Isabela: Deepwater Snorkel

Tuesday, 10 July (Part II)

After returning from our zodiac ride in Elizabeth Bay (post here), we had free time aboard the ship while the second group went out for their ride.  We took advantage of this time to relax on deck 6 and keep an eye out for whales and dolphins.  No luck with any sightings.

Once the second group returned to the ship shortly before noon, the Xpedition weighed anchor and started the short transit north to the site of our afternoon activities — Caleta Tagus (Tagus Cove) — via the Bolivar Channel between Isabela and Fernandina islands.

The arrow points to the site of our two afternoon activities.
[map courtesy of the website]

The transit took about 2 hours, which gave us time to have lunch on deck 5 (carried from the Italian buffet featured in the Darwin Restaurant).  The BBC film, Galápagos (Part II), was being screened in the Discovery Lounge after lunch.  Having watched the entire series shortly before we left on our trip, we skipped the documentary and relaxed on deck 6 instead — reading (me) and napping (Mui).

At our Caleta Tagus anchorage, the zodiacs are readied for the first afternoon activity.

At 3:00p, Mui joined the rest of the snorkelers for the deepwater experience.  Different from the off-beach snorkels, this one left directly from the ship and participants had to get in/out of the water from the panga via a ladder.

For this snorkeling experience, those participating gear up on deck 3 aft before …

… they take off to the snorkeling site by zodiac.

This activity was billed as suitable for advanced snorkelers.  What that really meant was that those participating needed to be comfortable in depths where there was no possibility of standing to rest.  (Mui didn’t use one, but snorkeling vests were available.)

Mui said the currents were stronger, so you had to be more careful about being washed up against the rocky shoreline.  Also, because the water was open to the sea, visibility wasn’t very good, either.  The murkiness could have been due to plankton and other microscopic life in the water.  After all, there is a reason why this area is popular with dolphins and whales.

That description of the deepwater experience is all well and good, but that wasn’t the first thing out of his mouth when he returned to the ship.  When I asked him how it was, “Coooooldddd,” was his response.  And yes, he stretched out the word :-)  Regardless, he had a big grin on his face, so I know he enjoyed himself.

Here’s a bit from Mui’s snorkeling experience; you can see how much stronger the
currents were from the movement of the camera, especially when he was
swimming with the Galápagos green turtles.

So what did I do while Mui was off snorkeling?  I wandered around the ship, taking photos of the graffiti on the cliffs.  Historically, Caleta Tagus was an anchorage spot for pirates, whalers, and wayfarers who carved the names of their ships on the rocks.  The oldest of these apparently date back to 1836 and 1846.  The practice is now prohibited, of course; but I did see some that were dated as late as 2007.

Can you see the graffiti on the cliffs?  Look at the striated rocks?  Still not seeing them ...

… how about now?
Labeling the graffiti as historic still doesn’t make it right (IMHO).

The graffiti documented, I took advantage of one of the umbrella-shaded tables at the Beagle Grill to enjoy a cold beverage and some reading time until the snorkel pangas started to trickle back to the ship.

Mui’s smiling; must’ve been a good snorkel!

Time to get ready for the next activity of the afternoon!


  1. Holy Carapace!
    Green Turtle collision imminent!!
    Would have risked hypothermia for this view :))))))

  2. Even though I am a good swimmer, and am not afraid of deep water, I still don't like those off the boat snorkels...even for a green turtle. There are just too many big scary things down there! give me a nice tropical beach with white sand and warm turquoise water and a reef or two. what a wuss, right!?

    1. Hey, I don't even do the beach snorkels. I guess that makes me the bigger wuss. :-)))

  3. Fantastic blog! BIG THANK YOU!
    I really can't wait for the upcoming parts (they can't be here soon enough). I will be going on the Celebrity Xpedition B tour and it is really good to know what's in store so I can prepare properly. Thinking about buying my own wetsuit.

    Would you recommend the 2mm some books mention or thicker (say 4mm)? Because I quickly get cold in the water.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. The return address said, no reply, so I hope you'll come back here for the answer. I checked with my husband, and he says he thinks the wetsuits Celebrity gave out were 4 mm. Unless you anticipate using wetsuits in the future, you might skip the idea of buying your own. Instead, consider buying a full body snorkel skin (some call them rash guards). It adds a layer of insulation, packs easy, and is lightweight. The skin also makes it easier to pull on the wetsuit.

