My Galapagos dream started at a young age. I was flipping through pages in a glossy magazine, where I saw images of giant tortoises, fearless blue-footed birds, and sharks swimming in great schools. It would be many years before I realized my Galapagos dream, but would it be worth the wait?
The Galapagos’ best dives, those around Wolf and Darwin islands in the far north, are accessible only by live- aboard. It is around these two islands I find the action-packed dives with big animals that Galapagos is so famous for. “Most divers visit Wolf and Darwin islands to see hundreds of schooling hammerheads,” says Xavier Romero, cruise director on Buddy Dive’s M/Y Darwin Buddy live-aboard. “But at this time of the year, you get a bonus.”
He’s talking about the whale sharks, which feed annually around Darwin Island from July through November. I don’t have to wait long to see what all the fuss is about — the amazing dives start the first morning at sea, when we back-roll onto Darwin’s Arch. I descend to a rock shelf at the legendary site, aptly called “The Theatre,” where I hold on in the strong current. Minutes later, the first whale shark swims into view. A pregnant female, bigger than any other whale shark I’ve seen, holds her place in the current, opening her huge mouth to filter-feed on the plankton. I count an incredible nine whale sharks on that first dive, a number that floors me as I sit drinking hot chocolate on the dive deck an hour later.
Soon it’s time to dive Wolf Island’s Landslide, a regulator-rattling site that always entertains. A dense cloud of creole fish wraps tightly around me, blacking out the surroundings and making it difficult to see the parade of passing hammerheads. But they’re here; I can feel it.
A tight squad of eagle rays cruises past, close enough to scatter the creole fish and clear my view. As I look down, I see two morays with gape-jawed mouths looking up at me from between my feet.
After our adventures in the north, we explore the diversity of the waters around western Isabela Island, which prove to be equally stunning but with a different set of performers. In the much-cooler waters (by at least 15 degrees F), rare oceanic sunfish wait in line at cleaning stations, acrobatic sea lions put on dramatic shows, seahorses hide in lush coral, penguins and the odd flightless cormorants swim swiftly underwater. Even marine iguanas cooperate with my camera, leaving their sunny perches on shore to swim in front of the lens.
After a long day at Isabela, we gather on the top deck to enjoy the final sunset of our trip. The week seems even more like a dream as a pod of orcas swims by our boat in the dying light, bidding us a perfect farewell for the perfect trip. We all agree that the Galapagos is not a once-in-a-lifetime destination, as I thought in my childhood. It’s a place that begs for a return visit, and diving from a live-aboard is the only way to do this archipelago justice.