Galapagos | Liveaboard vs Fun Dives
Updated February 2021
The Galapagos, a world-renown destination where you can get up close to wonderous wildlife both on land and at sea, some of which you can't see anywhere else on the planet. As a diver, you'll be no doubt buzzing at the chance to get in the sea to experience the spectacular marine life! When you start looking into making this dream a reality, you'll soon realise there are two ways of doing this, you can either base yourself on the islands and do fun-dives, or join one of the organised liveaboard boat trips. Which option is better will depend on you, it's a personal thing and there are some important things to know and consider. This article will hopefully give you all the information you need, to decide which option is best for you!
What is a Galapagos Liveaboard?
There are two types of liveaboard in the Galapagos, naturalist boats that tour around the islands to see the wildlife, including some land-based tours and snorkelling activities, or the diving liveaboards which focus on diving, lots of diving! The dive boats are usually 8 days 7 nights, but there are longer trips, these include around 20 dives, often doing 4 dives per day.
What do you expect to see?
So much! With both options, you can dive with hammerhead sharks, manta rays, eagle rays, marble rays, Galapagos sharks, turtles, sea lions, reef sharks, eels, reef fish, sting-rays, jacks... lots of big stuff! There's a couple of famous fun-dive sites - Gordon Rocks off Santa Cruz, which you're most likely to see small schools of hammerhead sharks, and Kicker Rock off San Cristobal, with a massive shoal of fish you can swim into like a moving cave! With fun-dives, you can also do more land-based activities, see the towns, go to the beach, try different restaurants, explore the islands, etc. So what's so special about the liveaboards? The key difference is that only through a liveaboard can you do the overnight boat trip to Darwin and Wolf island - which is where you can see hundreds of sharks at once! It's the sharkiest place on the planet! Plus there are dolphins and (it's a big AND), you can see every divers dream... whale sharks! A number of the liveaboards also visit Punta Vincente Roca / Douglas Cape, a unique place where you can see marine iguanas feeding underwater. Most, if not all the liveaboards, have a land-tour at the end to see the giant tortoises on Santa Cruz, and possibly something else like the twin craters. The places you visit varies depending on the boat, so do check their itineraries. OK, so far this is an easy decision right...? Whale sharks... hundreds of hammerheads...
A big factor for many can be the costs. Fun-dives range from $170 to $220 for 2 dives depending on the dive shop and season. Fun-dives include all your gear hire and sometimes a dive computer, with a guide in maximum groups of 6. So fun-dives work out around $100 per dive. The cheapest deal you're ever going to get on a diving liveaboard is $2500, even in covid times when the boats are discounted. Usually, it's $3k-$7k for a 7-night trip. If you need to hire all the gear it's $150+, all food is included but cheaper boats you pay extra for alcohol, then there are tips for the crew. You get around 20 dives for this, meaning between $150-$300 per dive depending on the boat, but your accommodation and food are paid for. If you choose fun dive you don't need to commit to so many dives. We had 10 dives and felt we got to see plenty of everything getting the Galapagos experience we wanted. Doing this many fun dives means its vastly cheaper than any liveaboard.
Finally and certainly not least, there's you. An entry requirement for the boats is for you to have at least 50, sometimes 100 recent dives. Nitrox is also strongly recommended to have the longer dive times at Darwin and Wolf. Most boats will offer the course if you do not already have the certification. There's a lot of hype about seeing masses of sharks, but do consider what you like as a diver. I loved the playful sea lions more than the hammerhead sharks we saw on fun-dives. Don't get me wrong, I would love to see whale sharks! Being on the islands gives you more time to explore land-based activities as well as diving, there's plenty to do! A liveaboard is not only a big financial commitment, but it's also a big commitment as a diver, living on a boat with 4 dives a day is an intense amount of diving. We chose fun-dives and loved it, as did everyone we met. Our friend did some fun dives and also a liveaboard; she described the liveaboards as... "Nothing compares to the liveaboard experience in Galapagos where you feel like you're at the end of the world. Where there are no other humans around, just nature and the boat you are on". I was given this advice by a dive instructor - if you're are unsure in any way, then do fun-dives, only if you can't see any other option then do a liveaboard. Hopefully, that's helped you decide what's best for you!
If you've been lucky enough to go and have suggestions, or wanting to go and have questions, share your thoughts in the comments :)