One of my first forays into adventure travel and a lifelong dream come true, I went cage diving with great white sharks off Guadalupe Island in October 2007. I can’t look back at this experience with anything less than a huge grin because it was just so amazing. Now I want to share a little more about shark diving at Guadalupe with you so you can decide for yourself if this is something you’d like to do.
Note that I’m not affiliated with any of the shark diving companies at Guadalupe. I have nothing to gain other than a little bragging (you’ll want to do the same when you check this off your bucket list!). I’m only writing about my experience, with Shark Diver and MV Islander, to add my own voice to this exciting community and to get more people like you excited about this relatively affordable experience of a lifetime.
I should also explain that I booked my trip with Shark Diver, though they subcontracted out to the M/V Islander. Not sure if they’re doing this anymore, but I was very impressed with both outfits. I paid about $2900 USD for the experience, not including airfare to San Diego and 10% tip for the crew. More on this later.
Also – both Shark Diver and MV Islander do CAGE diving at Guadalupe Island. They’re not one of the newer operators who showed up with no experience and decided to one-up the established guys by offering cageless diving at Guadalupe, which is completely irresponsible and risks shutting down the site when something happens.
My Review of Guadalupe Island Shark Diving with M/V Islander
Why I Did it: Because, simply put, this was the highest priority on my Bucket list. Great white sharks have long fascinated me. It comes with bragging rights too. You see things differently after you’ve been within two feet of a 15 foot great white shark. One of my favorite encounters was a brief moment when I made eye contact with this juvenile great white shark you see below. Holding his gaze was very intense – and very exhilarating!
How it Works: The short version? You book a 5 day shark diving trip with one of the operators that dives at Guadalupe Island (about 200 miles south of San Diego). Leaving the latter city, you spend your first day and night slowly chugging to this desolate island, three days diving at the site, and spend your fifth day heading back to San Diego.
When you’re at the site, you’ll go down in groups of four into cages suspended off the bow of the ship. You’ll typically be down for an hour, and rotate with other divers on the boat. You’ll probably (and should) get five one hour dives per day.
Oh wow, there were a bunch of them. Among other things, we saw:
A Shark Breach (see photo at bottom)
Up to 5 Sharks at Once
A Predation (a shark killed a seal!)
Sharks on EVERY Dive
Some VERY Close Passes!
What I Liked About it: Everything. I liked the experience in general, including the guys on the boat and the camaraderie with the other divers. I liked that I could fulfill a lifelong dream and see great white sharks for under $4000 and a short flight away. I liked how professional everyone was. The boat, the food, you name it. They just made the experience so enjoyable. Chef Paul was a stud in the kitchen. Don’t know if he’s still with Islander.
Most of all, though, I liked the sharks, and seeing their different personalities. Just being close enough to see their pupils was intense. But to learn more about each animal – some were shy and really laid back. Others like Shredder were very outgoing and always curious to check things out. They were nothing like JAWs – and to get to know a great white shark individually, wow. That was just awesome.
What I Didn’t Like About It: The only things that stick out were the rough seas on the way back and the extra cost of the 10% tip. For the former, just bring some Dramamine with you if you get sea sick. Regarding tipping, you need to know this is how the shark diving crew at Guadalupe Island pay the rent.
While I don’t like extra costs, the guys on the Islander absolutely busted their humps to make our experience simply amazing and I ended up giving them $400. A 10% tip is pretty standard, so you need to budget for that. Coming from a Canadian, I find it offensive when people whine on TripAdvisor that they shouldn’t have to tip when they visit the United States. Dude, get over it. Budget to tip – or just stay home and do everyone a favour.
What I’d Do Differently: Our divemaster, Luke Tipple (no longer with the company – cool guy though) told us to push ourselves and try to do as many dives as possible to make the experience more memorable. He was right. I only did 2 dives on the first day, and 3 on the second and third.
If I was to go diving at Guadalupe Island again I’d aim for 4 out of the possible 5 dives each day. Yes, you’ll be a little tired, and all 5 dives each day can be exhausting, but I do wish I’d pushed myself a little harder.
My Advice To You: Go shark diving at Guadalupe Island with a company that’s been around for at least 10 years. Do Guadalupe rather than shark diving off the Farallons (sorry guys!) because you’ll get much more diving time and the visibility at Guadalupe can reach 100 feet on a good day.
Final Thoughts on Cage Diving at Guadalupe Island
This is beyond bucket list material – it was at the top of my list. I suspect it’s high on your list as well, if you’re reading this review. Let me make it easy for you and just come out and say it: diving with great white sharks at Guadalupe Island will transform you as a person.
I have to admit that I’m a little concerned the site may get shut down because of a stupid practice called cageless shark diving. The operators who do this are putting everyone at risk, from the divers, and sharks, to the honest companies who put in the elbow grease and set up Guadalupe as a great white shark destination in the first place. I guess the bottom line is you should do this while you can.
So step up and do this soon. Push yourself – try to do four dives each day. Take plenty of pictures and go into this with open mind about great white sharks. Your reward will be an experience you’ll take with you forever.