Find the answers to some of the most common Galapagos frequently asked questions. Contact us with any other questions on luxury travel Galápagos and our expert, locally-based travel team will be able to assist with personal, expert advice as part of your tailormade travel planning arrangements.
- Why visit the Galapagos Islands?
- When is the best time to visit the Galapagos?
- How do you get to the Galapagos?
- How much time do I need to visit the Galapagos?
- Do I need any vaccinations for Ecuador?
- Should I take a cruise or stay in a hotel?
- Where is the best place to stay on the Galapagos Islands?
- What type of boat should I choose for a cruise?
- What is the best itinerary for visiting the Galapagos?
- Which islands can be visited as day trips from Santa Cruz?
- What is the difference between the Eastern and Western islands?
- What wildlife is there to see on different islands?
- What special wildlife activity takes places throughout the year?
- Is the Galapagos a good destination for families?
- Can I dive in the Galapagos?
- What should I pack for visiting the Galapagos?
- Is it possible to sail between the Galapagos islands?
- What is snorkeling like in the Galapagos?
- Is sea sickness an issue?
- What should I tip?
Why visit the Galapagos Islands?
The Galapagos is an unmissable, once-in-a-lifetime experience with unique features that make it a nature lover's haven:
a. It is the one of the only spots on earth where you can visit locations in their natural state as they were hundreds of thousands of years ago, with no introduced species and no human habitation. 43% of the species in the Galapagos are endemic--found nowhere else on earth.
b. The location of the Galapagos makes it the perfect laboratory of evolution, a place where species change and evolve very quickly. The islands are located where currents meet causing the islands to be teeming with wildlife; the climate changes quickly and frequently (decimating entire animal populations) and only the fittest survive.
c. Geologically the Galapagos is a hotspot and a living chain of volcanoes emerging from an underwater platform. Volcanoes erupt and islands are contstantly emerging making the geology unique, varied and fascinating.
When is the best time to visit the Galapagos?
The Galapagos is a year-round destination. Between December and May it is hot and sunny most of the time and the water is warm which makes snorkelling more comfortable. In June the water starts to cool down as the winter or “garua season” sets in. Days are still comfortably warm but it can be overcast, and you may need to wear warmer clothes on visits that you can do in shorts and a T- shirt during the warm months. During the winter you definitely need to cover up in the evenings with a fleece (or similar). In the highlands of Santa Cruz and other islands it gets quite cool, rainy and overcast. During September the water tends to be choppier, but this is also the best month to spot whales and dolphins, as well as migratory birds in open water. The better months for diving are August and September. In our opinion, if you can choose, the best time to visit the Galapagos is from the end of November to June.
How do you get to the Galapagos?
To access the Galapagos you can only fly from Quito or Guayaquil in Ecuador mainland. You need to first spend a night in either Quito or Guayaquil since flights to the Galapagos leave early in the morning. There are three airlines: AeroGal, LATAM and TAME. Flights from Quito take 3 hours and 40 minutes (with a stopover in Guayaquil). Flights from Guayaquil take 1 hour and 40 minutes. Note: The Galapagos are 1 hour behind Ecuador mainland time. The island of Isabela can be reached by small plane from Baltra airport, which takes half an hour (or alternatively an approximately 4hr boat ride from Santa Cruz's port).
How much time do I need to visit the Galapagos?
Three nights / four days is the minimum amount of time needed, excluding travel time to and from the mainland, whether you stay in a lodge or cruise. We recommend four nights / five days or five nights / six days (excluding travel time from the mainland) as the ideal duration for the majority of all visitors. Most cruises operated are from three nights to seven nights. For cruises as long as 14 nights, these are made up of two shorter itineraries taken consecutively on the same vessel, whereby new passengers will embark in the middle. Seven nights or more can sometimes be longer than most general interest travelers need, while stays that are shorter than three nights are too short, especially considering the (relative) effort to reach the Galapagos and taking into account distances between islands to see a range of wildlife.
