What do you dream of when you think of the Galapagos? Charles Darwin, finches, giant tortoises. It’s a land of weird and anomalous creatures: lizards that swim like fish and penguins that live at the equator! The Galapagos has to be the world’s most famous wildlife tourism destination so everyone goes there to see the animals. But when is the best time to visit? And how do you explore an archipelago of 127 islands without missing out?
Galápagos is a beautiful archipelago located in the Pacific Ocean, known for its unique wildlife and stunning landscapes. This UNESCO World Heritage site is home to many species of animals and plants found nowhere else in the world, making it a must-visit destination for nature enthusiasts.
Here are our top tips for planning a trip to the Galapagos. This is what our insiders think about before they embark on any expedition to discover the hidden gems of the Galapagos.
What is it that you need to know before considering any trip to the Galapagos?
What length of trip do you prefer? It takes 10-14 days to see properly. Many trips are 7-day journeys that run back-to-back, giving the chance to explore east, west or both.
Are you a lover of warm water? The reason penguins live in the Galapagos is because of the cold Humboldt current. This is coldest between June and December. It’s the best time if you’re a penguin but not so much if you are a swimmer who likes warm water.
What extra special experience means the most to you? You might be happy to simply explore. But some people want to see breeding waved albatross, or be entertained by courting blue-footed boobies. For this you have to choose the right months.
Getting to Galápagos
The Galápagos Islands are accessible by air and sea. Visitors can fly into the Baltra or San Cristóbal airports from mainland Ecuador, which is the most common way to get there. Flights to the Galápagos depart from Quito or Guayaquil, with several airlines offering daily flights.
Once on the islands, visitors can explore via guided tours or independent travel. Ferry services are available to transport visitors between the main islands, but it is recommended to book in advance and confirm schedules due to limited availability.
It's important to note that entry to the Galápagos Islands requires a valid passport and a Galápagos Transit Control Card (TCT), which can be obtained from the INGALA office in Quito or Guayaquil. Visitors must also pay a national park fee upon arrival, which helps support conservation efforts on the islands.
The Western Islands – an overview
Isabela Island: Isabela is the largest island in the Galapagos and is known for its incredible volcanic landscapes. Here you can hike to the top of Sierra Negra volcano, the second-largest caldera in the world, and see breath-taking views of the island. Isabela is also home to a wide variety of wildlife, including giant tortoises, marine iguanas, penguins, blue-footed boobies, and Galapagos hawks.
Fernandina Island: Fernandina is the youngest and most volcanically active island in the Galapagos, and it is an important breeding site for marine iguanas and flightless cormorants. Visitors to Fernandina can also see the famous "Punta Espinosa" visitor site, where they can observe a large colony of marine iguanas and many other wildlife species such as Galapagos penguins, sea lions, and Sally Lightfoot crabs.
Santiago Island: Santiago is home to several unique visitor sites, including Sullivan Bay, where visitors can see a field of lava flows that were formed during a volcanic eruption in 1897. This island is also home to Galapagos fur seals, marine iguanas, and a variety of bird species, including Galapagos hawks, finches, and doves.
Santa Cruz Island: Santa Cruz is the most populated island in the Galapagos and serves as a hub for tourism. Here you can visit the Charles Darwin Research Station, which is dedicated to the conservation and study of the islands' flora and fauna. Santa Cruz is also home to a giant tortoise breeding center, where visitors can see baby tortoises and learn about the conservation efforts to protect this endangered species. Other visitor sites on Santa Cruz include the Tortuga Bay beach, which is a nesting site for green sea turtles, and the Cerro Dragon hill, which is home to land iguanas and many bird species.
Floreana Island: Floreana has a fascinating human history, with stories of pirates, whalers, and settlers. Visitors can explore the island's rich cultural heritage at the historic Post Office Bay, where visitors can leave and collect mail without a stamp. Floreana is also known for its snorkeling opportunities, where visitors can see sea turtles, reef sharks, and many different species of fish.
Bartolome Island: Bartolome is one of the most iconic islands in the Galapagos, known for its unique volcanic landscapes and incredible views from the top of its famous Pinnacle Rock. Visitors to Bartolome can also see colonies of penguins, sea lions, and a variety of fish species while snorkeling in its crystal-clear waters.
The Eastern Islands – an overview
Española Island: Española is the southernmost island in the Galapagos and is home to many endemic species, including the waved albatross, which is only found on this island. Visitors to Española can also see colonies of blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, and swallow-tailed gulls. Gardner Bay is also a popular visitor site on this island, known for its pristine beach and crystal-clear waters, which are great for swimming and snorkeling.
