Everything You Need to Know Before Visiting the Galápagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago of 19 volcanic islands situated about 1000 kilometers from continental Ecuador it is probably the most iconic tourist destination in Ecuador and for lots of good reasons! Therefore I put together a travel guide on things you need to know before visiting the Galapagos Islands.

With a five-million-year history, in 1959, the Galápagos became Ecuador’s first national park, and in 1978, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. These islands boast extremely unique endangered wildlife species, wonderful beaches, breathtaking landscape, and a wide variety of different flora and fauna.

The wildlife on the Galapagos is known to be friendly so you can observe them from a short distance, the endemic species on the island have also played a huge role in the inception of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution after his visit in 1835. No wonder why this is a destination that many travelers have on their bucket lists like us! 😀

All of these reasons will make your trip to the Galapagos unforgettable and life-changing. However, the Galapagos is not an everyday destination, which might make it difficult to visit and not really a budget-friendly destination, that’s why I decided to write this blog post to tell you all the essential information you need to know before planning and embarking on your trip to this magical archipelago. 

Get ready to be mind-blowing with G-Extreme’s Galapagos Islands Travel Guide completed with dozens of reasons to visit it ~ the wildlife is number one on the list, of course!

NOTICE: The information here is updated as best we can in light of COVID-19. Please check before you go anywhere what modifications have taken place to avoid any inconvenience!

SOME INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

#1. First Unesco World Heritage in the World!

Designed as the first World Heritage Site in 1978! Therefore some islands are no human inhabitants and there is an entrance fee from visitors in order to enter Galapagos National Park.

What’s a World Heritage site? As my beloved Wiki friends would suggest “It is a landmark or area which is selected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as having cultural, historic, scientific or other forms of significance, and is legally protected by international treaties”.

#2. The islands are not uninhabited

Many people often think that the Galapagos are remote desolate islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but that’s simply not true. They are located 600 miles from mainland Ecuador and there are up to 180 land and marine destinations for travelers to visit.

The Galapagos Islands consist of 13 major islands, 5 of which are inhabited (these are located right on the equator and are home to over 25,000 people). Being on the equator it perfect as a year-round destination – 12 hours of daylight and nightlight all year long!

In addition to the bigger islands, there are over 42 islets and over 250 rocks. The number of islands in the Galapagos is constantly in flux due to the continuous volcanic activity which leads to the emergence of new formations or sinking of existing ones. 

Meet my Couchsurfer Host Felix, exploring the island with me!

#3. Galapagos is the most Biodiverse Place on Earth

If not for other reasons that 97% of the islands are considered a national parks. In the distant 1959, the Galápagos was established as the first national park in Ecuador!

No wonder why there is endless opportunity for interacting with the wildlife, half of the land species and 1/5 of the marine ones are home to the Galapagos.

Speaking of the underwater world, there are over mind-blowing 1200 species of mollusks and fish swimming around the Galapagos Islands. If you are a diver, this destination is just for you and I can suggest this wonderful scuba dive center for you all.

#4. Many species on the islands are endangered

Unfortunately, many of the species that are endemic to the Galapagos are endangered such as the Giant Tortoise which has already been endangered for centuries.

On the list, the Marine Iguanas are included. Even though are iguanas, the Galapagos Marine Iguana is the only lizard on the planet that has evolved to live in the sea!

Other endangered species include blue-footed boobies and sea lions.

#5. Wild animals are not scared of people

Due to the absence of natural predators on the islands, the Galapagos wild animals are not afraid of humans which means if you get close to them, they will probably not move an inch.

Locals say that sea lions are the new dogs on islands and you will end up most of your time running into them!

However, it’s important to note that one of the key rules of the Galapagos National Park is that visitors must remain at a distance of at least 2 meters to avoid disturbing them.

#6. The islands are mostly off the grid

It’s important to know that if you visit the Galapagos, you will be offline almost the entire time.

Most cruises don’t have wifi, and some of them offer it for an extra cost. The reception on the cruise is also unreliable, so even if you have a SIM card it might be difficult to connect to the internet.

You will find WiFi in the islands’ restaurants, but it will most probably be really slow. This won’t hurt anyone, it might be a good chance for you to enjoy some quality time and experience your trip to the fullest without distractions!

When is the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands?

Any time is a great time to visit the Galapagos due to their year-round moderate temperatures.

1. December to February

This is considered to be the wet season, where the climate is warmer, more humid, and there’s some light rainfall. You will even find warm waters that are perfect for diving in not that in other months is not!

It’s indeed perfect for spending the whole day under the sun because temperatures start rising but it doesn’t go oppressively hot. This is also the best time for hatching the Galapagos Giant tortoise eggs!

Important Fact: Expect more crowds and a rise in prices because this is peak tourist season considering that people are looking for a warm exotic spot to spend the Christmas holidays. Remember also to book in advance to avoid being left without accommodations.

