Scuba Diving in the Galapagos Islands: Bartolomé & Cousins Rock

Our third day in the Galapagos Islands was, without a doubt, my favorite day thanks to the most incredible scuba diving experience of my life.

Before heading out for a morning dive, my family and I joined the group on our boat for a 6:15 a.m. excursion to Bartolomé Island to search for the Galapagos penguins, the only penguins found in the northern hemisphere.

Bartolome Island Galapagos

Approximately 1,400 Galapagos penguins live on the islands, and it didn’t take us long to spot the adorable birds.

Galapagos Island Penguins

Our group made sure to head out around 6:15 a.m. so we could see them before they left the rocks in search of breakfast.

We got a kick out of watching them put serious effort into cleaning themselves only to hop into the salty water to fish for food.

Galapagos Penguins

Bartolome Island penguin

Had I not seen the penguins on the rocks from our dinghy, I’m not sure I would’ve realized I was looking at a penguin if I just spotted the little bird in the water. The penguins looked a lot like ducks when they swam on the surface before darting underwater in search of food. 

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While we were out looking for penguins, we saw more sea lions relaxing on the rocks. One of the sassy sea lions put on quite a show!

Bartolome Sea Lion

Sea Lion Galapagos

After all of the fun with the penguins, our group headed back to the boat for a quick breakfast buffet before it was time to hop aboard the dinghies again and head out for a hike uphill to The Summit located on the northeast end of Bartolomé Island. 

The Summit Galapagos Islands

Check out the amazing views!

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By the time we were done with our hike, it was around 10 am. and time to scuba dive!

The Scuba Iguana dive team picked up Ryan, me, my dad, my sister and my sister’s boyfriend for a four-hour dive trip off Bartolomé Island and Cousins Rock. (My mom is not scuba certified and stayed behind with the awesome people on our boat to snorkel and hike a bit more. She said she had a great time!)

We immediately liked the dive masters.

Scuba Iguana Galapagos

They were energetic, charismatic and safety conscious but still adventurous. They immediately taught us some underwater signals that they would use to help identify the animals we might see while diving. We saw every single animal they said we would with the exception of the hammerhead shark, which my sister and I were totally okay with missing.

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After putting on all of our scuba gear (we wore 7mm wetsuits to help protect us from the cold water) and checking our regulators, it was time to dive!

Our first dive off Bartolomé Island in Sullivan Bay was absolutely teeming with wildlife.

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I am always a little bit slower to descend in the water than my family and other divers because I seem to have a hard time equalizing. I had a lot of ear aches as a child, so perhaps I have extra-sensitive ears, but adjusting to the pressure underwater is always a rather slow process for me. Thankfully one of the dive masters was incredibly kind and patient with me and allowed me to ascend when I had ear trouble and then descend at a slower pace to give my ears time to adjust.

Heeeeere I come!

IMG_9345 Slowly but surely!

Taking time to slowly equalize paid off big time because I was able to make it down to my family without ear pain and thoroughly enjoy the dive at depths of around 60 feet.

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Hooray!

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(My sister and my dad)

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(My sister and her boyfriend, Ross)

During our first dive we saw manta rays, spotted eagle rays, moray eels, white tipped sharks, an octopus and more!

Moray Eel Galapagos

White tipped shark Galapagos

The sharks were big but wanted nothing to do with us. Thank goodness!

Galapagos Octopus

Perhaps the coolest part of the dive occurred within the first 15 minutes when we came upon a huge school of fish. There were thousands of fish and the school was so deep and tight that when you swam into it, you couldn’t see the other side and only saw darkness. It was insane.

If you held in your bubbles (as Ryan is doing in the first picture below) you could swim into the school of fish and they would envelop your entire body until you released your bubbles.

Ryan school of fish

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At one point, we had our entire group surrounded by the fish. Amazing!

Scuba Diving Galapagos

(My sister, my dad and me)

The dive lasted a little less than 60 minutes before the guys started to get low on air and we had to ascend.

IMG_9511 (Ross, Leslie, me, my dad and Ryan)

After a brief reprieve and a quick lunch of tuna salad sandwiches aboard the boat, it was time to suit up again for our second dive at Cousins Rock.

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This is where I had one of the most incredible experiences of my entire life.

sea lions counins rock galapagos

Yes, the sea lions really got that close. It was unreal and I couldn’t believe my eyes. They were so adorable, so curious and so playful. We were in awe.

Here’s a video that the dive master took of the last few minutes of the dive when one of the sea lions was playing underwater within arms reach:

(Fast forward to 1:03 to see the sea lion up close! You can also click here to watch the video on YouTube if it is not working on the blog.)