Cruises normally start in Santa Cruz or Baltra Island (you have to fly to Baltra airport from the mainland), or some start in San Cristobal (you have to fly into Puerto Baquerizo Moreno from the mainland).
Do I need any vaccinations for Ecuador?
In addition to the advice below, we recommend that you visit your health care provider to provide advice in accordance with your personal health and medical history.
From February 10th 2017, an international certificate of vaccination for yellow fever is mandatory for travelers coming from Brazil, Angola, Congo, or Uganda. For those traveling to the rainforest, the yellow fever vaccination is recommended and Ecuadorian authorities may ask you to show a certificate of vaccination for yellow fever. It is valid for 10 years and must be administered at least 15 days before arrival in the rainforest.
Should I take a cruise or stay in a hotel?
There is no right or wrong way to visit the Galapagos and it depends on personal preferences. If you want to see as many species as possible, a cruise is a great option as you will get to see many islands with boats travelling through the night. Each island is different, with some wildlife only found on individual islands. Cruises usually combine island visits with snorkeling, with morning and afternoon activities broken up by lunch onboard. Cruises are very structured, typically with early (6-7am) wake-up calls.
For those who prefer more flexibility and independence, a land-based stay at a top hotel or Lodge is a great way to have a base to explore the Galapagos by taking day trips by motorboat. Schedules are less restrictive and you can start a land-based trip any day of the week. There are lodgings on the 4 inhabited islands: San Cristobal (Puerto Baquerizo Moreno), Santa Cruz (Puerto Ayora), Isabela (Puerto Villamil) and Floreana.
For families travelling with children, we recommend that you combine a Family Departure on a cruise with a hotel, or be based solely from a hotel. Alternatively, it is possible to combine a cruise with a stay in a hotel pre/post cruise for the best of both!
Where is the best place to stay on the Galapagos Islands?
If you're looking for a land-based program or a stay in a lodge or hotel before or after a cruise, there are a range of excellent options to suit different tastes and budgets. Some of our top recommendations include: Pikaia Lodge (five-star luxury on Santa Cruz), Galapagos Safari Camp (luxury tented accommodation on Santa Cruz), Scalesia Lodge (first class tented accommodation on Isabela island), Finch Bay Eco Hotel (first class hotel on Santa Cruz), Villa Escalesia (luxury private villa rental on Santa Cruz). There are more options to suit budget and tastes.
What type of boat should I choose for a cruise?
There are many options and variables and it depends on your own travel style, preferences and budget: we can recommend the right cruise to suit you. Aracari typically recommends smaller boats of up to 20 passengers, as these are more intimate and personal. There are a variety of vessel types: teel-hulled, classic vessels, schooners, modern yachts, sailboats and catamarans. Larger boats typically have the advantage of more public spaces and facilities; medium size vessels can suit families better as they afford more public spaces. Smaller boats provide greater intimacy. When deciding between boats you might like to consider how important it is to you to have a balcony in your room versus panoramic windows or portholes, or how important your room space is versus the space of public areas.
What is the best itinerary for visiting the Galapagos?
Each island is unique, with species that can be seen during different seasons throughout the year. As such, the best itinerary is dependent on your personal interests, time you have available and the time of year you visit.
On each island there are a variety of water and land-based activities including hiking, kayaking, diving and snorkeling. Isabela Island has 70% of the flora & fauna in the Galapagos as it is 60% of the landmass of all the Galapagos Islands. It is located in the western part of the archipelago which is generally visited by larger ships on longer cruises. Some of the most popular islands include: Española, Genovesa, Santa Cruz, Isabela, Fernandina, Bartolomé, North Seymour, South Plaza and Floreana.
Longer cruise itineraries will allow you to see more, though all the itineraries we recommend are designed to show you a variety of flora fauna. Across the Galapagos there are a total of 64 visitor sites across the islands where boats can stop and visitors can get off, so it’s best to talk to an expert travel planner about the options and variations to suit your needs and interests.