San Cristobal Island: San Cristobal is one of the oldest islands in the Galapagos and is home to several unique visitor sites, including Punta Pitt, which is a great place to see all three species of boobies (blue-footed, red-footed, and Nazca) in one location. The Interpretation Center on San Cristobal also offers visitors a chance to learn about the history and conservation efforts of the Galapagos.
Santa Fe Island: Santa Fe is a small island located in the center of the archipelago and is known for its unique endemic species, including the Santa Fe land iguana and the Santa Fe rice rat. Visitors to Santa Fe can also see colonies of sea lions and many different species of birds.
North Seymour Island: North Seymour is a small, low-lying island known for its incredible birdlife, including frigatebirds, blue-footed boobies, and swallow-tailed gulls. Visitors to North Seymour can also see colonies of sea lions and land iguanas.
Top 10 things to do in Galápagos
Giant Tortoises - One of the most iconic species in Galápagos, visitors can see these magnificent creatures up close and learn about their conservation efforts.
Marine Iguanas - These unique creatures are the only sea-going iguanas in the world, and visitors can see them sunbathing on rocky shores and feeding underwater.
Blue-footed Boobies - These birds are famous for their distinctive bright blue feet and unique mating dance, which visitors can observe on many islands.
Darwin's Finches - A collection of species that played a key role in Darwin's evolutionary theory, these birds can be found on many of the islands.
Volcanoes - Galápagos is home to several active volcanoes, including Sierra Negra and Wolf on Isabela Island, which offer stunning views and hiking opportunities.
Charles Darwin Research Station - This research center is dedicated to conservation and education efforts in the Galápagos and visitors can see various scientific projects and learn about the islands' ecosystem.
Lava Tunnels - These tunnels, formed by volcanic eruptions, are a unique natural formation that visitors can explore on some of the islands.
Kicker Rock - A popular snorkeling and diving site, Kicker Rock is home to various marine species, including sharks, rays, and sea turtles.
Devil's Crown - Another popular snorkeling and diving spot, Devil's Crown is a sunken volcanic cone teeming with marine life, including colorful fish and rays.
Floreana Island - This island is steeped in history and visitors can explore various sites, including a pirate cave, a historic post office, and the mysterious Baroness Lookout.
What is the right time of year to visit?
Climate doesn’t have to be the principle factor in determining when to visit. But it may help you to know how to pack before arriving. Conditions can be very cold or very warm. Be prepared!
June to November: air temperatures are 21-27 °C (70-80 °F) and sea temperatures 18-24 °C (65-75 °F) and the Humboldt current generates a steady cool south and southeast wind.
December to May: air temperatures are 27-32 °C (80-90 °F) and sea temperatures 21-26 °C (70-80 °F), the winds drop and rainfall becomes more sporadic and it rains more frequently and heavily.
The driest months are Jun-Aug and the wettest are Oct - Mar.
Being on the equator and having mostly resident wildlife, Galapagos is a year-round attraction. Here is a summary of the main wildlife events each month.
Marine iguanas breed on the rocky shores
Blue-footed boobies begin their courtship displays
Green sea turtles nest on the beaches
Galapagos penguins are most active and can be seen fishing in the water
Land iguanas begin to breed
Waved albatrosses start to return to the islands for mating season
Sea lions give birth to their pups on the beaches
Giant tortoises migrate from the highlands to the lowlands to lay their eggs
Nazca boobies start to breed and lay their eggs on the ground
The rainy season begins, and plants begin to grow
Marine iguanas nest in large numbers
Green sea turtles begin to hatch
Blue-footed boobies begin to lay their eggs
Sea lions continue to nurse their pups
Galapagos fur seals mate and give birth on the beaches
Giant tortoise eggs begin to hatch
Flightless cormorants begin their courtship displays
Orcas can sometimes be seen hunting in the waters around the islands
Penguins can be seen swimming and fishing in the water
Nazca boobies and frigatebirds are actively raising their chicks
Whale sharks begin to appear in the waters around the islands
Sea lion pups begin to swim and play in the water
Darwin's finches start to breed
Giant tortoise juveniles can be seen in the highlands
Blue-footed boobies and other seabirds start to fledge their chicks
Whale sharks continue to be spotted in the waters
Galapagos hawks start to nest
Sea lion pups start to learn to swim and hunt
Green sea turtles start to lay their eggs
Land birds start to lay their eggs
Waved albatross chicks start to fledge and leave the island
Sea lion pups continue to learn to hunt and swim
Giant tortoises can be seen grazing in the highlands
Sea lions continue to nurse their pups
Giant tortoises begin to lay their eggs
Penguins and other seabirds start to court and breed