No matter where you may have explored before, snorkeling in the Galapagos is an underwater experience unlike any other!
The abundance and rarity of the famously tame animals that inhabit these peaceful islands guarantee some life-changing moments that are nothing short of transcendent.
Each of the inhabited islands has beaches, coves, and/or islets that you can snorkel from for free without a tour or guide. However, some of the best spots for snorkeling in Galapagos, even those seemingly nearby, require a boat to reach.
In this guide, you will discover the best snorkel spots in the Galapagos Islands as well as information on how to get to each, what you’ll see there, snorkeling tips, and general advice on how to maximize your experience.
Disclosure: In order to keep providing you with free content, this post likely contains affiliate links. If you make a booking or purchase through one of these links we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. So a HUGE thank you to you if you click one of these links 🙂
🐠 About Snorkeling in the Galapagos ISlands
Before we get into the best spots, there are some general things you need to understand and be aware of that will help you make sense of the information you will find further into the guide.
If you are already in the Galapagos and just want to know the best spots nearby, simply use the Table of Contents above or skim down to the next section!
Underwater Wildlife Encounters
The Galapagos islands are renowned for the incredibly tame wildlife that resides there. Due to a long history without predation, most endemic animals are unbothered by humans and many, especially the juveniles, are even playful.
Galapagos National Park rules dictate that you are not to come within 6-feet (2 meters) of wildlife.
It goes without saying (but must be said anyway) that you should never, ever, touch the animals!
The great thing is that if you remain calm and respectful of the animals and their space, many will approach you! Sea lions in particular are known for being very playful and may engage you in a game of spinning and dancing; just be sure to heed any warnings agitated animals give you.
In the Galapagos islands, you are almost guaranteed to swim with sea lions, sea turtles, marine iguanas, and plenty of tropical fish. You also have a good chance of seeing a variety of rays and sharks (none dangerous), and even Galapagos penguins if you know where to go!
While tours will always provide you with equipment for snorkeling, we highly recommend you bring your own snorkel and mask, and consider bringing fins as well. You can also buy these items as a snorkel set which works out cheaper still.
As each island has local beaches you can snorkel from, packing your own gear will save you a lot of time and money compared to dealing with rentals upon arrival.
Additionally, your experience will be much better if you have quality equipment that fits properly, as opposed to the often ill-fitting rentals.
This is especially important if you wear glasses and require a prescription snorkel mask. Prescription masks are much harder to come by on the islands and the ability to actually see the turtle or sea lion looking back at you will make all the difference to your experience.
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Water Temperature in Galapagos
Being on the equator and a tropical environment, you may be expecting the water in Galapagos to be warm… you would often be mistaken!
The Galapagos archipelago is strongly affected by two currents which impact water temperature and seasonality:
The Humboldt Current flows north from Antarctica from July through November, bringing a very cold stream of water that is filled with nutrients, but downright frigid. The average water temperature during the cold & dry season that corresponds with the Humboldt current is 73°F (22°c) but can get as low as 66°F (19°c).
The Panama Current flows south from December through June, bringing warm but nutrient-poor water with it. The average temperature during this “warm & wet” season is about 76°F (24°c).
If you’re visiting during the cold season, you may wish to consider packing a thin wetsuit to keep you more comfortable in the water.
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Snorkeling Safety Tips
While snorkeling in Galapagos is relatively safe, there are always risks when swimming in the ocean. You can minimize these risks with the following steps:
- Always check current conditions, including weather, warning flags, and currents.
- Know your own limits.
- Only snorkel with a buddy (or consider booking a tour).
- Use a life vest if you’re not a confident swimmer.
- Stay close to shore.
- Always be aware of your surroundings.
- Do not use full-face masks (these create a CO2 buildup that can cause you to become disoriented or even lose consciousness).
- Only snorkel during daylight hours.
Snorkel Spots: Self-Guided (Free) vs. Tours
For ease of use, we have arranged the list of the top snorkel spots in Galapagos into two categories: self-guided and tour-only.
