The Galapagos Islands pique travelers’ curiosity for countless reasons. From photos of marine iguanas plunging into dazzling waters, or documentaries about unique endemic species, to Darwin’s famous theory of evolution, the islands are renowned for it all. Whatever your interest, the allure of this remote Ecuadorian archipelago is undeniable.
Breathtaking examples of natural history can be seen on display across the Galapagos. Here, the indigenous species of flora and fauna are unlike any you will find elsewhere. Luckily for visitors, the islands’ curious critters, like sea lions, marine iguanas, and penguins, are also unafraid of humans.
There are many ways to visit the Galapagos. Set out on sailing tours from a comfortable island hotel or disembark your luxury cruise liner onto the most isolated islands. No matter your choice, thrilling excursions on the islands and in its surrounding seas are truly unforgettable.
18 main islands, 3 small islands, and 107 rocky islets make up the Galapagos archipelago. They straddle both sides of the Equator, 620 miles (1,000 km) off the coast of Ecuador. In total, the islands spread over 17,000 square miles (45,000 km²) of ocean.
Volcanic activity was the driving force behind the islands' creation. Geologists date the beginning of their formation to at least 20 million years ago, and the volcanic activity continues to this day. In fact, Isabela Island has five active volcanoes, while Fernandina is also an active volcanic island.
Although located on the Equator, the surrounding water is cold. This is due to the Humboldt Current that flows up from the Antarctic. Thanks to this current, the waters are rich in nutrients, making the perfect habitat for a variety of marine life.
0 to 5,600 ft (0-1,707 m)
Highest point: Wolf Volcano, Isabela Island
Climate & Weather
The Galapagos Islands enjoy warm temperatures all year round. There are two seasons: a warmer season and a cooler season. The cold Humboldt Current also causes frequent drizzles (or garúa) throughout the year. El Niño, which happens every 3 to 7 years, brings warm water to the islands and depletes its nutrients. La Niña, on the other hand, brings colder, even more nutrient-rich water. This causes an explosion of marine life.
Being such a diverse destination, the climate can vary from island to island. For example, some highland islands have tropical woodland climates. Other lowland islands have more arid or semi-arid climates.
From December to May
Average daytime temperature: 79-88°F (26-31°C)
Average nighttime temperature: 72-75°F (22-24°C)
Average ocean temperatures: 70°-80°F (21-26°C)
Although drizzle is infrequent, rain showers are stronger during the warmer season. Despite this, most days will be warm and sunny. The sea is much smoother during this season.
From June to November
Average daytime temperature: 79-82°F (26-28°C)
Average nighttime temperature: 66-70°F (19-21°C)
Average ocean temperature: 65°-75°F (18-23°C)
The drizzling weather, known locally as garúa, is most common during the cooler season. This will often intermingle with sunshine throughout the day. Strong winds also accompany this drizzle, making the sea choppy.
Best Time to Visit the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are a year-round tourist destination. The weather, of course, is distinct depending on the season, but there is something to see at any time of year. When deciding when to visit the Galapagos Islands, you should consider the following.
Firstly, decide what you would like to see in the Galapagos. For example, some species may nest at certain times or migrate. If there is a particular Galapagos creature you want to see during your trip, find out when it will be easiest to do so. For example, marine iguanas will begin to hatch in May, whereas Giant Tortoises don’t even begin to lay their eggs until June.
Secondly, consider whether you are susceptible to seasickness. If so, it will be preferable to travel during the warmer season when seas are smoother. Otherwise you will need to limit your time on boats by doing mostly land-based excursions.
Lastly, if the two points above haven't helped to narflex flex-wrap -mx-4 it down, think about what type of weather you would prefer. If you want more sun and don't mind a random rain shower, the warmer season will be better.
What does “Galapagos” mean?
There is evidence that pre-Columbian civilizations from the Americas visited the islands. However, it doesn't appear that the islands were ever inhabited. Thus, the archipelago didn't have a name until Spaniard Fray Tomás de Berlanga happened upon it in 1535. In official atlases, cartographers labeled the islands "Insulae de los Galopegos." This translated to "Islands of the Tortoises" in English. Today's spelling of one of the Spanish words for "tortoise" is "galápago."
