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Galapagos Islands

Embark on a journey through the pristine national park of the Galapagos Islands and meet some of the most unique wildlife on the planet. Browse our guide below for essential facts, travel tips, and top attractions in the Galapagos Islands.


With animal encounters unlike any other and action-packed excursions galore, a trip to the Galapagos Islands is a vacation you’ll be talking about long after you return home. The islands are a UNESCO World Heritage Center and famous for its one-of-a-kind animals that inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

Explore the protected lands and waters of Galapagos with an experienced naturalist guide during a cruise or land-based tour. Meet swimming iguanas, 500-pound tortoises, social sea lions, and maybe even the amply named flightless cormorant with wings so small it can no longer fly. Biodiversity, beautiful landscapes and natural history collide in the Galapagos and make this remote archipelago off the coast of Ecuador a very magical destination.

Climate & Weather

The Galapagos has a subtropical climate. Despite its equatorial position, the archipelago is at the confluence of cold ocean currents which moderates the tropical heat and keeps temperatures in the mid-70s to mid-80s. Weather changes are graduation between the warm and cool seasons.

Warm Wet Season

Air and ocean temperatures are warmest in the Galapagos during these months. Conditions may be cloudy with occasional showers that often pass quickly.

  • When: January to June
  • Daytime temperature: mid-80s°F (26°C to 30°C)
  • Ocean temperature: 70°F - 80°F (21°C - 27°C)

Cool Drier Season

The dry season in the Galapagos means more blue skies with occasional midday precipitation. The chilly Humboldt Current passes through the islands during these months, cooling the air and ocean temperatures. The current also brings with it a mist-like drizzle, called garúa in Spanish, which coats island volcanoes and keeps the highlands in the Galapagos lush and green.

  • When: July to December
  • Daytime temperature: mid-70s°F (20°C to 24°C) and cooler evenings
  • Ocean temperature: 65°F - 75°F (18°C - 23°C)

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit the Galapagos boils down to why you want to visit, how you want to explore, and your preferences about the weather.

  • Animals have different breeding, feeding, and mating cycles throughout various times of the year. In the Galapagos, wildlife activity varies not only from month-to-month but island-to-island. In January, for example, green sea turtles lay their eggs and male marine iguanas turn bright colors to attract a mate. Later in the year, blue-footed boobies begin courtship dances on North Seymour Island and whale sharks migrate through the northern part of the archipelago. Check out Galapagos Animals below for more details about endemic wildlife.
  • Peak season is June, July, and August for the Galapagos. Weather conditions tend to be sunny and average daytime temperatures around 72°F (22°C). This is also considered the best time to go diving in the Galapagos because the nutrient-rich waters brought by the Humboldt Current attract large scoops of fish, whale sharks, and more.
  • The holiday season from mid-December to mid-January is also a wildly popular time to visit the Galapagos. Cruise itineraries and hotels book up several months and sometimes a full year in advance, so don’t wait until the last minute to start planning.
  • Snorkeling and swimming are most enjoyable in the Galapagos from December to May when the ocean tends to be warmer at around 85°F or 28°C.

Geography & Map

  • The Galapagos Islands is a volcanic archipelago that contains thirteen primary islands, six smaller isles, and several rocky islets. Galapagos is a province of Ecuador located 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) off the coast of South America in the Pacific Ocean. The capital is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island.
  • Elevation0 - 5,580 ft (0 - 1,700 m)
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Galapagos Islands

Galapagos National Park was established in 1959 to protect the special animal and plant species living in the archipelago and manage permanent conservation efforts. It encompasses 97 percent of all land area of the islands and 100 percent of the surrounding marine habitat.

Only four islands are permanently inhabited by humans. The rest of the islands can only be visited at designated terrestrial and marine sites with a guide.

Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz is home to the archipelago’s largest human population (~12,000), but still, the majority of the land is protected for resident marine iguanas, eight different species of finches, and other animals. Many travelers spend (at least a little) time on Santa Cruz when they come to the Galapagos. It’s only a 5-minute ferry ride to cross the Itabaca Channel from Seymour Airport on Baltra Island to Santa Cruz. From here, you can board your cruise or drive across the island and check-in at an accommodation in the town of Puerto Ayora.

The selection of restaurants, hotels with wifi, and souvenir shops lining Avenida Charles Darwin in Puerto Ayora brings the Galapagos into the 21st century and makes it a comfortable spot for island exploration. Learn about conservation projects at the Charles Darwin Research Station, take an independent nature walk to Turtle Bay, enjoy a morning dip at Las Grietas, and relax at Garrapatero Beach.

