Galapagos Travel Tips: Everything You Need to Know

From the planning stages to what to do when you're traveling, these Galapagos travel tips will ensure your trip to the Galapagos Islands is everything you have been dreaming of.
A young sea lion rests on a pile of large gray stones in the Galapagos Islands.
A young sea lion on the Galapagos Islands. Photo by Mac Gaither on Unsplash..

Planning a trip to the Galapagos can be overwhelming. There are many choices and details to consider to make sure it is a perfect trip. Worry not, we go into everything you need to know before planning your trip or traveling to the Galapagos. Keep reading to discover the best Galapagos travel tips to help you maximize your enjoyment while exploring Charles Darwin’s old stomping grounds!

Table of Contents

Last updated by Melissa Dreffs in September 2020.

Best Time to Go to the Galapagos

The Galapagos is a wonderful destination to visit anytime of the year. Weather changes are gradual and storms or major winds are rare. The weather is generally pleasant, with warm days and cool nights, but the equatorial sun is strong, so be sure to pack sun protection all throughout the year. 

Water and air temperatures in the islands are warmer from December through May. This is a peak season for land-based tours because plant vegetation is more colorful and flowers come into bloom during this time. Sunshine is also regular.

Land and water temperatures are cooler from June through November. Rainfall is unusual, although there’s generally cloud coverage. Winds tend to be stronger and seas rougher. The peak season for diving in the Galapagos is July, August, and September when the rich, plankton-filled waters of the chilly Humboldt current attract a slew of underwater wildlife to the region.

It’s never a bad time to travel to the Galapagos. But the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands really boils down to your personal preferences.

A pink flamingo in a lagoon near Bachas Beach on the Galapagos.

A flamingo on Santa Cruz Island. Photo by Maribell Mormontoy of Peru for Less.

When to Book Your Galapagos Tour

In general, it is best to book a Galapagos package between six months and one year in advance. If you have a specific itinerary, ship, hotel, or room category in mind, the further in advance you book, the better. With last minute Galapagos vacation planning, there are typically very few or no options available.

During the December and January holiday season, cruises and hotels fill up quickly, sometimes even a full year in advance. Besides the holidays, April through August are the most popular times to visit the Galapagos. Some cruises and hotels fill up six to nine months in advance during this period.

If you are traveling with a large group of people (seven or more), planning around one year in advance is crucial. For smaller groups and non-peak travel times, be sure to book your Galapagos package at least several months in advance.

A red-footed booby rests on a tree with green leaves. Woman with a hat looking back at the bird.

A red-footed booby on Genovesa Island. Photo by Melissa Dreffs of Peru for Less.

How to Travel to the Galapagos

So, you want to travel to the Galapagos. But first, where are the Galapagos Islands located? This group of islands is a part of Ecuador, located 600 miles (965 km) west of the mainland. Because of this vast distance, there are no Galapagos cruises departing from the mainland. 

To reach the Galapagos and begin your tour, it is necessary to fly from Guayaquil or Quito (with a stopover in Guayaquil). The flights go to Baltra or San Cristobal Island, the two largest Galapagos airports. Upon arrival, representatives for your cruise or hotel will escort you where you need to go to begin your Galapagos Islands tour. 

Galapagos Cruise

A cruise is a convenient and all-inclusive way to explore the diversity of the islands. They visit remote areas that cannot be reached on Galapagos day trips from port towns. Choose between medium-sized ships to smaller yachts or sailboats. Galapagos cruise itineraries take advantage of night hours to travel between islands, so you wake up and explore new highlights every day!

A certified naturalist guide will accompany you and your group during onshore and snorkeling excursions. Their research expertise allows them to point out animal characteristics and geological formations you might otherwise overlook. Your guide will be happy to answer any questions.

A range of 4-day, 5-day, 6-day, and 8-day cruise itineraries are available. Passengers enjoy meals and onboard entertainment. A spacious cabin with a sea-view is a nice trip upgrade. Browse our favorite Galapagos cruises here.

Red and green succulents lead to a sandy beach and black rocks along the shore of a Galapagos Island. White ship in the sea.

The Legend cruise ship floating at sea from Santa Cruz Island. Photo by Melissa Dreffs of Peru for Less.

Land-based Tour

Land-based tours are growing in popularity. In the Galapagos, 100 percent of the maritime area and about 97 percent of the land area is designated as a national park. The only parts of the islands that aren’t within the protected regions are small plots of land inhabited by locals and small port towns where travelers can partake in daily excursions.

Puerto Ayora, the largest port town in the Galapagos on Santa Cruz Island, serves as the main tourist hub. To get to other inhabited islands, like San Cristobal or Isabela, transport is offered via boat ferry or plane. Nature excursions, snorkeling tours, and scuba diving trips depart daily.

