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The Galápagos Islands are a dream travel destination for many people around the world. If you are reading this article, then chances are that it is a dream destination for you as well. Hopefully, you are in the planning phases of making that dream a reality and have some questions about what you should and should not bring when you visit.
The Galápagos Islands is as unique of a destination as it is beautiful and with that uniqueness are some challenges when it comes to packing for your trip. Being an island chain without a large population, especially on some of the smaller islands, it can be quite difficult to find things if you forget to bring something. For that reason, you will want to make sure you are extra prepared when it comes to packing.
In this packing guide, I will discuss some of the general guidelines you should follow when it comes to packing, as well as outline some of the essential gear that I suggest you bring. Finally, as an avid photographer, I can’t help but provide some tips on what type of photography gear you will want to bring with you. There are some many beautiful things to photograph, so you will definitely want to bring some photography and video gear with you.
Before I get into a list of things that I would recommend that you bring to the Galápagos Islands, here are some general guidelines that you should use to help you prepare for your travels.
Avoid Bringing Plastics
The Galápagos Islands are a unique and fragile ecosystem, and it is our responsibility to protect that ecosystem. To an extent, the Galápagos Islands have prohibited you from bringing plastic bags onto the islands. I say “to an extent” because you will see plenty of signs discouraging you from bringing them, but they appear to be enforcing this policy in stages as I saw quite a few plastic bags in the open when I was there. In fact, some of the stores on the island were giving them to customers.
I will leave the ultimate decision up to you, but I would suggest avoiding using plastic bags in your packing when possible. If you saw the damage that irresponsibly disposed of plastic bags can have on marine wildlife, you would understand why. If you do bring bags with you, please make sure you are responsible handle and dispose of them.
Understand the Seasons
Like any other place, the Galápagos Islands is different depending on the season you visit. The Galápagos is on the Equator, but it also has the chilly Humbolt Current that brings cold Antarctic water to the islands. These factors influence the weather, as well as the ocean conditions, which differ depending on when you visit.
For instance, during the wet season (January thru May), which is also the warm season the islands, the hot Panama water currents warm the waters around the Galápagos Islands and bring warmer and wetter weather. Even though the islands see more rain during this time of year, the rain doesn’t last long and is quickly absorbed by the island’s volcanic rock.
During this time of year, you will also see much calmer waters. This makes the warmer wet season the favorite time of year for people looking to take boat cruises in the Galápagos Islands because the calmer waters make for a much more pleasant boating experience.
In contrast, during the Dry Season, which spans from June thru December, the weather is much dryer and cooler. During this time of year, the waters around the Galápagos Islands are cooled by the Humboldt Current coming up from Antarctica. The cooler waters make snorkeling and scuba diving more of a challenge without a wetsuit, but the nutrient-rich Humboldt Current also makes the waters much more active with wildlife. If you are looking to see a lot of wildlife, this may be a good time to target for your visit.
This time of year also sees much stronger seas, with the ocean waters being much more choppy than they are during the warm season. This can make long boat rides a little more challenging, especially without the proper motion sickness medication.
Bring Layers of Clothing
The weather in the Galápagos Islands can vary, depending on the time of year, the time of day, and where you are in the islands. For instance, the weather in the highlands is typically much wetter and cooler than it is in the lowlands of the islands. It can also be much cooler at night in the Galápagos than it is during the day.
For this reason, I strongly recommend that you pack layers of clothing when you pack for a trip to the Galápagos Islands. In addition to shorts and T-Shirts, make sure you bring some long pants, rain gear, and warm sweatshirts or a fleece.
Bring Sun Protection
Because the Galápagos Islands are right on the Equator, the sun can be pretty intense. This is especially true when you are out on the water during the day. Make sure you pack some strong sunscreen when you pack for your trip. I would recommend a sunscreen with at least a 50 SPF. My recommendation would be one with an SPF of 70-100.
Be Prepared to be on and in the Water A Lot
Because the Galápagos Islands are an island destination that has a strong wildlife focus, it should come as no surprise that much of your visit will be spent either on the water in a boat or in the water snorkeling or scuba diving. You will want to spend some time on land seeing the Giant Tortoises, the Charles Darwin Research Center, hiking the volcanoes and doing some shopping and other sight-seeing, but the majority of the time you will be on the water.
Keep this in mind as you pack for the Galápagos. I would recommend that you bring multiple swimsuits because you will be spending a lot of time in the ocean. You might also want to consider packing towels, though most of the hotels or boats that you stay on will provide them for you. I also strongly recommend investing in a wetsuit to bring if you are visiting during the cooler wet season or typically have a sensitivity to colder waters. Many tour operators will rent them, but not all do. We invested in some before we visited, and we were very glad we did. You can find some very reasonably priced wet suites on Amazon.com.
Waterproof Bags are Handy
Because you will spend a lot of your time in the Galápagos near the water, having a waterproof bag will be a valuable asset. There are some very effective and affordable water-tight bags on the market, and I would strongly recommend picking one up. When I was in the Galápagos, I had a few occasions where my waterproof bag saved my phone and camera from what would have been disasters on boats.
