Your Travel Guide To The Galapagos Islands
A trip to the Galapagos Islands is undoubtedly one of those experiences that will leave a lasting impression on your psyche. Famed for its variety of endemic wildlife as well as its impressive landscapes that range from volcanoes to stunning beaches, the Galapagos Islands are a must visit destination for lovers of the natural world. Here are the top 10 Galapagos Islands Travel Tips you need to know before you go.
Top 10 Galapagos Islands Travel Tips:
The enchanting beauty of the Galapagos Islands makes it a destination many are eager to cross off their bucket lists, and it’s interesting geological past combined with lush, verdant scenery make it both an educational and recreational experience for travelers.
Part of the Republic of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands form the Galapagos Province of Ecuador as well as the Galapagos National Park and the Galapagos Marine Reserve. The archipelago is comprised of 19 islands that are located approximately 1,000 km away from the Ecuadorian coast in the Pacific Ocean, and are volcanic in origin.
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To this day the islands feature a grand total of 13 volcanoes with eruptions occurring every couple of years. The landscape of the Galapagos has been formed in part by these eruptions, creating beautiful black sand beaches and other fascinating geological landmarks.
Perhaps one of the most notable aspects of the Galapagos Islands is its variety of native wildlife species. Because the Galapagos were formed by volcanic activity, the islands were never connected to a landmass, which means that all wildlife arrived to the islands either by air or sea.
For this reason, there are very few natural predators on the island and most animals are more than comfortable with up close and personal human interaction. Some of the native species you’ll enjoy seeing on the islands include the Galapagos Tortoise (which has an average lifespan of more than 150 years), the marine iguana, penguins, sea lions, and a number of bird species including the highly unique flightless cormorant.
Observing the native wildlife is perhaps one of the most exciting things about a trip to the Galapagos, and should no doubt be incorporated into your experience.
One important thing to note is that in order to preserve the natural ecology of the island, many of its areas are protected and require the accompaniment of a licensed guide. Another thing to note is that there are few ATMs on the island, and although many stores and boutique’s do accept credit cards, it’s advised to take out as much cash as you can in advance.
Conditions in the Galapagos are ideal year-round for visitation, and temperatures generally range from 69°- 84°F. Despite the fact the islands are located close to the equator, the climate in the Galapagos is not tropical. The year is typically split into two seasons: the warm season, which ranges from January to June, and the dry season, which stretches from July to December.
During the warm season expect a unique mixture of warmth, sunshine, and some afternoon rain showers. Because the ocean temperatures are also warmer during this time, it is great for swimming and snorkeling. Average temperatures during the warm season range from 80°F to 90°F, and this is an excellent time of year to observe birds mating and to see sea turtles nest on the beaches.
The dry season is marked by cooler temperatures on both land and in water, as well as cloudier skies. The cooler weather provides the perfect breeding ground for plankton and other nutrients, making it the ideal time to observe sea birds and penguins feeding. The dry season is also the mating time for the Blue-Footed Boobies and short-eared owls.
The humpback whale is one of the Galapagos Island’s few migratory species, and they typically arrive in the surrounding ocean between the months of June to September. If tiny baby seals are what you’re after, arrive in August when they are born, or wait until November to watch them learn how to swim. For sea turtle lovers, arrive earlier on in the year to watch the mothers lay their eggs on the beach, or arrive two months later when they hatch to watch them crawl out to sea.
What better way to awaken your children to the magic of the animal kingdom and the beauty of the natural world than a trip to the Galapagos Islands? The Galapagos Islands make for an excellent family vacation because of the never-ending list of things to see and do and the variety of guided and educational tours.
The Galapagos Islands are a fantasy for many children, and being able to safely approach and interact with the wildlife makes it an experience they are not soon to forget. When booking your trip, bear in mind that there are excursions that cater specifically to families with children to make your experience more enjoyable.
For example, the “Best of Galapagos & Ecuador for Families” trip offered by Latin Excursions offers 15 days of uninterrupted fun, starting off with the “Galapagos Safari Day Adventure” complete with arts and crafts activities for the kids. The “Embark Galapagos Cruise” portion of the trip starts the next day and retraces Charles Darwin’s 8-day cruise to the western islands. If your kids are beach lovers, not to worry – there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the pristine waters of the Galapagos while getting up close and personal with sea turtles, small rays, and sea lions.
Other fun activities for kids include kayaking, which gives children a way to safely explore the water while catching glimpses of wildlife beneath the ocean surface. The Charles Darwin Research Center is another great option for kids as it features an exhibition hall, native gardens, a public library, as well as staff members that are well versed on the variety of wildlife on the islands. The center has worked on conservation, restoration, and sustainable development on the archipelago for decades.