Sleeping on land in the Galapagos definitely has its benefits. Hotel and lodge accommodations are more spacious and comfortable than most boat cabins. Plus, folks prone to seasickness don’t have to fear any ocean rocking motion at night!

In general, land-based tour itineraries offer more flexibility. After daily excursions, you can enjoy free time relaxing at the beach or doing some independent exploration. Travelers in Puerto Ayora can ride bikes through town and stop for a nice meal at a surprisingly wide range of restaurant options. Browse our favorite Galapagos Islands hotels here.

Still not sure which way to see the Galapagos Islands? Check out our post comparing cruises and land tours of the Galapagos.

A black iguana rests in the sand with a still lagoon behind and pink flamingoes in the distance.

Lagoon of Bachas Beach, with iguanas and flamingos. Photo by Melissa Dreffs of Peru for Less.

Health and Safety Tips

To ensure a healthy and safe trip, be sure to follow these Galapagos travel tips. 

Health
  • No vaccinations are required for entry. Check with a doctor regarding recommended vaccinations. 
  • There are no major health threats on the Galapagos Islands. 
  • Stay hydrated! All Galapagos hotels and cruises offer filtered water to their guests. Fill up your bottle to take with you on each tour. 
  • As the Galapagos sit on the equator, the risk of sunburn is high. Be sure to pack sunscreen, a hat, and lightweight clothes to protect your skin. 
  • The food served on cruise ships and in hotels is of high quality. Food-borne illnesses are uncommon. 
  • If you are prone to seasickness, bring a motion sickness remedy.
  • There are hospitals in the port towns and some cruises have medical personnel on board. However, any major illness or injury will require you to head back to the mainland.
Safety
  • Overall, the Galapagos is a safe destination. Crime is not a problem on the islands. 
  • Store your passports and any valuables in the in-room safe. 
  • Take caution while small children are near or in the water. 
  • Keep your distance from the animals. 
  • Be cautious while getting on and off the dinghies. The crew is there to assist you.
  • Take caution while hiking on the islands. Wear sturdy shoes and borrow walking sticks from your cruise/hotel if needed. 
  • Follow the instructions of the naturalist guides and all crew members or hotel staff.
Black rocky shores with a dinghy approaching. Tall, black peak in the background.

The rocky shores of Santa Cruz with Dragon Hill in the background. Photo by Melissa Dreffs of Peru for Less.

Essential Items to Pack 

Besides the typical items you bring on any vacation, we recommend bringing the following items to enhance your Galapagos adventure. 

Mandatory Items
  • Passport with at least six months validity beyond your departure date.
  • $100 USD in cash per person to pay the national park fee upon arrival. The fee is $50 for children under 12 years old. 
Clothing and Accessories
  • Lightweight long-sleeve shirts and pants
  • Windbreaker or light jacket (ideally waterproof)
  • Bathing suit
  • Wide-brimmed hat (ideally with a chin strap – it can get windy!)
  • Sunglasses
  • Comfortable sneakers or hiking shoes
  • Water shoes or sandals that can get wet
Toiletries
  • Sunblock and lip balm with high SPF
  • Aloe vera or another sunburn soother
  • Insect repellent (your guides will tell you when you will need it)
  • Personal medication, including something for motion sickness
Tours and Wildlife Spotting
  • Lightweight bag
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Binoculars
  • Digital camera, GoPro, or cell phone with a good camera
  • Waterproof case for your phone or camera to take photos while snorkeling
  • Tips for the guide and crew. A good rule of thumb is $30 USD per person per day that will be divided amongst the team.
What to Leave at Home
  • Do not bring fruit, vegetables, or anything that could disrupt the delicate ecosystem of the Galapagos.
  • Leave your snorkel equipment behind. All cruises and hotels have masks, flippers, and wetsuits for rent. However, if you have a prescription snorkel mask, bring it along if you have space.

Check out our full Galapagos packing list here.

Black rock formations along the beach of Santa Cruz with bright orange crabs crawling on them.

Crabs on the shores of Santa Cruz. Photo by Melissa Dreffs of Peru for Less.

Galapagos National Park Rules 

The Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) created a list of 14 rules for all travelers to abide by. See the complete list of rules here and a recap of the most pertinent rules below. 

  • Certified local guides must accompany visitors to any protected area
  • All visitors must stay on the marked trails
  • Stay a minimum of 6 feet (2 m) away from all animals
  • Never feed wildlife
  • No flash photography
  • Leave no trace – do not leave or take anything on the islands
A sea lion sleeping on tan sand in the Galapagos Islands.

A sea lion resting in the sand. Photo by Adam Laughter of Peru for Less.

Responsible Travel Tips

While traveling, it is important to be aware of your impact on the world around you. Follow these responsible Galapagos travel tips to make a positive impact on this remarkable destination. 