As the name hopefully suggests, the self-guided spots are those that you can get to without hiring a tour company to take you there. Most will be walkable, but some may require a taxi or bike rental.
The tour-only snorkel spots are some of the best you will ever swim, but require you to arrange a day tour. These spots are only accessible by boat and typically require a Galapagos National Park guide.
🏝 Best Self-Guided Galapagos Snorkel Spots
Each of the inhabited islands in the Galapagos has one main town where tourists can stay.
Fortunately, each town also has some local beaches where you can just walk down and go for a swim right from the shore; all you need is your mask!
This section features the best spots you can snorkel without booking a tour on each island.
Santa Cruz Snorkel Spots
Tortuga Bay is home to the most popular beaches on Santa Cruz island in Playa Brava and Playa Mansa.
Getting here requires some amount of walking, which can be somewhat offset by cabbing to the trailhead, or you can hire a water taxi to avoid it altogether.
Playa Brava is mostly un-swimmable, but there is one spot near the mangroves as you get to the end of the beach where it is safe to swim and you will likely see reef-tip sharks and marine iguanas.
Playa Mansa is the more popular beach for snorkeling or for enjoying a beach day. The water visibility is very poor but also very calm. Expect to see lots of green sea turtles and marine iguanas, and maybe some sharks and rays.
Las Grietas Galapagos is one of the most popular swimming spots in Santa Cruz.
Just a short water taxi and walk from Puerto Ayora, it is famed for its unique geological formations and crystal clear waters for snorkeling.
As of 2021, a guided tour is required but this can be paid for upon arrival, advanced booking is not required.
Most visitors to Las Grietas go there to see the unique volcanic landscape and to swim in its calm waters. The dramatic, steep cliffs and vibrant water make for a remarkable sight.
While it is a popular place for swimming, marine life is more limited than other sites.
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HOW TO VISIT LAS GRIETAS
Playa de los Alemanes
Playa de los Alemanes is accessible from Puerto Ayora by a short water taxi.
While access to this beach is fairly easy, it takes just enough effort to keep the large crowds away, meaning you will typically find plenty of space here!
It is common to spot sea lions playing in the surf here, as well as marine iguanas swimming near the mangroves.
If you plan to visit Las Grietas, you will naturally pass this beach, making it an ideal stop on your way to or from this famous Galapagos snorkel spot.
Playa de la Estación
Playa de La Estacion is the closest beach to Puerto Ayora (the main town on Santa Cruz). It is located just before the Charles Darwin Research Station entrance.
This is far from a premier snorkeling spot, but the proximity to town makes it an appealing option on a hot day with some spare time.
You might see all the usual suspects, you may see nothing at all, but given that it’s only a 5-minute walk it is a good spot to know about if you are staying on Santa Cruz.
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COMPLETE GUIDE TO PLAYA DE LA ESTACION
Playa La Ratonera
Playa La Ratonera is located just beyond Playa de La Estacion.
The two beaches are extremely similar and you will likely see the same things snorkeling at each.
The water entry is easier at Playa de La Estacion making it the better option, but La Ratonera tends to be a little quieter and may therefore have a few extra animals hanging around.
Playa El Garrapatero
Playa El Garrapatero is a remote beach at the very end of the Santa Cruz highway with clear water and easy beach-entry snorkeling.
Because it is more isolated, the beach is typically quiet and the animals are equally laid back.
You cannot walk here, but you also don’t need to arrange any tours. Rather, you’ll need to rent a bike or hire a taxi to deliver you.
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San Cristobal Snorkel Spots
Playa de Oro
Playa de Oro is the first beach most people see when they get to San Cristobal island.
It is located directly in the main town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
What makes Playa de Oro so nice is that no effort whatsoever is required.
Just bring your snorkel gear and hop in the water where you are sure to encounter sea lions frolicking about.
This pristine spot has everything you could want, including affordable local restaurants, vendors, restrooms, and even a lifeguard. It also has sea lion residents who will definitely want to play.
