Do I need a wetsuit for my Galapagos trip?

Snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands with Sea Lions
Snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands with Sea Lions


Snorkeling is one of the top activities in the Galapagos Islands, as the wildlife under water is as unafraid of humans as the wildlife on land. On one trip there I found myself swimming in a living room sized cove with 5 large sea turtles, who, oblivious to my presence, were munching (happily I presume) on plants growing on and around the rocks in the small cove. It was incredible, and I will never forget it. But was it cold?

Galapagos yacht trips usually offer at least one snorkeling excursion a day, and sometimes more. The same for Galapagos multisport and adventure trips, which visit different sites, some of which are the top snorkeling destinations in the Galapagos. I’ve seen turtles, penguins, sharks, spotted eagle rays, stingrays, and many other fish while snorkeling in the Galapagos. You can expect sea lions to play chicken with you, swimming directly at your face only to veer off at the last moment. Watching iguanas swim and feed is incredible.

Snorkeling with White-tipped Reef Shark at Tintoreras, Isabela Island, Galapagos.

Ok, but how cold is the water in the Galapagos? How comfortable is it to snorkel there? Do I need a wetsuit to snorkel in the Galapagos? What about for scuba diving or Stand Up Paddling (SUP).

Good questions, all of them. The answer is, it depends on when and where you go. One of the reasons the wildlife viewing, and variety of wildlife, is so great in the Galapagos has to do with the way different currents converge in the islands.  This brings lots of nutrients to the islands, and with it lots of fish and animal species from different areas of the world.  Because of these currents, water temperatures can vary greatly on different islands at different times, but generally speaking, for snorkeling you will want a wetsuit in the cold season, and probably won’t need one in the warm season. You will need a wetsuit to scuba dive at any time of year, as the water is colder the deeper you go. For SUP, you probably don’t need a wetsuit at any time, as even if you fall off you won’t be in the water for long and the air is generally warm to hot.

When I first visited the Galapagos on a late June cruise, I wore a wetsuit so that I could stay in the water longer. I love to snorkel and would stay in for well over an hour at a time. I tend to run warm, but I could have snorkeled without the wetsuit, but wouldn’t have stayed in the water so long.

On a September trip we had one fellow who declared he didn’t need a wetsuit as he lives in Seattle and is used to cold water. He was out of the water in 15 minutes, while those of us with wetsuits stayed in much longer. I noticed he grabbed a wetsuit after that, and wore it on each snorkeling opportunity from then on.

On a February trip I wouldn’t have wanted a wetsuit at all; the water was warm and comfortable, and no on our trip got while in the water. If you get cold extremely easily, you might want a wetsuit even this time of year, however.

Cold Season in the Galapagos:

The Galapagos Islands waters have the Humboldt Current’s influence that brings cold waters, especially during the mist or Garua season (cool, dry weather) from late May/June to December. In La Nina conditions, the water temperature can be approximately 5°F cooler.

  • Surface Water Temp. June – December: 70°F – 74°F (21°C- 23.3°C)
  • Air Temp. Highs June – December: 75°F – 80°F (18°C- 23°C)
  • Air Temp. Lows June – December: 66°F – 70°F (19°C- 23.3°C)

Warm Season in the Galapagos:

The warm season (occasionally rainy, hot weather) is during the months of January through May. The southeast trade winds become weaker and the water from the Panama Basin remains warm. During this season there is more of a tropical climate with some occasional rains.

  • Surface Water Temp. December – May: 73°F – 78°F (23°C- 25.5°C)
  • Air Temp. Highs December – May: 80°F – 87°F (26.7°C- 30.6°C)
  • Air Temp. Lows December – May: 70°F – 76°F (21°C- 24.4°C)

One of the very best active trips possible in the Galapagos Islands, this land-based multisport adventure combines nice accommodations with great guides and equipment and a well-planned itinerary designed to maximize recreation while seeing as much wildlife as possible. This trip is ideal for private groups or families, too. Trip Length: 7 Days Destination: San Cristobal, Isabela, & Santa Cruz Islands, Galapagos Lodging: Your choice of 3- or 4-star hotels Activities: Hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, mountain biking, wildlife viewing

The Nemo I is a small 14-passenger sailing catamaran that is perfect for adventurous people who want to spend their time in the Galapagos outside on the net between the hulls or on the various common areas. Cabins are quite small, in the pontoons, making a trip on this boat an intimate nature adventure. Trip Lengths: 4, 5, 8, 11, 12, or 15 Days Destination: Galapagos Islands Lodging: 14-Passenger, tourist superior sailing catamaran Activities: Wildlife viewing, naturalist walks, snorkeling

The Cachalote Explorer is a top choice for those looking for a great Galapagos experience, with great itineraries, guides, and service, but who don't need, or want to pay for, luxurious cabins and shared spaces. Trip Lengths: 6, 8, or 15 Days Destination: Galapagos Islands Accommodations: 16 Passenger First Class Motor Yacht Activities: Wildlife viewing, naturalist walks, snorkeling, kayak