2. March to April

Believe me or not, this is the hottest time of year, no wonder why you won’t find many tourists here during this time (except for the week around Easter)

On the other hand, you will have the island all for you. Piece of advice, having a hotel room with A/C will save you to keep cool overnight.

Even though the water is hot during these months, the visibility of the water might disappoint my beloved divers. Because the visibility is pretty low as the conditions become not ideal at all for diving either.

3. May to July

Summer in the Galapagos Islands is a great time to go when the temperature is comfortable and the water is still warm enough.

My beloved divers, in these months you have a good chance to see humpback whales and sharks! Do you wanna miss the chance to dive with whale sharks? Keep in mind the humpback whale migration starts usually in June, contrary you possibly swim with whale sharks anytime during summer.

If you’re a wildlife enthusiast, in May, the adorable blue-footed boobies will be mating which is a truly rare sight. Sea lions tend to breed in July!

4. August to November

The dry season is cooler and extends from August to November. It tends to be misty and rainy so it’s not ideal for lounging at the beach – although the colder and clear water creates dream conditions for snorkeling and diving!!

If you’re a wildlife enthusiast, it’s worth knowing that animal behavior depends on the season, so for instance the penguins will migrate to the center islands in August because of the cold.

HOW TO GET TO THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

As I said earlier, the Galapagos Islands are located around 1000 kilometers off the coast of Ecuador, so the first thing you need to do is get to Ecuador.

There are no direct international flights to the Galapagos islands, so in order to get there, you can take a flight from Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, or Guayaquil. Guayaquil is closer to the islands so if you have the option to take a flight from there, it will save you some time as most flights from Quito stopover in Guayaquil to pick up passengers.

The best option is to fly into Baltra airport and take a bus and ferry ride to Santa Cruiz as most cruises start there.

Useful Tip for Entering Galapagos

Pre-register and plan to be at the airport 3 hours ahead of your flight. BE SURE YOUR DOCUMENTS ARE UP TO DATE (passport should be valid at least 6 months after the planned departure from the country) ~ check if you need a visa upon arrival!
  • #1 Go to the TCT line first.
  • #2 Have vaccine cards and negative PCR-tests, hotel information, flight information, and passport on hand; otherwise, they won’t let you in.
  • #3 Pay a $20 transit control fee (to be paid in cash after all the documentation is confirmed and keep the receipt because you have to return upon departure).
  • #4 Do the Galapagos luggage inspection line: your bags will be searched to protect the archipelago from introduced plants or animals.
  • #5 Check in with your airlines & Check bags with them.
  • #6 Go through security screening to the gate.

Hey Goofball! Keep in mind, once landed in Galapagos Islands, you have to pay a $100 National Park Entrance Fee at the Galápagos Islands airport.

COSTS OF TRAVELING TO THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

The Galapagos isn’t the most budget-friendly destination, but it is worth every penny! As mentioned above be prepared to pay in cash a $20 transit control fee and a $100 National Park Entrance Fee at the Galápagos Islands airport.

#1. Cost of food, transportation, tours, and daily cruise for Galapagos

On average, people spend around $30 on food per day (depending on whether you eat in a local restaurant or not) and around $50 on local transportation.

Tours usually range from $60 to $180 per person depending on the length and destination.

Here below you find prices for a Galapagos cruise per day:

Tourist class: $250-$350;
First-class: $350-$450;
Luxury ships: $450 and up.

#2. Accommodation

The average price for one person for accommodation in Galapagos Islands is $52. For two people sharing a typical double-occupancy hotel room, the average price for a hotel room in Galapagos Islands is $104.

You can also find rooms in a Hostel or on Airbnb for around $30. Why not spend equal to 0 pence hosting by a Couchsurfer? It’s always a good idea to check booking.com to find the best deals!

#3. Tipping

Tipping in the Galapagos is expected and normal; you should tip both your guide and your crew. For the guide, you should tip them around $10-$20 per day, per person and for the crew, you should also tip them $10-$20 to be split among them.

GALAPAGOS PACKING ESSENTIALS

The Galapagos isn’t your average everyday travel destination, so it’s important to be mindful and careful about what you pack so you can be carefree during your trip!

Do you know the saying pack light and efficiently?! First of all, triple check your baggage allowance for your flights to the Galapagos, then consider as well whether you have to take a speedboat or water taxi between islands.

While thinking of what to pack, there are three things you should consider: you will spend a lot of time in the water, it can rain any time of the year, and the sun is really strong on the island.

