Live-Aboard vs Island Hopping Diving in Galapagos
People often inquire about the difference between diving Darwin and Wolf on a live-aboard and diving the central islands on one of our island hopping dive tours. Now some may try to pretend you aren’t missing anything, but I’m afraid you are.
Perhaps at some point in the distant past, there were banks of hundreds of hammerheads to be seen in the central islands, but no more. At Darwin, during the season, whale sharks are not a maybe while in the central islands, it is possible to see them, but it remains a maybe. Now most head up there for Mr. Big, but me? I’m in it for the hammerheads. Can’t get enough of those primitive creatures. I really love the huge Galapagos sharks at Wolf, too. They are not timid like they seem to be in the central islands, perhaps due to there being larger numbers. And I love it when you find both hammerheads and Galapagos sharks in one school…especially if it’s a school you swim through while chasing a 50+ foot long whale shark.
So allow me to be the one who doesn’t use marketing speak when discussing diving in the Galapagos and say point blank…diving Wolf and Darwin is better than diving in the central islands. Most would think that as someone who does chartered island hopping dive tours, this is akin to sacrilige. Hey, the truth is the truth. Having said that, diving in the central islands only falls short to just about the best diving on the planet. So to me, that means our island hopping dive tours are still superior to about 99% of diving on the planet. In other words, island hopping dive tours in the Galapagos are amazing and live-aboards are miraculous.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of the options? I thought I would compile a list of pros and cons for both.
Both live-aboards and island hopping dive tours offer:
-Diving in the Galapagos which isn’t world renowned for nothing.
-The comradery of diving with the same group of people.
–Marine Life. Only live-aboards can reach the remote dive sites of Darwin and Wolf. Last time I was up (Nov. 9-16) 17 whale shark sightings and hundreds of hammerheads as well as the black tips, Galapagos sharks, silkys, mantas, eagle rays, turtles, huge schools of fish, etc.
–Easy diving as it’s only about diving. You wake up, have coffee and dive. Eat breakfast and dive. Dive before lunch, have lunch and dive. No two hour rides in a small boat in a rough sea or with a loud engine. You can converse with others at any time. Dive, relax, eat, dive, relax, eat, sleep, dive…
–Virutally no wardrobe required. Anyone who packs more than a small duffle bag (apart from dive gear) just overpacked. Shoes are not even necessary onboard at all.
–Personal radio beacons for extra safety precautions.
–Too little topside Galapagos. And that is going to only grow more true as the Park denies permits for any land-based activity whatsoever for the live-aboards. Most visitors to the Galapagos come there for the endemic Galapagos wild life and you just do not get anything approaching the same exposure to that wildlife as you would during an island hopping tour.
–Being on one small boat all week can be a problem for those who get seasick or like privacy or hate sharing a cabin. Taking a shower, eating, or sleeping while in a rough sea is no fun at all.
–If one person gets on the boat with a cold or illness, more than likely everyone has it by the end of the week.
–Incredibly expensive. In 2010, prices begin at $3700.
–No communications with the outside world are possible. Now that’s either a deal breaker or a blessing, depending on your perspective.
–Remote location equals no access in the event of a serious problem…like injury or illness. Boats are not equipped for any kind of medical assistance beyond oxygen and that which anyone should have in a first aid kit.
–While I enjoy diving from a panga, many don’t as it can be rough sometimes in full gear.
–Rapid descents in strong currents can be a problem for some, especially with ear problems.
–Some people onboard are people you can’t easily get away from.
–Being in a remote location and having maybe 32 divers at the same site. Even 16 divers is too many.
–Great diving perhaps second only to Darwin which is just about the best dive site on the planet.
–Access to marine life not accessible from live-aboards, like the penguins or snorkeling with 10 giant mantas so close they clip you.
–Access to things that are as topside magical as some dive sites are marine magical like trekking Volcan Sierra Negra and visiting Los Tuneles.
–Options for dinner. And great ones, too! Try Angermeyer Point on Santa Cruz; 2 Delfines and the Wooden House on Isabela.
–Internet and cell phone access. Again, this may be considered either a pro or a con depending on your perspective.
–Large sleeping quarters with beautiful ocean views you don’t have to share unless you want to.
–Access to doctors or pharmacies should the need arise.
–Flexibility to change dive sites or plans. Flexibility to jump in and snorkel if you pass dolphins or mantas, etc.
–Learning more about the people who live in the Galapagos, their history and culture.
–Access to shopping.
–No diving from Pangas necessary.
–Could be diving with a few as six divers and no one else in site (pun intended)
–At least 50% less than a live-aboard.
–No access to Darwin or Wolf.
–Bumpier and louder boat rides.
–Limited space on smaller boats which is where you are most of the day.
–Must pack and transport luggage more than once when island hopping.
–No piping hot lunches (though very good food) or hot chocolate between dives.
Feel free to add to the lists by commenting on this article. No matter what, it’s all great diving in the Galapagos.