As an airline pilot, I’ve never been keen to find myself 100 feet under the water. 35000 feet above it is a much more comfortable place for me. But when a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dive the world’s most pristine waters presents itself, you turn the autopilot off and start your descent.
There was only one problem though – I had no dive experience. Like, none.
And the Galapagos isn’t the typical beginner’s playground. Strong currents, variable visibility, and cold waters present intensely challenging, potentially dangerous conditions. I knew I had to prepare, and prepare well.
When I signed up for a 7-day liveaboard in the Galapagos, I had never been deeper underwater than snorkeling. And at several thousand dollars per week, liveaboards aren’t cheap. They’re also not refundable.
I only had 2 months to go until my trip. And I wasn’t going to let this opportunity go to waste.
What training do you need before you can dive in the Galapagos?
Most dive shops require you to have your advanced open water certificate. Even if they don’t, it’s a great idea – if only for the fact that it provides you with deep water education down to 100 feet deep.
But in 2021, many dive shops and cruises in the Galapagos are waiving the requirements for minimum number of dives. This is simply because business is down due to the pandemic.
In times prior, the requirements called for 30-50 dives – minimum. This change opens up a lot of opportunities for novices to get started.
Keep in mind that just because the experience requirements are waived doesn’t mean you shouldn’t show up fully prepared. Water conditions in the Galapagos can be rough, and you’ll have to strictly adhere to your dive guide’s instructions – especially if you’re less experienced.
As such, you should do all you can to gain as much experience as possible before heading to the Galapagos.
Resources to learn before heading to the Galapagos
I learned to dive with courses developed by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI). They are the largest dive association and well recognized around the world.
That being said, they have very-well recognized competitors that offer basically the same product. Namely, these are:
- Scuba School International (SSI)
- Scuba Diving International (SDI)
- Rebreather Association of International Divers (RAID)
You can find hundreds of dive shops in places you never expect. For example, you may be able to obtain your Scuba Diver certificate at your local public swimming pool! There is also lake diving in many parts of the world with onsite dive training.
It usually costs about $300-400 per course to get your Open Water and Advanced Open Water Certificate.
Subsequent dives typically cost anywhere from $60 to $150 for multiple dives.
How I went from zero to certified Advance Open Water in 2 months
Despite being someone who had no formal diving experience when I booked my trip, I made the decision early on that I needed to see the incredible abundance underwater wildlife in the Galapagos.
I knew that with little time and no prior experience, I needed to pick the best dive schools I could find. I started by getting my PADI Open Water diving certificate in Florida at Rainbow Reef Dive Center, a top-grade dive shop and school. But I still needed to get an Advance Open Water certificate before joining the live aboard.
Before fully settling in to my liveaboard as the least experienced diver, I set out to experience the difficulty of diving the Galapagos firsthand.
And what’s the best way to kill two birds with one stone? By signing up for an advanced open water course at a dive shop in Santa Cruz, the most populated island of the Galapagos. I did this just before embarking on our 8-day tour.
This allowed me to gain firsthand knowledge and experience from someone who knows the waters of the Galapagos like the back of his hand. It was vital to keeping up with the more experienced divers later on.
How is diving in the Galapagos for someone inexperienced?
One word: spectacular.
I was going to say breathtaking. But that might not be the best term to use with diving….
In my short 6 days of diving the Galapagos, I swam inches from 25+ foot whale sharks, giant manta rays, schools of eagle rays and hammerhead sharks, giant turtles, and more. As I mentioned earlier, I’ll never forget playing underwater (several times) with fiesty and fun sea lions that were curious as to what these strange beings were doing down there.
But you really have to pay attention. There are sites with high-current that actually changes direction. And I mean totally flips around, sometimes creating dangerous sinking whirlpools underwater – a perfect example of why you need to follow your guide.
That being said, I found it to be easier than I expected. Again, you must follow your guide/instructor and pay close attention during the briefings. If the dive conditions aren’t great that day, there’s nothing stopping anyone from cancelling the dive.
All that to say that though it can be tough, the safety standards are high and you won’t be taking any unnecessary risks.
During my cruise, I nearly tripled my experience on our dive trip after adding 17 dives to my log in just 6 days. I’m a dive rookie who has already seen some of the best dive sites in the world. Spoiled for life.
Conclusion: I couldn’t imagine visiting the Galapagos without diving
Learning to dive was quite a bit of work and even uncomfortable at times. But I really enjoyed experiencing this totally new world under the surface, one I could have never imagined to be so rich and enchanting.
Without diving, I couldn’t have fully experienced the magic of the Galapagos. As much wonderful life as there is on land, there’s just so much more underwater. If you’re on the fence, it’s worth it. I had some of the best days of my life. It was truly magical.
Now I’m ready to see so much more of the underwater world in all corners of the world; from the Red Sea to Palau, there’s so much more to explore.
And I’m just getting started.