While you won’t likely see anything more than a few sea lions from Playa Mann, you cannot ask for an easier spot for a first swim.
If you are staying on San Cristobal, simply drop off your bags, grab your mask, and head down to the white sand beach for your first chance at experiencing what makes the Galapagos so special.
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Darwin’s Cove (Muelle Tijeretas)
A 30-minute walk from town, Darwin’s Cove has the clearest and calmest water on San Cristobal for snorkeling.
In its impossibly turquoise waters, you may encounter some of the most iconic Galapagos residents including sea lions, turtles, sharks, and an array of tropical colorful fish.
This is one of the best snorkeling spots on any of the Galapagos islands that can be discovered without a guide or boat tour!
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Playa Punta Carola
If you are looking for a quieter alternative beach to snorkel from than Playa Mann, the spectacular Playa Punta Carola is just around the corner!
This beautiful white sand beach takes about 15-20 minutes walk from town but feels more remote than that.
You can snorkel right off the sand and are sure to see lots of sea lions and potentially some turtles as well.
Getting to Playa Baquerizo takes some effort, but is worth every step for those who value tranquility.
Playa Baquerizo is located about a mile beyond Playa Punta Carola and around 0.7 miles beyond Darwin’s Cove. Most people, therefore, tie these all into one long day of exploration.
Due to the remote location, you will likely have this beautiful snorkel-friendly beach mostly to yourself.
Expect to see a lot of green sea turtles, marine iguanas, frigates, and diving boobies.
Playa La Lobería
Just south of the San Cristobal airport and only 2 miles (3km) from town, Playa Loberia is one of the most famous beaches for snorkeling with sea lions.
It used to be the absolute best beach on San Cristobal to see them and is still fantastic.
However, you no longer have to go that far for this experience as they are all over Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
Still, Playa Loberia is a wonderful place to hang out and snorkel with smaller crowds than you will find at the beaches in town while still being a quick and easy journey either by foot or taxi.
Puerto Chino Beach
Playa Puerto Chino is typically visited as the final stop of the San Cristobal Highlands half-day tour, but can also be visited on a solo adventure either by renting a bike or hiring a taxi.
This is one of the prettiest beaches on the island and has the softest sand, with a calm and sheltered cove to swim or snorkel in.
As far as snorkel spots go, it’s nice because it is easy to swim and enter the water at Puerto Chino but the visibility is rather poor and there isn’t much to see underwater.
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Isabela Snorkel Spots
Concha de Perla
Located just around the corner from the main pier on Isabela Island is a popular little cove nestled amongst the mangroves that provides easy and fantastic snorkeling.
Concha de Perla is the best place that you can snorkel on Isabela without booking a tour. The deck is typically covered in sea lions and marine iguanas and the cove is teeming with wildlife.
Beyond those mentioned above, other animals that are commonly spotted at Concha de Perla are sea turtles, eagle rays, a variety of fish, and sometimes even penguins!
Playa Puerto Villamil (Playa Isabela)
Playa Puerto Villamil, informally known as Playa Isabela or Isabela Beach, is a beautiful, expansive beach that runs right along the major town of Puerto Villamil.
It is the best and most easily accessible beach on the inhabited islands.
Snorkeling off of Playa Isabela is great in that it requires absolutely no effort, but it is a bit sparse when it comes to expected wildlife encounters.
Still, being that some of the best places to stay are literally located in the sand, it is a great place to just hop in the water when time permits, and hope you get lucky!
🚤 Best Snorkel Spots by Day Tour Only
The following epic snorkel spots are some of the best you will experience in the Galapagos, but require you to arrange a day tour to visit or book a cruise that includes them as a stop.
As many of them are on smaller islands, we have organized this list by which island you would book them from if you wanted to include it in your Galapagos itinerary.
Snorkel Tours from Santa Cruz
Of all the minor islands you can visit in the Galapagos, Bartolome Island is the best.
Not only is it the most beautiful vista in the entire region, but the snorkeling off of Pinnacle Rock will be the best chance most visitors have of swimming with the rare Galapagos Penguin.
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The day tour tour to Pinzon Island is really more of a snorkeling tour as you cannot actually step foot onto the island.
The islet that tours will take you to at Pinzon is the clearest water we snorkeled in all of our time in the Galapagos.
The water was incredibly crystalline and teeming with sharks, turtles, sea lions, and diving blue footed boobies.
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South Plaza Island (Punta Carrion)
While the Punta Carrion snorkel spot is actually just off Santa Cruz, it is typically visited on a day trip to South Plaza Island.
Here, you can discover a myriad of colorful fish, including sergeant majors, parrotfish, surgeonfish, and angelfish.
You may also spot sea turtles, rays, and sharks, including white-tipped reef sharks and occasionally hammerhead sharks.
Santa Fe Island
Isla Santa Fe has three marine visitor sites, all of which are well known for being excellent places to snorkel with sea lions.
There are fewer fish here but you may encounter sea turtles, various ray species, and Galapagos sharks.
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North Seymour Island (Mosquera / Las Bachas)
A visit to North Seymour Island will typically include a snorkel stop at either Mosquera or Las Bachas.
Both of these locations offer some of the best snorkeling in Galapagos, with a wide array of marine life.
It is common to see sea lions, parrot fish, Mexican hogfish, surgeonfish, garden eels, and white-tip reef sharks.
Most people do not realize that Floreana Island is inhabited and you can actually stay overnight by booking a day tour or ferry and arranging your ride back the next day.
There are several places to snorkel from on Floreana, but Punta Cormorant is the best and most popular.
This is home to a green sand beach and flamingo lagoon, in addition to clear, calm water.
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Daphne Island is a minor island located just north of Santa Cruz and east of Baltra.
Like some of the other islands mentioned, you cannot step onto land on a day tour but the snorkeling off the shores is phenomenal.
Daphne Island has some of the best visibility in the area and is a good place to spot blue-footed boobies, as well as starfish, sea lions, sea turtles, and sponges.
Snorkel Tours from San Cristobal
Kicker Rock is perhaps the best place to dive or snorkel in all of Galapagos.
The water is incredibly clear, the landscape is fantastic, and it is one of the most common places to see Galapagos hammerhead sharks.
Even if you do not have the good fortune of spotting hammerheads, you are sure to see a thriving underwater world.
Plus, swimming through the giant crevice between the rocks is a humbling experience.
Bahia Sardina is one of the most photogenic places in the Galapagos islands with a gorgeous white sand beach, crystal clear water, and mountainous backdrop.
The water at Sardina Bay has some of the better visibility you will snorkel, though you won’t see as much here as other sites.
The only way to visit Sardina Bay is by booking the San Cristobal 360º Tour.
Bahia Rosa Blanca
Bahia Rosa Blanca is perhaps the best place to snorkel in the Galapagos for seeing green sea turtles.
In our 45-minute swim, we personally encountered about 15 turtles, one of which may have been the largest we have ever seen in our lives.
You can only get to Bahia Rosa Blanca by booking the San Cristobal 360º Tour.
Española (Gardner Bay)
Although most visitors head to Española Island to see the waved albatross that nest here, there is plenty more to the island.
With its pristine white sand, Gardner Bay is one of the most beautiful beaches in Galapagos and an excellent place for snorkeling.
Although sea lions are the main attraction, you can also swim with reef white-tipped sharks, rays, and a variety of colorful reef fish.
Located just off the coast of San Cristobal is the small islet of Isla Lobos.
Named for the sea lions (lobos marinos) that live here, you can expect to swim with some of these majestic creatures in crystal clear waters.
Ochoa Beach is typically visited as part of a day tour to Isla Lobos. The white sand beach is located just south of the islet on San Cristobal Island.
Its shallow waters make it an ideal spot for snorkeling, particularly for beginners.
Similarly to Isla Lobos, you can expect clear waters and plenty of sea lions.
Snorkel Tours from Isabela
Los Tuneles (Cabo Rosa)
Los Tuneles is the best place to snorkel on Isabela Island.
This strange lava-tube landscape is fascinating to experience, and the clear water is filled with wildlife.
Beyond the usual sharks, green sea turtles, and sea lions, Los Tuneles is the best place to see sea horses and some of the more elusive species of sea turtles.
This is also the best place to get up close and personal with blue-footed boobies!
Tintoreras is a popular kayaking and snorkeling destination just off the shore of Playa Isabela to see the rare Galapagos penguins.
The word “tintorera” means shark in Spanish, so unsurprisingly, it is also a common place to spot white-tipped reef sharks.
Just a short boat ride from Isabela Island is the small islet known as Isla Tortuga or Turtle Island, supposedly named for its shape rather than inhabitants.
The snorkeling is excellent for spotting hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks, blacktip reef sharks, manta rays, eagle rays, and starfish!
4 Hermanos & Cartago Bay
One hour by speed boat from Isabela are four island rock formations known as Los 4 Hermanos, or The 4 Brothers.
This Galapagos snorkeling spot is a deep sea site with a high chance of seeing pelagic fish as well as hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks, and manta rays.
A snorkeling day tour will also include a stop at Cartago Bay, which offers a sheltered area for shallow water snorkeling. Here you are likely to swim with sea turtles, rays, sharks, and a variety of fish.
🚢 Best Cruise-Only Galapagos Snorkeling Spots
If you’re planning to visit the Galapagos by cruise, you will have the opportunity to visit other incredible snorkel spots.
One of the benefits of a cruise is the ability to access more remote locations, especially distant islands that cannot be reached on a day trip.
Below are the top 10 best snorkeling spots that can be reached by cruise only.
- Punta Espinosa (Fernandina) offers the best Galapagos snorkeling spot for seeing marine iguanas in the water. Other highlights include flightless cormorants, sea turtles, and occasionally Galapagos penguins.
- Devil’s Crown (Floreana) is one of the most famous snorkeling spots in the Galapagos. The sunken volcanic crater provides a home to a wealth of marine life including moray eels, golden rays, eagle rays, scorpionfish, and much more.
- Chinese Hat (Santiago) is a protected cove with calm, clear waters where you can spot baby sea lions, Galapagos penguins, reef sharks, and sea turtles.
- Tagus Cove (Isabela) is carpeted with green algae, making it popular with marine iguanas, sea turtles, flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins, and seahorses. There are also large numbers of starfish.
- Punta Vicente Roca (Isabela) has a large population of green sea turtles, making it one of the best snorkel sites in the Galapagos for these majestic creatures.
- Prince Philip Steps (Genovesa) offers some great snorkeling in the north of the archipelago. The submerged crater provides home to a huge range of tropical fish, as well as the occasional hammerhead shark and manta ray.
- Rabida Island is famed for its red sand beach. However, it is also great snorkeling around the north of the island where you can spot sea lions, sea turtles, eagle rays, and garden eels, as well as the occasional sharks and penguins.
- Osborn Islet is a tiny island near Española that can only be accessed by zodiac. You’ll discover a diversity of multi-colored tropical fish, such as angelfish, parrotfish, and butterfly fish, as well as various species of sharks, green pencil urchins, and manta rays.
- Buccaneer Cove & Espumilla Beach (Santiago) provides the chance to witness a colorful underwater world with beautiful coral formations, in addition to sea lions, fur seals, rays, turtles, and a myriad of vibrant fish.
- Champion Islet (Floreana) is one of the best places in Galapagos for spotting dolphins. Additionally, snorkeling here is almost guaranteed to be in the company of sea lions, along with the chance to swim with Galapagos penguins and sea turtles.
🙂 Our Experience Visiting Galapagos in 2023
In April 2023, we (Adam, Sophie & Adam’s 70-year-old mom) spent three weeks in Ecuador, two of which were on the Galapagos Islands.
The highlight of our visit was a guided hybrid tour of mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands with Adventure Journeys.
If you’re interested in a trip that combines culture, nature, and even a touch of luxury, we highly recommend their upcoming Thanksgiving Special: Discover the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador Cruise.
Over 7 days, you’ll discover the best that the Galapagos and Ecuador have to offer with expert guides and all of the planning done for you. This is very similar to the tour we took and absolutely loved, but includes a luxury cruise as well!
🙋♀️ FAQs About Snorkeling in the Galapagos
Hopefully, you have no questions left unanswered about snorkeling in the Galapagos islands, but just in case, you can find answers to the most frequently asked questions below.
Simply click the drop-down arrows to reveal answers.
Is it safe to snorkel in Galapagos?
It is absolutely safe to snorkel in the Galapagos islands, though the water is surprisingly cold much of the year. The archipelago has many beaches and sheltered bays teeming with wildlife that you can snorkel from without having to make any arrangements whatsoever.
What is snorkeling like in the Galapagos?
Snorkeling in the Galapagos islands is one of the most transcendent experiences you will ever have regarding wildlife interactions. Nowhere else in the world are you as likely to be engaged by marine life as you are by the famously tame animal residents of Galapagos.
Do you need a wetsuit to snorkel in Galapagos?
A wetsuit is not required for snorkeling in Galapagos, especially during warm and dry season (December-June) when the Panama Current is present. However, it may be preferred for warmth during during the “cool and dry” season (July-November) when the frigid Humboldt Current is flowing up from Antarctica.
What will I see snorkeling in the Galapagos?
Each island and spot has different wildlife present, but you are almost guaranteed to see sea lions, marine iguanas, tropical fish, and green sea turtles in most places you will snorkel in Galapagos. Additionally, you will likely see a variety of sharks and rays, with. a chance for penguins, sea horses, leatherback and hawksbill turtles, and hammerheads.
What is the best time of year to snorkel in Galapagos?
June and July are the best time to snorkel in Galapagos as the nutrient-dense Humboldt Current arrives causing a flurry of wildlife activity. While this cold water current makes temperatures more frigid, the water is more tolerable than it will be further into the season.
How much does it cost to snorkel in the Galapagos Islands?
You can snorkel from any beach and various coves in the Galapagos for free! Some of the best spots, however, require day tours to reach which vary widely in price based on the distance required. On-island tours tend to be in the $50-$100 range, with distant islands and spots trending up to the $150-$250 range locally.
📚 More Galapagos Islands Travel Guides
The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below 🙂
Hopefully, this guide has answered all of your questions, now it’s time for the rest of your planning!
These guides will help you through the process step-by-step, providing insight on everything from finding flights to top activities and so much more.
- Where to Stay in Galapagos
- How to Travel to Galapagos in 10 Easy Steps
- Galapagos 5-Day Itinerary
- Galapagos 7-Day Itinerary
- Galapagos 10-Day Itinerary
- Best Time to Visit the Galapagos Islands
- How to Island Hop the Galapagos
- Galapagos Packing List
- Galapagos Trip Cost & How to Budget
- How to Visit the Galapagos on a Budget
- Santa Cruz Island Ultimate Guide
- San Cristobal Ultimate Guide
- Isabela Island Ultimate Guide
- Bartolome Island Ultimate Guide
- Pinzon Island Ultimate Guide
Things to Do Guides
- Top 50 Things to Do in Galapagos
- Best Islands to Visit in the Galapagos
- Best Galapagos Day Tours
- Galapagos Photography Guide
- Best Beaches in the Galapagos Islands
- Why You NEED to Visit the Galapagos Islands
- Best Galapagos Snorkeling Spots
- Iconic Galapagos Animals & Where to See Them
💬 Final Thoughts
The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below 🙂
We truly hope you have found this guide on the best snorkeling spots in the Galapagos useful as you continue to plan your perfect vacation.
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