Wolf and Darwin Islands in the Galapagos

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
10
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
0
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
10
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
10
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
5
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
10
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
100 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
South America
country
Ecuador
Length of time
Around a week
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 5,000
Time of year visited
February
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
1st/359 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 1% SUMMARY RATING: The best of the best

Summary

8 days / 7 nights on one of the liveaboard dive boats sailing around the Galapagos Islands was an experience I’ll never forget. Whilst visiting the nesting sites of the Frigate Birds, Marine Iguanas and Blue Footed Boobies was super cool, it was the trip up to Darwin and Wolf Islands (to the north of the main Galapagos Islands) that was the highlight. The sheer number of Hammerhead Sharks we saw was mind-boggling, along with Manta Rays, Devil Rays, Sea Lions and Turtles. To add to the experience, spending time next to the sheer cliffs of these dramatic and isolated islands makes for a true feeling of adventure

Yes its expensive, but so are most trips of a lifetime

highlights

#1 Diving with hundreds . . . and hundreds of Hammerhead Sharks. Its a ludicrously offhand comment, but you get a bit bored of them

#2 Diving with a host of different species of rays, turtles and sea lions

#3 Seeing the remote, isolated and super cool Darwin & Wolf Islands. An experience on their own

#4 That moment when one of the Hammerheads comes up close for a look, and you can see just how sharp the teeth are

#5 Visiting the nesting bird colonies on the protected islands all along the Galapagos chain

#6 Getting to dive with the Galapagos Shark. Broadly considered to be one of the most beautiful and "sharky" shark (not that that makes any sense)

#7 Getting a live performance of the Blue Footed Boobies' dances to show off their blue feet to prospective mates

#8 Visiting the Giant Tortoises in the Sanctuary to see these ancient and wonderful animals

Background

The Galapagos Islands’ history through Charles Darwin’s famous trip, location around a thousand miles off the shore of Ecuador and their sheer level of wildlife make them largely unique. But, Wolf and Darwin Islands take this to another level through their sheer isolation and in registering the highest biomass in the world (10 times that of the Great Barrier Reef)

The remoteness and the exclusivity make this trip expensive at around $4,500 for liveaboard, but with quite a few hidden charges to be aware of, such as renting gear $250, Nitrox  $150, dive computer $100, fuel surcharge $100, Galapagos National Park tax $100, Transit card $20, so be aware. Yes, it may be a bit like that scene from Cliffhanger when Sylvester Stallone is burning the money to stay warm, but the experience more than makes up for it

Many arrive in the Galapagos unable to dive, and there are a variety of things for the non divers, some of them world-class experiences in their own right. Have a look at the “Places recommended nearby” section below for recommendations – in particular the swimming with sea lions and Tortuga Beach are fantastic

The Galapagos Islands are influenced by three ocean currents which are one of the key reasons for the abundance of wildlife but, for divers, this means you need to be aware of changes in visibility, strong currents and often cold water temperatures, so having a suitable level of diving experience is recommended (see below)

Rough itinerary

  • The boats typically set off from either Isla de San Cristobal or Isla Santa Cruz – these are the two islands with the airports and you will likely find your liveaboard company flexible as to where they pick you up and drop you off. For example, we flew in to Isla de San Cristobal and flew out of Island Santa Cruz
  • Once on the boat, you’ll do (not necessarily in this order):
    • Some diving around the main Galapagos Islands
    • Visit one of the islands to see the nesting Blue Footed Boobies, Frigate Birds and Marine Iguanas. Very likely you’ll also see some sea lions
    • Head up overnight for Wolf and Darwin Islands, spend 3 days or so of diving here, plus checking out the cliffs
    • Head back to Isla Santa Cruz for a day to check out the Tortoise Sanctuary and possibly spend the evening on land
  • I’d also really recommend taking the time to explore the Galapagos Islands themselves. We took a week after the diving trip to island hop between Isla Santa Cruz and Isla Isabella, where we saw world-class beaches, baby sharks by the shore, swam with the sea lions and penguins, and did things like cycle around parts of the island.  For more details on this experience, see Island hoping through the main Galapagos Islands

Travel tips

  • When to visit – there isn’t really a “wrong time” to visit the Galapagos. January to June is wet season, so it’ll mainly be sunny, hot and with a short sharp torrential downpour some days. This is the best time for hammerheads and rays.  July to December is the dry season, so less rain and cooler temperatures, but reduced visibility.  July to November is the best chance to see Whale Sharks so is high season.  I visited in February and it was fantastic
  • You’ll fly in from either Quito or Guayaquil (often flights from Quito fly via Guayaquil), but be prepared not to necessarily land first time, or, potentially, not be able to land and return to the mainland because of the weather (this happened to us and is quite regular from what we were told)
  • We went with Humboldt Explorer, which we’d thoroughly recommend. Few points:
    • The crew couldn’t have been more friendly and the dive instructors were superb. Their attitude made a big difference
    • The boat was spacious, with an upper deck allowing you to see the Galápagos Islands go by (plus a jacuzzi which was nice). We saw the photos and videos of the other luxury boats and, even though I like my space and am becoming a bit of a princess, I never found myself needing that extra space / luxury
    • Food was surprisingly good and varied
    • Equipment and safety measures etc were top notch
    • Free soft drinks and alcohol
    • WiFi for WhatsApp messages, no more
  • Be prepared for the $ extras when doing a trip like this, especially if you don’t have your own equipment. The extras were: gear $250, Nitrox  $150, dive computer $100, fuel surcharge $100, Galapagos National Park tax $100, Transit card $20
  • Nitrox – you will very likely need to use enhanced air (Nitrox), but its no problem if you don’t already have the certification as you can do this as part of the trip (the instructors will be more than happy to make some extra cash!)
  • Flexible deals – for many trips around the Galapagos, you can often just turn up with a bit of flexibility and arrange multi-day boat trips for a fraction of the cost, but, unfortunately, we didn’t find this when it came to liveaboard trips, potentially because there are only a limited number of them licensed to make the trips
  • The payment process is a faff – with bank transfer and lots of forms needed
  • Cash – you’ll need cash for renting the gear, nitrox, fuel surcharge etc.  Although you pass by an ATM on the final night so can use that
  • This is a diving trip – you get to take a 2 hour walk across one of the islands to see the boobies, frigates, iguanas etc and are taken to to tortoise park on Santa Cruz on the penultimate day, but you’re there for the diving
  • Consider asking for a shallower dive for some variety – It’s first world problems when you’re bored of seeing hundreds of hammerheads, but it was a nice change!
  • Standard of diving needed – a few people will be wondering what level of diver do you need to be for Wolf and Darwins Islands.  Because everyone learns at different speeds and different confidence levels, there isn’t a hard and fast rule, but I would suggest you need your Advanced Padi (or equivalent) and have something in the region of at least 50 dives to feel comfortable. The main issues you’ll find will be the current – it really can pull you along and you’ll need the confidence / experience not to get freaked out if you get caught in the very cold water current or get pulled along further than the others . . . or  get lost and suddenly see 20 hammerheads dart towards you

Experiences nearby

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Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone