Galapagos: Diving Isla Tortuga

Days: 248

Total distance travelled: 47,185.3 kilometres (29,307.64 miles)

Ever since we’d gained our diving certification way back in Belize (roughly 5 months ago now), with Galapagos already slated as a side excursion from mainland Ecuador, we’d decided we’d squeeze a dive into what was already an expensive looking budget.

Where to dive, well that was a different story altogether.

It is possible to link up with dive operators out of all 3 of the main islands, and we’d half-heartedly looked at options from all of them.

We finally settled on Isabela, partly as at the time, we’d not given it, the grandest of all the Galapagos Islands (at least based on size), any of our limited time, and partly as we’d hoped it would give us a greater chance to see some Galapagos Penguins!

Little did we know how accessible those cute little creatures would be to us, even simply within the Puerto Villamil harbour!

Strolling towards dinner on our 1st Isabela evening, we chanced upon an operator whose doors were still open as we got close to the hour of 7pm.

Seizing the opportunity to pop our heads in, we discovered they had dives planned for the coming Saturday (in 2 days which suited us perfectly as we planned to depart on the Sunday) and although priced at $150.00 US person for 2 single tank dives, including all equipment, Sarah used her usual savviness and talked them down to $140.00 US.

It would by far be the most expensive dives we’d yet done, however all of our queries around the islands to date had seen all operators within a $140.00-$160.00 US price bracket for two dives, so it seemed the going rate.

A brief screening of a small video from the dive site had us sold, with the potential to see huge Hammerhead Sharks, Green Sea Turtles and on occasion, even the odd Whale Shark being sighted there.

So that is how we settled on Islabella Dive Centre (yes, that spelling is correct) for our Galapagos dives at Isla Tortuga.

We wondered if perhaps we should shop around, but when we discovered that there weren’t any other Isabela dive shops currently in operation, it quickly became a pretty moot point!

The following day, we again popped in during the afternoon to get our gear fitted & pay the balance we owed, discovering that it would be our 1st dive experience using semi-dry suits.

Always nice to experience something new!

Come Saturday morning, we set off from the dive shop at around 7am & once on board there boat in the harbour, it was only a short half hour boat ride to our destination.

Kicking off our month with a dive in the Galapagos at Isla Tortuga

Preparing to take our first plunge into the Pacific (in a diving sense)

Isla Tortuga is shaped something like a crescent and like much of the Galapagos, owes its existence to the fiery, volcanic nature of the region.

It is in fact all that remains of a long dormant volcano, its walls much eroded so that its caldera now lies half exposed, hence it’s shape resembling a slivered moon.

We were joined on this particular day by an older American couple, and a young Russian (who looked very Russian and almost stereo-typically was called Sergei) who was vacationing with his equally young wife and daughter.

Harry the dive master rounded out our number, and after a pre-dive briefing, we were ready to get into the water!

We’d expected that we’d put together weight belts ourselves & then perform a brief weight check whilst in the water, however Harry had a slightly unorthodox method which we’d never before seen.

He simply queried each diver as to the size of their semi-dry suit and the number of previous dives they’d had, then proceeded to hand out to each individual a pre-made weight belt!

This haphazard style had immediate consequences, when the American woman, the most experienced amongst us with over 60 dives, simply didn’t have enough weight to descend, causing us to descend, ascend whilst she had an extra weight added, and then descend again!

The ramifications of this were soon apparent, as we’d used a substantial amount of air before the dive had even truly begun!

Still, we eventually got down to our 18 metre depth, ready to enjoy the undersea bounty of the Galapagos!


The lowest point of our Galapagos explorations

Only… we could see very little!

Sadly visibility was only at maybe 3 or 4 metres, so although it had seemed an impossibility beforehand, but our 1st Galapagos dive soon became in all probability, the worst dive experience we’d ever had!

Then, after her earlier ordeals, the American woman was forced to ascend quite earlier, too much of her air having been expended during her weight troubles.

The dive sightings did slowly improve, as we caught our 1st sightings of the occasional ray and our maiden look at a couple of Hammerhead Sharks!

Soon we too were low enough on air that Sarah and I made our ascent, one last teaser of what might have been in the form of a beautiful school of Barracuda that swum like a cloud overhead.

A tease of what might have been…

A tease of what might have been…

With a 2nd dive to come, things could only improve, and with no apparent descent problems, other than me spotting and retrieving Sergei’s snorkel as it floated down from above, things at least began much more smoothly.

The visibility, although still murky felt like it was giving us an extra metre or so of vision, but that was just as likely due to us being a few metres shallower so the light was a little better.

