One of the most exciting and adventurous trips in the world is a Galapagos vacation. The Galapagos Islands are one of the most treasured areas of the world, mostly untouched by human contact. This allows adventurers, researchers, and scientists alike to view the world in its most natural habitat.
The Galapagos Islands are famously known for their discovery by Charles Darwin and a large number of endemic animals on the islands, giving way to his theory of evolution and providing evidence that supports it. Since then, researchers, scientists, and tourists have flocked to the islands to see nature’s natural selection at its finest and most primal.
There are several different Galapagos vacation tours and options for tourists that offer different types of adventures and accommodations. On these tours, you can study the animals and the geography of the 22 different islands, as well as have some adventurous activities like kayaking, snorkeling, sailing, and more. Many of the cruises offer voyages to a handful of the islands, and they can last anywhere from 5 days to over 20 days.
Read more about booking a Galapagos Island cruise here.
Where are the Galapagos Islands Located?
The Galapagos Islands are located off about 563 miles (906 km) off the coast of Ecuador. They are an archipelago of 22 volcanic islands that span the equator on both sides. There are 18 main islands and 4 minor islands which stretch across both the northern and southern hemisphere. The northernmost island is Darwin Island while the southernmost island is Espanola Island. They are about 127 miles (220 km) away from one another. Volcan Wolf and Volcan Ecuador, two volcanoes on Isla Isabela, rest directly on the equator.
All 22 islands are considered to be in the South Pacific Ocean. There are several smaller islands that have since disappeared under the ocean surfaces due to rising water levels. There are currently 9 active volcanoes in the archipelago of the Galapagos Islands with 6 of those volcanos located on Isla Isabela. There are several other dormant volcanoes located on various islands throughout the Galapagos.
Traveling to the Galapagos Islands
Travel to the Galapagos Islands requires extensive planning. Not only are you trying to figure out how to get there but you also need to know when to go based on the things you want to do and see, the activities available to you, and how many days you should dedicate to your travels.
There are two seasons in the Galapagos Islands: the rainy season and the dry season. The rainy season is warmer while the dry season is often cooler. Rainy season runs from December until June while the dry season is generally June to November. Your personal comfort, as well as the activities you want to enjoy while on your Galapagos Island vacation, will determine which months you plan your travel.
The Rainy Season in the Galapagos Islands
The rainy season in the Galapagos Islands runs from December until June. It is generally warmer during these months as well. Mating season and nesting is common in the Galapagos during this time of the year. The end of December and the beginning of January is when visitors will see the infamous Galapagos giant tortoises and green sea turtles lay their eggs on the beaches.
Baby green sea turtles hatch about two months after the eggs are laid while the giant tortoise babies can be seen hatching and running into the ocean any time between December and March. Iguanas also being nesting during this time, and you might see the Galapagos penguins during their migration from the Bartolome sland to the islands of Isabela and Fernandia. It is also a great time for bird enthusiasts as you might be able to see the mating dance of the blue-footed boobies.
For those who love a good swim or snorkel, the rainy season is the best time to go because the water temperatures are significantly warmer. It is also a great time for kayaking, diving, and general outdoor activities.
The Dry Season in the Galapagos Islands
Since much of the mating and nesting is done during the rainy season and the beginning of the dry season, the months of September through November means there are many babies all over the Galapagos islands. During the earlier dry months, you might be able to see penguins courting and sea lions mating too.
The dry months are still great water activities, especially experienced divers. The sea is filled with marine life during this time including tropical fish, hammerhead sharks, and pods of dolphins. The northernmost islands oftentimes have whale sharks as well. If you are looking for more land-based activities, the dry months are a great time to visit dormant volcano craters and the famous lava tunnels.
Galapagos Vacation Travel Arrangments
You will most likely want to fly into Santa Cruze or San Cristóbal Island. These are the main two airports in and out of the Galapagos. There are few different airlines that you can book a round trip out of Quito or Guayaquil, Ecuador.
There is a ferry connecting these two islands if you find a cheaper flight out of the other airport or something that flies to the connecting city you need. This is a great tip since you’ll be able to search both airports for the best option to get home.
The Galagos Islands have a few immigration rules that are different than other places you may have visited. There is a strict, no outside food or animal, the policy when entering. There is also a mandatory $100 per person fee that is collected that goes directly to the Galapagos National Park.
READ MORE: Ecuador Tours with Latin Trails
What You Should Be Doing While on the Galapagos Islands
The Best Galapagos Island Itinerary
It can be hard to narrow down exactly what you want to do in the Galapagos Islands when there are so many options for visitors. Although you could spend several weeks exploring all of the islands and everything they have to offer, it is recommended that you spend a minimum of 3 nights and 4 days in order to take in some of the largest and most popular activities.
