Here is what you need to know about the wonderful Galapagos islands
How to get to the Galapagos, where to go and what to do?
Our insider’s guide is designed to help you squeeze the most out of your once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The Galapagos archipelago may be one of Latin America’s most prized treasures yet much mystery still surrounds the planning of a visit. Mostly, because many assume this is one of those unobtainable dream destinations: the ones everyone wants to go to but no-one can afford. So although most travellers know the Galapagos exist, many don’t know anything about them because they’ve never researched them in great depth. With this guide, we aim to dispel the myth and unravel the mysteries of a visit to one of the most magnificent, wildlife-enriched destinations on earth. And we’ll show you how with a bit of cunning planning, there’s no reason a visit to the Galapagos can’t be on your cards too.
For nature lovers and animal lovers, lovers of the pristine, the wild and the out of this world: your Guide to the Galapagos brings you one step closer to discovering this amazing natural wonderland.
What & where are the Galapagos?
The archipelago that makes up the Galapagos is a cluster of about 100 volcanic islands, only a handful of which are inhabited and large enough to explore on foot. They float off the coast of Ecuador and, luckily, are fiercely protected by the government. In years gone by, these islands were used as hiding spots for pirates and privateers but nowadays their ecological and biological uniqueness ensures their protection, especially from mankind. The uniqueness of the wildlife which inhabits the Galapagos was first recognised by Charles Darwin, and fellow naturalists have been enthralled ever since.
What’s so special about the Galapagos?
Remote and unspoiled, the Galapagos are home to a group of incredibly unique wildlife that has evolved unique traits not seen anywhere else. They’ve never been hunted and have no real major predators, living in a kind of harmony not seen anywhere else on earth. Only here do giant tortoises still roam the earth without fear of being hunted to extinction, only here do you meet cormorants who live so happily they have lost the ability to fly. They simply don’t need to go anywhere else. Imagine that? It’s incredibly humbling to visit a place that holds such magical biodiversity and perfection, and every second spent in the Galapagos feels like an absolute privilege for anyone who loves and respects nature.
What makes the animals of the Galapagos so fascinating? They are unafraid of humans, resulting in you having the priceless chance to meander among them as equal. It is a breathtaking experience to live among them all for a few days, in a way that simply is not offered anywhere else in the world.
How to get to the Galapagos?
The islands are easily accessible by flight from the Ecuadorian capital, Quito, and seaside hub of Guayaquil. Several flights depart daily, although the number restriction means flight can sell out fast. To get the best value for money deals, a visit to the Galapagos ought to be booked months in advance. Even 6 months. This way, you have the widest choice of boat accommodation and flight availability, as well as access to special early-bird deals.
What’s the best way to visit the Galapagos?
Visitor numbers are restricted in the Galapagos, resulting in just a group of highly-professional and highly-skilled private yacht charters being the only ones allowed to transport tourists around. You see, these aren’t the Greek Islands, where you can hop from island to island and enjoy their highlights. Distances are too great (cruise times are between 2 and 5 hours) and land infrastructure non-existent for the most part. Island hopping is neither too feasible nor too convenient. There’s nowhere to stay except for a couple of isles, so day outings on boats from a base point become long, expensive in the long run and unrewarding, as you’ll end up spending more time on getting there and back, rather than actually doing or seeing anything.
To really get the most out of a visit to the Galapagos, join a cruise boat. Most sailing is done at night whilst you catch some zzzzz and every daylight hour is spent exploring, not transferring. The startling beauty of the Galapagos is most evident when you sail among them, snorkeling and diving the deep blue waters brimming with underwater life, and walking on land for a few hours a day to discover inquisitive land creatures.
Where to go in the Galapagos?
Flights into the Galapagos arrive on the island of Santa Cruz, the most developed of all. Here, you’ll find a smattering of accommodation if you wish to chill for a day before boarding your boat. From Santa Cruz, boats depart on what are mostly only two itineraries: 8 and 12 day cruises.
Santa Cruz stands in the centre of the main archipelagos with about half a dozen islands south of it, and half a dozen north of it. Itineraries are then divided into the ‘northern route’ (Isabela, Fernandina and Santiago being the most famous isles) and ‘southern route’ (Floreana, Espanola, San Cristobal being the most famous there).
On an 8-day cruise, you can expect to visit one section. On a 12-day, you can cruise to both in a figure-of-8 itinerary. Santa Cruz is a convenient base for Galapagos cruises, offering you access to both the northern and southern cluster of islands.
