Ecuador is Awesome – Part 6

Ecuador is one of the most fascinating countries on Earth. The amazing diversity of nature, cultures, geography, foods, activities, holiday destinations, people and languages makes this tiny country straddled either side of latitude zero a stand out destination in South America. You may think I’m biased because I live here, but I have traveled in, lived in or visited 46 countries over the last 33 years, and Ecuador is the only country that has ever inspired me to build a house and stick around for a while.

When I began thinking about some of the wonderful things about Ecuador that I want to share with others who are interested in visiting, I found many of my friends and acquaintances feel the same way about the same things. Therefore, in the spirit of fairness, before I sat down to write this ten-part series, I asked everyone I know who lives now or has lived or traveled in Ecuador this one simple question: “What is/was the best thing about your experience of Ecuador?” This series is all about their responses.

One thing we unanimously agree on is “the Scuba Diving totally rocks!” For this article, I have chosen five dive sites, because there are so many incredible places to go scuba diving in the Galapagos Islands and even a few cool places on the mainland (but you have to admit there’s nothing quite like logging a few Galapagos dives, right?) These are some of the favorite, and also most popular dive spots, each renowned for their individual attractions.

Baltra-Seymour-Mosquera

Mosquera

The islet of Mosquera is located in the channel between North Seymour and Baltra. Appearing more like a large sandbar than an island, Mosquera is 620 meters long and 130 meters wide, and consists of a long narrow stretch of powdery white sand, black lava rocks, and glistening azure tide pools. The island was created by geological uplift, so its geography is flat rather than conically shaped like other volcanically formed islands. Starting from Mosquera’s dramatic lava rock base, peppered with corals, divers drift with the currents to a depth of 21m along a mixed rock, coral and sandy bottom and along the top ledge of a magnificent cliff wall where a wealth of marine life thrives; from colorful nudibranchs to impressive hammerheads, and large black manta rays to white spotted eagle rays. Meeting playful sea lions is one of the main features of the dives at this popular site, along with the spectacular white sand plateau filled with thousands of Galápagos garden eels, bobbing in the current as far as the eye can see. White-tipped sharks glide amongst the coral reefs and lava rocks along with Galápagos sharks, Pacific green turtles, barracudas, amberjacks and pelagics, schools of and many other tropical fish which are common to this area. Visibility averages 12-15 meters (40-50 feet). Surge and current is usually moderate to strong.

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Daphne Minor

Located 40 minutes by boat from Itabaca Channel, on the northwest coast of Santa Cruz, Daphne Minor is an isolated offshore tuff cone featuring a range of different topographies: vertical rock and coral walls, steep slopes, pinnacles, a marine platform, and also a cave. At the base of Dafne Minor, it is even possible to see the results of lava flows from previous volcanic eruptions. Depending on the strength of the current, which can range from mild to strong, while drift diving along the wall amongst the crags and black coral, divers can encounter the cleaning stations of hammerhead and Galápagos sharks, as well as spot white tipped reef sharks, silky sharks, manta rays, golden cowrays, eagle rays, sea lions, Pacific green turtles, and impressive moray eels. Other marine life that thrives in abundance off Dafne Minor includes sea cucumbers, octopus, slipper lobster, nudibranchs, and an impressive variety of reef fish including bacalao, barracuda, palometas, Galápagos grunts, yellowtail grunts, creolefish, king angelfish, Galápagos ringtail damselfish, chamelion wrasse, rainbow wrasse, streamer hogfish, tuna, parrotfish, razor surgeonfish, Panamic graysby cabrilla, cardinalfish, and yellowtail snapper, and a wonderfully colorful collection of starfish. The best dives hover around a depth of 15-20 meters with visibility generally around 9-18 meters (30-60 feet) depending on the presence of plankton. Diving on Dafne Minor is suitable for all levels starting from beginners through to intermediate and advanced divers.

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North Seymour

Located approximately half an hour by motorboat from the Itabaca channel near Baltra, the island of North Seymour offers two very special dive sites: the Point, and the Channel. On the Point, follow the gradual steps away from the shoreline to a shallow rocky reef, before reaching the sandy bottom at 16-18 meters. The rocky slope follows the platform reef where devil rays, manta rays, eagle rays, marbled rays, stingrays, tiger snake eels, moray eels, camouflaged octopi and sea turtles are a common sight, and even marlins have occasionally been seen. Galápagos sharks, white- and black-tipped reef sharks and scalloped hammerheads regularly take advantage of medium to strong currents here. The sandy bottom at around 15m is home to hundreds of bobbing endemic Galápagos garden eels, and there are plenty of Pacific green turtles, and large schools of barracuda and other reef fish like yellowtail grunts and blue-striped snapper, jacks, flag cabrilla, creolefish, king angelfish and scorpionfish are also easy to find. Razor surgeonfish are especially abundant. An interesting phenomena on North Seymour dives is the ability to observe blue-footed boobies diving to hunt fish. The Channel is perfect for a drift dive, with medium to strong currents, starting from the eastern corner and following the lava rock plateau. Galápagos sharks cruise around and there are reef fish everywhere. The Channel is also a great spot to find hundreds of colorful sea stars, as well as sea horses clinging to the corals, bright blue nudibranchs, and even whale sharks at times.