Although there are over 27 Galapagos Island, many of the shorter itineraries take place on and around a few of the most popular islands:
Isabela Island– This is the largest island, and it has white sandy beaches and beautiful landscapes that are unlike anywhere else. You can also find the largest community of Galapagos penguins here.
Floreana Island- This island is perfect for those who love to snorkel or scuba. The lagoon has a large community of flamingos and the island also houses the first post office of the islands, Post Office Bay, established in 1793 by whalers.
San Cristobal- This is one of the most established and populated islands with amenities and accommodations for visitors. It is known for amazing surf conditions and is a relaxing port that has iguanas and sea lions relaxing around you while you enjoy the views.
Espanola Island– Espanola is at the southern end of the archipelago and is considered one of the most spectacular spots of all the Galapagos. It is a highly isolated island and here you can see marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, and waved albatross. It also houses Punta Suarez and Bahia Gardner- two of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Bartolome– Bartolome is one of the youngest islands in all the archipelago and houses a volcanic cone that you can climb and view other surrounding islands. The north side has a quiet beach for swimming and diving with fish, turtles, and penguins while the south side has Pinnacle Rock- a large geographic formation formed by lava and one of the symbols of the Galapagos.
Santa Cruz– Santa Cruz Island is often visited by vacationers because it offers two unique eco-systems on either side of the island. The coasts provide two different temperatures and vegetation, allowing you to feel as if you are in two different worlds at once. Darwin’s finches, warblers, and flycatchers can all be seen here.
Your chosen itinerary will depend greatly on the kinds of things you want to see and do. Latin Trails Tours is one of the most popular travels and tourism group that provides tours throughout the Galapagos Islands. They have several different itineraries available to you based on your personal preferences for activities and the length of time you wish to spend on your vacation.
The Best Activities on the Galapagos Islands
There are so many activities to choose from when visiting the Galapagos Islands. There is snorkeling, kayaking, and diving as well as more educational and landlocked activities like hiking up dormant volcanoes or observing the most pristine animals in their natural habitats. Your itinerary will depend on some of the activities that you want to do while you’re on your Galapagos Island vacation. Here are some of the most popular:
Snorkeling and diving are one of the biggest draws to the Galapagos Islands. Avid divers often come to see some of the most exotic species of marine life in their most natural habitat unabashed by visitors. Here are some of the best spots for snorkeling in the Galapagos:
Devil’s Crown on Floreana Island
The Devil’s Crown on Floreana Island is a semi-submerged volcanic crater. The interior of the crater is filled with pristine sand and protected from waves. There are underwater tunnels that house sea turtles and colorful fish, as well as the occasional shark.
Kicker Rock in San Cristobal
San Cristobal is known for the sea lions that inhabit the island, and divers might see them playing underwater. Snorkelers can also get up-close look fur seals or stingrays. The water is relatively shallow, too, so it is perfect for beginners. Punta Carola is also off San Cristobal and is a great place for snorkeling, surfing, and swimming.
Tintoreras off Isabela Island
Isabela Island is the largest island in the Galapagos, and onshore you can see iguanas, blue-footed boobies, and penguins. The marine wildlife underwater is just as spectacular with amazing species of flora and animals.
Punta Espinoza off Fernandina Island
This snorkeling and diving point is located on the west side of Fernandina Island off the Bolivar Canal. Here divers can see penguins, sea lions, iguanas, sea turtles, and more.
Activities for Families and Seniors
The Galapagos Islands are for everyone, and there are activities designed for every person in your family no matter their age or ability. Here is a list of things you can do if you have young children or older adults who aren’t able to do some of the more strenuous activities:
- Walking and hiking– there are several trails and easy access points all around the Galapagos Islands that will allow all the explorers in your family to take in the beauty and nature of the archipelago.
- Nature Lectures– the entire family can learn about different topics, animals, and the eco-system of the Galapagos Islands by attending nature lectures. Santa Cruz Island houses the Charles Darwin Foundation where you can attend some of these lectures.
- Swimming and sunbathing– Some of the most popular beaches with a relaxing environment are on Santa Cruz Island. The coast of Garrapatero or Tortuga Bay are both extremely popular. On Espanola Island and Cristobal Island, you will find some of the most beautiful beaches include Bahia Gardner which is recognized as one of the best beaches in the world.
- Kayaking, snorkeling, and zodiac boat tours– Even when you take a cruise around the Galapagos Island, like the ones available with Latin Tours, you can still experience some of the more popular water activities like kayaking and snorkeling. You can even get up close to the uninhabited islands and the species that live there on a zodiac boat tour.