In 1684, the English buccaneer Ambrose Cowley surveyed the islands. On his map, he named the islands after pirate friends, British royalty, and other nobles. When Ecuador claimed the islands from Spain in 1832, they gave them Spanish names. So, for example, Bartholomew Island would become Bartolomé, and Narborough Island, Fernandina.
Archeologists have found evidence of visits by pre-Columbian South American civilizations. They discovered shards from pre-Incan ceramic vessels, as well as an Inca flute. However, there is no evidence of any burial sites. This suggests that no civilization had actually settled on the islands before the Conquistadors.
Europeans made various voyages to the Galapagos Islands starting in the 16th century. The first recorded visit was Fray Tomás de Berlanga in 1535, quite by accident as he was heading to Peru. Although the islands appeared in a Danish world atlas in 1570, no one had mapped the islands until 1684. An Englishman was the first to make a crude map. Not until 1793 were there accurate navigational charts.
Sailors, traders, and pirates, for the most part, visited the islands in the 18th and 19th centuries. Whalers would often use them as a base, as well, since there was a large sperm whale population. Many species became endangered or extinct because of whalers and hunters.
In 1832, the newly formed country of Ecuador annexed the islands from Spain. The first permanent population on the islands arrived on Floreana Island in this year. Its first governor, a group of convicts, as well as some artisans and farmers, formed the first colony.
Charles Darwin would soon after make his famous visit to survey the islands in 1835 on the HMS Beagle. He noticed an intriguing variation in the finch species from island to island. This information, of course, was critical to the theory of natural selection. In 1859 he published On the Origin of Species.
In the 1920s and 30s a small wave of Europeans settled on Floreana, San Cristobal, and Santa Cruz. In fact, descendants of some Norwegian and German families still live there today. During World War II, Ecuador also allowed the United States to build a naval and air base on Baltra Island. The US turned these facilities over to Ecuador after the war. The island is in fact still used as an Ecuadorian military base.
On the 100th anniversary of On the Origin of Species, the islands became a National Park. The Charles Darwin Research Center was also inaugurated that year. Ecuador then started opening the islands to tourism in the 1960s. UNESCO would later recognize the islands as a natural World Heritage Site in 1978.
Invasive species have caused significant damage to some islands' ecosystems since human arrival. Human development is also a cause for concern to the sustainability of the islands. The Galapagos Islands have strict policies regarding the islands' conservation. However, some scientists wonder if these efforts are enough.
Main Galapagos Islands
Santa Cruz (Indefatigable)
Santa Cruz is centrally located among the main islands of the archipelago. It has the largest human population of all the Galapagos Islands. The majority of them live in the town of Puerto Ayora. Due to its location next to Baltra and its airport, it's a popular island for tourists.
Adjacent to Puerto Ayora is the Charles Darwin Research Center. The island also boasts many white sandy beaches, such as Tortuga Bay and Bachas Beach. It has an impressive ecosystem inland, where visitors will find a highland habitat. There, it is possible to see unique flora, as well as tortoise populations.
Charles Darwin Research Center
A base for scientists to conduct research and implement conservation strategies. Tourists can visit the exhibition hall, gardens, and library. There is also a breeding center for the Galapagos giant tortoise that is open to the public.
This bay is known for its white sandy beaches, speckled with black lava rocks. Tortuga Bay is a short hike from Puerto Ayora and a great place to enjoy the beach alongside the locals: sea lions and iguanas.
Los Gemelos Craters
A hiking path circles the top of two giant craters imprinted into the island's highlands. Inside the craters gflex flex-wrap -mx-4 forests of endemic Scalesia trees.
A unique and beautiful swimming hole. A strip of turquoise seawater sits between two stretches of towering volcanic rock faces.
Highland Tortoise Reserve & Lava Tunnels
Dirt paths lead through the reserve, where you can walk among boulder sized tortoises. Explore the natural tunnel formations from the ancient lava flow on the island.
Spot colorful fish and stingrays at this rich snorkeling spot. The rocky cliff above is also home to marine birds.
Black Turtle Cove
A mangrove ecosystem located on the northside of the island. A perfect place to spot sea turtles, whitetip reef sharks, and rays. The cove is only accessible, however, by boat.
"Bachas" is a mispronunciation of the English "barges." The name of the beach comes from the wrecked remains of US vessels from World War II.
A prime snorkeling spot. Spot an array of fish, such as king angelfish, surgeon, parrotfish, damsels, rays, and sharks.