Environmental Impact
  • Avoid plastic and bring a reusable water bottle.
  • Pack eco-friendly toiletries like sunscreen, bug repellent, etc. 
  • Leave nothing behind, don’t litter, and recycle where possible.
  • The GNPD restricts cruises to a maximum of 100 passengers, with many cruise ships only accommodating around 16 passengers. You can rest assured that all ships follow sustainable tourism practices and adhere to strict environmental standards in place by the National Park Directorate.
  • Respect the animals: keep your distance, don’t use flash, and do not touch or feed the wildlife. 
Economic Impact 
  • Tourism on the Galapagos Islands brings in funding for conservation work. The national park fee and a portion of each tour package help continue the conservation work and preserve the environment.
  • All Galapagos tour providers must hire local employees and pay them a fair wage. You can rest assured that the people you meet working in the Galapagos are locals and have fair workplace conditions. 
  • You can support local shops, restaurants, and other small businesses in the port towns while participating in a land-based tour. 
Social Impact
  • Learn about the destination before traveling. Reading through these Galapagos travel tips is a great start. However, consider reading the following books to learn even more about life on the Galapagos:
    • The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
    • Galapagos: Islands Born of Fire by Tui De Roy
    • Floreana: A Woman’s Pilgrimage to the Galapagos by Margret Wittmer
  • Staying in the port cities offers more of an opportunity to get in touch with the local community and way of life.

    Rocky cliffs off the side of Genovesa Island, also known as bird island.

    The rocky island of Genovesa, known as “Bird Island”. Photo by Melissa Dreffs of Peru for Less.

What to See and Do 

A Galapagos trip is all about wildlife! It’s a destination that offers animal enthusiasts and birders some of the best opportunities in the world to get up close to and interact with animals safely in the wild.

Lava lizards, marine iguanas, and a variety of coastal birds can be seen on a visit to most of the Galapagos Islands. Visitors may even encounter 500-pound tortoises, penguins that live in the tropics, and blue-footed birds. Underwater exploration presents unforgettable opportunities to swim with an abundance of marine wildlife, including whale sharks, the world’s biggest fish, and friendly sea lions!

Galapagos Wildlife Calendar

When planning a trip to the Galapagos, it’s important to recognize that animals follow certain breeding, feeding, and mating cycles that vary during different times of the year and also from island to island. Discover a bit more about the wildlife activity each month and where to find them: 

  • January: Male marine iguanas turn coppery green and red to attract potential mates on Española Island. 
  • February: Galapagos penguins migrate to Isabela and Fernandina Islands. 
  • March: Male frigatebirds puff their red throat pouches to attract a mate on San Cristobal and Genovesa Islands.
  • April: Green sea turtle eggs begin to hatch on the Central Islands. 
  • May: Blue-footed boobies perform courtship dances on several islands, including North Seymour. 
  • June: Giant tortoises on Santa Cruz Island head to the lowlands to begin nesting.
  • July: Humpback whales and dolphins are particularly common in the waters between Isabela and Fernandina Islands.
  • August: California baby sea lions are born on the Western and Central Islands.
  • September: Galapagos penguins begin courting on Isabela, Bartolome, and Fernandina Islands. 
  • October: Blue-footed booby chicks can be seen on several islands, including Española and Isabela Islands.
  • November: The best time to spot baby sea lions across the Galapagos archipelago. 
  • December: Giant tortoise eggs begin to hatch in December. The giant tortoise is native to seven of the Galapagos Islands. One of the best places to observe them in the wild is in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island. 
An adult and baby Nazca booby in their nest on the ground of Genovesa, a top Galapagos bird spotting island.

Parent and baby Nazca boobies on Genovesa Island. Photo by Melissa Dreffs of Peru for Less.

Galapagos Activities

Galapagos tours are packed full of incredible activities. Besides spotting wildlife, travelers can take advantage of the following activities, depending on their itinerary

  • Snorkeling
  • Scuba diving
  • Kayaking
  • Glass-bottom boat rides
  • Biking
  • Nature hikes

Ships and hotels may also have other things to do, such as:

  • Pool or jacuzzi
  • Board games
  • Theme nights (karaoke, trivia, BBQ, etc.)
  • Discussions or presentations with naturalist guides

If you have a specific activity you would like to partake in, a particular animal to see, or a preferred island to visit, contact your personal Travel Advisor to discuss your options.

A giant tortoise walks through lush greenery in the highlands of the Galapagos Island, Santa Cruz.

A giant tortoise in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island. Photo by Adriana Proaño of Peru for Less.

We hope these Galapagos travel tips are helpful in planning your trip and traveling to this once-in-a-lifetime destination. To learn more about the magnificent Galapagos Islands, its history, travel packages, best Galapagos Islands to visit, and more, check out our complete Galapagos travel guide

In the early stages of trip planning? Contact our team of experts to customize your dream trip to the Galapagos Islands.