5 Animals You Can Swim With in the Galápagos Islands
I was floating face down scouring the ocean floor for sea urchins when I heard an excited shout from our guide, Martin. As I lifted my head, I saw a Disney-adorable penguin about the size of a large shoebox submarine into the murky water less than a foot from my snorkel mask. I felt like I had been instantly transported into a scene from Happy Feet.
One of the really special things about the Galápagos Islands is how close wild animals will get to you. As per park rules, you can’t approach them. And, for safety reasons – yours and theirs – you shouldn’t anyway. But, they can and do definitely approach you as curiosity wins out over fear.
During my trips there, I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying the swim companionship of the following five creatures.
1) Galápagos penguins. These little guys are the rarest of all penguin species and the only ones who cross the equator to the north. They thrive in cold water. So, you are more likely to see them if you visit the Galápagos Islands during the South American winter months of June, July, and August. I spotted my Galápagos penguin friend in early October. The water temperature was still wetsuit worthy for me, but perfect for penguins.
2) Sharks. The Galápagos Islands are home to many species of shark, including white tip reef sharks and nurse sharks. The best place to swim with sharks is through the channel at Kicker Rock.
3) Galápagos sea lions. This species of sea lion breeds exclusively in the Galápagos Islands. It is possible to see baby sea lions all year round. But, don’t get too close. The 500-pound papa sea lions are highly protective of their brood. Playful females, sometimes with their babies in tow, have been known to curiously approach snorkelers, though.
4) Marine iguanas. While this lizard won’t win any beauty contests, it is unique for it’s ability to swim and forage for food in the ocean. Large colonies of iguanas like to warm on the beach after these chilly dips. Marine iguanas are found only in the Galápagos Islands.
5) Sea turtles. Green sea turtles have been around for so long that they have seen the dinosaurs come and go. Hawksbill turtles have flippers that look like wings and a head that is shaped like a hawk’s bill – hence the name. Both make fine swimming companions.