San Cristobal Island

The town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal is being developed as the main hub for tourism, second to Santa Cruz. Puerto Baquerizo is easily navigated on foot, hosts several options for dining, and the airport is conveniently just outside of town.

Popular attractions on San Cristobal include the Interpretation Center, spotting frigatebirds along the hike to Cerro Las Tijeretas, and a volcanic crater lake named Lagoon el Junco. San Cristobal is also a top spot for surfing in the Galapagos.

Isabela Island

Isabela is the largest island in the Galapagos and covers 1,790 square miles (4,640 square kilometers). Puerto Villamil on the island’s southern shore hosts a handful of hotels, tour offices, and restaurants, but the sleepy town is much smaller compared to Puerto Ayora and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.

There are many reasons to extend your stay on Isabela Island. Take a boat tour to a lava arch known as Los Tuneles; walk through the expansive lava field called Tintoreras where you’ll find colonies of baby iguanas and Galapagos hawks; and check out Centro de Crianza, a breeding center for giant tortoises.

Floreana Island

Floreana is one of the oldest islands in the Galapagos. Endemic giant tortoises roam about the island’s lush highlands and the coast delights with idyllic beaches. Devil’s Crown, a volcanic crater that is almost completely submerged under the ocean, is a magnificent spot for snorkeling.

Floreana is one of the four inhabited islands in the Galapagos, but with a population of fewer than 200 people, accommodations and tourism services are very limited. Visiting the island on a cruise is far more common than staying overnight in the sleepy port town of Puerto Velasco Ibarra.

Rabida Island

Rabida has an area of two square miles (five square kilometers) and is recognized as the place to spot at least nine species of Darwin finches. The island’s distinct red sand is from oxidation that occurred during its volcanic formation.

Genovesa Island

Genovesa is nicknamed “Bird Island” and a paradise for anyone who loves birdwatching. Darwin Bay is the principal attraction and home to swallow-tailed gulls, frigatebirds, puffball-chicks, lava herons, yellow-crowned herons, red-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, and many more species of birds.

Pinta Island

Pinta features active volcanoes on its northernmost point. The island is also home to a variety of animals, the most famous of which was Lonesome George, a Galapagos tortoise who was the last known individual species of his kind. Lonesome George spent his final years living a comfortable existence at the Charles Darwin Research Center until he passed away in 2012.

Fernandina Island

Fernandina is the youngest island in the Galapagos. Lava flow from its active volcano continues to form the island, so vegetation is sparse with only mangroves and endemic cacti, including lava cactus. Punta Espinosa, a thin stretch of land where marine iguanas lounge on black lava rocks, is one of the island’s main natural attractions.

Santa Fe Island

Santa Fe is the oldest island in the Galapagos geologically. Vegetation forms a thick forest of the largest species of Opuntia cactus. Named after a Spanish city, the island is teeming with the island’s endemic Barrington land iguana. Visit Barrington Bay to spot a colony of sea lions or walk along the cliffs of Santa Fe which provide shelter for red-billed tropicbirds, swallow-tailed gulls, and lava lizards.

Santiago Island

Santiago amasses 360 square miles (585 square kilometers), including two overlapping volcanoes. The beautiful isle has many natural landmarks. Puerto Egas is a lava shoreline with rock formations that host an assortment of wildlife such as marine iguanas and colorful Sally Lightfoot crabs. On the island’s eastern coast, walk across an expansive flat lava flow at Sullivan Bay.


The discovery of the Galapagos archipelago came in 1535 when Dominican Fray Tomás de Berlanga, the Bishop of Panama, was on his way to Peru to mediate an argument between a Spanish conquistador and his lieutenants after their conquest of the Incas. His ship drifted to the islands when the winds died. Since then, the Galapagos Islands have been a source of various social, economic, and scientific interests over the decades.

Pirates once used the islands as a hiding place for gold and silver treasures they pilfered from the Spanish. The location of the Galapagos also made it a convenient place to repair their ships and refuel food - principally tortoise meat - for long sea voyages.

The Galapagos Islands became part of Ecuador in 1833 and a few years later Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands for the first time during a scientific survey expedition aboard the HMS Beagle. Darwin was amazed not only by how creatures in the Galapagos were so different from their mainland counterparts but also by the fact that even between the islands, species with similar characteristics still managed to adapt uniquely and perfectly to their environment. Darwin famously wrote about his theory of evolution in On the Origin of Species based on his observations in the Galapagos Islands.

