Diving with giant manta rays in Ecuador is possible not only in the Galapagos, but also nearer to the coastline, which stretches for over 1,400 miles (2,300 km). Along that coastline, Isla de la Plata (also known as “the poor man’s Galapagos”) has an allure all its own. While overfishing in Isla De la Plata means that there is less marine life around than the Galapagos, the area recently became a no-take fishing zone and thusly marine life is predicted to increase.
Diving Isla de la Plata
Isla de la Plata is only 25 miles (40 km) off the central coast of Ecuador, making it ideal for those limited on either time or money but who still want to experience excellent diving in Ecuador. Isla de la Plata’s standout feature is that it hosts the largest seasonal aggregation of giant manta rays in the world. During peak manta ray season between 50 and 600 individual giant manta rays, each growing up to 23 feet (7 m) wide, have been documented at Isla de la Plata.
A one-hour boat ride from Puerto Lopez takes divers to this amazing site. The manta rays are friendly and inquisitive and often spend 10 to 15 minutes with divers, even following them up to their safety stops.
Currents around Isla de la Plata can get very strong, making it best suited for advanced divers with experience diving in currents. The Humboldt Current brings nutrient-rich water to the area and creates the perfect conditions for manta ray feeding.
While reef mantas are residents of the area, giant mantas travel to Ecuador to mate, feed and clean. The best time to see giant manta rays in Isla de la Plata is between late July and early October. Between 500 and 2,500 humpback whales come to the area during this time to mate and give birth as well. Whale sharks are also in the area around the same time, with peak season falling between June and November. And to top it off, there might even be a chance to see a mola mola.
Isla de la Plata is also a breeding ground for blacktip sharks and there’s abundant macro fauna, such as nudibranchs, as well.
When to visit
The dry season is between June and December with water temperatures between 61 to 73 F (16 and 23 C). During this time the air temperature can be slightly cooler, and the weather overcast. July to October can get windy, making for rougher seas and poorer visibility. During this time visibility can be as low as 10 to 16 feet (3 to 5 m).
During the wet season, between January and June, water temperatures are between 68 to 82 F (20 to 28 C). The air temperature is usually warmer than in the dry season and rain showers often only occur in the afternoon. During this time visibility can be as good as 82 feet (25 m). Only a hand full of dive centers offer trips to Isla de la Plata so pre-booking is essential.