Los Tuneles and Cabo Rosa: Snorkeling at the Lava Tunnels of Galapagos

Los Tuneles Galapagos
Los Tuneles and Cabo Rosa: Snorkeling at the Lava Tunnels of Galapagos

Galapagos, Isla Isabela, Ecuador. Los Tuneles is considered one of the highlights of Galapagos Island Isabela. At almost every corner in Puerto Villamil you can book snorkeling tours to Los Tuneles and the neighboring Cabo Rosa. Even in the program of the safari ships a stop at Los Tuneles is a fixed component. What is it? Is the place really that beautiful or just over-advertised and overcrowded? Read on and learn more about this bizarre lava landscape and its inhabitants.

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Boote bei Los Tuneles Galapagos
The water at Los Tuneles is crystal clear.

Boat ride through the surreal Lava Landscape Los Tuneles

After about 45 minutes of travel, our boat slows down. We are just before Los Tuneles. The water becomes shallower and shimmers turquoise. It is crystal clear. Bizarrely shaped lava formations emerge from the water to the right and left. Some are completely bare, others are overgrown with candelabra cacti. Our captain skillfully steers the boat through the labyrinth. These unusual channels were formed from lava tunnels that collapsed in on themselves. It soon becomes clear why this place is called "Los Tuneles". After a while, we go alongside another excursion boat and go ashore.

Nazca boobies are one of the three species of boobies native to Isabela.
Frigate Bird
Nazca Booby
Los Tuneles Galapagos
The lava islands are covered with candelabra cacti and opuntia.

Tip: The boat ride to Los Tuneles takes about 45 minutes. You'll have the best view if you sit on the starboard side.

Los Tuneles Galapagos

Hiking over the Lava Islands of Los Tuneles

As expected, we are not the only excursion boat landing here. But the visitor groups spread out so that we hardly notice anything of the other groups.

The lava flows have produced wild formations at Los Tuneles. Former lava tunnels have collapsed and parts of them remained as natural bridges. They connect the small islets, which are very rugged and have many small caves. The lava is partly covered with lichen, in some places, it is covered with white bird droppings. There are the nests of the blue-footed boobies. In one nest there is even a young bird hidden. It can't fly yet and doesn't have blue feet. They turn blue only after about a year.

Kakteen bei Los Tuneles Galapagos
Lava flows created the tunnels and rock arches of Los Tuneles.

Why does the blue-footed booby have blue feet?

The blue feet of the boobies are related to their diet. It is caused by pigments called carotenoids. These are in the fish that the boobies eat. At courtship time, the male struts around in front of the females, conspicuously displaying his feet. The bluer the feet, the more successful the males are with females. This is because the intense color indicates well-fed and healthy mates.

Blaufußtölpel Galapagos
Blue-footed boobies breed on the lava islands near Los Tuneles.

Snorkeling at Cabo Rosa - Sea Turtles, Seahorses, and Sharks

We continue to Cabo Rosa for snorkeling. The water is quite fresh now in January with about 22 degrees. I was glad that we were equipped with shorties by the Isabela Divecenter.

Right at the beginning of our snorkeling tour, a sea turtle welcomes us. With slow flipper strokes, it passes us by. Most of the snorkelers in my group, on the other hand, move less elegantly underwater and soon the water is murky from the swirling sediment. We continue, passing mangrove roots and rocks. Finally, it's time to dive down and I can take a look into a rock cave where some whitetip reef sharks are taking their siesta. During the day they like to rest on the bottom in caves, lava tunnels, or under natural bridges.

Meeresschildkröte Galapagos
Galapagos sea turtle
Almost overlooked: a single seahorse at about 2.5 meters depth
White tip reef sharks

Besides the sea turtles, the seahorse, and the sharks, we were able to see much other fish as well as the red cliff crabs typical for Galapagos. By the way, the smaller, dark crabs are not another species, but the young of the red crabs.

Conclusion: Is a visit to Los Tuneles and Cabo Rosa in Galapagos worthwhile?

The landscape of Los Tuneles is uniquely beautiful, and the wildlife is varied and impressive. Therefore, I can recommend the tour to Los Tuneles to everyone who comes to the Galapagos Island Isabella. However, you can see the place underwater that here every day hordes of tourists plow up the water. The swirled-up suspended matter has settled on the vegetation and many a surface underwater is grazed or trodden flat.

Los Tuneles Galapagos
Our entrance into the labyrinth of Los Tuneles.

What I unfortunately missed was an announcement from our guide about how we should behave underwater in a nature-friendly way. That one should not chase sea turtles and that one should not touch them does not seem to be self-evident.

To show proper respect to the place and the animals and plants living here, do not stand on the vegetation and do not touch anything. Please be careful not to stir up sediment with your fins. This is easily done by moving your fins with the so-called Frog Kick. This is very similar to the normal leg kick in normal swimming.

What is the difference between the snorkeling site Las Tintoteras, right in front of the harbor of Isla Isabela? At Los Tuneles you have the more beautiful scenery above and below the water and the water is also a bit warmer. However, at Las Tintoteras you can see the rare Galapagos penguins and you have a shorter approach. White tip reef sharks and sea turtles are present at both snorkeling sites. And both have an equal number of tour groups.

Los Tuneles Galapagos
Impressive landscape - above and under water.

Book Recommendations for Galapagos

You want to know where the journey goes? Then I can recommend these books*.

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Have you ever been to Galapagos, maybe even to Los Tuneles or Cabo Rosa? How did you like it? Do you have any questions about my article? If yes, then write me a comment!

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Recommendations for further Reading

Do you love wildlife as much as I do? Then you might also be interested in my articles about the King Penguins of Tierra del Fuego or Diving with Sea Lions near La Paz, Mexico.

The King Penguins of Tierra del Fuego

Tauchen mit Seelöwen bei La Paz - ein tierisches Vergnügen!
Diving with the Sea Lions from La Paz - A Belly Rub for a Sea Lion


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