Charles Darwin forever changed science with evolutionary biology and the trajectory for how the world has come to know this remote archipelago off the coast of Ecuador. Today, the Galapagos Islands capture the hearts of the scientific community and globetrotters alike. The islands are a UNESCO World Heritage Center where conservation intertwines with the local tourism.

Galapagos Cruise vs Land Tour

Take an all-inclusive cruise to remote islands in the national park. Or, base your stay on land in a port town on Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, or Isabela and mix daily excursions with free time. What’s the right choice for you?

Galapagos Cruise

Cruises are convenient and fun. An activity-packed itinerary is already planned and all you have to do is show up to experience it. Vessels often travel between islands at night, so you wake up at a new destination which increases your chances of seeing more diversified wildlife. Many terrestrial and marine sites in the Galapagos are very isolated and can only be accessed on a boat. Routes through the archipelago explore different regions of the national park and itineraries range from 4 days to 8 days and more. Some cruises have kayaks and snorkeling gear for passengers and others cater scuba divers. If you are prone to motion sickness, go with a larger, more stable boat like the Galapagos Legend to avoid seasickness. Smaller yachts and sailboats are the least stable in the water.

Land Tour

Land-based exploration offers more trip flexibility and is likely the way to go if you get seasick. After daily wildlife and nature excursions, unwind at your hotel or enjoy independent exploration around town. Go to the beach, dine at a restaurant, or buy keepsake Galapagos shirts at a local store. In general, hotel and lodge accommodations in port towns are more comfortable and spacious than boat cabins. You can also customize your itinerary to include overnights on Santa Cruz, Isabela, and/or San Cristobal.

Read more about cruising versus land tours in the Galapagos.

Galapagos Cruises

Taking a cruise through the Galapagos is an all-inclusive way to explore the archipelago. Every day you wake up at a new destination and take guided excursions that enhance your understanding of the natural and geological wonders of these islands.

Galapagos cruises include daily meals and qualified naturalist guides to accompany you on your journey to different sites within Galapagos National Park, and our preferred cruises offer a range of onboard amenities as well as itinerary length. From mid-size cruise ships that give you more room to stretch your legs on deck to luxury catamarans and sailboats with a more intimate setting, there are a lot of options.

Travel Tips

Start Planning

A good rule of thumb is to book early when planning a trip to the Galapagos. How early? Usually about one year in advance. This is particularly true if you want to visit during high season when some cruises book twelve to eighteen months in advance.

How to Get to the Galapagos

Flying to the Galapagos Islands from mainland Ecuador is by far the most popular option. Even cruise passengers fly to the archipelago before boarding their boat.

The Galapagos has two airports with service to mainland Ecuador:

  • Seymour Airport (airport code: GPS) is located on the small island of Baltra and a short ferry crossing from the northside of Santa Cruz Island.
  • Airport Isla San Cristobal (airport code: SCY) San Cristobal airport is just on the outskirts of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal Airport.

All flights to the Galapagos depart from mainland Ecuador.{" "}

  • Quito to Galapagos: 3.5 hours (layover in Guayaquil)
  • Guayaquil to Galapagos: 1.5 hours non-stop


  • No vaccinations are required to travel to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.
  • Medical care in the Galapagos is improving, but the lack of infrastructure and remoteness of the archipelago does pose limitations. There are respectable medical facilities and well-stocked pharmacies in Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz Island) and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (San Cristobal Island). Patients with serious injuries are flown to mainland Ecuador for treatment at a hospital. If a scuba diver gets “the bends” (i.e. ascends too quickly to the surface) and needs to be treated for decompression sickness, the only hyperbaric chamber in the Galapagos is in Puerto Ayora.
  • Travelers prone to motion sickness should come prepared to the Galapagos with a seasickness remedy.

What to Pack

Clothing essentials:

  • Comfort is key for active outdoor excursions in the Galapagos. Wear clothing made from lightweight, breathable materials. Long-sleeves and pants are ideal for protection against the sun and pack a windbreaker or light sweater for cooler evenings.
  • Wear hiking shoes or athletic shoes with good traction for dry land exploration. Amphibious or mesh water shoes are great for excursions that bring you in contact with water.
  • Carry a hat and sunglasses in your daypack for protection against the equatorial sun.