Adventure activities are a huge draw to visitors in the Galapagos Islands and there is no shortage of fun and exciting activities to take part in that will get your adrenaline going and your heart rate up. Some of the most popular adventure activities include:
- Hiking up volcanic islands like Volcano Chico or Cerro Dragon on Santa Cruz Island or Sierra Negra on Isabela Island
- Camping off the trekking paths– If you want to camp on the Galapagos Islands you have to get permission from the Galapagos National Park service first.
- Kayaking, snorkeling, and diving– There are several different spots to kayak, snorkel, and dive. See our section about the best spots to snorkel above.
- Biking– You can rent a bike for about $15 per day on the Galapagos Islands, allowing you to explore at your leisure. Bike rentals are available on Isabela, Santa Cruz, and San Cristobal islands where you can take paths around farms and inhabited areas or venture up volcanic mountains like Sierra Negra. Also on Isabela Island is “El Muro de las Lagrimas,” (Wall of tears) which was built by prisoners in the 1940s. It has turned into a great spot to start a mountain bike route as it offers many trails with diverse elevation levels. You will end your route at La Galapaguera where you may see giant tortoises.
What to Pack for Your Galapagos Island Adventure
A Galapagos Island vacation isn’t your typical vacation. In order to plan correctly for your trip, there are a few things you may want to consider taking along with you. Keep in mind that different items will be needed depending on the time of year you venture to the Galapagos Islands and what kind of activities you plan to do while there.
- Pack for all types of weather– Ecuador might seem like a warm location, but if you are traveling during the rainy season you will want rain gear. The dry season can also get quite frigid, especially at night. Be sure to pack raincoats, boots, sweaters, and waterproof items for your adventures.
- Drink plenty of water– the rapid change in altitude will create dehydration and dizziness. You will also want to carry water with you wherever you go as it is not readily available all the time.
- Pack comfortable clothing– one thing you don’t need on a Galapagos Island vacation is a variety of clothing options. You won’t have fancy dinners or nights out on the town. Bring your most comfortable clothing that is stretchy and flexible that you also don’t mind getting dirty or worn.
Best Galapagos Vacation Package
Since there is so much to see and do in the Galapagos Island, it is a good idea to find a travel company that specializes in creating a customized vacation package that includes all your most desired activities, sights, and adventures. Latin Trails offers several different vacation package options, and the agents at Latin Trails will help you create the perfect itinerary. They will help you decide when to visit the Galapagos, which islands you should visit, and how long you should stay in the Galapagos.
Latin Trails will help you coordinate travel to Ecuador as well as your travel around the Galapagos. They have three separate vessels: The Sea Star Journey Yacht which houses 16 guests, the Seaman Journey which houses 16 guests, and the Galapagos Hopper which offers day trips to different islands in the Galapagos. The itineraries vary for each vessel. You can learn more about the different vessels and the itineraries available through Latin Trails Tours here:
Galapagos Vacation Package Cost
The cost of your Galapagos vacation will vary on the length of your trip and what activities you decide to do. With Latin Trails, your vacation package can cost anywhere between $4,700 for a 5-day tour in the twin/queen cabin to $18,000 for a 15-day tour in the Sea Star Suite. All cruise journeys with Latin Trails includes meals, activity equipment like kayaking and snorkeling, and tours with an English-speaking guide.
Latin Trails also offers full charters of each vessel for rates between $74,000 and $250,000 per person depending on the length of your journey. Discounts for children under the age of 12 is 20% off the normal single person rate.
A vacation to the Galapagos Islands is a once in a lifetime experience and is something that every avid traveler should try to experience once in their life. The pristine wildlife is something you will not be able to experience anywhere else in the world, and it is well worth the cost.
Galapagos Island Facts
The Galapagos Islands were discovered, quite accidentally, in 1535 by the Bishop of Peru when making a voyage across the seas to help settle a dispute between two Spanish conquistadors. Once discovered and mapped, the islands were often visited by pirates and buccaneers who gave the first names to the islands. When on your Galapagos vacation you may see some of the markings and drawings of the pirates that once visited the islands.
Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands in 1835. Ecuador took ownership of the islands from Spanish rule in 1832 and has held them since then.
The Galapagos Islands are heavily protected by environmental sanctions, and there are some islands that no one is allowed to step foot on so as not to disturb the natural progression of evolution and nature. There are 18 major islands, 3 minor islands, and 107 rocks and islets in the Galapagos archipelago.
The islands are all located over the Nazca Tectonic Plate which gives extensive volcanic activity around the islands. There are 9 active volcanoes with 6 of those volcanoes located on the largest island, Isla Isabel. Most recently, in 2018, a volcano located on this island started slowly erupting with flows of lava, halting tourism to the area and evacuating locals.
The Galapagos Islands do have natives and locals living on the islands to aide in research in tourism. The main language is Spanish and the islands have a total human population of over 25,000.
