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First time Galapagos - liveaboard advice

Discussion in 'South America' started by jjmochi, Jan 10, 2020.

  1. jjmochi

    jjmochi Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Hong Kong

    We're trying to plan our first trip to the Galapagos and need some advice.

    I have narrowed down our timing to the months of Feb - April as I understand that's when the water is at the warmest. I get cold easily but am seeing online that temperatures are 25-28 degree during that time frame, which is doable. However I've read that some sites with thermocline get a lot colder than others - will it be even colder than 25 at those sites? How cold are we talking - less than 20? I am planning to bring my new 5mm + layer a 3mm shorty on top + 3mm beanie (can't stand hoods) - is that sufficient?

    We're going to go on a liveaboard and I notice Galapagos Master is the only boat that offers 10 night trips, everyone else is 7 nights only. Unfortunately they are fully booked between Feb and April for those 10 night trips in both 2020 and 2021. Earliest trip available is Feb 2022 - but the price is quite steep ($8800 - a whopping $1000 increase from 2021 rate, whereas 7 night rate only increased $10??). For those who have done either the 7 night or 10 night trip before, do you think the extra 3 nights is worth the price, or is 7 nights enough? It seems the main difference is there are 4 days at Wolf / Darwin (which I understand to be the best diving), vs. only 3 days for the 7 night trips, plus there are 3 land excursions instead of 1.

    Galapagos is a long way from HK and we will have ~2 weeks give or take so we do want to maximize our experience. The main highlights we want to see are the schooling hammerheads, sea lions, marine iguanas, penguins, dolphins, and some big sharks like galapagos shark, bull shark, or tiger shark. Schooling eagle rays and mola mola would be nice too. Given that wish list, will we have a substantially better experience / chance with the 10 night trip?

    The other option we're considering is the 7 night dive trip on AQUA plus a 3 or 4 night naturalist trip to get us to 10-11 nights. Their B5 itinerary (which has lots of seals sea lions and penguins) looks more interesting than the B4 (which seems to be more focused on birdlife and iguanas) - do you think a 7 night dive trip + a 4 night naturalist trip is a better combo than the 10 night dive trip? The B5 naturalist trip seems to be mostly snorkeling with some hiking, so I wonder if we will end up seeing the same stuff anyway. Aqua combo works out to be ~$2000 cheaper than 10 night trip on Galapagos Master. We're not picky and Aqua boat looks pretty nice to me. Seems both have 16 divers and 2 dive guides. Aqua is smaller but space is not that important to us. But Aqua does have a lower rating than the Master on liveaboard.com. I would be interested to hear any first hand experience with that boat.

    Also some random questions-
    -Are strobes not allowed? I saw this on the Aqua website but not anywhere else. What about lights?
    -It seems most people wear gloves instead of using reef hooks - any reason why? I was just in the Maldives where reef hooks were used on all the channel dives and I liked it a lot. I want to keep my hands free for the camera- will I be ok with just a reef hook and no gloves?
    -Are negative entries actually necessary? I prefer the crew pass me my camera after I jump as it's a bulky DSLR. During my last Maldives trip there were 2 groups that insisted on doing negative entry for all the channel dives and our group didn't do any. The current wasn't even that strong and we were perfectly fine. When I was in French Polynesia I also didn't do any negative entries, despite reading beforehand that negative entries were the norm in the pass dives.

  2. BAMA6977

    BAMA6977 Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Gulf of Mexico
    Hope some of this will help with your questions:
    * I was on the 10 day trip with Master Liveaboard in May 2019 and would go back in a heart beat. Enjoyed all aspects of the trip and wish I could do it again.
    * Only stayed one night in Keto at the Wyndom Airport hotel then flew in to San Cristobal the next morning. Stayed 4 days at the "Eco Friendly" hotel and explored the island. Harry, the owner, and the entire staff were great. They are used to having divers stay at the hotel. (Master Liveaboard staff will pick up your luggage at the Hotel) Harry is also one of the guides/SCUBA diver for the island and can arrange for visits to places on the Island or you can flag one of the many taxe's and for $1.00 they will take you anywhere on the island. Well worth staying at the Eco Friendly and it is far enough away from the main street area. Plenty to do/explore on the Island and is less commercial than the other island ?? with airport. Plan on one day diving at Kicker Rock through one of the dive shops.
    * Pay the extra to have Master liveaboard staff help you through check in at Keto airport. Also, you will probably want/need to pay for extra bag/weight allowance. Just do it, ,,,,,it's a once in a life time trip for most of us!!
    * 5 mil is more than enough. I did wear 3 mil vest under the suit on maybe two dives. Also, I don't like hoods either so wore 1.5 mil beanie and was perfect.
    * Gloves are a must because of the lava rocks. I carried reef hook and never used it. No one else used one either. There were some dives where I had to crawl from rock to rock because of the current and surge. Learned to brace between rocks and make photos. Cheap mechanics gloves work great and be prepared for your wetsuit to get broken in while there.
    * Concerning negative entries you are going to want to get down quickly on most dives due to current and surge. All of us rolled with cameras held close to chest and did not have issue.
    * What you will see is based on luck. Mola Mola, Whale Sharks, schooling Hammerheads are not always there!! Even if you don't see everything you are still going to be overwhelmed with what shows up.
    * I only remember 2 land visits and they did not take away from the diving. Very well planned
    * If the boat is fully booked get on the waiting list because they do have people that cancel. (One of our divers got the trip for 1/2 price due to last minute cancellation) Also, check with Blue Water Travel and Photo about their trips and get on the list with them.
    * Yes Strobes are allowed