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Gordon Rocks

One of the most popular sites for experienced divers in the Galápagos Islands is the extinct volcanic crater, Gordon Rocks with its sandy bottom at 32 meters. The top of a submerged cone at the northeastern end of Santa Cruz Island, the exposed northern and southern lava walls surround the remains of the caldera, measuring about 100 metres in diameter, and three smaller pinnacles are visible under the surface. There is a spectacular 65-meter wall drop off along the northern edge of the crater and one large pinnacle in the center approximately 21 meters below the surface. Gordon Rocks is a favorite place to view large schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks up close and personal as they ride the medium to strong currents and circle the massive lava rocks. White and black tip reef sharks can also be seen in the crater, as well as Pacific green sea turtles, sea lions, sting rays, eagle rays, large schools of barracuda and snapper, endemic fur seals, the occasional majestic manta ray and also the fascinating mola mola sunfish. The inside of the crater can resemble a gigantic fish bowl at times and, if you’re really lucky, whale sharks can sometimes be seen here too, and pods of pilot whales frequently pass in the channel between Gordon Rocks and Santa Cruz. Gordon Rocks is also great for a deep dive on the outer rim of the crater, with lots of pelagics and invertebrates to be found along the wall. If close encounters with hammerheads gets your bubbles going, Gordon Rocks is the place to dive.

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Floreana

There are three very different dive sites at Floreana, mostly with mild currents making these excellent sites for beginners, and wonderful sites for experienced divers to relax and observe the fascinating marine life that Galápagos has to offer amongst some of the most interesting topography in the islands from rocky outcrops, extinct volcanoes, walls, tunnels, caves and sandy bottoms to black coral reefs. Enderby is the place to spot whale sharks in the spring months, as well as eagle rays, stingrays, white-tipped reef sharks, Galápagos sharks, cleaning stations, and sometimes hammerheads and pilot whales, and countless tropical fish including giant clouds of black-striped salemas that can envelop divers in their thousands. Champion offers one of the nicest drift dives in Galápagos, gliding along the wall escorted by friendly juvenile sea lions that frequently take a liking to diver’s fins, while keeping eyes open for green morays, blue lobster, octopus, long nose hawk fish and coral hawk fish, and spotting Pacific sea horses clinging to branches of black coral. There are also large Pacific green turtles covered in barnacles, eagle rays and stingrays, and also schools of hammerheads. At Punto Cormorant it is easy to find the famous red-lipped batfish with its leg-like fins and cherry red lips in relatively shallow water, presenting yet more evidence that diving in the Galápagos Islands is a unique experience and the three exceptional sites on Floreana are some of the most interesting dive spots within the archipelago.

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Wanna come diving with me? Get in touch.

Ecuador is Awesome – Part Two

Blue-Footed Booby

Colonies of the adorable Blue-Footed Booby are found all over Galapagos

When I asked all my friends about the best things Ecuador has to offer, we unanimously agree that one of the most spectacular not-to-be-missed destinations in Ecuador is, without doubt, the incredibly beautiful and mystical Galapagos Islands. Straddling latitude zero, 1000km west from the mainland, this archipelago is home to an amazing array of wildlife; numerous species you will never see anywhere else in the world abound on these enchanted islands, unusual and fascinating creatures to someone who has never visited, and yet often quite common to those who know the islands well. Landscapes – or  moonscapes – of shimmering black lava and hardy flora forcing its way through the rock to thrive in such an arid environment where rainfall is extremely scarce in many places is a miracle so fantastic to behold that it’s worth every penny to come and discover the secrets of Galapagos for yourself.

There are 10 species of Giant Tortoises in Galapagos

Giant Tortoises (Chelonoidis nigra) are the longest-living vertebrates on earth. The average life-span is over 100 years, and some live to over 170 years.