      You can also pose your question on CruiseCritic. There is a thread (two actually, but part I is closed) that is all about the Xpedition trips to the Galapagos. (Link to CruiseCritic Forum Thread)

  4. Hello Erin, thanks for your reply. I do check back. It's that I prefer not to have my emailaddress on blogs since there are automated bots that gather these for spammers. And I already receive enough spam mails. :-(

    I found that a 4mm wetsuit would cost about 120 US. But I would only be using it for this cruise. How well does the skin insulate?

    Thanks for that link to the forum.

    1. I understand your concern about spam and having your email out there. After a while, I gave up on the first email account I ever created and just use it online ... a second email address never gets put on the web :-)))

      Since insulation is all about trapping air between body and garments, essentially what wearing the skin does is create one more air layer ... body-air-skin-air-wetsuit. Not sure I can quantify how much more insulation the body skin adds since how cold or how hot one gets is a matter of one's own body function. I will say this. On the last outing after wetsuits had already been collected by Celebrity, Mui swam for about an hour with just the snorkel skin. He said he was fine with just the skin. Of course, that was in relatively shallow water off a beach and it was a hot, sunny afternoon. Keep in mind that time of year will make a difference, too. In case you have not already seen this webpage, check out this link
      for more info on seasonal water temps.

    2. I myself have very little fit (quite skinny), which has the disadvantage of cooling very quickly.
      I am wondering, would Celebrity also collect the wetsuit to rinse and hang if it's your own wetsuit?

      The skin might be a good option considering the amount of luggage you can bring.

      I also love the photos you took. I myself am a Nikon user. I have a D700 (full frame) and am thinking of bringing my (1300 grams heavy) 80-200mm F2.8 lens. Also I have a teleconverter 1.7. I see you used a 2x teleconverter.
      I think I will stick with the 1.7 since it's another 500 US to buy a 2x teleconverter.

      Which were the lenses you used most frequently?
      I read reports of people saying the telelens was sometimes not handy because the animals came to close. What lens did you use then?

      I will buy a separate underwater camera (not too expensive though).
      And I have to buy lots more memory cards and will bring a hard disk backup.

    3. I don't think Celebrity cares whether it's your own wetsuit or not. You do the rinsing in the tubs on deck 3, put it on a hanger that has your cabin number on it, and give it to the naturalist to hang on the rack. The wetsuits won't always be completely dry, by the way ... esp. if you snorkel in the morning as well as the afternoon. And yes, the skin can be tucked into a corner of your bag; takes up no space. By the way ... don't leave any handwash to dry in the bathroom; it will take forever. We used hangers and suction cups (see picture in the Xpedition: Around the Ship post), but most people rig up a clothesline in the cabin.

      I'm a Canon user myself ... you'll be fine with your 1.7x extender and as long as you have high rez photos you can crop them later if necessary. I had two other questions about the camera equipment, so I'm doing a quick post on our camera bags next. But to quickly answer your question, I used the 70-200 almost exclusively for wildlife shots. I made a conscious decision not to focus on birds, etc. that might be swimming nearby ... if you plan to photograph them, you'll want a polarizer. I didn't want to mess with a polarizer; esp. in the zodiacs where I felt losing another stop or two would adversely affect photos.

  5. Thanks for the clothes line tip. I just came across it on another site as well. So I've marked it to bring it.

    I am quite small and would prefer a long sleeved wetsuit, hopefully they have it. Will have to go to a shop and ask about a skin and see if they have warm ones too :-)

    I was thinking about buying a 24-120mm F4 lens and bringing my 80-200mm F2.8 in combination with the 1.7 converter. And also my 50mm F1.4.
    It will be hard to leave my 85mm F1.8 and 180mm F2.8 at home. They are really fine lenses. But since I do want to be able to photograph animals that are close by and not having to choose between too many lenses I think two lense will be best. One for close by and one for long distance.

    The photos you took at 400mm look absolutely sharp. Really well done. I don't know what distance you were, but at 400mm it's hard.

    1. Minimum number of lenses will be best; it really is fast paced on land. Some of my favorite parts of the trip were when I was by myself on the beach because I could walk at my own pace, sit and enjoy the wildlife, take my time photographing, etc. Of course, if you plan to snorkel, you won't be able to do that. As for shooting wildlife that was close by, I don't think we were ever so close that I wished for a smaller lens. That's not to say that your experience will be the same as mine, of course.

      The 70-200 f2.8 performs beautifully; I'm very happy with it both with and without extenders. Glad I broke down and replaced my much lighter 70-200 f4 with this one before the trip. The extra weight was well worth it :-) (I have a few photos posted at this link from when I took it out for a test run with the extender before our GI trip.)

    2. would it be possible to come back to the beach after a walk, then make a couple of photographs and go into the water snorkeling a little later? Or do you have to come with them onto the zodiaxc for the snorkel?