At one point, four sea lions were swimming around our group, checking us out, darting in and out of the coral and rocks and playing in the water. I’m not sure I will ever experience a dive that will top that one for the rest of my life.

We also saw sea turtles, eels, white tipped sharks and more vibrant fish on the second dive.

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(Ryan and me)

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When we arrived at the surface, we couldn’t stop talking about how incredible both dives were and how close the sea lions got to us underwater. It was a truly unforgettable experience!

Question of the Day

  • What is the coolest animal you’ve seen in the wild?

Comments

    • Julie @ Peanut Butter Fingers says

      The dive master actually took all of the underwater photos with his camera. I’m not sure what kind it was! We were all shocked with how well they turned out!

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  1. Erika says

    Ohh my goodness that video was amazing! I’ve never been scuba diving before but after seeing all your posts, I kind of want to take a trip to the Galapagos Islands! Maybe I can add that to my bucket list.

    Glad you had a great time!

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  2. says

    Wow! I would love to go scuba diving someday but I’d probably be so scared. Snorkeling is about as adventurous as I’ve ever been and sometimes I’d get freaked out if a funny looking fish swam too close to me. Haha

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    • jodea @ chillichocolatelove says

      I’ve seen koalas and kangaroos in Australia… And a deadly brown snake – scary but exhilarating!

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  3. Taylee Conrad says

    I love all your pictures!! I can’t believe how well they turned out underwater. That video is so great too. I definitely would like to try scuba diving someday, hopefully I’m not too scared!! I would freak if I saw a shark!! Haha

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  4. says

    I just got back from a trip to South Africa and on our first game drive in Kruger National Park we saw the big five- elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard, plus a cheetah! Seeing all those in the wild was incredible and an experience I will never forget! I highly recommend a trip to South Africa!

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  5. says

    I am pretty sure I have said the same thing in ever recap post you have done of your vacation but the pictures are amazing!! This sounds like such an incredible experience, it would definitely be my favorite of the trip!! When I was in south africa I saw a lot of animals in their natural habitat. Monkey’s were everywhere and you have to be careful of the bamboos, because they would steal things from you! In Costa Rica I actually got to pet well scratch a monkey because that was what she wanted every one to do, help her get all her itches!

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  6. Abby says

    These are AMAZING. I definitely want to visit South America now! What camera have you been using to take your pictures (not just the underwater ones)?

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  7. Brittany says

    This looks like the trip of a lifetime! Thank you for sharing these breathtaking photos with us. The seal video is amazing, seals are kind of like dog mermaids…think about it!

    That was really cool that the dive master took photos for you while you got to enjoy everything around you. You should let us all know about the different companies you used during the trip. They all seem like the most personable experience you could get!

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  8. Tory says

    Holy cow these posts make me want to book a vacation to the Galapagos ASAP. I did a beginner dive on a vacation Mexico but wasn’t interested enough to get fully scuba certified with my dad and brothers when we got home. Looking at these pics makes me regret that decision!

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  9. Sandi says

    On a mission trip to South Africa, our hosts took us thru Kruger Park. It was amazing to see truly healthy happy animals in their own environment! The elephants and giraffes were so beautiful and peaceful. It was a wonderful time, yet it breaks my heart to see certain animals in zoos now, all sad and depressed! Your trip seems unreal! Thank you for sharing your photos with us!!! I told my husband we have to go there someday.

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  10. says

    I’ve a Zoologist (aka big animal nerd) and have the Galapagos on my bucket list for sure. Such a unique habitat with awesome animals!

    I was lucky enough to see orcas when I visited Alaska. Absolutely beautiful!

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  11. HilJo says

    ahhhhhhhhhhh soooo good to see pics of that beautiful place!! I was there 5 years ago and it was so incredible! We didnt scuba dive, just snorkled, but I remember being totally amazed at how close the sea lions and penguins came when we were just snorkling around!! It was awesome. Probably the highlight, though, was seeing the white tipped reef shark 🙂

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  12. Annie says

    Wow! That is so cool. A once in a lifetime experience I hope to have one day too!

    Ps: I may have had a laugh imagining you in finding nemo 😀

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  13. says

    Wow!! I also had a lot of ear aches when I was little and my ears are super sensitive today. I never thought I would be able to scuba dive as a result, the idea just gives me the heebie jeebies. 🙂 I have issues on airplanes too with my ears adapting to the pressure but I wear these things called ear-planes that help a lot.

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  14. says

    What an amazing experience!! The underwater photos are gorgeous, but I’m sure they don’t even come close to seeing it in person! Diving the Great Barrier Reef was the most incredible dive experience I’ve had to date – I remember being worried that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations but it looks exactly like in Finding Nemo! The colors and animals are actually that vibrant!