Although the islands were found to be significant because of their lack of human interaction and a large number of native species to the isolated area by Darwin in the 1800s, the islands were not sufficiently protected until over a century later. In 1959, the Republic of Ecuador declared that 97.5% of the land area as a national park except where humans had already colonized.
The Charles Darwin Foundation, in support of the Ecuadorian government, is responsible for research to help the government manage the islands appropriately. On your Galapagos vacation, you may have a chance to visit the Charles Darwin Research Station located on Santa Cruz Island.
It wasn’t until 1986 that the 27,000 square miles (70,000 square kilometers) of ocean surrounding the Galapagos Islands were declared a marine reserve. It is currently considered a whale sanctuary, a World Heritage Site, and a biosphere reserve.
There are hundreds of species of animals located on the Galapagos Islands, many of which are native to the islands furthering Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection. Before the islands were considered natural reserves or protected by the government and non-government agencies, the islands did experience some damage due to unnatural predators being introduced to the animals, flora, and fauna. Many of these predators and diseases were introduced by pirates who inhabited the lands long ago who used the islands for whaling and tortoise meat.
Currently, the biggest threats to the Galapagos Islands are non-native pigs, dogs, rats, sheep, cows, poultry, and some parasites. Pigs are the biggest threat to the native species because they often destroy nests and eat the native animal’s foods. Some of the most harmful vegetation introduced to the islands include guava, avocado, balsa, oranges, grapefruit, elephant grass, and more. Currently, there are 200 native species of animals and 500 native species of plants on the Galapagos Islands.
Galapagos Vacation Weather
The Galapagos Islands sit on the other side of the equator but the weather isn’t as hot there as one would think. There are frequent rain showers brought about by the Humboldt Current which flows cold water into the waters surrounding the islands. El Nino events also contribute to the weather patterns of the islands every 3 to 7 years which can cause warming water temperatures, higher water levels, bigger waves, and fewer nutrients in the water for the animals and flora.
From June to November, the water is relatively warm at an average of 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius). You will find that it will rain most of the day with dense fog covering the islands. The warmer season is December to May when the average air temperature is about 77 degrees. There are strong rainstorms throughout the day, but they are short-lived and sporadic over the season. Therefore, it might be best to plan your Galapagos vacation for the months of December through May.
Galapagos Island Animals
Visiting the Galapagos is all about the wildlife you will see, and only see there. There are over 200 native species of animals on the Galapagos Islands, and they are one of the biggest attractions for tourists on a Galapagos vacation. Given the location of the islands and their intense volcanic activity, the astounding natural habitat and animals located here bring research, scientists, and curious civilians from all around the world to see how nature created and sustained these amazing beings.
Some animals located on the islands were brought by pirates centuries ago, and they have continued to threaten the natural habitat of the native species. However, government and non-government agencies have worked diligently to restore the natural preserve of the islands. Currently, 13 of the major islands and most of the smaller islands have no human population or inhabitants.
One of the most amazing things about a Galapagos vacation is that you will find animals that are native only to these islands. These species have evolved over hundreds of millions of years to become the animals we see here today.
Galapagos Sea Lions
The Galapagos Sea Lions are one of the most magnificently large animals located on the Galapagos Islands. They are one of two types of seals located on the islands, and they primarily live and breed throughout all 21 islands. They are surprisingly fast on land, being able to reach the speed of a human running across rough terrain.
The males dominant this species. They are up to 4 times larger than the females, and their size determines how much land (and therefore females) they have in their colony. Mating season occurs during July and December. They can be located all across the Galapagos Islands so you are bound to see one (or several) during your Galapagos vacation.
One of the most interesting things about the Galapagos Sea Lions is how they have adapted to their environment over the years. They are the smallest of all the species of sea lions, giving them less lung capacity to dive at deep levels. However, researchers found that the Galapagos Island Sea Lions are one of the most proficient divers out of all the other species of sea lions in the world. They found that the Galapagos Island Sea Lions had evolved to have a lower metabolic rate giving them the ability to dive deeper and for longer periods of time than their sister-species.
Given their environment of warmer waters and unpredictable food sources because of changing weather patterns, the Galapagos Sea Lions had to evolve to eat less and dive deeper for food sources in order to survive. They are one of the markers of evolution for the Galapagos Islands, particularly because there are other species to compare them to in other parts of the world.
Here are some other famous native species you will find on the Galapagos Island today:
Galapagos land iguanas
Your Galapagos vacation will be nothing short of amazing. You will find species of animals and plants not found in other parts of the world, mostly untouched by human interaction. You will be able to experience the tropical climate aboard a catamaran vessel all while seeing nature at its most primal level. It is the experience of a lifetime and one that should be taken by all who are able.
WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out this article on The Best Cruise to the Galapagos Islands for Your Galapagos Vacation.