Each Galapagos cruise boat offers specific itineraries on certain dates, based on the fact that they are restricted and not allowed to visit the same loading dock twice in a fortnight. When planning a visit, it’s important to not only choose the right boat based oncomfort level and inclusions but also on the itinerary they follow on the dates you wish to travel. The number of boats cruising the Galapagos may be limited, but options are plenty. As each main island in the Galapagos offers something unique and wondrous, you’ll want to hone in on your specific must-see list, although do note that many of the wildlife species can be seen all over. Nevertheless, you’ll see giant tortoises on Isabella Island and blue footed boobies on San Cristobal; armies of iguanas on Fernandina and fluorescent pink flamingos on Floreana. The Galapagos are home to a kaleidoscope of natural wonders. Your challenge, should you wish to accept it, is to come discover them all.
No matter your budget, time-restraint and travel style, you will find a Galapagos cruise that ticks all your boxes. Cruise prices can range widely depending on the time of year you visit, the boat and itinerary you choose and how far in advance you book. If you’re lucky enough to bag an early-bird sale, you could be sailing the waters of the Galapagos for as little as AU3000. Considering the (food & activity) inclusions of a cruise and the spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime travel experience you’re bound to have, the Galapagos still remain as they have always been: an incredible value for money travel destination.
What’s there to see and do in the Galapagos?
Revered as a wildlife haven bar none, the Galapagos are one of the world’s top destinations for animal lovers. Mostly, because here you don’t just watch the wildlife, but you walk and snorkel alongside it. This is one of the rare places on earth where you can sit on a stretch of desolate pristine beach and have a baby seal come flop right next to you. Where you have to play hopscotch over rocks to avoid stepping on amazing giant tortoises, fierce-looking iguanas and colourful Sally lightfoot crabs. Where a snorkel session soon turns into a tag game with a curious seal who steals your flipper and where you can find a shady spot under a tree and watch for hours as an albatross male woos his mate with his comical dance. For animal-experiencing, the Galapagos are unrivalled. Astounding. Unique.
What do you do in the Galapagos, you ask? You come meet the most unique animals on our planet, that’s what! Hiking on spellbinding volcanic islands, wildlife watching, snorkelling and SCUBA diving: these are the main activities on offer on the Galapagos.
Among the most coveted wildlife moments to experience on the Galapagos are giant tortoise hatching, penguin migration, green turtle nesting, waved albatross and blue footed boobies mating rituals (both with their respective wicked dance moves), humpback whale migration, sea lion birthing and so, so much more!
How long do I need to visit the Galapagos?
Ideally, you’ll want to spend a few days on shore before and even after your cruise, to get the most out of your trip and the most out of the expense, so factor in your desired cruise length plus 4 extra days if you can fit them into your travel plans. Perhaps the most important piece of advice we could give at this time is to not rush your visit. The Galapagos, and Ecuador, are likely to be very far from home, for you. This is not a place many people come back to time and again. For many, a Galapagos cruise is a one-off treat they’ve been dreaming their entire life. If this is you, then enjoy it. Soak it up. Stay that extra day, cruise an extra few. Take your time and make all that hard work and all those hard savings really worth it. Experience the Galapagos once and well and you’ll never regret a single extra dollar spent. For travel dreamers and explorers, there are few destinations in the world that can really offer you this much astonishing beauty.
When is the best time to visit the Galapagos?
We could easily tell you that ANY time of year is amazing on the Galapagos but you’ll probably think us only hopelessly in love. We’re not. Well, actually, for the Galapagos, we are, but that’s not what we mean! Each month of the year offers unique wildlife experiences in the Galapagos. All those mating, nesting, giving of birth and migrating rituals we mentioned above? They don’t all happen at the same time. They are staggered throughout the year, which means that no matter WHEN you visit, you’ll enjoy an exceptionally unique wildlife experience.
Having considered all that, there are other factors which should determine which month of the year is best for you. The climate can be cold and waters choppy at times, so if snorkelling and scuba diving are top of your priority list, you’ll want to visit during the warmer months when seas are calm and much more inviting. Don’t let the islands’ tropical location fool you: the Galapagos are not the exotic balmy destination you may envisage and only for a short period of the year can you dive and snorkel without wetsuits.
The region of the Galapagos enjoys two tourist peak seasons, both coinciding with international holiday period. Christmas and the June-August northern hemisphere summer season attract tourists in droves. If wishing to travel then you will definitely need to book well in advance. As far as climate is concerned, the Galapagos enjoy a warm and wet season at the end of the year (December & January) and a cold but dry season from June until November. Although you may experience some sporadic rain, the time between December and end of April is considered ideal for all the activities on offer, such as on-land hiking, wildlife-watching, snorkelling, SCUBA diving and also cruising in general, as waters are much calmer than at any other time of year.
Ready to discover the magnificent Galapagos Islands? Then contact us for more tips and advice and let us help you plan the kind of trip you’ll cherish for the rest of your life. And let your lifelong dream become a lifelong treasures memory.
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