Which islands can be visited as day trips from Santa Cruz?
The small islands of Santa Fe, Bartolomé, Bachas (part of Santa Cruz), Seymour and South Plaza are near Santa Cruz and can be visited on day trips. They receive the most visitors because you can see some of the most distinctive wildlife. It is possible to visit Isabela by motorboat but, at 5 to 6 hours, this a long trip.
What is the difference between the Eastern and Western islands?
The eastern islands are the oldest - at 4-5 million years - and are more eroded by wind and water with effusive (non-explosive) volcanic eruptions about every 5 years. You can no longer see the volcanic domes on these islands and, as a result, the vegetation and wildlife are very different to that on the western islands. There is better snorkeling and water activities on these islands. Española and San Cristobal are the main eastern islands. Other islands often included in the eastern island loops include, Santa Cruz (where cruises depart from), Rábida (central), Bartolomé (central) and Genovesa (north).
The western islands are younger - between 2-3 million years - and have more frequent volcanic activity than the eastern islands, which is reflected in the landscape. All of the species inhabiting the western islands are endemic. The western islands are more isolated from the others and a thus only visited by larger vessels that can make the journey faster. Western islands include Isabela, the island with the largest land mass, and Fernandina.
What wildlife is there to see on different islands?
Some islands are better known for avian life, while others for tortoises, iguanas, sea lions or other. Here’s a summary of some of the most iconic species on main islands – though this list is not exhaustive!
Española – Albatros, Blue-footed boobies, Nazca (masked) boobies and Galapagos hawks. In December adult Marine Iguanas become brightly colored.
Fernandina – In July flightless Cormorants perform courtship rituals. Marine Iguanas can also be seen here.
Isabela – Whales and dolphins can be spotted off the Western coast in July. There is also good snorkeling to see tropical fish and penguins. Other species include: Galapagos Penguins, land Iguanas and finches.
Bartolomé – In September, the Galapagos Penguins are especially active here.
Santa Fe – Known for Land Tortoises.
Santa Cruz – Marine Iguanas, Giant Tortoises.
San Cristobal – Sea lions, Giant Sea Turtles, Marine Iguanas, Frigate birds.
Rábida – Sea Lions, Brown Pelicans.
North Seymour – Blue-footed boobies, Magnificent Frigate birds, Sea Lions.
South Plazas – Land Tortoises.
What special wildlife activity takes places throughout the year?
January – Sea Turtles arrive at beaches to lay eggs. Land birds begin nesting.
February – Few penguins at Bartolomé Island because they follow cooler waters west. Marine Iguanas begin to nest on Santa Cruz Island.
March – Waved Albatross begin to arrive on Española Island.
April – Hatching season for Giant Tortoises ends. Eggs of Sea Turtles begin to hatch.
May – Blue-footed boobies begin courting.
June – Giant Tortoises begin nesting season. Many Magnificent Frigate birds visible on North Seymour.
July – Sea bird communities are very active performing courtship activities. Most likely time to see whales and dolphins, especially off west coast of Isabela Island.
August – Pupping season (birth) of Sea Lions begins. Migrant shore birds begin to arrive.
September – Galapagos Penguins very active on Bartolomé. Sea Lions and Sea Birds are very active during this time.
October – Sea Lions begin mating period. Blue-footed boobies raise chicks on Española and Isabela Islands.
November – Some species of jellyfish can be spotted around the islands. Sea Lion pups begin to play.
December – Giant Tortoise eggs begin to hatch. Great Frigate birds at Genovesa.
Is the Galapagos a good destination for families?
Absolutely! Wildlife-watching opportunities are fun and educational experiences for the whole family to share. If you’re set on doing a cruise, we’d recommend signing up for a family departure if you have young children, unless you’re chartering a small vessel (12-16 passengers). We recommend organizing a family-departure well in advance (6-12 months), especially if travelling over peak periods like Christmas and Easter holidays. Certain cruises have a minimum age requirement (e.g. 6yrs and over) and some are less-family friendly; it’s also worth keeping in mind cruises have fixed itineraries and activities. With this in mind, land-based stays offer more flexibility if your children are young or mixed ages: you can combine a stay on Isabela and Santa Cruz islands and enjoy a variety of day excursions to suit all the family.