Wildlife spotting essentials:

  • Digital camera or phone with a good zoom
  • Binoculars, if you have them
  • Waterproof case for your phone or GoPro to document swimming, snorkeling, or scuba diving highlights
  • Waterproof bag to carry your phone or camera

Additional accessories to comfortably explore the Galapagos:

  • Lightweight daypack to carry your daily essentials
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Sunblock
  • Insect repellent
  • Motion sickness remedy (if needed) for boat transfers or water excursions

Entering the Galapagos National Park

You need to pay a mandatory park fee that helps cover the management expenses of its land and marine habitats. Payment is made in US cash at Baltra Airport or Seymour Airport.{" "}

Galapagos National Park Fees:

  • US $100 for adults
  • US $50 for children under 12 years old

Getting Around the Galapagos

  • Ferryboats are a common form of inter-island transport. Daily departures connect Santa Cruz to San Cristobal and Santa Cruz to Isabela. There is no direct ferry service between San Cristobal and Isabela.
  • Small planes (6 to 9 passengers) fly daily between San Cristobal, Santa Cruz (via Seymour Airport), and Isabela. Flights are 30 to 40 minutes.

Galapagos National Park Rules

The golden rules of the national park are paraphrased below:

  • Photos make the best souvenirs. Don’t take away rocks, shells, or animals.
  • Bringing plant seeds or animals to the Galapagos is a no-no.
  • Admire wildlife from afar. Petting is not allowed.
  • Native animals can find their food. Don’t feed them.
  • Birds like their own space. Stay at least 2 meters from their nests.
  • Stay on marked paths.
  • Throw your trash in the trash.
  • Don’t buy souvenirs made from turtle shells, etc.
  • No graffiti. Don’t etch your name into a rock or tree.
  • No smoking, please.
  • No fishing aboard tourist boats.
  • Camping is only allowed in designated zones.
  • Report any dangerous activities to park authorities.
  • Spread the rules of the park and help educate others.

Local Currency

The US dollar is the official currency in the Galapagos, as it is for all of Ecuador. Cash is king in the Galapagos. In addition to the national park fee ($100 per adult), cash is also convenient to have - ideally in small notes – to pay for meals, make small store purchases, and tip your guide(s). There are ATMs in Puerto Ayora and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.

Galapagos Animals

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Marine iguanas

Marine iguanas are the only sea-going lizards in the world. These seaweed-eating reptiles can be spotted along the shores of many islands in the Galapagos.

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Galapagos penguins

Galapagos penguins are the only penguin species to live north of the equator. They are spotted on Fernandina and the west coast of Isabela.

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The frigatebird

The frigatebird is a large seabird and an endemic subspecies in the islands. Males swell their bright red throat pouch, or gular, to attract a mate.

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Galapagos sea lions

Galapagos sea lions are the most famous endemic marine mammal in the Galapagos. They are related to the California sea lion, but smaller, and love to swim alongside snorkelers.

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Galapagos giant tortoises

Galapagos giant tortoises can grow to be 500 lbs (230 kg) and live to be 100 years old. Giant tortoises are found on several islands but exist in larger numbers on Isabela Island.

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The flightless cormorant

The flightless cormorant may have wings too small to fly but they are agile swimmers. This rare species of bird is endemic to Galapagos and can be spotted on Isabela and Fernandina.

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Galapagos finches

Galapagos finches are widely known as Darwin finches. There are thirteen separate species of this bird residing all over the archipelago.

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Blue-footed boobies

Blue-footed boobies come to the Galapagos Islands to nest along the rocky coasts. These birds are very popular with visitors for their large blue feet and an entertaining dance they perform during the mating season between June and August.

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Great frigatebirds

Great frigatebirds are large seabirds and males are known for swelling their bright red gular (throat) sac to attract a female during mating season.

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Galapagos hawks

Galapagos hawks are one of the only endemic predators to the archipelago and feed on insects, baby lizards, and other small animals. They are spotted frequently on larger islands, including Isabela and Santa Cruz.


Accommodations in the Galapagos are most diverse in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, which is why many of our preferred hotels are located in this port town. Treat yourself to a luxury resort in one of the most unique destinations in the world or stay in town for convenient access to local restaurants, shops, and attractions within walking distance. Of course, if you prefer, your travel advisor will customize a land-based Galapagos vacation with overnights on San Cristobal Island, Isabela Island, or Floreana Island.

Galapagos Habitat

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