So named for the dragon-like iguanas that inhabit this landscape. It is also a rich habitat for mockingbirds, finches, yellow warblers, and Galapagos doves.
Isabela Island has many superlative titles. It is the largest of the islands with a total area of 1,790 square miles (4,640 km2). Wolf Volcano which reaches 5,600 ft (1,707 m) above sea level, is also the highest elevation in the Galapagos. At approximately 1 million years old, Isabela is possibly the youngest of all the islands. Puerto Villamil is its main town and the third largest human settlement on the islands.
Explorers will find a plethora of things to do and see on Isabela. The island is home to five active volcanoes, which all helped form the island. Its diverse geology creates opportunities to spot a wide variety of flora and fauna. Observe iguanas and Galapagos tortoises around its volcanic calderas. In the lowlands, glimpse numerous bird species, such as Galapagos hawks and Darwin finches.
A marine paradise. Snorkelers will spot sea turtles, whitetip reef sharks, and parrotfish, among other sea creatures.
Sierra Negra Volcano
A shield volcano with an altitude of 3,688 ft (1,124 m). A hiking trail brings walkers through an endemic forest to the caldera. Fresh lava fields lie northeast of the main crater.
Muro de las Lágrimas
A wall built by a penal colony between 1945 and 1959. The name derives from the local legend that ghostly cries can be heard emanating from the wall.
Las Tintoretas Islet
Accessible by boat, this is a popular spot to observe iguanas, boobies, and penguins. At high tide, the channel sees many whitetip reef sharks and tiger sharks.
Tortoise breeding center
A wooden path, weaving through forests and wetlands, brings you to this breeding center. Tortoises of different ages are allocated their own section of the outdoor center.
Playa del Amor
The perfect spot to cool off after hiking nearby. Inky black lava rocks form refreshing pools. Marine iguanas frequent this beach for sunbathing.
A historic cove once used as a hideout by whalers and pirates. Spot endemic birds, such as the Galapagos penguin, flightless cormorant, and blue-footed boobies.
Vicente Roca Point
A deepwater snorkeling site rich in marine life. It is a nesting site for sea turtles and various coastal birds.
A coral reef that juts out above the ocean thanks to a recent uplift of the ocean floor. Snorkel to see colorful fish and foraging water birds, or hike around the bay to observe land iguanas, finches, Galapagos hawks, and tortoises.
San Cristobal (Chatham)
San Cristobal was the first island that Darwin visited during his scientific voyage. It is the eastern-most island, as well one of the oldest. The name is the Spanish form of Saint Christopher, the patron saint of seafarers. San Cristobal is also home to the capital of the Galapagos, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
The island offers perfect habitats for many interesting species. There are Galapagos tortoises, frigatebirds, blue and red-footed boobies, marine iguanas, and more. It is also a popular island for tourists since it has its own airport.
Learn about the biodiversity and history of the island at the Interpretation Center, conveniently located in Puerto Baquerizo.
A calm rocky bay perfect for snorkeling. It is also the nesting site for frigatebirds.
Leon Dormido (Kicker Rock)
A towering rock formation a few miles off the coast. The sea below is a great place for divers and snorkelers. Swim with whitetip reef sharks, sea turtles, and eagle rays.
Lagoon El Junco
A volcanic crater lake and the only source of freshwater on the island. Many bird species inhabit the area.
Galapaguera tortoise habitat
A breeding center and sanctuary for giant Galapagos tortoises. The center does an excellent job of providing a natural habitat for these gentle giants.
La Loberia Beach
Known for its enormous colony of sea lions, this beach is also an excellent surf spot for experienced surfers.
One of two places where visitors will find the red-footed booby's nesting site. It also has a colorful red, orange, and purple landscape, thanks to the Sesuvium plant.
A beautiful white sandy beach. The only spot in the Galapagos where red and blue-footed boobies, as well as Nazca boobies, all nest together.
Other Popular Islands
Bartolomé is a small volcanic islet immediately off the eastern coast of Santiago Island. One of its famous landmarks is Pinnacle Rock, a striking sharp volcanic plug. It is also home to the only wild species of penguins located on the equator, the Galapagos penguin. In fact, it is one of the few places you will find this species. You can also spot green sea turtles in its bay.