There are four inhabited islands: San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Isabela and Floreana, with an international airport on Baltra, near the abandoned WWII American military base. While the Galapageño capitol of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is on San Cristobal, which also has an airport, Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz is the most populated settlement, with its infrastructure firmly in place to serve the requirements of around 175,000 visitors per year to the World Heritage National Park and Marine Reserve. Whether tourists participate in land-based or water-based activities, Galapagos; its phenomenal wildlife, unique vegetation and breath-taking landscapes, are bound to make a life-long impression on anyone fortunate enough to experience the magic.

Las Grietas, a fissure in the lava rock, is a wonderful local swimming hole.

Las Grietas, a fissure and a swimming hole where dare-devils leap in from the cliffs.

Regardless of age, there are activities to suit every level of fitness and include a vast range of interests, from a gentle 2.5km walk to Tortuga Bay near Puerto Ayora, to a strenuous hike up the challenging slopes of Sierra Negra on Isabela to see the massive crater, which is 11km in diameter, from stretching out in a bikini under the hot equatorial sun while your launch cruises leisurely from island to island on the azure Pacific Ocean, to rolling back off the launch in your scuba gear to experience the fascinating world of Galapagos marine life 20 meters below the surface off North Seymour, from observing the Magnificent Frigate Birds bathing in Lagoon El Junco on San Cristobal, the only fresh water lake in the archipelago, to leaving your postcards in Post Office Bay on Floreana and hoping they’ll arrive at their destination at some point in the future, and once you’ve done all that, there is still so much more to do… like visit the Giant Tortoise breeding center at the Charles Darwin Research station, or just lay on a towel on a pristine beach and relax.

Divers are always thrilled to find large schools of Hammerhead sharks

Scuba Divers are thrilled to find large schools of Hammerhead sharks at Gordon Rocks.

A trip to Galapagos is, for many, a once in a lifetime experience. Admittedly, it’s a little costly to get there. Between airfares, national park fees,  and the high cost of cruises and many other vacation activities, you almost need a second mortgage just to put your feet on the enchanted islands. And because most of the food is shipped 1000km, it also costs more than on the mainland. Even so, if you spend every penny you’ve saved for this trip, just to make it one single time, you will spend the rest of your life enjoying the wonderful memories of a natural phenomena not to be found anywhere else on the planet. Galapagos is worth every penny. There are also a number of land-based and water activities that don’t cost a thing. Depending on which island you are on and, if you have the time and resources, it’s highly recommended to go island-hopping on at least two islands in the Galapagos, and you can easily find out which activities are free. Whether you’ve lived in Ecuador for many years, or have just passed through as a visitor, the magic spell of Galapagos remains with you forever.

Ask us how to get to Galapagos:

The Octopus Garden

Just after dawn, as the motorboat pulls out of Pelican Bay, we start to prepare ourselves for the dive, pulling on pre-dampened wetsuits over our bikinis and leaving them hanging half-open at our waists for the rest of the journey. Frigate birds fly overhead, their distinctive red necks deflated as they wait to see if we’re offering them breakfast. Disappointed, they soar towards a flock of blue-footed boobies hunting nearby to bully the boobies and pirate another meal.

The glorious Galapagos Islands shimmer in the bright sunlight as we speed past Santa Cruz and Baltra, Dafne and finally arrive at North Seymour. A large manta ray skims along just under the surface. At first, just a shadow in the distance, we get close enough to see the 4m wingspan of this magnificent creature, with its wingtips breaking the surface as it cruises alongside. We anchor in the channel between North Seymour and Mosquera to listen to the dive brief and finish putting on the rest of our gear: weight belts and fins, masks and finally our BCDs with tanks and regulators attached. The language of the dive has been discussed. We all know how to communicate underwater.

It's another world where nothing above the surface matters.

Twenty meters under the Pacific Ocean there is a completely different world where nothing above the surface matters.

Unless you have been scuba diving, it’s difficult to describe the feeling that envelopes you when you roll backwards into the water and then descend to the first meeting point. The only sound you can hear underwater is your own bubbles as you exhale. A small group with a very experienced dive guide, we buddy-up and head into the channel, adrift on the current which carries us along. Almost no effort is required. I barely wiggle a fin. My buddy drifts along beside me. White-tipped sharks rest of the ocean floor, letting the cool water rush over them. Minutes later, we find ourselves in the middle of a large school of yellow and black striped angelfish. We drift over impressive lava formations and colorful corals until we notice that some of the pretty pink rocks aren’t rocks at all. They’re fish. Scorpion fish.

The Scorpion fish is one of the world's most venomous species

The Galapagos Scorpion Fish is one of the most venomous species in the Pacific Ocean.