    Enjoy and wish I were going back. Maybe someday!! Excuse spelling and grammar!! :):)
  3. MaxBottomtime

    MaxBottomtime Divemaster

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Torrance, CA
    I received a report from last week. It was 16C at the southern sites. I will be on the Galapagos Master in a few weeks and plan to dive in a drysuit. The northern sites are warmer, but I get cold easily.
    davehicks and BAMA6977 like this.
  4. brownie

    brownie Angel Fish

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Toronto, Ontario
    I will be on the Galapagos Master in 2 weeks. I have been to the Galapagos for liveaboard diving three times in the past. The following is what works for me:

    1. I wear layers--diving in the south will have temps ranging in the mid-60's. The northern islands will be warmer, mid 70's. Layers allow for flexibility. Gloves are essential--leave your reef hook at home.

    2. I always opted for either a 10-day turnaround, or chose two 7-day, back-to-back liveaboards. Diving the Galapagos is so special, and so spectacular, I never regretted the decision to extend my diving days--especially at Wolf and Darwin.

    3. I was last in the Galapagos in 2013 on the Galapagos Master--at that time it was called by another name--I think it was the Galapagos Blue. I liked the bones of the boat: gorgeous wood in the spacious salon. But the rooms looked a tad tired, the toilet needed multiple cranks to flush and clear the bowl. Most annoying was the lack of consistent Nitrox; crew kept shuttling tanks back and forth between the other liveaboards so that I would have a usable tank for most dives. I think I was the only one diving Nitrox at that time. I also was put off by the leading dive master (don't think he had Course Director credentials). At the conclusion of the trip he gave a lengthy speech canvassing for gratuities/tips that I felt were excessive and unwarranted. It will be interesting to see if the boat has improved in the past 6 years--new name, maybe new ownership. I chose this vessel for my upcoming trip because I am filling a late-cancellation spot that enticed me with a deep discount.

    4. Negative entries are ideal, though I do a half-assed version. Just get down as quickly as possible to stay with the group.
    drrich2 and BAMA6977 like this.
  5. Manuel Sam

    Manuel Sam Barracuda

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Boston
    I've never been there in Feb-Apr, always preferring Sep-Oct, which is a better time for whalesharks. BUT, when all is said and done, it is all about luck.

    I'll touch on some of the things that you asked and which were not yet answered:

    1. If the Western Islands (Isabela and Fernandina) are in your itinerary, at least in Sep-Oct, the temperature is 13-15. Isabela, and more specifically, Punta Vicente Roca is where regular sightings of Mola Ramseyi occur (on my 2016 trip there, we were told that the ones there have been reclassified and are considered different than the ones seen in Bali). Fernandina is where regular sightings of marine iguanas occur. Both sites can have penguins. I don't need to tell you that 13-15 hurts, even with my 7mm + 2mm hooded vest.
    2. My last trip was two 7-day trips back to back. My personal preference would be to go with the 10-day trip for reasons already mentioned by Brownie.
    3. It's an ocean so everything is possible, but I have never heard of tiger or bull sightings in the Galapagos. Scalloped Hammers, Silkies, White Tip Reef, Galapagos and Whalesharks are pretty much it, but no guarantees. There is also a Horn shark, which is a small shark that I have only seen in Punta Vicente Roca.
    4. I've seen Schooling mobulas and schooling Golden Cownose Rays, but eagle rays, maybe a dozen is the most I have seen. Sometimes the Golden Cownose travel with the Eagle Rays.
    5. Unless they have changed the Park rules, I have not heard of strobes or dive lights not being allowed.
    6. I always carry a reef hook but never use it. I don't like to wear gloves - the feel of the camera and the shutter release button is different. I usually find shelter behind a rock.
    7. I prefer negative entries, current or no current: that's the best way for me to avoid getting whacked in the head by someone else's tank. As far as the camera, some people hold the camera close to the chest. When I used to have a a housed DSLR, I used to hold it with one hand very close to the water to minimize the impact from the backroll. Now I shoot GoPros only, so...…...
    BAMA6977 likes this.
  6. jjmochi

