Best time to dive the Galapagos Islands
Best time to dive Galapagos
The best time to dive Galapagos Islands on a liveaboard is not a easy answer. While the Galapagos islands have two seasons, they influence the diving conditions and marine life in different ways. The seasons are controlled by the patterns of the three main currents that converge in the Galapagos Islands. Currents that are affected by other conditions away from the islands. The current conditions that attract the Whale Sharks also reduces the visibility. When the Hammerhead Sharks migrate, the seas are rough. What is the best time is highly depended on the divers skills and what they wish to see.
The Galapagos Islands have two distinct seasons, a wet season and a dry season. The article, Galapagos Diving includes a discussion on how the currents impacts Galapagos liveaboard diving. They also control the weather, Instead of repeating that information here, we will just give a quick summary.
- The Humboldt Current is a cold water current that comes from the south and travels most of the eastern side of the archipelago. It disperses near the northern portion of the islands.
- The Cromwell current is also a cold water current, it approaches from the west, reaching the center portion of the islands.
- The Panama Current is a warm water current from the north east, and approaches the southern portion of the northern islands.
These three currents are permanent but vary in strength over the course of the year. The two cold water current cools the Galapagos islands year round making them milder in temperature then any other location on the equator.
The seasons are called the wet season/hot season and the dry season/cool season also called the garúa season. Garúa is a Spanish word for mist which is prevalent in this season.
- The Northeast Trade winds blow from December to May, and this causes the tropical Panama Current to be the dominate current. While this is considered the wet season, the chart above shows that there is not a significant difference in the number of days of rain nor the hours of direct sunlight.
- The garúa season, or dry season, lasts from June to November. The Southeast Trade winds are stronger, and the Humboldt Current and Cromwell currents dominate. The air above the currents holds a great deal of moisture, when it reaches the higher elevations of the land the mountains are shrouded in a mist. This condition also accounts for low level clouds.
You will hear the phrase El Niño or “the Child” for the Christ Child mention in regard to the weather. This has two different usages with different meanings and impact. In December is the Niño Flow. This is an annual event that marks the end of the Southeast trade winds and the start of the wet season. The cold water currents slow and the up-welling that bringing the nutrient rich waters to the surface stops. El Niño is the term that marks this transition.
The other El Niño is the El Niño year. This is an unusually weather pattern that happens every 6 to 15 years and scientist have been unable to predict when it will happen. The effects can be mild to very severe. Sadly in recent decades the effects are becoming more severe. From the Galapagos viewpoint, the event happens when the southeast trade winds are not strong enough to speed up the Humboldt current. The nutrients are not brought to the surface and species that rely on them either migrate somewhere else or die off. It also brings increased rains. While this will help plant life and some birds and land animals, it impacts the breeding cycle of marine mammals. The warm currents are unchecked and the overall air and water temperature increases, further impacting marine life.
Best time for Scuba Diving in the Galapagos Islands
Diving the Galapagos Islands can be done year round, however, It is not uncommon on a 7 day Galapagos liveaboard sailing for divers to need a 3 mm, 5 mm and a 7 mm wet suit. This is because the water temperatures are influenced by the nearest current and that there is almost always a thermocline at deeper depths.
Scuba divers taking a liveaboard to the Wolf and Darwin Islands will find the greatest impact of the hot season December to May. This is the point where the warm currents first reaches the Galapagos islands and water temperature here will raise as much as 10 °f and 4-5°f higher than other portions of the islands.
- December will see an increase in shark activity. Hammerhead populations will increase. You will also see the start of a “wall” of sharks. Hammerhead activity will remain high until May. Then some of the population moves to other areas. Even with the dispersal of the sharks the northern islands have the largest number of sharks in the world year round.
- January will see an peak in Ray activity in the northern area with sightings of over 100 very common. Spotted eagle rays, Mobula rays, cow-nosed rays, and golden rays make up the largest schools. Manta Rays are the star with large numbers in the area. These numbers will be maintained until May.
- February and March will likely lead to increase sightings of green turtles. This is the time the females head to the beaches to lay eggs, so they are closer to the islands and in large numbers. They can be found in many of the islands.
- April and May will show the greatest marine activity throughout the islands for larger species.
When the season change and the cold currents take command the visibility decreases. This decrease is caused by the increase in nutrients. Cold water species and filter feeders become more active.
- June sees the start of the migration of humpback whales. They will continue on their journey until September. Sightings can not be promised.
- July sees the start of an increase presences of whale sharks. They appear in greater numbers in the Wolf and Darwin islands areas, and sighting will start in the central islands. They will be in large number for the rest of the season.
- August is the prime pupping month for the Galápagos sea lions. Divers will likely see a number of sea lions at this time but most be wary of approaching them as the adults will protect the young.
- September is a safer month to view the sea lions. They are in their greatest numbers and have returned to their friendly activities. During this time of the year, Photographers will find that macro photography is at its best.
- November to January will see an increase in turtle activities as they gather for the breeding season.
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