“Only two people have died this year,” the dive master tells me, sipping her coffee in a café close to the scuba diving shop I’ve just stepped out of…
“Right, that’s not too many then,” I reply, suddenly feeling that perhaps I’ve made a mistake in handing over $150 for the privilege of taking my chances in the Galapagos waters.
Scuba diving in the Galapagos is notoriously dangerous thanks to strong currents and cold, choppy waters, but it’s an opportunity that thousands of people jump at every year. The stunning Galapagos, with its volcanic islands and diverse wildlife endemic to each island, offers some of the best scuba diving on the planet. Naturally, I have to risk it and hope I won’t be swept away like a piece of driftwood. I sign up with Academy Bay on Santa Cruz.
The sun is shining during my visit, but the moment I step onto the boat at 5am to head to the dive site, the wind picks up. Me, a rather dishy American man and a pale-looking French couple suddenly find ourselves being flung around like rag dolls as we ride the bumpy waves.
Dive boats leave every day from Santa Cruz or San Cristóbal Island, most of which offer the chance to do two dives at Gordon Rock, Española Island, Daphne Island or Kicker Rock. Gordon Rock is the danger zone where the two deaths occurred (gulp). People brave it just to see the hundreds of hammerhead sharks – something you wouldn’t even see in an aquarium!
I don’t know about you, but I find the thought of swimming alongside a shark slightly scary. When I mention this to the dive master, she simply shakes her head.
“No one has ever been eaten by a hammerhead,” she says. “It’s the great whites that come in to dine on hammerheads and scuba divers that you wanna watch out for.”
I’m not entirely sure if she’s joking.
On a nitrogen high
Thanks to the choppy waves, we change course from the scheduled Floreana and do our dives instead around the island of Santa Fe. I’m secretly pleased there will be no giant sharks at this site, and as I start my descent alongside the now-refreshed French couple, I get to float alongside a giant graceful sea turtle. Then, 20-metres down, we swim through a cave and out into the middle of a giant school of thousands of barracuda.
It’s mesmerising to watch and we practically lose ourselves in the swirl of them. We see a couple of sea lions chasing fish in the distance, marvel at some huge rays and, thankfully, survive to tell the tale.
Book your diving carefully
If you’re going to scuba dive in the Galapagos, be sure to do your research. The average price for a two-dive adventure from Santa Cruz is between $150 and $180. There are many dive operators, but only a few with highly qualified instructors and good equipment, both of which are necessary.