    jjmochi Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Hong Kong
    Thanks all. I have contacted the Galapagos Master and they said low to no chance of getting on the waitlist for my preferred dates in 2021, as it’s fully booked by a German agent.

    So now I have 3 options,
    1) book Galapagos Master 10 day trip for Feb 2022, for $8800+10% mandatory tip=$9680 per person. For those who have booked on Master before, wanted to see if everyone did actually tip 10%? My past experience has been when a liveaboard lists out an actual number/% for tip, it’s basically a mandatory service charge and everyone will give you a really hard time if you don’t abide by their number. I think $880 tip is a bit crazy when suggested tip on past liveaboards I’ve been on has always been $100-150 range, but having read through the tipping thread I get the impression that at least for the Master, the 10% is really a mandatory service charge.

    2) For ~$1000 more than the Galapagos Masters trip I can book 2 back to back trips on a mid-range boat like Humboldt Explorer or Calypso, which gets me 32 dives (18x2), vs 30 dives offered on 10 day Masters trip. But I will repeat all the land excursions / waste more time sailing back and forth. I do have enough days for this. There is no tip $/% stipulated on Humblodt or Calypso website which makes me think it is more discretionary/not mandatory at 10%.

    3) The cheapest option is Aqua and I am leaning toward doing 2 back to back trips here as she offers 2 different itineraries, one 7 night diving and one 7 night naturalist. So for ~$600 less than 10 day Masters option I can do 14 days with no repeats, seeing all new stuff, but at cost of only having 19 dives, 13 less than option 2.

    Option 2 and 3 I can do in 2021, option 1 I have to wait until 2022. All are within budget but I think option 2 and 3 is better value as both are 14 days vs 10. From brownie’s response I don’t feel like the Master is worth the premium. So I guess it comes down to whether I will have a better experience doing 2 dive trips back to back, or doing a dive trip + a naturalist trip back to back? I have never gone on a naturalist trip before and not sure what to expect.

    Noted on gloves, reef hook, and negative entry- good to know!

    I will be in Komodo and Bali this June where temperatures can get down to 20 degrees, will test my 5mm+3mm shorty+beanie combo and hopefully it’s sufficient. When I looked at monthly temperature variations it says Jan-June is 25-28, July-Dec is 20-25. So if the coldest sites in Sep/Oct is ~15 degree (5 degree less than lower end of range), I will assume Feb-Apr should be ~20 degrees. If anyone has been there in Feb-Apr and can confirm that would be great, as I think Jan is colder still so hoping I won’t encounter 16 degree when I go.
  7. CWK

    CWK Manta Ray

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Probably on a LOB somewhere

    Galapagos Master | Liveaboard | PADI Travel

    Look under “Optional Extras”
  8. chillyinCanada

    chillyinCanada ScubaBoard Supporter Staff Member ScubaBoard Supporter

    What's the point of having 4 more days if you end up with 19 fewer dives? Or have I misunderstood you?
  9. jjmochi

    jjmochi Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Hong Kong
    So 10 nights on the Master is 30 dives. 2 back to back 7n dive trips on Humboldt or Calypso is 32 dives, but at cost of 4 extra nights and $1k more. Is 2 dives worth 4 days of duplicative extra travel, probably not now that I think this through.

    The alternative is 14 nights on Aqua with 7n diving / 19 dives and 7n naturalist cruise. I don't really know what to make of the naturalist cruise option, which is the tradeoff for 11 extra dives on 10n Masters trip. Compared to 2 back to back dive trips there is no duplicative travel/land visit.

    I think I will end up paying a bit more for 10n Masters option but my priority is to pick the option with the best experience.
    chillyinCanada likes this.
  10. jjmochi

    jjmochi Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Hong Kong
    I know they call it optional, but if they are going to give a big speech about it and make you feel bad for giving less then I don't consider it truly optional. Actually on my last liveaboard to the Maldives the crew refused to accept anything less than the suggested amount (which was a reasonable $70) so it was really mandatory and not optional. I wish they would just make it a mandatory service charge and call it a day.

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