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  15. says

    Absolutely stunning! I love the video, that is so cool. I love how curious the sea lions are. We saw a Hawaiian Monk Seal sunning itself while we were geocaching and its so hard to remember as cute as they are that they pack a mean bite if provoked or feel threatened. “How did you get that bite on your rump?” “I was trying to hug a seal.” I don’t know why but seeing the otters at Point Lobos in Carmel was really cool to me. Otters are so adorable!

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  16. Kaleigh says

    All I can think about while watching that video of the sea lion is, the movie Dumb and Dumber….”I’ll just be over here…..puttin out the vibe….” 🙂
    So awesome! Thanks for sharing!

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  17. Janelle says

    Incredible! I’ll never forget when I went swimming with whale sharks in Mexico several years ago. I got so close to one, I almost touched it! I also swam after a HUGE sting ray and swam with turtles. I’d love to add sea lions to the list! 🙂

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  18. says

    Awwww. The sea lion looks so adorable. I’m jealous at how close you guys got. I’ve gone snorkeling before and could see the fish from afar but now I’d rather get a license to scuba dive so I can really enjoy it.

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  19. says

    If you tell me this has not been one of the most incredible vacations you have ever taken, I will not believe it!! It has looked so amazing through all your pictures, and I know they never do any situation justice!

    It always takes me longer to equalize when I dive as well, and one of the instructors told me once it was probably because of ear infections/tonsillitis that I had so severely as a child. Who knows? So glad that you got to equalize on your own terms and join everyone for such a great time!!

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  20. Stacey says

    Your pictures are amazing. Curious if you used one travel company for the entire trip or different companies for the different locations- would love some recommendations.
    Thanks!

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  21. says

    I have loved reading about all your vacation adventures but I am definitely the most jealous of this one. Scuba diving is my DREAM! I can’t believe how close you were to all that amazing sea life, and your pictures are incredible! Also, every picture of your dad on your trip makes me laugh because he just looks so touristy and his clothing looks exactly like what my own dad would choose to wear on a similar vacation.

    And that is quite a sassy sea lion 😉

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  22. Emily says

    Looks like an awesome trip! I have run into a grizzly bear hiking in Montana, that was quite scary! I have seen plenty of black bears living in Montana, but the griz was much scarier.

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  23. says

    Thanks for sharing all the beautiful pics! I love reading vacation posts so I can get ideas 🙂 My husband and I are doing Singapore this year, but next year’s trip could be anywhere.

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  24. Leah says

    Wow, what an awesome vacation! I am pretty darn jealous…my family has never gone anywhere that cool all together. I spent a semester abroad diving in Bonaire so I have seen some neat animals…although it has sadly been too long since my last dive (hopefully that will change soon!) My favorite dive experience there was when my dive buddy and I saw a group of five bottlenose dolphins on a research dive. It was just the two of us on the dive, and needless to say the rest of group was a little bitter. Outside of the ocean…I saw two huge black bears, a mama and her (rather large) cub on a hike with my family. They wouldn’t leave the trail so we had to turn around and go back down the mountain. Still, it was a fun family moment!

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  25. says

    The coolest animals I’ve seen in the wild are dolphins, sea turtles, and sharks. Despite working with sea turtles and dolphins, I still get incredibly excited to see them in the wild. We are truly blessed when we have experiences like this!

    We should totally go diving sometime! I live in Melbourne, so it’s not like we’re neighbors, but if we’re ever in the same area, we should go 😉 Also, where is that fringe bikini from? I’m on the hunt for one and can’t seem to find a nice one!

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  26. Melissa says

    That looks like so much fun! The fish look incredible and you got some really awesome photos!

    This is random and unrelated, but I’m about take a road trip through Ireland with some friends and am really nervous about driving! How was it when you and Ryan went? Was it hard adjusting to driving on the other side? Any tips/advice would be greatly appreciated! Thank you 🙂

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    • Julie @ Peanut Butter Fingers says

      Ryan actually did all the driving because we rented a manual car and I don’t know how to drive stick shift. He said it wasn’t too bad and seemed to adjust with relative ease. The roads are definitely small, but they’re manageable. You’ll have a blast!!!

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  27. says

    What an absolutely amazing experience!! I have snorkled once but to actually get down in the ocean and see such incredible sea life is awesome!! I would be chicken to do it but I would force myself anyway!!

