How I Lost My Fear of Snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands (and Other Lessons)
Ok. I know. It sounds crazy. Afraid to snorkel? I mean, how can you even think of going to the Galapagos Islands and not putting on a mask and flippers? At least, that’s what my teenage son said to me. Somehow, though, teenagers don’t know from fear. That’s their greatest strength and their greatest danger.
But back to the Enchanted Isles…
And how I lost my fear of snorkelling in Galapagos…
So, to set the record straight, I grew up in New York. City, state, city, state. And yes, Manhattan is surrounded by water. But my family’s idea of a hike was walking slowly up and down 5th Avenue in our holiday finery looking at the shop windows after a Broadway show. We weren’t exactly outdoors types.
Over time, and after living for years in Ecuador, I have come to appreciate the joys of getting out into nature: climbing a hill just for the view, breathing in the scent of cool mountain air, or marvelling at the wonders hidden in the cloud forest right on the outskirts of Quito, my home city, for most of my adult life.
A land-based creature
But we’re not talking land here. We’re talking water. Lots of water. Crystal clear Pacific Ocean water, a sanctuary for numerous species. And let’s not even talk about all of the colours of the water. Turquoise. Teal. Cerulean. Deep blue. All depending on the light and the weather and how close we come to one of those famous islands that inspired Charles Darwin. I couldn’t get enough of the view. But, snorkelling?
The guides aboard Yacht La Pinta all encouraged me to try it out. And seriously, I was tempted. After all, Galapagos is one of the world’s top snorkelling and SCUBA sites, a place where fanatic underwater fans flock to see the amazing wildlife. Imagine how embarrassing it was to admit that I had a serious problem with the actual implementation of the sport: claustrophobia.
The truth is, I hadn’t tried snorkelling in decades. But I vividly recalled the sensation I had the last time I put on a mask. Suffocation. Sheer lack of oxygen. Panic.
Glass-bottom boat to the rescue!
So right now, some of you – like my teenage son – are probably thinking, “what a whimp!” And maybe I was. Because I asked my guides to send me out on the ship’s glass-bottom boat. I figured that way I’d get to see the incredible creatures without having to put on the dreaded mask.
I was surprised to see that many of the other guests had chosen this option as well. Some of them preferred not to get wet. Others just wanted to share this special adventure with numerous generations of their family, not all of whom were up to swimming, even in these calm waters. All of us loved the experience. The guide gave each of us a card that would help us identify all of the multi-coloured species we were seeing through the glass, such as: black-striped salema, guinea fowl pufferfish, king angel fish, leather bass and yellow tail surgeon fish.
But the water called out to me…
“That’s it!” I said to myself. “Time to lose your fear.” I mean, really, it’s one of the top snorkelling sites in the world. So, I put on my short wetsuit and my flippers. My expert guide showed me the basics of using the mask and snorkel and, of course, gave me important safety tips. And off I went!
I followed my group along the rocky coastline and a huge underwater world opened up to me. I felt as if I had been transported to another planet, with infinite sandy beaches and crevices that served as perfect hideouts for often prickly invertebrates or slippery eels. I saw lobsters so large they looked like they had taken steroids. Schools of fish darted past me, startling me as they danced in and out of the light and shadow.
In some places, I felt the rush of adrenaline as small sharks stealthily explored the ocean floor just metres away, often accompanied by sting rays whose broad flaps floated through the current like a futuristic spaceship coasting through outer space.
And that’s all nothing compared to the moment when a playful sea lion pup decided to get literally in my face, checking out the strange creature with the black face gear who moved so relatively slow in the water (that would be me, of course!) before darting off to play with the waves.
The sounds of silence… and joy!
I guess in some ways I had expected this to be a great show of nature’s best, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. What I didn’t expect, and which quite honestly astounded me, was the incredible peace I ended up finding in the water through snorkelling in Galapagos. I’ve spent time in the ocean throughout my life, ridden the waves, felt the sand under my toes. But somehow those were always boisterous experiences.
Snorkelling in Galapagos felt pretty close to nirvana. The warm sun on my back, a muted silence in my ears, interrupted only by shouts of excitement at the discovery of a particularly beautiful specimen of fish or the spotting of animals that would normally be predators. But here, we are all just one more piece of a complex ecosystem that accepts humans without fear, allowing us a first-hand view of the best underwater theatre available on our planet.
Snorkelling in Galapagos truly is an experience of a lifetime!
Want to learn more about the scientific side of snorkelling in Galapagos? Continue on below to get filled in by our Galapagos Expert!
FAQ’S ABOUT SNORKELLING IN GALAPAGOS WITH METROPOLITAN TOURING
There are many questions about partaking in water activities in the Galapagos. If you are coming to Galapagos, you might be interested in checking out some of our Galapagos frequently asked questions page. Below you will find our FAQ’s pertaining to snorkelling in Galapagos (be sure to check out our handy Galapagos Islands Snorkeling Guide too!), for beginner and experienced snorkellers alike!
- Do guests get any pre-snorkel information and safety advice?
- A nightly briefing, during which our Naturalist Guides or Expedition Leaders go through the activities of the next day, is given aboard all our expedition vessels. The places we’ll visit and the flora and fauna we should expect to see are identified during said briefings. Additionally, a video presentation that goes over all the aquatic-safety procedures and the proper usage of the equipment is presented. This way, we make sure that everyone will enjoy the activity to the fullest. If someone in the group doesn’t feel like snorkelling, fret not! There is something for everyone, especially on a multi-guided expedition vessel!
- What gear do you offer?
- All snorkelling gear is included (mask, snorkel, snorkelling vest, fins and mesh bag) and wetsuits are available on board (please inquire for specific details). During the hot season, when you jump into the water, it will feel nice for the first 20-30 minutes. However, because the underwater world of Galapagos is so breathtaking, we guarantee that you’ll want to stay in the water longer and therefore recommend using a wetsuit!
- Do guides get in the water?
- While snorkelling, some guides do go in the water with our guests while some stay on the boats. The ones that get in the water act as interpreters and spotters for our guests, pointing out interesting species to look for and helping out when someone needs an extra “fin.” Guides that stay on the dinghies watch over the guests and make sure no one strays too far away from the rest of the group.
- What’s the water like? Temperature? Currents? Scary to swim in? How safe?
- While water temperature varies throughout the year, the Galapagos shouldn’t be seen as the ultimate tropical destination. During the hot season (Dec-May), expect average temperatures of around 78 °F (26 °C). During the dry season (Jun-Nov), keep in mind that water temperatures will drop to an average of 70 °F (21 °C).
- There are two ways of snorkelling in Galapagos: off the dinghies and off the beach. Snorkelling from the dinghy implies that the site has no beach access, and thus you jump directly into the water; doing it off the beach, on the other hand, allows you to go at your own pace. Also, snorkelling from the boat means you will face some currents, while beaches experience almost no current.
- The only thing you really need to be scared of is just how close the underwater life will get to you! Rest assured they will never harm you, but always remember to keep a reasonable and respectful distance from them. Overall, the Galapagos Islands are a safe place to snorkel. Be sure to keep at least one eye and ear on your guides’ instructions when you’re in the water!
- What awaits guests upon their return from the snorkelling excursions?
- You will fall in love with snorkelling in the Galapagos, but after a morning or afternoon spent in the pristine Galapagos waters, you will want to recharge. Guests can look forward to a delicious snack and beverage when they get back to their expedition vessel. Feel free to take a dip in the hot tub before getting ready for lunch or dinner!
now that you know all of the above, leave your fears behind and experience it for yourself on any of our Galapagos cruises!