Without a doubt, this was so much better, it was ridiculous.

All of a sudden we were bearing witness to so much more, the kinds of things we expected on a Galapagos dive.

A couple of Green Sea Turtles kicked off proceedings, but the 1st real buzz came with the sighting of a huge Manta Ray.

To date, the most impressive thing we’d seen under the sea had been a couple of stunning Spotted Eagle Ray, but with its sheer size (then we spotted another, even larger one) I’d say this beast trumped it.

We finally got a far better look at a school of maybe 7 or 8 Hammerheads as they passed above, before a substantial school of smaller Stingrays emerged from the murk to pass us by.

That’s not to say conditions were great, but they were indeed better.

Visibility, as already mentioned remained low, and for both dives at times, it really felt we were battling strong currents.

Probably not a huge issue for experienced divers with good equipment, but in truth, aside from the swanky, brand new semi-dry suits, some of the gear we were diving with could do with some improvement as well.

Galapagos threw us one final dive farewell as Sarah and I hovered at our safety stop.

Thankfully not getting all touchy-feely, but ridiculously close nonetheless, was an impressive pair of jellyfish (2 different types), just another glimpse of what might have been had the conditions been just a little better!

So close, you could touch it!

So close, you could touch it!

As I surfaced, there was 1 final piece of drama for our American friend, as she’d become caught in a rope near the boat (it was attached to a signal float so the boat could follow our location).

After a bit of an effort, I managed to unclip her BCD & she was free, & that was an end to the days adventures, which at times felt like dramas!

Diving in the Galapagos was an affair of mixed emotions.

We ended the 2 dives feeling a little disappointed, but when you list all the amazing things that we saw, it doesn’t read too badly at all.

As for the dive outfit. Harry the dive master seemed a bit of a cowboy (I believe he is an owner operator), so I find it difficult for the first time to actually recommend the company we used.

After all, in diving, safety comes first and I’m not so sure that this is a mantra that they subscribe to…



*Diving with Islabella Dive Centre cost us $140.00 US per person for 2 tanks (including all equipment)

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18 Responses to Galapagos: Diving Isla Tortuga

  1. thatsbalogna says:

    Even with the downsides, that was so cool!!! Brodie’s parents have their diving licenses. Your story kind of makes me wonder if we should get them ourselves… 🙂

  2. Joeography says:

    Love the diving adventures! I go all the time around LA, so if/when you’re nearby, let me know! I enjoyed the videos too!

  3. nibblesipwander says:

    Wish it could have been better for you, but it seems you made the best of a murky (pun intended!) situation! Awesome video of the ray, so elegant in its movements.

  4. Harry definitely sounds a bit of a cowboy and I would be pretty annoyed if I was the American lady! It’s great that you had a good second dive though – and that you saw a Hammerhead shark!! What was it like to dive in semi-dry suits, did it feel very different to a normal wetsuit?

  5. Man we were blessed with the price of diving in Cuba. However we did not see anything like you guys did. What an experience!

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Diving does add another dimension to your travels. You pictures and video are pretty good well done!

  7. Diving is so amazing, the underwater world is something just so special. Great that you got to go in the Galaps 🙂

  8. theglobewanderers says:

    Cool diving experience. Its a shames when visibility is limited. James had this on the Barrier Reef shortly after a storm which sucked but still great to get down there and in among the fish. Hammerheads? That must have made it all better 🙂 great post!

  9. traciehowe says:

    Reading about all the possible things you could potentially see (and in some cases did) makes me all squirmy. I would probably freak out if I saw any number of hammerheads in the vicinity. I guess that’s just one reason I haven’t learned how to dive yet. :/

  10. Thanks for sharing the pros and cons of your experience…since most travel posts I’ve read focus on how amazing everything is…and sometimes things are less than ideal! And how amazing to be that close to the jellyfish!

  11. I See Bela says:

    The jellyfish is so huge and pretty. That’s such a cool experience! 🙂

  12. Galapagos is amazing!!! Just want to ask what is the avg number of turtles there? I heard they have been migrating to the North of Peru. It would be really nice if they can maintain/preserve the home of the turtles in the island!

  13. Sanket D. says:

    This is the third or fourth post of yours about Galapagos I’m reading, and you’re driving me nuts with jealousy! HA. Good on you mate. Does Isla Tortuga have any connection with the Pirates of the Caribbean movie BTW? 😉

    • Chris says:

      Well, we do aim to inspire! 😉 There are a lot of Tortuga Islands out there, I’d imagine the inspiration would likely be a lot closer to the Caribbean…

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