Here’s a list of some essential items you will need during your trip: 

  • Sunscreen: As I mentioned, being near the equator the sun might not seem strong but is very strong on the island, so you need to pack sunscreen as it’s quite expensive in both the airport and the islands;
  • Photo gear and underwater camera: The landscape, nature, and wildlife on the island are so incredible, you will not want to miss taking lots and lots of pictures! It would definitely be a plus if you could pack an underwater camera because there are so many wonders that are worth capturing. Don’t forget to pack chargers and memory cards too;
  • Packing cubes: They make it so easy to organize and save a lot of space in your luggage (A LOT, they saved me in few situation);
  • Swimsuit, wetsuit, or short-sleeved wetsuit: Having a comfortable swimsuit is essential in a place like the Galapagos. Packing a wetsuit is also a good idea so you can protect yourself if the water is too cold and to avoid getting sunburnt as well. If this isn’t a comfortable option and you don’t have your whole body covered, you can pack a short-sleeved wetsuit;
  • Waterproof bag: Whether you are hiking, on boat rides, or exploring the beaches, a dry bag will keep your electronics or any important belongings dry;
  • Reusable Water Bottle: Water is important, bring a reusable bottle with you which you can fill from wherever you are;
  • Motion sickness pills: Even if you don’t usually get seasick, it’s recommended to keep some motion sickness pills on you because the ocean can be rough sometimes, and you never know when you might need them;
  • Travel Insurance: A good rule of thumb is to never travel without travel insurance, but it’s especially important in the Galapagos as if anything happens, you’ll be flown back into the mainlands for medical attention which can be quite expensive;
  • Water bottleIn general water in Ecuador is not drinkable, therefore I suggest you to take with you your reusable water bottle to top it up as often as you need. It’s also a good way to reducing plastic consumption all over!
  • Sun Hat & Sun Glasses: Pack your hat and a pair of polarized sunglasses (the only pair I use) to protect you from the rays;
  • Binoculars: These will be your friend especially if you’re a bird watcher;
  • Sandals & Sneakers: Walking is the highlight of the island, so is recommended to have a comfortable pair of supportive sandals and a pair of sneakers while exploring the Galapagos Islands. You might encounter uneven and rocky places, so water shoes might be a good investment too!

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU VISIT THE GALAPAGOS?

The islands are packed with things to do, so here are some of my suggestions!

#1. Snorkeling

Snorkeling is probably the most popular thing to do on the islands because of the incredible diversity of marine life and the crystal clear waters almost all year round!

You can do it pretty much anywhere on the islands and it doesn’t require certification, so it’s definitely something you should do whenever you have the chance.


#2. Hiking

97% of the Galapagos is protected as a national park, so you’ll find many outstanding hiking trails and varied terrains such as blackened lava rock trails, lush green highlands, and coastal beaches.

Santa Fe and Sierra Negra are two recommended destinations if you plan on taking a hike.


#3. Bird-watching

If any place is perfect for bird-watching, it’s definitely the Galapagos. The islands are home to many unique and wonderful species of birds.

There’s a big variety of species of birds on the islands, some of which are endemic and exist only on the Archipelago. Some of the birds you can spot are finches, Galapagos penguins, blue and footed boobies, flamingoes, and frigate birds.

So grab your binoculars and enjoy the awe-inspiring sights!

#4. Diving

If you’re a diver, diving in the Galapagos will be like nothing you’ve seen before. There are two main reasons for diving in the Galapagos, whale shark season and manta ray season.

The best diving spots are on Darwin and Wolf islands where you will see hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, eagle rays, and many more.

#5. See Giant Tortoises

You can observe these giant creatures in many research centers or reserves such as Charles Darwin Research Center on Santa Cruz Island and Puerto Villamil Breeding Center on Isabela.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Language: Spanish is the official language of the Galápagos Islands, but English is spoken nearly everywhere. If you find yourself in difficulty, this translator might help you out while your visit, or using this language app could help you learn Spanish.

Currency: Both Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands use the US Dollar (you might get Ecuadorian sucres coins in exchange which are the same value as USD).

Cash is KING: It’s best if you carry cash with you because sometimes there are a limited number of ATMs on the islands (Santa Cruz or San Cristobal Island) and sometimes don’t work and the withdrawal monthly limit is also low.

Plugs: Ecuadorian plugs are type A and  B, same as the USA. If you’re traveling from other countries, a universal adapter is suggested.

Safety: The Galapagos Islands are pretty safe, especially for a solo traveler. This is the kind of place where most locals leave their doors unlocked. What can go wrong is getting too close to wild animals and being attacked by them. Kidding, use always common sense, and taking extra safety never hurts because robbers are living everywhere in the world!

Digital Nomads: Because the archipelago is off the grid, it doesn’t really give a nomad an easy life. As much beautiful it is, the internet speed ruins everything if you are trying to work from there!

As you can see, the Galapagos Islands are full of wonders, and taking a trip there will not only inspire you, it might change your life! It changed mine by surprise and showed me a completely new level of nature’s complexity.

I hope to return to this paradise very soon in the future, and I really hope this guide helps you plan the trip of your life to these enchanted islands! So, when are you leaving for this next adventure of yours? Be ready to go on an adventure and don’t forget to be safe out there Gextremers!

 

Read More: Amazon Travel Guide