Darwin & Wolf (Culpepper & Wenman)
Darwin Island and Wolf Island sit at the northwestern most extreme of the archipelago. They are popular sites for divers thanks to the density of marine wildlife. There is a spectacular array of shark species, including hammerheads, Galapagos sharks, silky, and blacktip sharks. During certain seasons, divers may even spot whale sharks.
Española is one of the oldest islands at 3.5 million years old, as well as being the most southern. As it is so far from the other islands, many unique species have made a home here. It boasts endemic species of lava lizard, mockingbird, as well as Galapagos tortoise. Its marine iguanas have a peculiar red coloration after breeding season. Moreover, it is the only nesting island for the waved albatross. Its cliffside forms the perfect habitat and runway for these birds.
Fernandina is the westernmost island and one of the youngest. Like Isabela, it is actively volcanic. Punta Espinosa is a popular spot to visit, with its large expanse of lava rocks where marine iguanas tend to gather. Visitors can also spot flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins, sea lions, and fur seals.
Floreana (Charles or Santa Maria)
Floreana was the earliest inhabited island, which gives it a unique human history. It was a popular stopover point for whalers and other seafarers. In fact, it was so heavily frequented that an informal post office sprang up there. To this day you can leave a letter at Post Office Bay for another traveler to take to its final destination. Because of the longstanding human impact, much conservation work takes place here. It is an important nesting site for flamingos and green sea turtles.
Genovesa Island is very commonly referred to as bird island. As the nickname suggests, it is an incredible place to observe a plethora of bird species. In fact, because of its remote location, hardly any mammals made it to the island. From Darwin Bay you can spot frigatebirds, Nazca boobies, Galapagos short-eared owls, and swallow-tailed gulls. Hikers often climb up El Barranco (or Prince Philip's Steps) to see the red-footed booby's nesting site.
North Seymour (Seymour Norte)
North Seymour is a small island just to the north of Baltra. It is a popular nesting spot for blue-footed boobies and magnificent frigatebirds. In fact, this island is home to some of the largest populations of both species.
Pinta Island has many endemic species, such as Galapagos hawks, sea lions, and dolphins. However, it is most famous for its last remaining Pinta tortoise, Lonesome George. This celebrated creature was later moved to the Charles Darwin Research Center. He passed away in June 2012, unfortunately without leaving any offspring.
Rábida is famous for the distinct red coloring of its sand and rocks, caused by the high concentration of iron. Scientists have identified nine different species of finches that live on the island. It is also a nesting site for bflex flex-wrap -mx-4n pelicans and blue-footed boobies.
Santa Fe (Barrington)
A forest of prickly-pear cactus covers the island of Santa Fe, as well as Palo Santo. Its seaside cliffs provide nesting habitat for swallow-tailed gulls, red-billed tropic birds, and shearwater petrels. It also has unique species of land iguana and lava lizards.
Santiago (San Salvador or James)
Santiago is bouncing back after the past introduction of invasive pigs and goats. Here, you can spot Darwin finches and a large colony of fur seals. The island also has an intriguing geologic formation of undulating lava rock. The formation is the result of lava flow from as recently as 100 years ago.
South Plaza (Plaza Sur)
South Plaza is a minuscule island (0.05 square miles) that is absolutely bursting with color. Prickly-pear cactus trees gflex flex-wrap -mx-4 scattered around the island, and Sesuvium carpet large swaths of the volcanic rock. During the warm season (June-December) the Sesuvium turn bright red, orange, and purple. South Plaza also is the only home to the hybrid land-marine iguana.
The only seagoing lizard in the world. It forages for algae and basks on rocky beaches.
Galapagos Land Iguana
Many shapes, sizes, and colors exist throughout the islands, including the Galapagos pink land iguana.
Green Sea Turtle
Found in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world.
Galapagos Giant Tortoise
The largest species of tortoise in the world. Galapagos tortoises can weigh over 900 lbs (400 kg).
Out of 20 known species, 6 are endemic to the Galapagos. They vary in shape, size, and color.
A constricting snake. It has a mild venom but is generally not aggressive.
Galapagos Sea Lion
The smallest sea lion species, they are very sociable. They enjoy lounging on beaches and near local fish markets.
Galapagos Fur Seal
A shy and more nocturnal species of sea lion.
