The Galapagos Islands played a vital role in formulating Darwin’s theory of evolution. That should tell you a lot about the islands and why Galapagos Islands travel is so popular.
They are actually a group of volcanic islands that are inhabited by some rare species of bird, animal life, and marine life.
Galapagos Islands, in Ecuador, have been recognized as one of the best spots for diving around the world. The ecosystem of the region has been under threat for long. However, in the past few years, efforts have been to preserve the rich natural beauty of the place.
Situated 965km (600 miles) off the coast of Ecuador, this isolated haven of biodiversity remains nature’s greatest nature collection, home to an exciting selection of birds, reptiles, fish and mammals that you won’t find anywhere else.
Galapagos Islands Travel Guide
Here is everything that you need to know for traveling to Galapagos Islands.
When is the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands?
The Galapagos is visited all year round, but most people select the holiday / vacation periods (i.e., Christmas/New Year’s, Easter, summer holidays/vacations).
These periods sell out up to one year in advance (or more!).
The warmest period (air & water temperatures) generally run from November through to April. The coldest (and generally has more turbulent seas) are generally September and October. June through September is normally characterized by the presence of whales in Galapagos (mainly off the coasts of the western islands of Isabela & Fernandina).
Most of the wildlife is present all year round (although in different activities depending on the month in question). The Waved Albatross (usually present on Espanola only from March to December), and whales (usually only present between June and September) have very distinct calendars.
February through to April are the most desirable months. During this period, the islands not only adopt an emerald-green color, and turn humid and balmy warm, but many species start reproducing now.
- Calmest waters;
- The hottest period in Galapagos (water & air temperatures);
- The islands are generally a lush green due to high humidity & scattered showers;
- Most animals are in the height of reproduction, courting and/or nesting;
- Reproduction of land reptiles, as well as land birds.
For those sensitive to motion or sea-sickness, there are two factors to keep in mind:
- Time of year: try to avoid late August through to October – as the seas are generally more turbulent this time of the year.
- Try to avoid the sailing (or motor sailed) boats.
- (a) the narrower the boat the more prone it is to rocking in the open waters, while the wider (and heavier) the boat is the more stable it is.
- (b) The most stable are the large cruise ships (i.e., Eclipse, Galapagos Explorer II, Isabela II, La Pinta etc) and the motor catamarans (i.e., Athala, Anahi, Archipel I & II etc), followed by the wider motor boats and then down to the narrow sailing boats.
Things to do on Galapagos Islands
There is plenty to do on the Galapagos Islands.
Here are a few travel tips for you:
- Climb the hill on Bartolome for the classic Galapagos view.
- Visit the Giant Tortoise breeding centre at the Charles Darwin Research Centre on Santa Cruz.
- See the red neck sacks of the Magnificent Frigatebird on Seymour.
- Visit unique species like the Galapagos penguin and Galapagos flamingo on Isabela or Floreana.
- Go snorkeling as often as possible. Snorkeling and diving are very popular activities as the sea life is so rich and colourful. Snorkeling equipment should be available from your tour operator (but check first) if you don’t have your own. You may also want to bring a waterproof camera. Remember to wear at least a T-shirt and suntan lotion if you are snorkeling, as it’s all too easy to get sunburnt in the strong sun.
- Diving in the Galapagos is incredible as noted by Rodale’s Scuba Diving Magazine. Ranked as the best dive destination in the world for several years in the categories of Healthiest Marine Environment, Best Big Animal Dive and Best Advanced Diving. Of course it’s hard to say what the best is, but for sure it will be good!
Experiencing the Galapagos Islands by boat
Seeing the sites and wildlife of the Galapagos is best done by boat.
Most people book their place well in advance (as the boats are usually full during the high season). Booking a boat tour with a company in your home country is usually the most convenient, but is often considerably more expensive.
Boat tours can also be arranged from Guayaquil, Quito, and even from Puerto Ayora. While it is possible to get a last-minute deal, be aware that many budget tours may spend extra time in Puerto Ayora, might not have the best boats, and may only visit the inner islands.
In either case, when looking for a tour consider the following:
- Number of passengers
Many of the sites in the islands are limited in how many people may visit at any given time, so it is generally best to travel on a boat with fewer passengers (between ten and twenty passengers is ideal).
Fernandina, Isabela, and Genovesa islands are three of the most interesting islands in the archipelago, but many tours skip these islands and visit only the inner islands.
Most of the best cruises are booked up months in advance, so best to book early.
- Level of Activity
Landings are only permitted during the twelve hours of daylight, so try to find a trip that takes advantage of daylight hours. In addition, the aquatic life is the highlight of the trip for many visitors, so be sure to find a tour that includes at least one daily snorkel.
- Additional costs
Many tours do not include the $100 park entry fee or the cost of a flight from the mainland to the islands (apx. $400 from Quito).
Another possibility is island hopping. There are a few companies that offer island hopping inclusive packages to the Galapagos. This has been described as a more sustainable economic and ecological model for tourism in the islands.
Galapagos travel tours
There are a few tour companies that organise Galapagos travel tours including a Galapagos cruise and visits to the main spots.
Some of the companies organising Galapagos Islands holidays include:
- GAdventures: ranging from seven to ten day tours.
- GetYourGuide: ranging from Galapagos day trips to a five-day nature tour.
- IntrepidTravel: ranging from eight days to 24 days including Galapagos island hopping and a tour that pairs with a Peru adventure.
You can travel to Galapagos Islands independently
A lot of people don’t know it, but the Galapagos can be done independently. There are small boats every day between the 3 bigger islands of San Cristóbal, Santa Cruz and Isla Isabela. They cost $40 one-way, but some people have got them for $35 when they ordered a return-ticket with an open return date. From these island you can do organized daytrips, but there are also a lot of things you can do on your own. There are hotels and hostels on most of the islands ranging from $35-$500+ which often do not need to be booked in advance. Many hotels and hostels arrange day tours. However, most tour agencies operate on Santa Cruz Island around the waterfront where day trips of all kind are offered.
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