Located on South America’s west coast, Ecuador is a country of diverse landscape that encompasses the Amazon jungle, Andean highlands, and one of world’s foremost destinations for wildlife-viewing – the Galapagos Islands. If you’re looking to get a huge dose of nature, Ecuador is the perfect travel pick. There’s plenty of outdoor activities you can do here, but scuba diving truly takes the cake.
As one of the most environmentally diverse countries in the world, Ecuador is also home to more species of marine fauna than you’ll find anywhere in the world. It’s important to note that Ecuador is not a reef diving destination, as you won’t find truly beautiful coral reefs here. It is, however, a premier spot for seeing large animals such as various species of sharks.
There are two main areas for scuba diving in Ecuador: the Galapagos Islands and the Machalilla National Park. Each offers its own unique experiences and there’s plenty of dive sites to choose from depending on what you want to see. Most divers come to Ecuador for the pelagic action which you’ll find on many of the dive spots.
The marine iguana is a species of iguana found only on the Galapagos Islands
Scuba diving in Ecuador is possible throughout the year, but December through April is the best time to visit the country as the sea conditions are calmer and the water less cold. The wet season starts in January and ends in June, and while rain is common, it is usually short-lived.
June through November is whale shark season, which is the reason most divers come here.
During the warmer months, December through April, the surface water temperature averages 22-26° C/71-78° F. During the dry/winter season, May through November, the surface water temperature ranges from 18-22° C/64-71° F.
The currents vary depending on which part of Ecuador you’re diving and can range from 1 knot to 5 knots. If you plan on taking a trip to the Galapagos Islands, keep in mind that you’re likely to experience strong currents on many of the dive sites.
The visibility ranges from anywhere between 3 meters/10 feet to 25 meters/80 feet.
Scuba diving in Ecuador is mostly about the Galapagos Islands, a world-class scuba diving destination best explored from a liveaboard. There are many fantastic dive sites in the archipelago, and many feature some of the best variety and density of sharks. Green sea turtles, manta rays, sea lions, and nearly 500 species of fish draw divers from all over the world here. And around 25 percent of marine life is endemic to the Galapagos. Some of the most popular destinations here include Darwin’s, Wolf, Isabela, and Daphne islands.
Diving with the sharks in Galapagos. Photo by Lucy Rickards
About 20 dive sites suitable for divers of all levels of experience are found in the waters of the Machalilla National Park. The region was named Poor Man’s Galapagos and is defined by coral reefs with a diversity of marine fauna like sea turtles, sea lions, octopuses, lobsters, manta rays, and many species of fish and crustaceans. Many of the endemic species found in the Galapagos archipelago are found here as well. The Machalilla National Park incorporates two islands - Salango and Isla de la Plata, the latter being the best diving destination in the area.
Isla de la Plata is a small island off the coast of Manabi, part of the Machalilla National Park. Some of the animals you can observe here include white-tip sharks, spondylus oysters, and manta rays. One of the most sought-after activities here involves swimming with giant manta rays. These fabulous creatures make their way to the area from July to early October to feed on plankton before being dragged by the Humboldt current in the south of Ecuador. Reef manta rays, however, can be seen year-round, as they are resident to the area.