Commercial flights are the only way to get to the Galapagos Islands, and all visitors must fly to Ecuador first before arriving. Contrary to popular belief, there is no boat or cruise that takes visitors from the mainland to the islands.
The only flights available are from Quito or Guayaquil, both of which offer morning flights to the islands. Flights from Guayaquil are approximately two hours long, and are only half an hour from Quito.
An overnight stay in either city is recommended since flights leave in the morning. However, both Quito and Guayaquil are destinations in their own right, and offer plenty of sightseeing options and should you wish to stay longer.
Learn more about Flights to the Galapagos Islands.
Cruises are an excellent way to experience the Galapagos Islands as they provide you with a greater amount of time to explore without the hassle of having to travel to and from your hotel by boat each day.
On cruises, you can sit back, relax, and wake up each morning in a new exciting destination without needing to map out a plan.
The Galapagos National Park has restricted the number of passengers on each boat to 100 as to not overload the beaches. Luckily, Latin Excursions’ selection of small ships offer a more intimate and personalized experience for those traveling to the Galapagos.
When selecting your package, you can choose from variety of luxury yachts including the brand new Ocean Spray megayacht catamaran, which offers space for 16 guests in cabins that are spacious, and equipped with their own private balconies.
Larger expedition cruises, such as the National Geographic Islander, are only allowed to reach the maximum of 100 guests per ship, so while not as intimate as the smaller ships, they are still less crowded than more traditional cruises. The benefits of larger capacity boats are the number of onboard amenities, which can include medical facilities and guest lectures.
Discover the Top 10 Beaches in the Galapagos.
If you want to book lodging on land and explore the islands from your hotel, there are plenty of options for you to do just that.
Located on the remote island of Santa Cruz and across the bay from Puerto Ayora, the Finch Bay Eco hotel offers guests a luxurious stay that is close to nature. This award winning eco-friendly hotel provides beachfront access as well as plenty of day trips to nearby islands by yacht with experienced guides.
The hotel is located on the carless side of the island, so guests can get around comfortably on bicycle. Activities such as scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing, bird watching, sea kayaking, bay tours, and much more are available at this hotel.
Another excellent on-land option is the Galapagos Safari Camp Hotel, which is a great choice for families with children. This hotel is also located on Santa Cruz island and offers incredible sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean from its many balconies. Inspired by African safaris, the Galapagos Safari Camp Hotel is surrounded by nature and gives guests the feel of being completely in tune with nature.
Guests can choose to stay in either the unique “luxury safari tents,” which are raised on wooden platforms and offer ocean views, or if traveling with a large party they can book the family safari suite which offers three bedrooms and is located next to the main lodge.
The hotel offers excursions to wildlife reserves and volcanoes as well as opportunities to dive and hike.
Another lodging option is the Pikaia Lodge Hotel, also located on the island of Santa Cruz. The unique highlight of this hotel is that it features its very own 105-foot exploration yacht, offering guests the chance to explore surrounding islands that are less frequented by tourists. Guests can take a dive off of the yacht deck, relax in the hot tub, on the sundeck, or even take a fishing class from one of the trained local fishermen.
Additional features and amenities at the hotel include a private giant tortoise reserve on the premises, an infinity edge pool, spa, and art and photography exhibit.
Lastly, The Villa Amarilla on Santa Cruz is a great option for those who want an intimate seaside experience. Offering “old world” charm, the Villa Amarilla was built to resemble a Tuscan style villa, and offers five large bedrooms, each with an ocean front terrace. Amenities at the hotel include a swimming pool, Jacuzzi, and an outdoor BBQ among others.
Families can take daily excursions from the hotel including snorkeling, diving, kayaking, hiking, and more.
Because the Galapagos Islands are located at the intersection of three different ocean currents, the varying temperatures mix to create a nutrient rich water that attracts a variety of species unlike anywhere else on earth.
Scuba diving provides an excellent opportunity for visitors to experience the wealth of wildlife beneath the ocean surface and come into contact with some truly fascinating species.
A few animals divers can expect to see include marine iguanas, fur seals, penguins, and sea lions, depending on where they dive.
Another wonderful benefit of the diving in the Galapagos is the high visibility, making it one of the most sought after diving locations in the world.
Some islands are more well-known than others for their dives, and “El Arco” at Darwin Island definitely tops the list. This spot is home to massive schools of hammerhead sharks, tiger sharks, turtles, whale sharks, and manta rays.
Other great dives on Darwin Island include “El Arenal,” at Darwin’s Arch, which features an abundance of marine life including big-eye jacks, more hammerhead sharks, and blacktip sharks.
Roca Redonda, located off the north coast of Isabela Island is another favorite for divers in the Galapagos. Divers can look forward to seeing Galapagos sharks, barracudas, sea lions, and even sea horses at this site.