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  28. says

    Sounds like such a wonderful experience. Learning to SCUBA dive is something we’ve always talked about doing – so glad you had such a good time and got to see so much wildlife! I’ve really enjoyed these galapagos island recaps =)

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  29. says

    oh my gosh that is absolutely amazing!!! And definitely a once-in-a-lifetime event! That sea lion almost made me think it was animated with how close it got to y’all! How amazing!!!

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  30. Britani says

    Julie,
    This is incredible. Thank you for sharing such wonderful pictures and stories. That sea lion’s eyes under water almost make him look like a cartoon!

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  31. says

    AHHH seals and sealions were my favourite animal for like nine years when I was a kid! I still love them and would LOVE to see them in the wild. Did you ever see the movie Andre? Fav childhood movie (next to Holiday In the Sun and all other Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen flicks) hahaha.

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  32. says

    Oh my GOD that all looks amazing. I have really sensitive ears too and I’ve never tried scuba diving but I’m not sure I’d handle it too well. But so awesome! The coolest animals I’ve seen in the wild was when I did a safari in Kenya. We saw a whole bunch of wildlife up close, including lions, rhinos, elephants, giraffes, and so much more. Incredible experience.

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  33. Jenna says

    Julie that sea lion experience looked AMAZING!!! My 3 year old has made me watch it 3 times now, and I am in awe every time! Such a cool experience for you!

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  34. says

    Wow! All of your vacation photos have been beautiful, but these ones are spectacular! Looks like a great trip!

    I think the coolest animal I have seen was sea turtles in Hawaii.

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  35. Caroline A says

    My family and I went on a safari a few months ago over Christmas, and I saw all the animals you would imagine. The coolest for me was the giraffe and the elephant! Amazing to see animals in their natural environment!!

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  36. says

    Can’t wait for my husband to get home to tell him we’re going to the Galapagos Islands this summer! 😀 hehe (I’m not joking :p)
    I’m from Australia so I’m lucky to have grown up seeing awesome wildlife – kangaroos, platypus, koalas, sugar gliders are my favorites!

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  37. says

    Oh my gosh, that looks incredible!! I’m studying abroad in New Zealand right now, but I have a trip planned to Australia in June and I’m hoping to be able to scuba dive at the Great Barrier Reef. These pictures just made me a thousand times more excited!!!

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  38. says

    WOW!!! Those are SUCH awesome dives! You make me want to get suited up and go diving on my next vacation!
    The coolest animal I have seen in the wild is a Whale Shark! We were camping in Punta La Gringa, Baja Califorina and saw a handful of whale sharks, squid, stingrays (one that jumped out of the water), seals (or was it sea lions…?), and of course some of the most beautiful shooting stars ever! The joys of being in the middle of nowhere!

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  39. janet says

    Best wild animals I ever have dealt with are ostriches which scare the crap out of me (they are like raptors ala Jurassic Park … Very astute and scaaaaaaaary)
    Close second were the elephants at an animal sanctuary I volunteered at … Kind, gentle, social, loving and curious … I cried when I left!

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  40. Amelia says

    Wow amazing scuba diving experience! I was lucky enough to get my scuba certification in Australia on the Great Barrier Reef! I got 9 dives in, including one night dive, which was a bit scary! I fell in love with scuba diving and hope I can go in the Galapagos at some point! That sea lion looked so animated!

    Did you all rent a camera or did you have an underwater camera? If so do you know what kind? The pictures are such good quality!

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  41. says

    Wow, incredible! What an amazing adventure you’ve had! I enjoyed seeing the elephants in Sri Lanka, such lovely animals. But I’ve always had a thing for marine biology since I was a little girl. Watching the Sea Lion video was almost meditative.

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  42. says

    I totally hear you on the sea lions up close and personal being so memorable of an experience. Last April I too had an awesome experience snorkeling at night with the manta rays off of the Big Island in Hawaii. They, too, get up close and personal, and are huge! What a fun trip, glad you enjoyed it.

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  43. says

    Wow, those pictures are pretty amazing – What kind of camera did you use? We took an “underwater” camera to the Bahamas a few years ago, but it crapped out at 15ft..

    Coolest animal I’ve seen – probably the huge sting ray we saw last year in the Bahamas during lobster season.

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  44. Sarah D. says

    That is such an amazing dive story Julie! Looks like you guys had an absolute blast. I would love to visit those places you got to experience the past week. The most amazing animal story I have is when I was snorkeling at Turtle Bey in St. Thomas a sea turtle swam by me. Like you, I love turtles!

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  45. ali says

    I’ve been looking for a good waterproof camera for quite a while but haven’t bought one because most of them have bad reviews (water getting in there, etc.). It looks like yours takes good pics. Which one do you have? I’m going on vacation soon so it would be great to finally buy one. Thanks!