Several species of dolphin cruise the waters around the Galapagos. These include the bottlenose dolphin, Risso’s dolphin, and the common dolphin. During migration months from June to October, spotted, Fraser’s, and striped dolphins pass through.
Blue whales, minke, and humpback whales, among others, inhabit the archipelago. Other species can also be spotted during migration (June-October), such as pilot whales and orcas.
The flightless cormorant’s wings evolved to be so small that it can no longer fly. However, they are incredibly strong swimmers.
Distinct for their cream-colored necks. They spend breeding season on the islands. The rest of the year, they live on the coasts of Ecuador and Peru.
The only penguin found (just barely) north of the equator. They forage in the cold Cromwell Current.
The blue color comes from the carotenoid pigments found in its diet of fresh fish. Males display their brightly colored feet in mating dances.
Bright red feet and colorful blue and red beaks. Red-footed boobies are good fliers but clumsy on take-offs and landings.
Their striking color is a result of the aqueous bacteria and beta carotene obtained from their diet.
A group of approximately 26 species found throughout the Galapagos Islands. Their diverse beak sizes were specifically adapted to their environment and niche. Also called Darwin’s finches.
Galapagos hawks range in size across the islands, with the smallest on Marchena Island and the largest on Española.
The largest species of frigatebird. Males attract mates with their bright red gular sac.
Española, Floreana, and San Cristobal each have endemic species of mockingbirds. Galapagos mockingbirds can be found throughout the archipelago. Hood mockingbird: vulnerable Floreana & San Cristobal mockingbirds: endangered
Its slate-grey or black coloring allows it to camouflage with the lava rock on the islands.
An endemic yet abundant species. Prefers to cruise through clear reef environments close to the islands. These sharks can measure up to 9.8 ft (3 m) long.
A very large but harmless shark. Whale sharks are slow-moving, filter-feeding fish, meaning that they mostly eat plankton and small fish. Most commonly spotted from May to November. Endangered
Whitetip Reef Shark
As their name suggests, this shark can be identified by the white tip on its dorsal fin. A relatively small shark at 5.2 ft (1.6 m), they spend much of the day lazily resting in caves.
Red-lipped or Galápagos batfish
A peculiar looking fish with bright red lips. They are not strong swimmers. Instead they use their fins to scutter along the ocean floor.
Things to Do
Birdwatching & wildlife spotting
Get in Darwin’s headspace by observing the islands' incredible biodiversity. Marvelous endemic wildlife offers us a mind-altering understanding of evolution, biology, and species. A very intriguing characteristic, animals on the islands generally don't fear humans. This may be due to the long absence of human predators during their evolution. Although you still shouldn't get too close, you'll be able to get great up-close photos.
Life is teeming in the waters of the Galapagos. Observe playful sea lions, schools of fish, graceful sea turtles, and even reef sharks. Most cruises and land-based tour packages will include multiple snorkeling activities, but you can also snorkel on your own by renting a mask or bringing your own.1
Plunge into the underwater splendor of the Galapagos reef. Among the aquatic life you may encounter are groups of snappers, sea turtles, and moray eels. Specialized scuba diving cruises will take you to remote islands, such as Darwin and Wolf. There, you may see seemingly endless schools of sharks. You must be PADI or SSI certified.
Enjoy a full-day or half-day sailing tour to a nearby island or rock formation. Explorers are sure to spot a myriad of bird species and marine creatures close to the surface. Sailing tours can also include hiking on nearby islands and snorkeling.
Kayaking & glass-bottomed boats
Slow down and glide across the water's surface. From a kayak or through a glass-bottom boat, watch sea lions, turtles, and fish swim through the water. It is also possible to rent a kayak from your hotel or a local tour agency. Kayaks and glass-bottom boats are also available on some cruises.
Hiking or biking
If staying in a hotel on one of the islands, take some time for self-guided exploration. Rent a bike or head out on foot to nearby lookout points, beaches, and lagoons. Check out what each island has to offer in our above guide to each island.
Relax at the beach
The Galapagos is an extremely active destination, so be sure to schedule in some relaxation. Enjoy white sandy beaches (or red, black, or green on some islands). Lounge close to snoozing sea lions and sunbathing iguanas. Just don't forget your sunscreen!
There are many great surf spots in the Galapagos Islands on all the habited islands. Seasoned surfers will tell you that San Cristobal has the best waves, especially at Punta Carola and La Loberia. But Isabela is a great spot for beginner level lessons. Share the waves with sea lions and iguanas in this truly unique surfing destination.
