Helpful Tips for First-Time Galapagos Travelers

Maximize your enjoyment of the remote Galapagos archipelago off Ecuador's coast.
by Britt Fracolli

Planning a trip to the Galapagos can be overwhelming: there are just SO many choices and details to consider!

We answer three important questions to help you maximize your enjoyment while exploring Charles Darwin’s old stomping grounds.

Should I book a cruise or land-based package?

Galapagos Cruise

A cruise is a convenient and all-inclusive way to explore the diversity of the islands and visit remote areas that cannot be reached on a day-tour from a port town. 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 almost every day!

great blue heron poses for the camera in the GalapagosUnique wildlife awaits at every stop on a Galapagos cruise.
Photo by blinking idiot/Flickr

The 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. Of course your guide is happy to answer your questions.

Folks that want to scuba dive in the Galapagos must cruise on a diving-specific boat.

A range of 3-day, 4-day, 5-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.

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 local Galapagueños and small port towns where travelers can organize 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 Isabella, transport is offered via boat ferries. 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. Folks prone to seasickness don’t have to fear any ocean rocking motion!

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 hotels here.

What unique wildlife do I want to see?

A trip to the Galapagos 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. An 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!

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.

Don’t forget to consult a wildlife calendar while planning your trip to the Galapagos.

  • January is when male marine iguanas turn coppery green and red to attract potential mates.

a marine iguana in the GalapagosA marine iguana lounging in fashionable attire.
Photo by blinking idiot/Flickr

  • During July, whales and dolphins are particularly common in the waters between Isabela and Fernandina Islands.

scuba diver approaching whale shark in galapagos islands watersSwim with whale sharks in the Galapagos!

  • Blue-footed booby chicks can be seen on Española and Isabela in October.

blue-footed bobby baby chick in the GalapagosI spy something blue. Do you?
Photo by Derek Keats/Flickr

  • The giant tortoise is native to seven of the Galapagos Islands and can reach weights of more than 600 pounds (about 270 kilograms). One of the best places to observe them in the wild is at El Chato, a site on Santa Cruz Island. Giant tortoise eggs begin to hatch in December which is an event that generally continues until April.

hanging out with a giant tortoise in the GalapagosGet ready for some big wildlife encounters!
Photo by Steven Bedard/Flickr

What is the weather going to be like?

The Galapagos is a wonderful destination to visit anytime of the year. Weather changes are gradual and storms or major winds are rare.

Water and air temperatures in the Galapagos 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.

Galapagos-IslandA strikingly colorful Galapagos landscape.

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 more rough. Peak season for diving in the Galapagos is July, August, and September when the rich, plankton-filled waters of the chilly Humboldt current attracts a slew in underwater wildlife to the region.

It’s never a bad time to travel to the Galapagos. But the “best time” to visit these remote islands really boils down to your personal preferences. ClickGo Discover” now.