Snorkeling provides one of the best opportunities to watch wildlife in the Galapagos Islands. Granted, I’ll admit I have a thing for being in the water, every time you put on a mask and snorkel you are rewarded in the Galapagos. Unlike diving it doesn’t require any special training or certification, you just need to be comfortable in the water..
And jump in.
It’s hard to keep track of who you are swimming with off of Isabela Island. It was turtle soup when I hit the water. I was one of the first of my group of 10 in the water, but there were so many turtles I could barely move. I just floated, and enjoyed being in the turtle thick of it. The turtles didn’t seem to have a sentiment one way or another about me joining their gathering, but underneath my mask and snorkel was an ear to ear smile.
I was aboard a Metropolitan Touring cruise ship, the Santa Cruz II. They supplied snorkeling gear and rented shorty wetsuits. I strongly recommend the wet suits. Along with keeping you warm, they offer protection against everything from simple cuts and scrapes, to jellyfish stings. I have a tendency to get cold quickly, so I actually wore my long sleeve wetsuit top as an additional layer on top of a rented wetsuit. Next time I make the trip, (and there will definitely be a next time) I’d take it a step further and make arrangements to rent a full length wetsuit, or bring mine along. I had a few annoying jellyfish stings, and though they weren’t a big deal, a full wetsuit would have prevented them entirely.
Turtles easily grab attention when snorkeling; big and fairly slow going snorkelers don’t need to work very hard to be entertained. But there were plenty of other distractions to keep me on my toes when in the water.
The biggest being the sea lions. They move with grace and speed in the water, and in many respects their playful nature might remind you of a puppy. But that said, they’re big puppies. Females typically run in the 165 pound range, males can hit 440 pounds.
Galapagos tours are controlled. Cruise ships hold a maximum of 100 passengers. My ship, the Santa Cruz II wasn’t full, so there were 60 to 70 of us, broken up into smaller groups before getting into the water. On almost all of my days exploring the islands, I never saw another ship, so when you’re in the water, the human factor is fairly limited.
That said, visitors have to be responsible. You don’t go chasing sea lions, especially the large bulls. The young ones that want to play, are going to show you they are curious. Go Pro cameras are fun to take a nip at. They have to wonder where these things came from all of the sudden.
The more time you spend in the water, the more relaxed and better you get at spotting things, even anticipating things, like penguins cruising by.
Sure, turtles and sea lions are big enough to make an impression, but there are plenty of smaller critters that are worth your attention as well. My big find in the water off of Tagus Cove was a seahorse. In my years of diving and snorkeling, I’ve only seen two in the wild. Colorful sea stars and fish are attention getters too.
I don’t want to say you start to take the big guys like turtles and sea lions for granted, but they’re regulars in the Galapagos. Each day the more you see, the more you watch the somersaults and backflips, the more amazing their underwater world becomes.