Explore port towns
The reserve only permits human occupancy on three percent of land in the Galapagos. Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Isabela all have port towns. These towns are small and pedestrian-friendly. Each port has a local interpretation center. Travelers can also poke around shops and try the cuisine at local restaurants.
There are two ways to visit the Galapagos Islands. Either arrange for a land-based tour, also known as island hopping, or a cruise. Both are great options for exploring the islands and are usually all-inclusive. To decide which is best for you, consider the following information:
Best option for those who are very sensitive to motion sickness
Accommodations are more spacious, and bed arrangements are more flexible for families
Possible to enjoy self-guided exploration on the island
Variety of nearby restaurants and shops
Itineraries can start on any day
Not possible to see more remote islands
Small sailing vessels can intensify motion sickness on some excursions
Possible to visit a variety of islands (islands vary according to itinerary)
Travel at night to see more remote islands
All-inclusive package (daily excursions, guides, accommodations, and meals)
24/7 ocean views from the vessel’s observation deck
Vessels often include on-board luxuries, such as jacuzzis and lounges
Fixed departure dates
WiFi access is an expensive additional cost
Some cabin categories can be narflex flex-wrap -mx-4
Not recommended for those who are sensitive to motion sickness
A fabulous restaurant inside a great Galapagos hotel. A perfect spot for seafood lovers, but there are also Ecuadorian, international, and veggie dishes. Barrio Punta Estrada SN Playa de los Alemanes, Galapagos Islands, Puerto Ayora
1835 Coffee Lab
Desserts almost too beautifully constructed to eat. Enjoy a leisurely brunch or grab a coffee to perk you up for the next adventure. Locally sourced and sustainable coffee beans. Av. Charles Darwin #825, Puerto Ayora
La Garrapata Galápagos Restobar
See what’s on the grill at this local favorite. Enjoy traditional Ecuadorian seafood dishes and international favorites. Treat yourself to warm homemade bflex flex-wrap -mx-4nies and pie for dessert. Av. Charles Darwin y Tomas de Berlanga, Puerto Ayora
Il Giardino Bar & Restaurant
Tried and true Italian cuisine with Ecuadorian flavors. Start off by enjoying the open-air layout with a happy hour cocktail. Charles Darwin y Charles Binford, Puerto Ayora
An upscale restaurant with farm (and sea) to table dishes. Pair contemporary cuisine with a fantastically crafted cocktail. Charles Darwin 3 In front of San Cristobal's Golden Beach, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno
Otoy Restaurant Organic Farm
The delicious organic ingredients don’t have to travel far to this restaurant’s well-plated dishes. Enjoy the colorful local farm and ocean views from this remote eatery. Cerro Verde, Carretera Principal Via a la Galapagera y Puerto Chino
El Descanso Marinero
The decor is quirky and the dishes purely Ecuadorian. Enjoy heaps of local food with a homey feel. Calle Alsacio Northia y Espanola, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno
Catch the sunset from this family-run beachside restaurant. Serves Ecuadorian seafood, American, and international cuisine and cocktails. Antonio Gil - Pto Villamil Note:Across St. From Casa Rosada, Puerto Villamil
Artistic cocktails in a cozy local. Towers of seafood, stuffed avocado and patacones are sure to fill you up. Av. Antonio Gil 16 de Marzo, Puerto Villamil
El Cafetal Galapagos
Enjoy seafood barbecue and fusion cuisine. Daily specials highlight the variety and freshness of their dishes. brAv. Antonio Gil Fragatas 0006, Puerto Villamil
How to Get To
The only way to get to the Galapagos Islands is by flying. It is possible to catch direct flights from Ecuador's two main cities: Quito (UIO) and Guayaquil (GYE). The flight only takes about an hour.
Galapagos Airports & Galapagos Airport Codes
Seymour (Baltra) Airport: GPS
San Cristobal Airport: SCY
There are, of course, cruises that navigate routes around the islands. However, there are no cruises to the Galapagos Islands from other destinations.
Flights to the Galapagos Islands depart mainland Ecuador from Quito and Guayaquil. Many flights from Quito to the Galapagos will have a stopover in Guayaquil. Travelers should arrive at the airport 3 hours before their Galapagos flight.
