It’s always a good time to take a trip to the Galapagos Islands. With its close-to-the-equator location, the temperature remains a constant 70-80 degrees, with year-round sunshine. January through May are the warmer and wetter months, with March and April the hottest.
This archipelago of volcanic islands is located in the Pacific Ocean, about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. There are 19 islands, three of which are inhabited and dozens of islets.
Before you go, you will need to decide if your trip will be land-based (staying at a hotel) or boat-based (cruising from island to island). Many travel sites note that cruise tours are the best way to see everything: the wildlife, the landscapes and the vegetation, both on land and underwater.
Galapagos tourism increased 14% in 2018, with many visitors coming from Ecuador, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada. Tourists came to hike over dried lava beds, snorkel alongside sea lions and observe wildlife.
The islands are known for the large number of species – after all, it is the place where Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution. Today, Galapagos is a Double World Heritage site (land and sea are protected) and wildlife can be seen year-round. Species include green turtles, sea cucumbers, blue-footed booby, tropical penguins, tropical albatross, sea lions and iguanas.
When to go:
- You’ll see the turtles begin laying eggs in January and baby turtles hatching in April.
- Flamingos begin nesting in February.
- Albatross arrive in huge numbers to begin the mating season in April.
- In May, iguana hatchlings emerge from their nests.
- Penguins begin courtship in September.
- Curious sea lion pups come out to play in November.
- There’s a great online monthly guide of wildlife seasons here.
What to bring:
- You are on an island, so bring double of a few supplies you think you might need. This includes sunscreen and bug spray. You can buy these items while there, but prices tend to be more expensive.
- You will be on a boat (or two), so pack a dry bag for your electronics. Some motion sickness medications might be handy, too.
- Leave the fancy outfits at home. You’ll need quick dry clothing, suitable for hiking and perhaps rain gear to protect from sun and rain. A hat and an umbrella would be helpful, too.
- Bring some more sunscreen. Remember, you’ll be on the equator and the strength of the sun’s rays are magnified.
Travel & Safety Tips
There is limited medical care on the island and no facilities for acute cardiac or surgical care. People with serious illnesses will need to be transported to the Ecuadorian mainland.
It’s important to get your health checked and your vaccinations updated before you travel. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers health information for visitors to the Galapagos Islands.
It’s very unlikely you’ll have to worry about crime and petty theft while exploring the Galapagos Islands. You should still take the proper security measures for any vacation travel, such as avoiding overt displays of wealth and carrying a photocopy of your passport at all times.
Keep in mind, travelers land in Ecuador first, either Quito or Guayaquil, then travel by air to Galapagos (there are no direct, international flights to Galapagos). You will land on one of two islands: San Cristobal or Baltra. The U.S. Department of State gives Ecuador a Level 2 rating, Exercise Increased caution due to crime and civil unrest. In October 2019, there were several instances of demonstrations with road blockades. You can access crime and safety reports about Ecuador from the Overseas Security Advisory Council.
Other travel and safety suggestions include:
- Visitors will need a mandatory Galapagos Transit Control Card, which explicitly requires proof of onward travel out of the Galapagos Islands.
- Do not bring any fruit, vegetable or plants of any kinds. Wash and inspect the soles of your shoes and any outdoor gear/camping equipment to eliminate seeds and spores.
- Watch for weather alerts and monitor local media for updates, as the area does have hurricanes and tropical storm force winds. There are also 30 potentially active volcanoes in Ecuador.
- Because you are on an island, ensure you travel with reliable communications equipment, test your cell phone upon arrival at your destination, and keep it fully charged.
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