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  46. ali says

    And I agree with with Sarah, the most amazing experience for me so far was swiming next to a sea turtle in Hawaii. It’s the most relaxing thing I can think of. All the monkeys in Costa Rica and Panama were pretty cool too.

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  47. says

    Thanks for sharing the highlights of your vacation, it looked like a blast! I would love to get scuba certified and be able to experience all the ocean life up close. How fun!

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  48. says

    JULIE! Stop, shut up, these pictures are way too cool. This sounds like the vacation of a lifetime!! I especially loved the earlier pictures of the baby sea turtles 🙂 you are inspiring me to get out and see the world!! I’d say the coolest animal I’ve seen is a baby grizzly bear 🙂 a little less tropical than the animals you were hanging out with!

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  49. says

    That was soo cool! What an amazing experience. I don’t know what the coolest animal I’ve seen in the wild is…maybe a whale? Scuba diving really initimidates me, but maybe I’ll just have to try it one day

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  50. Shannon says

    Oh my Goodness!!! What a trip for you! Such gorgeous pics throughout. I’m a shark fanatic so the best animal I’ve seen was a white tip. I’m surprising my husband by getting SCUBA certified (classes start this weekend!) and these pictures made me so excited!!! He’s a scuba nut so it will be fun to share another hobby. Your pictures are so amazing.. What underwater model do you use? My husband is on the hunt for a good one 🙂

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  51. says

    Wow, what a great experience, I’ve heard that the wildlife in the Galapagos is amazing. I got married last August and my husband and I went on a safari in Kenya for our honeymoon. We were there at the same time as the Great Migration, so we saw thousands of Wildebeest cross the river, which was definitely one of the coolest things I have ever seen!

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  52. Karen says

    Wow – that looks just amazing. I really want to go there now! I’ve been diving in Egypt, Cayman Islands, Turks & Caicos, Fiji, St. John and St. Thomas but nothing compares to what you saw!

    I would have to say the coolest animal I have ever seen was a school of squid in St. John. There must have been 60 of them swimming in a perfectly straight line toward me and as they came up to me, the ones that would have swam into me neatly went behind their squid neighbors until they passed me and then they went right back into line. What’s really neat about them is that they are practically clear, but have a big belly of ink. Crazy to see.

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  53. Emily says

    Julie, what an amazing experience! I LOVED the video of the sea lion. It’t really cool to sit at my desk and get a peek of the world so far away from my daily life. Watching the sea lion enjoy its habitat so much reminded me of why its so important to keep the ocean clean. Thanks so much for sharing your adventures with us!

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  54. says

    LOVE this post! My husband and I are divers too and I love seeing other great dive spots. I’m adding the Gapalagos to our list!

    In Maui last year we got up close and personal with some sea horses (one was pregnant!). So awesome! Thanks for sharing your wonderful pictures!

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  55. kathy says

    Are you allowed to touch the sea lions under water? Would they even come up to you? Those are the most amazing sights.
    I’m terrified of water, especially going under that far, but I would love to try it and see what its like. Not keen on big fish though!!

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  56. says

    Wow! Your photos are incredible. Galapagos Islands are on my “must travel to” list! Thank you for posting. I have never been scuba diving, the ocean kind of freaks me out, but reading your story definitely pushes me to get over it.
    We went shark “diving” in South Africa last Fall. (When I say diving I mean we were in a cage strapped to the side of a boat, holding our breath when the sharks came close.) I couldn’t believe how big they are! Breath taking.

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  57. says

    Thanks for sharing your experience! I’d love to go to the Galapagos some day!

    I had a great experience with a playful sea lion out here in our Channel Islands (which have been called the California Galapagos islands). A sea lion swam up from behind me and then twirled in front of me like a ballerina. It then swam around me in circles almost like it wanted me to follow.

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  58. AJ says

    I’m SO jealous that you got to see penguins up close! I’m not much on the scuba stuff, but it sounds like an amazing experience, good for you!

    -AJ
    FitTravelerAJ.com

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  59. says

    I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good.
    I don’t know who you are but certainly you are going to a famous blogger if you are not already 😉 Cheers!

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  60. Melanie says

    Hi, I stumbled across your beautiful photographs while doing some research for an upcoming trip. Your trip to Bartolome looks amazing! I was wondering what diving company or tour group you went with for the two dives??

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    • Melanie says

      Just wanted to clarify, I noticed the Scuba Iguana link, but was curious if this was separate from the group you mentioned going on the hike? The whole day sounds fantastic, and it would be great to do the whole day tour like you did!

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