Airlines’ weight restriction for checked luggage is 44 lbs (20 kgs).
There are 2 airports in the Galapagos:
Seymour Airport (GPS) is located on the tiny island of Baltra. It serves the nearby island of Santa Cruz.
San Cristobal Airport (SCY) is located on the island of San Cristobal.
Your Travel Advisor will advise you of the best airport to fly to during your vacation. This will depend on either your cruise or land-based package itinerary. Some Galapagos travel packages include airfare.
Arrival in the Galapagos
The Galapagos National Park is heavily regulated to limit the number of tourists. This is to ensure the islands are not overcflex flex-wrap -mx-4ded and that endemic species are well-protected. Entrance to the park includes entrance fees and controls.
Transit Control Card (INGALA Tourist Card): Before leaving Quito or Guayaquil, you must purchase your Transit Control Card before going through security. The fee is $20 per passenger. To purchase you must present your passport and boarding pass. Your Travel Advisor will let you know if it’s possible to receive a pre-issued card with your custom travel package.
Entrance fee: An entrance fee of $100 must be paid in cash upon arrival at either Galapagos airport. Children under 12 pay $50.
Even if travelers are not going on a cruise, many Galapagos activities will take place on the open ocean. Travelers who are prone to seasickness should bring motion sickness medications.
Galapagos tours will also all be outdoors. Be sure to protect yourself from the environment and sun. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Protect your skin from the sun with sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses. Bring bandages and ointments in case of minor scrapes while exploring the rocky terrain.
Tap water is not safe to drink in the Galapagos. Bring a reusable water bottle to refill at your hotel or on your cruise ship. If staying on an island, you can purchase bottled water.
There are no vaccine requirements to enter the Galapagos Islands.
The Galapagos Islands are a safe destination for tourists. Take normal travel precautions, such as being aware of your surroundings and keeping valuables stored safely.
Galapagos National Park regulations require visitors to keep 6 feet (2 m) away from wildlife. Although many animals don't seem to mind if you get up close, this rule is for both your safety and that of the animal. You should not attempt to touch any of the animals.
How to Get Around the Galapagos
The port towns of the Galapagos Islands are small and pedestrian-friendly. Walking is the easiest way to reach shops and restaurants. To visit sites outside of town, such as tortoise breeding centers and lagoons, you can take a taxi. These are almost always pick-up trucks or all-terrain vehicles.
To get from island to island, there are two options.
Ferry: It is possible to take a ferry between Isabela and Santa Cruz or Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. (There is no ferry between Isabela and San Cristobal). Ferries depart twice per day in each direction. The ferry ride takes approximately 2 hours each way.
Intra-island flight: Fly Galapagos offers flights between San Cristobal, Isabela, and Baltra. The company has offices on Isabela and San Cristobal.
To visit other islands, it is necessary to arrange a tour.
Cruises will have set itineraries. The islands included will vary among the available itineraries. Cruises are all-inclusive, so you don't need to worry about transportation.
Dry vs. Wet Landing
Daily excursions for cruise itineraries indicate dry or wet landings. The type of landing will determine what footwear and clothing to wear for that day’s adventure.
Here’s what these terms mean:
Dry landings are when you disembark on a jetty or rocks and keep your toes dry.
Wet landings are when you get off the dingy/small boat on a beach or shoreline where you may get your feet wet and then set out on some island exploration.
Ecuador, and by extension the Galapagos, uses the US dollar as its official currency.
You should have cash on hand in order to pay the park entrance fee. Other expenses may include hotels, restaurants, local tours, tips for guides, and souvenirs. Many hotels, restaurants, and shops will accept credit cards. However, smaller establishments may be cash only.
Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz and Puerto Baquerizo, and San Cristobal have ATMs. Isabela Island does not have any ATMs. Be sure to withdraw before heading to this island.
Some cruises and other tour packages may have services that are at an additional cost. Check with your Travel Advisor to see if the operator for your tour accepts credit cards.
What to Pack
Note: Airline weight restriction for checked luggage is 44 lbs (20 kgs) to the Galapagos.
Credit cards and US dollars
Sunscreen, hat, and glasses
Insect repellant and motion sickness remedy (if needed)
Clothing & Footwear
Comfortable, lightweight clothing
Hiking boots or sneakers plus a pair of water shoes or sandals. Amphibious shoes, like Tevas, are perfect for moving between the ocean and dry land.
