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. 



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!




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.


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.



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.




(My sister and my dad)


(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


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.





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.






(Ryan and me)


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?


  1. 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!


  2. 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!


  3. 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!!


  4. 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.


  5. 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.


  6. 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!



  7. 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!


  8. 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??


    • 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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