The Galapagos Islands are a pristine wildlife haven off the coast of Ecuador in South America. The group of thirteen islands is a place of legend thanks to Charles Darwin and his Theory of Evolution… and a certain Mr Attenborough. They’re remote, bursting with unique wildlife, psychedelic landscapes and, rather refreshingly, minimal footprints from us pesky humans. In short, they are one of the most bio-diverse and magical places left on our planet.
In a very short period of time, you can snorkel with sea lions, spot whales, mingle with giant tortoises, beach lizards and blue-footed boobies, and climb volcanoes. So ditch the rest of the travel pack and head to the islands for some serious ‘pinch me’ moments! But before you run off on your adventure, here’s everything you need to know about planning a trip to the Galapagos.
The Galapagos Islands: The important stuff…
How to get to the Galapagos Islands
All tours that visit the Galapagos Islands depart from Quito, the capital of Ecuador. The flight from Quito to the Galapagos takes approximately two and a half hours, but, if you want to reach the archipelago independently, you can also access the islands via flights from Guayaquil – which is closer.
You need to book onto a Galapagos tour in order to be able to see the islands, prior to your arrival. Some travellers choose to arrive on the main Galapagos island, Isabella, with no tour booked and chance finding a cheap one to hop aboard at the pier… but there’s every chance you’d be left waiting for days, as seats aboard the boats are limited. We recommend you check out these tours, to guarantee your spot.
Which Galapagos Islands to visit
The Galapagos is made up of 13 main islands, 6 smaller islands, and 107 rocks and islets. Most people come to see the huge selection of wildlife and plant life as well as some monstrous volcanoes and coastal landscapes unique to each.
What can you expect to see on each island
- There’s a large colony of the huge waved albatross on Espanola Island.
- Rábida Island is a beautiful red colour due to the large amount of iron in the lava of it’s, now extinct, volcano. It’s also home to Flamingos.
- Pink flamingos and green sea turtles both nest in Floreana Island making it one of the most popular spots for wildlife watching and for some great snorkelling.
- The island of Bartolomé is actually an extinct volcano and has some incredibly coloured volcanic formations.
- While Santa Fe has the tallest Opuntia cactus in the Galapagos
- You can drop in to say sloooow hello to some of the most gigantic tortoises on the planet on the main island of Isabella.
Getting around the Galapagos Islands
A cruise is the only way to see lots of wildlife and maximise your time. We offer four different boat classes from standard up to deluxe, so whether you want to splash out on this occasion and cruise in style or are on a backpacker budget, there is an option to suit.
If you’d rather spend your evenings on land then you could also sleep in hotels on the islands and then hope between them on a speedboat – and let’s be honest a trip on a speedboat is exciting in itself! There are also land options that are a good alternative to a cruise – an ideal option if you don’t have good sea legs! Check out our Galapagos camping experience and Galapagos Multisport for more.
How much time do you get on the islands if you’re taking a cruise?
Most cruises and live-aboard tours take around a week. Taking away the 2 days you have when you arrive and depart the Galapagos Islands from/to Quito, there are approximately two island landings per day; each taking around 4 hours, so there is plenty of time to spend some time adjusting to life on land.
How long to stay
There are a huge number of organised tours/sailing trips around the Galapagos, you could choose a shorter five-day trip, but it’s a much better option to take one of the 7-10 day tours to make sure that you maximise your time to the islands themselves. This is the kind of trip you do once in a lifetime – so you don’t want to leave yourself feeling short-changed on time!
How to make your money go further
One thing is for sure. Like every protected, once in a lifetime destination, the Galapagos Islands aren’t cheap. But one of the great things about Galapagos tours is that they’re all fully inclusive while you’re at sea.
Your meals are all prepared fresh daily (with any special dietary needs are also catered for) plus non-alcoholic drinks are included. There is a cash bar on board so you can still enjoy a chilled evening beer after a day spent exploring the islands.
Can you snorkel there?
Oh heeeeeeell, yes. The majority of tours will have snorkelling equipment on board the boat that you can use free of charge and will stop at various points along your trip at the best spots to give anyone who wants the opportunity plenty of time to take a dip.
The waters around the Galapagos Islands are jam-packed with marine life and you could quite easily run into sharks (eeek!), turtles, octopus, sea lions, sting rays and a whole host of rainbow coloured fish. Then, you could resurface to come eye-to-eye with a penguin, just chilling. Amazing.
When to go
The Galapagos Islands lie on the equator (hence the name, Ecuador!) and are a great year-round destination. But December through to May offer the nicest weather, and therefore the calmest water, and optimum wildlife spotting and sailing conditions. Even in cloudy conditions, the sun is strong, so you’ll burn really easily – pack the sunscreen!
It’s worth remembering that migration habits of the different types of wildlife can change from time to time, but your tour guide aboard the boat with you, as you sail from place to place, will be aware of what animals are best seen where.
What to pack
As little as possible is the short answer! If you’re including the trip as part of a wider backpacking trip – chances are you’re probably travelling quite light anyway but, if you’re not, then it’s advisable just to bring the essentials.
There are no porters on the islands so whatever you bring – you carry! Also, the boats you’ll be travelling on don’t have a huge amount of extra space, and because of this they carry a luggage limit. The boats are informal and casual, so you should really try and pack to reflect that.
A few of the more important things to remember include:
– Playing cards
– Hoody/warm top
– Windproof/waterproof jacket
– Small towel and swim wear
– Sun hat
– Sun tan lotion
– Insect repellent
– Hiking boots/sturdy walking shoes
– sea sickness pills – if you think you’ll need them
– and for god sakes don’t forget your camera!