Camera (zoom lens is ideal)
Consider packing some binoculars
Permits are required for the use of drones
Smaller daypack to carry during excursions
There is internet in the Galapagos but Wi-Fi connections are notoriously slow. Some cruises offer Wi-Fi for an additional (often pricey) fee.
Come prepared with waterproof cases for your camera or phone when taking pictures on excursions.
Maintain a 6-foot (2 m) distance at least from the animals. They may seem unafraid of you but they are still wild.
Galapagos activities are very active, so comfortable, outdoor clothing should be worn. Therefore, leave any valuables in your hotel room or cruise cabin’s safe.
Have $100 per adult and $50 per child in cash ready upon your arrival at either Galapagos airport.
If booking a cruise, check with a cruise representative if credit cards will be accepted on board. If not, be sure to take out money for tips and on-board rentals beforehand.
If booking your own airfare to/from the Galapagos, double check your land-based or cruise itinerary to confirm which airport you should arrive in and depart from.
Plan your trip to the Galapagos well in advance. Cruises can sell out over a year in advance, especially during the high season (June-August) and over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. For the low season, book your trip at least 6 months in advance.
The only way to get to the Galapagos is by flying. Flights are available to the Galapagos’ two airports (Seymour and San Cristobal) from Quito and Guayaquil.
Travelers from the US and Canada, as well as many other countries, can visit Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands as a tourist for 90 days without a visa. Always check the entry requirements for your country before making travel plans.
Your passport should be valid for at least 6 months from your travel dates.
The Galapagos Islands are a year-round travel destination. The best time of year to visit depends on the flora and fauna you wish to see, as well as your preferred weather. The warmer season is from December to May and enjoys sunny days with infrequent rain storms. The ocean is relatively calmer this time of year. The cooler season is from June to November with frequent drizzling rain, or garúa. The ocean tends to be choppy during these months.
The shortest tour package for both land-based tours and cruises is four days. Independent travelers should also plan for a 4 day minimum. However, with so much to see and do in the Galapagos, you can easily plan to spend a week if vacation time and budget permit.
The Galapagos Islands are generally more expensive than other island destinations. This is largely due to the strict regulations and fees required by its protected status.
A trip to the Galapagos varies greatly in price depending on the luxury desired. The most lavish cruise ships can cost several thousand dollars per person. Yet, it’s important to remember that the relatively high cost of all cruise ships also includes all meals and guided excursions.
Land-based packages are often more economical. However, since land-based tours have open start dates, you will rarely find discounted airfare. Since cruises have set departure dates, they can often negotiate rates for their passengers. Round-trip airfare is often included in the cruise’s price.
Yes. There are hotels on Santa Cruz, Isabela, and San Cristobal Islands.
Yes, the Galapagos Islands are safe for tourists. Follow normal travel precautions. Be aware of your surroundings and keep valuables stored safely. Also, keep your distance from the local animals.
The Galapagos Islands have many endemic species, including birds, reptiles, and marine creatures. Animal highlights include blue-footed boobies, Galapagos finches, sea lions, Galapagos sharks, and green sea turtles. They also have a unique landscape thanks to their volcanic formation and native fauna.
Yes, there is WiFi in the Galapagos. Hotels and some restaurants and cafes will have WiFi, but it is generally slow, and the connection is sometimes unstable. Cruises often have WiFi on board but at an additional cost. It is generally expensive with a limited connection.
The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. They were formed by volcanic and seismic activity and are home to many endemic species.
The Galapagos Islands are famous for their diverse flora and fauna. There are a great number of endemic species that show evolutionary adaptations from island to island. In fact, the islands were vital to the development of Darwin’s theory of natural selection.
The Galapagos Islands are located 620 mi (1,000 km) off the coast of Ecuador. They lie on both sides of the equator.
There are 18 main islands, 3 small islands, and 107 rocky islets.
The Galapagos Islands are part of Ecuador.
The oldest islands of the Galapagos are estimated to be at least 20 million years old. The youngest islands are approximately 1 million years old.
Galapagos comes from the Spanish word “galápago” meaning "tortoise."
Yes. There are approximately 25,000 people living in the Galapagos. The only inhabited islands are Baltra, Santa Cruz, Isabela, San Cristobal, and Floreana.
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