Be Prepared for Motion Sickness
This is a point I cannot stress strongly enough. Even if you don’t typically have issues with motion sickness, I would bring motion sickness medication with you to the Galápagos. At a minimum, I would bring motion sickness pills that you can use when taking the inter-island public speedboats and other long boat rides. Ideally, I would recommend getting the prescription motion sickness patches that you apply behind your ear. I brought these with me to the Galápagos and I didn’t get sick when plenty of others around me did.
The Essential Gear
To give you a good idea of what gear I would specifically recommend bringing, I have compiled a list of essential gear below for you to review and refer to when packing. All of these items I would consider essentials when visiting the Galápagos Islands.
Wide Brim Hat
The Galápagos Islands are very near the Equator, so you are going to want to have some extra protection from the sun. I would highly recommend investing in a good wide-brim safari hat to give you that added protection.
Because you are going to spend quite a bit of time on the water in a boat, where the sun’s reflection off the water can be hard on your eyes, a good pair of sunglasses is essential when you visit the Galápagos Islands.
Unless you want to get absolutely baked, I would strongly suggest you bring a lot of high-quality sunscreen. I would recommend sunscreen with a minimum SPF level of 50, with the ideal level being between 70-100.
Motion Sickness Pills or Patches
Even if you aren’t typically plagued by motion sickness, I would bring some motion sickness medication with you to the Galápagos Islands. At a minimum, I would bring motion sickness pills. Ideally, I would invest in the prescription motion sickness patches. They work wonderfully.
Multiple Swim Suits
Because you are going to likely spend a lot of time in the water, I would suggest bringing more than one swimsuit. If you don’t, the swimsuit you bring will probably be pretty gross by the end of the week.
If you are planning to visit in the cooler dry season, the water temperature could be between 67-70 degrees Fahrenheit (or 19-21 degrees Celcius) at the water’s surface. This isn’t brutally cold, but it is cold enough to make it uncomfortable to be in the water for long periods of time. If you are planning to go scuba diving, the water will be even colder as you descend deeper.
Many of the snorkeling tours that you can take will allow you to rent wetsuits, but not all of them do. If you think you are going to need a wetsuit, I would recommend investing in one to bring unless you are absolutely certain that the tours you will be taking will provide them for you.
Rain Jacket and Pants
The weather in the Galápagos Islands can vary, with the weather in the highlands being much wetter than the weather in the lowlands. To give you some protection from the elements in the highlands and on wet boat rids, I would strongly recommend investing in a good rain jacket to bring with you.
With so much of your time spent on boats and around the water, a good pair of water shoes are worth their weight in gold in the Galápagos Islands. Honestly, any shoes that you can get wet and will provide your feet (especially your toes) protection from the sharp lava rock will be essential.
Closed Toe Hiking Sandals
You will likely be spending a lot of time on or near the water, but you will also likely spend some time hiking in the highlands to see the Giant Tortoises and the volcanoes. Because of this, you will want to have a good pair of hiking boots (or ideally, closed-toe hiking sandals) with you when you visit the Galápagos.
The weather in the Galápagos can get fairly hot, especially during the warm season. For this reason, you are going to want to have some good shorts with you when you visit. Most of the time you will be wearing your swimsuit, but for the times when you are in town shopping, grabbing dinner, doing some hiking, or other activities away from the water, shorts will be essential.
Full-Length Hiking Pants
There will be times, especially at night, where the temperature will drop and it will be too cool for shorts. For this reason, you will want to have some long pants to throw on to stay warm. Ideally, you could bring some pants that convert to shorts if you would like to save some room in the suitcase.
Warm Jacket or Sweatshirt
Because of the cooler temperatures at night and on long, fast boat rides, you will want to have a warm jacket or sweatshirt that you can throw on when you get cold. You probably won’t use it too often, but when you do need it you will be glad you have it.
This is another must when you visit the Galápagos Islands. Because you are spending so much time near the water, having T-Shirts that will dry off quickly is important. Investing in some breathable T-Shirts to bring will not only keep you cool in the hot sun, but they will dry off quickly when they get wet.
Waterproof Dry-bag Backpack
Unless you want to run the risk that your cell phone, camera, or other valuables will get wet when you go on a boat excursion to go snorkeling or scuba diving, I would suggest that you invest in a waterproof dry bag. These bags will protect your belongings from waves and other splash occurrences when you are on the water.
Recommended Photography Gear
The Galápagos Islands are incredibly beautiful and amazing. When you visit, you are going to want to have a camera with you to record all of your wonderful memories. To give you an idea of what to pack in your camera bag, I have compiled a list of essential gear for you to refer to below.
When applicable, I have provided links to gear that I have used and recommend. I will be writing a post with some more detailed photography tips for photographing the Galápagos Islands in the coming weeks.
- DSLR Camera Body
- GoPro or waterproof camera
- Red Filter Set for GoPro (to correct color distortion underwater)
- Wide Angle Zoom Lens with Lens Hood (for landscape shots)
- Fast Zoom Lens with Lens Hood (for wildlife shots)
- Battery Grip
- Extra Camera Batteries
- Plenty of Card Memory
- GPS Unit (if not built into the camera)
- Camera Rain Sleeve
- Photo Journal