Responsible divers in the Galapagos know not to touch anything, so we are never in any danger of being stung by this cleverly camouflaged fish. Starfish abound in all shapes and colors, clinging to rocks and corals as the current sweeps over them. An octopus hides in a narrow crevice, its tentacles stretch over the rock as it moves ever-so-slowly across the rock face to find a more spacious hiding place. Enormous Moray eels peek out from their rock caves, mouths open to allow the Pacific cleaner shrimp to wash their faces for them. Outstanding service, if you ask me! During the dive we glide alongside elegant Eagle rays, and see a large school of Devil rays overhead. Concealed Stingrays shoot out from their hiding places in the sand and a large Manta ray circles overhead. A massive Pacific green turtle snoozes on the sandy bottom, ignoring us as an underwater photo-frenzy takes place above its head.

After a fifty-minute dive, we slowly ascend, making a safety stop a few meters below the surface. As we hold hands in a circle and dance, wiggling and shaking our hips, trying not to laugh out loud and lose our regulators, our friendly Manta ray sweeps by one last time to wish us farewell. On the surface, we board the boat once more, all talking at once, such is the excitement of yet another great dive in the spectacular Galapagos archipelago.

Would you like to come diving with me? Ask Footprints how.

Footprints Ecuador

  • Footprints Ecuador: Galapagos Scuba Diving Tours
    Footprints Ecuador helps you custom design and plan your trip to Ecuador, inc. Galapagos Cruises, Island Hopping, Scuba Diving, and also travel on the mainland inc. Otavalo, Cotopaxi, Mindo, Quito, Cuenca & more. Go Scuba Diving in the Galapagos!
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    Footprints offers personal one-on-one consultation to help you plan the trip of a lifetime to Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands with no-fuss itineraries making the most of your time and budget, catering to your specific interests and requirements.

Galapagos – Bartolomé Island

Bartolome Island

Breathtakingly spectacular

As the luxury cruiser surges through the gentle waves of the pristine blue Pacific Ocean just after day-break, a large pod of dolphins join the boat on our journey to Bartolomé Island. In front of the boat, hundreds of bottle-nosed dolphins leap and dive, chasing and racing each other through the ship’s breakers. Passengers stand in awe at the front of the boat as this wonderful display of Galapagos marine life welcomes us to Bartolomé. As the boat slows, nearing the island, the dolphins drift away, seeking another competitor.

The air is fresh and crisp, and the day is gloriously sunny. We disembark onto a white sand beach and don snorkeling masks and fins to check out the rest of the underwater critters around spectacular Pinnacle Rock. Nearby, several Galapagos penguins, the smallest in the world, zoom past so quickly we can barely see them. As the sun rises higher, they waddle up to the rocks to sun themselves and show off for the visitors. We snorkel with Pacific green turtles, harmless white-tipped reef sharks, and a rainbow of tropical fish atop an atoll of colorful corals and volcanic lava. After a short rest on the beach, sunning ourselves amidst a dozen dozing sea lions, it is time to climb.

Crossing the molten lava of an island that was born as the result of an undersea volcano eruption millions of years before, our naturalist guide points out cacti and other small desert plants shooting bravely out of the red, orange, green and black volcanic formations. There is little rain here, very hot sun, and no shade at all. Thirsty plants cling precariously to cracks and crevices in the glistening lava, eking out an existence of harsh deprivation and thriving all the same. There are no land animals on Bartolomé, but passing herons visit the sandy beaches.

A short climb to the summit of Bartolomé reveals a spectacular view of Sullivan Bay on Santiago island and a 360-degree view of the vast Pacific Ocean and nearby islands in the magical Galapagos archipelago. It is here, in the bay between the two islands, that certain scenes from the 2003 blockbuster movie Master and Commander were filmed. After drinking in the view from all angles, we descend the island and rest briefly on the beach before sailing away, leaving the cacti to wait for the next rain shower.

Day trips to Bartolomé Island leave from Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz.

Ask Footprints how to get onboard!

Footprints Ecuador

  • Footprints Ecuador: Galapagos Cruises and Day Trips
    Footprints Ecuador will help you custom design and plan your trip to Ecuador, inc. Galapagos Cruises, Island Hopping, Scuba Diving, and also travel on the mainland inc. Otavalo, Cotopaxi, Mindo, Quito, Cuenca & more. Take a Spanish course in Ecuador!
  • “LIKE” Footprints on Facebook
    Footprints offers personal one-on-one consultation to help you plan the trip of a lifetime to Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands with no-fuss itineraries making the most of your time and your budget, catering to your specific interests and requirements.