      I bought the 80-200mm before I knew about the 70-200mm F2.8 which Nikon also has. In hindsight I should have bought the latest 70-200mm. However the 80-200mm is also very sharp, it is slightly lighter in weight. It means I have to start training my left arm for holding the camera all these full days.

    3. The beach snorkels are always after the group walks, so you're not going to a separate site via zodiac. You also don't stay with your own group once the walk is done, so you can always take the last panga back to the ship. That doesn't necessarily mean you'll have more time, though, because when the time comes, the naturalists will hustle you out of the water. Only 45-60 minutes are allowed for the snorkel/beach portion of the landing.

      You can certainly split your after-walk time between a beach walk and the snorkel. But it takes time to get ready to go snorkeling once you return to the beach and then you need to swim out a bit to see the interesting stuff. So, you might be short changing yourself in the snorkeling department if you split your time. If you do your own relaxed 'beach time' for photos first, you might also get distracted and not leave yourself enough time for snorkeling. In a few instances, like with the sea lions at the snorkeling site on Rabida, the wildlife will be right there, but so will everyone else. My best experiences were further down the beach where there were few others, because most were snorkeling and didn't venture out as far down the beach.

      For me, it was easy to pick the walk over the snorkeling -- I don't snorkel, period. If I did, I probably would have done the snorkeling instead of the walk. It's a difficult decision to be sure. If you think you might split your time, then I definitely would not invest in a personal wetsuit, because I don't think you'll get enough use out of it to make it worth the price.

      My suggestion would be to play it by ear; see what's on the beaches when you arrive; talk to the naturalists about what you might see or not see if you snorkel, then decide on one or the other. But that's just me :-))

      Whatever you do, don't stress over the pace of the group walks and whether you'll have a chance to take good photos ... you will; you just might not be able to take your time as much as you would if you were on your own. This is the price we pay for visiting the Galapagos.

      As for the weight of the lens ... I hear what you're saying as my 70-200 is no lightweight. In the end, it wasn't too bad to handhold for periods of time, and your arms do get a break while you're walking.

    4. thanks for your reply. It will be good to know it's possible to split the time.

      How far down the beach were you allowed to go?

      Your advice on checking with the guides is a good one (I will also bring a guidebook that describes the wildlife on the sites). Then I can compare and choose.
      10 minutes on the beach and half an hour snorkelling would actually be just fine for me I think. I hear what you say about being further out.
      At first I thought I wouldn't be doing the expert snorkelling, but after reading that's it's 30 feet deep and you have to get off from the panga I know I will be okay. It's just strong currents and waves I don't like.

      I think I will be buying a skin (and advise my parents to buy one as well). Since they are small easy to pack. We come from a family that gets easily cold in the water. In the past I snorkelled at the barrier reef and hired a wetsuit for the day. Even though the water temp there is 27 degrees Celsius after half an hour I would have been too cold and would have to quit. Now I was able to continue.

      I know for certain it will mean the last Panga for me (probably every day).

    5. Distances varied by size of the beach. Rabida, if I recall correctly was the shortest beach, primarily because of a landslide at the far end.

      The expert snorkeling will have the coldest waters as one might expect. You can get back into the zodiac to warm up, but I don't recall seeing any of the zodiacs coming back until the time was up.

      The skins are handy for snorkeling anywhere ... before he bought the full body, hubby used just a snorkeling top religiously in the Caribbean - great protection from the sun.

  6. Well, went today to a diving shop. They recommended a 3mm wetsuit with long sleeves and legs (2mm). The person said that a rash guard would only protect against the sun and would hardly give extra warmth.
    And I know I get cold very quickly. The 3 or 5mm he though would be too thick and not flexible enough.

    So it looks like we will be buying a wetsuit. Price is 150 US so not that much compared to the trip. Also I'd prefer having my own wetsuit that properly fits and has long sleeves (all three of us are small, so they may not have that many small long sleeved suits).
    Will also looking for glasses, because those will need to fit properly too plus my dad would like them with prescription.

  7. It's all about thermoregulation and everyone is different. If you feel the $ outlay is worth it, then you should do buy the wetsuit. For hubby, the skin plus the long-sleeved, short-legged suit worked. Perhaps now that you have your own wetsuit, you'll find other opportunities to use it. As I noted before, if you're going to spend the money and carry your own wetsuit, forget the beach time and focus on the snorkeling -- 10 mins on the beach isn't going to do that much for you; could make all the difference in what you see in the water.

    Whatever you decide ... relax and have fun.