A trip to Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands is, for many people, a trip of a lifetime - and rightly so! Due to its exceptional geographic features, flora and fauna, each island offers a unique and completely different travel experience. The remote island group is a land of cool lava landscapes, cactus forests, lush green highlands, turquoise coves and perfect tropical beaches. The highlight of a visit is often seeing the abundant wildlife that calls the islands home.
From tropical penguins and blue-footed boars to Darwin finches, or male frigate birds that blow their wrinkled necks into impressive red balloons - the Galapagos Islands are an astonishing wildlife haven. While one day you can observe giant tortoises in the highlands, the next day, you’ll be snorkelling with playful sea lions in crystal clear waters or sunbathing next to iguanas on black lava rocks.
Ecuador's Galapagos consists of 13 larger islands and more than 40 small islets. Each island is different and has its own highlights. Because of the distance to the mainland, I’d recommend staying as long as possible (or as long as your budget allows) on the Galapagos to see the full diversity of the islands. Galapagos tours usually takes between 4-12 days, but I think a minimum of 7 days is recommended to fully appreciate nature’s playground.
The best time to visit the Galapagos Islands depends on the experience you are looking for. In general, there is no best or worst time as the island group is located on the Equator and the weather is, therefore, suitable for travel all year round. The most popular (and expensive) times to visit are from June to August and mid-December to mid-January.
During the hot, rainy season from December to May, the sea is predominantly quiet, and the daily rain showers often make room for a cloudless sky. Temperatures are usually above 25°C. This is the best time to visit if you are looking for clear snorkelling, colourful fauna and hatching sea turtles.
The Humboldt Current brings cool water temperatures, a drier climate and temperatures around 20-25°C between June and November. The sea is somewhat choppy at this time of year, but it is the most popular period for experienced divers, as the colder water attracts an even greater variety of marine life, such as the hammerhead shark or whale shark. The nourishing current is also very popular with albatrosses and a variety of penguins. If you’re lucky, you can also observe blue-footed boobies in the mating season.
A trip to the Galapagos usually starts with a flight from Ecuador's capital Quito or the coastal town of Guayaquil. While there are two airports on the Galapagos Islands, it is often best to fly to Baltra, as most tours start on the neighbouring island of Santa Cruz.
For many, the most important question is: should the Galapagos Islands be explored by boat, an overland group trip or, for the more adventurous, by island-hopping?
If you're prone to seasickness, logic would tell you to stay on land as much as possible. Whether individually or as part of a group trip, the Galapagos Islands can be explored without the need for a cruise ship. Although you can’t completely avoid the water, you can certainly spend a lot less time afloat by using the occasional water taxi. If you're after comfort, try some luxury island-hopping, with top-notch tours during the day and stylish, boutique accommodation at night. That should take the sting out of any seasickness.
An overland visit is perfect for the smaller budget and offers a very unique perspective on the Galapagos Islands and their inhabitants. Hotels can be found on the larger, inhabited islands, such as Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela or Floreana. From here you can make countless day trips to the nearby uninhabited islands. Among the most popular destinations are Santa Fe, Plaza Island, North Seymour and Bartolomé.
If you're on the fence, bear in mind that most cruise journeys are aboard larger ships that are steadier in rough seas. These ships normally cruise between islands at night, so that the next morning you will arrive refreshed and ready to explore the beauty of a new island. As most of the sailing takes place overnight, any chances of seasickness should be significantly reduced.
Cruise ships themselves and the travel experience they offer can also differ greatly. Ship size can range from accommodating 12-110 passengers in different cabin classes from budget, through to comfort and luxury. To escape the "mass tourism" feeling, I would advise a tour with a maximum of 10 tourists per guide. While the quality of the accommodation and the tour itineraries of ships are different, all cruisers follow the same principle: travel is overnight, and most ships are docked twice a day.
A full 10-day cruise typically includes 20 voyages, 10-20 snorkel trips, and multiple trips with smaller motor boats to around ten different islands. If you're travelling with a larger group, you should consider chartering a full boat as this can sometimes be cheaper, and you have more flexibility to design your Galapagos trip according to your own wishes.
The range of Galapagos tours is as varied as the islands themselves. Depending on your mood, you can see turtles at the Darwin Research Station or in the highlands on Santa Cruz, sea lions on San Cristobal and bird lovers should head to North Seymour. The underwater wildlife can be explored by snorkelling or scuba diving from any island. Popular locations are Isabela, San Cristobal and Bartolome. Even without joining a specific tour, it’s almost impossible to avoid coming across the diverse wildlife on the Galapagos Islands.
If you have enough time and the appropriate budget, I would recommend combining a shorter cruise trip (up to 5 nights) followed by a hotel stays on a couple of different islands.
One thing is sure - a trip to the Galapagos Islands will be the journey of a lifetime! As most areas are only accessible with an approved travel guide, it is advisable to plan your Galapagos travel (whether by sea or by land) a few months in advance. Hotels, cruises and tours can book up quickly at the busiest times of the year.
If you liked the sound of the Galapagos and would like to book a trip – I can arrange every aspect from flights to hotels, cruises and tours. Simply give us a call on +44 1273320580 or request a quote to start discovering the diversity of these magical islands!