Be aware that all divers must be certified in open water scuba diving before they attempt to dive, and some recommend an Advanced Open Water Diver certificate in order to dive in the Galapagos.
The wildlife on the Galapagos Islands is perhaps one of its best known attributes, and it continues to draw large numbers of tourists year after year. Because the islands are so remote, the number of endemic species on each individual island is unlike anywhere else on earth.
Many of the native species on the islands are either reptiles or birds due to the ease with which they were able to arrive to the islands, but be on the lookout for a few mammal species as well, including sea lions and the Galapagos fur seal.
The Galapagos Tortoise is one of the most iconic animals on the islands, and the islands themselves were actually named after the reptile, as the word “Galapagos” is taken from the old Spanish word for tortoise.
The Galapagos Tortoise is the world’s largest tortoise species and can reach an impressive 500 pounds. The largest diversity of Galapagos Tortoise subspecies can be found on Isabella Island, which is also home to the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center where visitors can get a close view of tortoises at various stages of life.
The marine iguana is another iconic species living on the Galapagos that visitors have come to know and love. It is the only species of iguana that is not based on land, and it adapted after many years on the island to be able to swim in the ocean in search of food. Visitors won’t have to go far to find a marine iguana as they inhabit every one of the Galapagos Islands.
More wildlife of interest includes Darwin’s Finches, also known as the Galapagos Finches, which are comprised of 13 species of finches native to the islands. The finches are widely known to have contributed to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution because of the unique features they developed due to their environmental conditions.
Be on the lookout for The Galapagos Penguin, the Blue Footed Booby, the Galapagos Green Turtle, as well as many other species on your Galapagos adventure. Keep in mind that the Galapagos Islands are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and as such are highly protected. There are certain limitations required of visitors, including not being allowed to pick flowers or remove rocks, not feeding the animals, not handling or touching the animals, not taking any food to the islands, and other regulations. You can find a full list of park rules here.
There are so many things to do on the Galapagos Islands that its best to have a rough outline of where you want to go and what you want to do before you head there. While the number of things to do is truly endless, there are a few places and experiences you’re definitely going to want to check off your list before you leave.
Tortuga Bay, located on Santa Cruz Island is a popular point of interest due to its beautiful white sand beaches as well as being a great spot for snorkeling. Here you’ll find calm, warm waters for swimming, as well as a variety of small sharks, iguanas, and other animals swimming in the clear waters. Visitors can either take the roughly one-hour walk to this beach from the main water taxi dock in town, or take a water taxi from Puerto Ayora, which costs $10.50 each way.
If you want to take a walk among the Galapagos Tortoises, the El Chato reserve is the perfect place to do it. Also located on Santa Cruz island, this reserves provides plenty of acreage for the iconic tortoise to roam freely. Admission to the reserve costs $3.000 and includes a guided tour, as well as access to the property’s lava tunnels. Feel free to approach the tortoises and be sure to take plenty of photographs.
Los Tuneles are another great point of interest for visitors, and most especially for those who want to scuba dive. This location is known as one of the best for diving, and provides crystal clear water to explore amidst a series of arcs and tunnels that were created from cooled lava. Snorkelers and divers alike can weave in and out of the tunnels and spot turtles, sea horses, and a number of sharks.
The best time to visit the tunnels are between the months of January and May when the waves are not as strong.
Read More: Top 5 Reasons to go to the Galapagos Islands
This final Galapagos Islands travel tip helps you get the most out of your journey. If you have time either before or after your Galapagos experience to explore further, Peru and Ecuador are easy side trips to make. Because all flights must pass through either Quito or Guayaquil before entering the Galapagos Islands, a trip to Ecuador is a highly convenient one to tack on.
If you want to explore Ecuador’s capital, Quito before you take off for the Galapagos, popular sites in this colonial city include the “Ciudad Mitad del Mundo,” which is located 26 km north of Quito, officially marking the exact location of the equator, the Pichincha Volcano, and the Basilica del Voto Nacional, which is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas. The historical center of Quito is a destination in its own right, and has been named one of the largest, least-altered, and and best preserved in the Americas.
Guayaquil meanwhile, is Ecuador’s largest and most populous city and offers an equally interesting mix of activities. While there, be sure to visit the famous “Malecon 2000,” a boardwalk that parallels the Rio Guayas, with food stands and a variety of historical and modern buildings along the way. Take a stroll through the historic Las Penas neighborhood while admiring the brightly colored houses, or stop by the Parque Historico to round out your stay.
A side trip to Peru, while a little further off track, is another way to make the most of your time in South America. The ruins of Machu Picchu are one of its most iconic landmarks, and are worthy of an extended visitation if time permits. If you’re looking to take a shorter trip, the capital and coastal city of Lima is filled with an eclectic mix of museums, historical landmarks, and of course, delicious Peruvian food.