Snorkeling in the Galápagos Islands

Panga Ride in the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador (©photocoen)I feel as if I’m swimming in my grandmother’s tropical fish aquarium; the fish have the same bright colors, the same vertical shapes. All around me are yellow-purple-striped king angelfish, ivory-colored barber fish, and black stripe and deep-blue surgeonfish.

The fish is all that is tropical about being here though. The water temperature is more reminiscent of the North Sea in winter: freezing. I try steadying my breath and relaxing my muscles but fail. My partner Coen, with whom I’m holding hands while snorkeling, keeps me close to him, rubbing my arm in an attempt to warm me up a bit.

What’s the Fun?

Already in tropical waters I don’t last ten minutes, so what am I doing here in waters of twenty-degrees Celsius, wearing two wetsuits? Well, I believe in carpe diem and as I am in the Galápagos, one of the richest areas in the world in terms of marine life, I am snorkeling despite an overcast sky, wind-force four, and icy water.

Yet I am mesmerized. While fighting my breath, my muscles and the cold, I am captivated and allow myself to be led by Coen, who is an experienced diver and swimmer and who has an incredible eye for detail.

Truth be said, you don’t need an eye for detail to spot animals here. They are all over the place. Do you know the documentaries from National Geographic or Discovery Channel, where they film schools of hundreds or thousands of tropical fish? They must have been filming in the Galápagos. We not only spot vast schools of fish, but they are undisturbed by our presence. They swim around us as if we don’t exist.

We don't have an underwater camera, but this photo, taken from a glass-bottom boat will give you an idea about the schools of fish.

We don’t have an underwater camera, but this photo, taken from a glass-bottom boat will give you an idea about the schools of fish.

The glass-bottom boat that is part of the La Pinta Yacht.

The glass-bottom boat that is part of the La Pinta Yacht.

Dozens, even hundreds, of striped mullets suddenly show up right in front of our face, enveloping us and all of a sudden we are one among them. They aren’t afraid, not even startled. You could almost argue that their complete ignoring of our presence is insulting.

Suddenly a sea-lion shoots right by us and I realize I’m not in an aquarium. I am among the most extraordinary wildlife on earth: the Galápagos Islands!

 

Rough panga ride to Chinese Hat.

Rough panga ride to Chinese Hat.

Sea lions at Chinese Hat.

Sea lions at Chinese Hat.

Snorkeling in the Galápagos Islands

The Galápagos is arguably best known for its enormous tortoises and land iguanas. What I didn’t know before coming here is that in fact the Galápagos’ richest diversity of species lives under water. As a result snorkeling is a daily activity during our cruise with La Pinta Yacht. The yacht, run and owned by Metropolitan Touring (which hosts us on this trip) is the smallest and most luxurious of the three ships they have (the others being La Isabella and Santa Cruz).

From our ship, pangas – dinghies – take us to the best snorkeling spots, such as across Chinese Hat Island.

Sally lightfoot crab at Chinese Hat.

Sally lightfoot crab at Chinese Hat.

Red algae.

Red algae.

We are in the Galápagos at end of September, when the sea can be a bit rough, and it’s more overcast than other times of the year. Other times of the year are much warmer, often warm enough to snorkel without wetsuits.

I pick up Coen’s diving sign of putting my index finger and thumb together when wanting to signal, ‘Okay, I saw it’. We keep on tugging each other’s arm or squeezing hands to indicate something ahead of us, below us, right or left of us. We point out sea urchins, their black pins threatening enough to keep us at bay, enormous, bright-yellow sea stars, one of which is accurately named because of its looks: chocolate chip sea star.

The extremes of the Galápagos: from an abundant marine wildlife we go to a place where hardly anything grows or lives: a section of lava on Santiago Island.

The extremes of the Galápagos: from an abundant marine wildlife we go to a place where hardly anything grows or lives: a section of lava on Santiago Island.

Okay, you may come across a cactus...

Okay, you may come across a cactus…

For the umpteenth time I am about to give up because I must be turning blue from the cold, but Coen is tugging my arm again, and pointing below us. Partly hidden under a rock lies a five-or-six-foot-long sting ray. It is gigantic and for a moment my cold is gone. We watch and wait. It doesn’t move but the sight is mesmerizing nevertheless.

THIS is where you want to be after such a snorkeling adventure!

THIS is where you want to be after such a snorkeling adventure!

Time for a well-deserved dinner!

Time for a well-deserved dinner!

Is it Really so Special?

Okay, I am not a snorkeler or diver, so easily impressed by every fish and sea star I spot. To put our experience in perspective: Coen is elated. He has done a fair share of diving, for example in Egypt, which is a divers’ havens because of abundance and variety of underwater life. Which he sums up as follows:

“We see this under these circumstances?!” Coen exclaims while climbing in the panga that will take us back to La Pinta.”Imagine when there are no waves and thus less sediment, and the sun is filtering through the water. How extraordinary must that be?!” There’s a side to everything, our guide Dries explains. Because of the time of the year, plankton is the most abundant and so attracting large numbers of fish. So in terms of quantity, I guess this is a good time to be here.

“Imagine when there are no waves and thus less sediment, and the sun is filtering through the water. How extraordinary must that be?!”

There’s a side to everything, our guide Dries explains. Because of the time of the year, plankton is the most abundant and so attracting large numbers of fish. So in terms of quantity, I guess this is a good time to be here.

Practical Information

Additional Reading

All photos by Coen Wubbels. Follow him on Instagram here and here.

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