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.
The Galapagos is once-in-a-lifetime experience for wildlife watching and nature lovers. It is the one of the only places 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 and found nowhere else on earth. The location of the Galapagos makes it the perfect laboratory of evolution, situated where where currents meet; the climate changes frequently meaning only the fittest survive and species adapt to their environments quickly. Geologically, the Galapagos is a living chain of volcanoes emerging from an underwater platform produced unique and changing landscapes.
Although the Galapagos Islands have many beautiful and pristine beaches, the Galapagos is not a conventional beach destination. Rather, it's a journey of discovery. Many of the beaches are home to important wildlife therefore the beaches more often make for further wildlife watching opportunities instead of sunbathing. Cruises and day trips all incorporate visits to various beaches, but while there will be some time for sitting back and relaxing, you're more likely to find yourself photographing sea lions on the shore or snorkelling as penguins zip about in the waters! If you're looking for rest and relaxation, you can soak up the sun's rays from your cruise deck or hotel pool.
The Galapagos is a year-round destination with awe-inspiring wildlife watching opportunities whichever month you choose to visit. Being close to the equator, the ‘seasons’ are roughly split in two: warm and wet (Dec-May) and cool and dry (June-Nov). There are seasonal wildlife watching highlights year-round on different islands. Unless you have a particular wildlife-watching interest, you will be amazed by the natural wonders of the Galapagos at any time, though specific activity does vary each month. The warmer season is hot and sunny most of the time, with warmer water which makes snorkelling more comfortable in the cool waters. From around June, the 'garua' season sets in when days are still comfortably warm, but it can be overcast, windier and with choppier waters. Read more about the best time to travel to the Galapagos and month-by-month guide.
The Galapagos Islands are located some 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) off the Pacific coast of Ecuador. Flights from the mainland can be taken from either Guayaquil or Quito airport. Flights from Quito take 3 hours and 40 minutes (with a stopover in Guayaquil). Flights from Guayaquil take 1 hour and 40 minutes. You will need to spend a night in either city before your flight to the Galapagos as these leave early in the morning. There are three airlines: AeroGal, LATAM and TAME. There are two airports in the Galapagos on different islands: Baltra and San Cristobal. Cruises normally start in Santa Cruz or Baltra Island (flying into Baltra airport), or some start in San Cristobal (flying into into Puerto Baquerizo Moreno). From here you are collected and transferred to your luxury Galapagos cruise or hotel. 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).
Considering the Galapagos Islands are located well off mainland Ecuador, we recommend a minimum of four days/three nights to visit the islands, excluding the travel time required to and from the mainland. Four, five or six nights (excluding travel time to the islands) is the ideal trip duration for the majroity of most general-interest visitors.
There are cruises as long as 14 nights, made up of two shorter itineraries taken consecutively on the same vessel. 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 definitively too short. The longer you stay, the more variety of wildlife you will get to see.
We strongly recommend that you visit your health care provider for professional clinical advice and the most up-to-date requirements, in accordance with your personal health and medical history.
As of 2017, in Ecuador 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.
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 four 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 stay only at a hotel for greater flexibility.
If you're looking for a land-based program or to 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 Galapagos 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.
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. Read more on luxury Galapagos cruises.
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. Contact us today for more information.
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.
Both the Eastern and Western islands have spectacular wildlife and unique species. 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 arguably 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.
The Galapagos is famous for endemic species like the Galapagos land iguana, Galapagos giant tortoise, blue-footed boobies and flightless cormorants – to name but a few. What also makes the wildlife of the Galapagos so remarkable is not so much the diversity in numbers of species found here, but rather how these species have adapted to very unique environments. Thus islands that are relatively close may be home to completely differenet species. Read more detailed information on the unique wildlife on different islands in our guide to the Galapagos - some of the key highlights on different islands are summarized below.
Española – Albatros, Blue-footed boobies, Nazca (masked) boobies and Galapagos hawks
Fernandina – Flightless Cormorants
Isabela – Whales and dolphins off the Western coast in July; Galapagos Penguins, land Iguanas and finches
Bartolomé – Galapagos Penguins
Santa Fe – 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, iguanas
With various islands and a wide range of wildlife, there is fascinating activity and wildlife watching opportunities year-round. Read more on the best time to travel to the Galapagos and our month-by-month guide. This is a round-up of some of the key wildlife activity by month in the Galapagos:
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.
Absolutely! Wildlife-watching opportunities are fun and educational experiences for the whole family to share. Land-based stays (staying in a hotel or lodge) offer more flexibility than taking a cruise if your children are young or mixed ages. You can consider choosing one hotel or combining a stay on Isabela and Santa Cruz islands and enjoy a variety of day excursions to suit all the family. 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.
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.
Flights to the Galapagos restrict checked luggage to one piece that does not exceed 23kg (50 lb). Hand luggage cannot exceed 8kg (17lb). Pack casual, comfortable clothing. In the hotter season (Dec-May) wear light clothing and bring rainwear. In the cooler season (june-October), bring warmer layers as the wind can pick up and be felt in the afternoons/evenings, especially on moving cruises. Cruises will usually provide snorkels, flippers and wetsuits or otherwise have them available to rent. These are some of the key items we reccommend you pack:
- Small daypack
- Camera / Video Camera with Tripod (optional)
- Applicance chargers and adaptors
- Waterproof cover (to use phone/camer underwater)
- Water-resistant Suncream
- Hat or cap
- Motion sickenss pills (if you're prone to sea sickness)
- Cash for tips
- Windbreaker jacket & rainjacket
- Good walking shoes and socks - lots of the island terrain is jagged
- Sandals/flipflops/thongs - ideal for wearing on the boat, after snorkeling
- Lightweight trousers
- Lightweight shorts / skirts
- T-shrirts & long-sleeved tops
- Fleece / jumper for the evenings
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.
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 (cruises provide or have available to rent).
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.
This varies from cruise to cruise. Aracari's expert travel planners can share the information for the cruises you are interested, or booked, to travel on.