Can I dive in the Galapagos?
Absolutely. Diving can be enjoyed by experienced divers with a PADI or similar license, having completed at least 10 dives (though more is recommended to cope with currents etc). The options are to take a diving-specific cruise (as opposed to naturalist cruise), or stay in a property on an island like Santa Cruz or Isabela and take diving day trips from there. If your family or group is made up of both divers and some non-divers, you should base yourself on land, so that the group can divide for diving/non-diving activities. Diving cruises cater only to divers, only with short naturalist visits on the first and last day. The diving sites near the small islands by Santa Cruz and Isabela are easily reached by motorboat from Puerto Villamil, where several hotels are located.
Diving cruises are operated by specialist companies and their itineraries take you to the islands of Darwin and Wolf, the northernmost islands in the archipelago. These islands have the best diving sites and require 4 days of cruising away from the main archipelago, so diving-specific cruises are longer than the average naturalist offering. The itineraries consist of 2 dives a day - and night dives, too. While you visit islands for diving, this is for diving only - i.e. you do not also visit islands on land except for your first and last days for short nature visits.
At alternative hybrid option for a mixed groups of divers and non-divers is to take a naturalist cruise and then arrange, in addition, two or three dives in selected dive sites with a local diving operator. This carries an additional cost to the main naturalist cruise, but is something Aracari can arrange.
The best diving cruise option is Galapagos Sky. Alternatives are Agressor III and Nortada.
What should I pack for visiting the Galapagos?
Very casual clothes, good walking shoes, rubber sandals, light weight trousers and shirts, T-shirts, swimsuits, shorts and a fleece for evenings. For the cooler season, from June to October, a fleece/sweatshirt or two will be necessary as well as warmer pants. We recommend you bring binoculars, if you have a pair. Boats usually provide snorkels and flippers with wetsuits included or available to rent. Bring suncream and insect repellent.
Is it possible to sail between the Galapagos islands?
Due to the weak winds that prevail, the Galapagos Islands are not recommeneded for sailing. The Galapagos are situated in strategic position where the warm waters of the “Niño” current meet the cold waters from the “Humboldt” current and winds from the north and south collide, creating an area of relative calm, which means that the wind is weak and generally pushed upward. If you want to pick a sailboat to travel the Galapagos, you should be prepared to be propelled by the engine most of the time and enjoy only a few hours of sailing in silence, without an engine.
What is snorkeling like in the Galapagos?
There are some good snorkeling opportunities depending on conditions. Marine life is rich, though not as varied as can be found in warmer tropical waters elsewhere in the world. Water activity highlights including swimming with sea lion pups, sea turtles and sharks. Some of the best snorkeling spots include Devil’s Crown and Champion’s Island. The best time of year for snorkeling is from November to May when the water is warmest. However, even in the warmer months, it can be cool so we recommend using a short wetsuit (some cruises provide or have available to rent).
Is sea sickness an issue?
The Galapagos are 1,000 nautical miles from the coast of Ecuador and the ocean water can get choppy, especially from July to September, making seasickness a possibility for some. Prevention is the best method and we suggest talking to your doctor about sea sickness. There is a patch that can be placed behind the ears before the cruise that is particularly effective with children and there are bracelets that can be worn to avoid sea sickness
If you have any other questions not covered by our Galapagos frequently asked questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch with our expert travel planning team who will be happy to assist!
What should I tip?
Cruises in particular provide recommended tipping information, however the amount suggested can vary from cruise to cruise. As such, our expert travel planners will provide you with the recommended amount as suggested by the particular cruise or hotel you stay in prior to your travel.