LAST UPDATED: 5/14/23 – Everything You Need to Visit the Galápagos Islands
The Galápagos Islands is one of this world’s top tourist destinations. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people flock to this island archipelago in search of adventure. Some come to enjoy beautiful vistas unlike anywhere else in the world.
Others are drawn to the diverse and amazing wildlife, which is unique to the islands. While others visit the islands to scuba dive and snorkel in one of the world’s richest marine environments. The Galápagos Islands are truly one of this world’s greatest treasures. It is a place everyone should see in their lifetime.
An All-You-Need to Visit Guide
In this Galápagos Islands visitor guide, I give you all the information you need to visit the Galápagos Islands. In this guide, you will learn when to visit the Galápagos Islands. Based on what you want to see, that may vary throughout the year. You will need this information if you want to be sure to see the wildlife events you desire.
This guide also discusses what to see in the Galápagos Islands. Many people have heard of the islands, and Charles Darwin’s famous studies. However, many people don’t know the extent of the wildlife in the Galápagos Islands.
You will also learn about the best places to visit in the Galápagos Islands. Depending on what you want to see, some places are better than others. Finally, I will help you figure out how to get to the islands and get around once there. Like any island chain, logistics is paramount when visiting. You will need to know how long to stay and how you will tour the islands. This is just some of the valuable information I will share with you.
Help Finding the Tour to Fit Your Needs
Finally, I will talk about the different ways you can tour the Galápagos Islands. For some, booking a land-based tour will be the ideal tour package. However, for others a Liveaboard cruise aboard a boat will be the best method to see the islands.
Understanding the pros and cons of these options is important. In fact, it may be the most important decision you make in planning your trip. You will want to make the right decision, or you may not get to see what you want. With this guide, I will help you understand the options and make the right decision for you.
The Basics for Planning Your Trip
|Resources for the Galápagos Islands|
|What to Pack for the Galápagos Islands|
|How to Get to the Galápagos Islands|
|When to Visit the Galápagos Islands|
|Galápagos Islands Mistakes to Avoid|
Planning Your Trip to the Galápagos Islands
|Wildlife Viewing in the Galápagos|
|Snorkeling and Scuba Diving in the Galápagos|
|Photographing the Galápagos|
Choosing the Right Galápagos Islands Tour for You
Galápagos Islands Photos and Video
Resources for the Galápagos Islands
Booking a trip to the Galápagos Islands is a big deal for most people. Therefore, I want to make sure you have all the necessary resources you need. In addition to this guide and my many sub-guies, I have also linked to additional resources below. Use this guide and the guides I linked to below to help make sure your travel planning is a success.
- Travel + Leisure – How to Travel to the Galápagos Islands
- The U.S. News Travel – How to Travel to the Galápagos Islands
- TravelChannel.com – Visiting the Galapagos Islands: What You Should Know
- Lonely Planet – Galápagos Islands Travel
What to Pack for the Galápagos Islands
Before you leave for the Galápagos Islands, you need to make sure you’ve packed everything you need. There is nothing worse than missing out on parts of a trip because you weren’t prepared.
In the Galápagos Islands Packing Guide linked below, I help you make sure that doesn’t happen. Not only do I include my recommendations on the clothes and gear to bring, but I go a step further.
I also recommend packing things that will help keep you comfortable, safe, and well. This includes motion sickness medication, a wetsuit if you don’t like cold water, and stuff to protect your electronics.
|The Ultimate Galápagos Islands Packing Guide|
How to Get to the Galápagos Islands
The Galápagos Islands are an amazing destination, but it can be a little daunting getting there. Between the numerous flights, the fees, and the regulations, it can leave your head spinning. Worry not, as I have created a guide that walks you thru the whole process. From departure to arrival, I inform you of everything you should expect in getting to the Galápagos Islands.
Planning the logistics of your visit is going to be the most difficult part of your planning process. For that reason, make sure you read this guide thoroughly. Not being prepared could cost you valuable time that you won’t get to enjoy the islands.
When to Visit the Galápagos Islands
Next to what type of tour to book, your biggest decision will be when to visit the Galápagos Islands. There are a number of factors you will need to consider when planning your trip.
Keep in mind, there is no right or wrong time to visit the Galápagos Islands. It is always an amazing place to visit. However, when it would be best to visit will depend greatly on what you want to see.
There are Two Seasons in the Galápagos Islands
The Galápagos Islands have two very different seasons. These seasons are marked by the amount of precipitation the islands get. The temperature at the islands only varies slightly throughout the year. However, the water temperature does vary enough to matter.
Between January and May is the wet season in the Galápagos Islands. During this time of year the islands get considerably more rain. At this time of year, both the air and water temperatures also tend to be warmer. However, once May rolls around, the dry season begins. This last until December and is marked by considerably less rainfall. However, though it does tend to be drier, the air and water temperatures are cooler.
One of the most noticeable changes you will see throughout the year is with the vegetation. The islands are typically lush and green during the wet season. In contrast, they are typically dry and desert-like the rest of the year.
The Water Can Be Cold During the Dry Season
The variation in air and water temperatures isn’t extreme between seasons. However, it does vary enough to have a big impact on both the wildlife and your comfort. 68-degree water may not sound cold, but it can be uncomfortable to swim in without a wet suit for long periods. However, these cold water temperatures are great for certain wildlife. Animals like the Galápagos Penguin rely on the cold waters brought in by the Humboldt Current.
Average Temperature (°F)
For more information on the average temperatures in the Galápagos Islands throughout the year, I have included a chart for you to review below.
Average Water Temperature (°F)
For more information on the average water temperature in the Galápagos Islands throughout the year, I have included a chart for you to review below.
Average Precipitation (Inches)
For those who are starting to plan their trip to see the Galápagos Islands, I have included a chart that outlines the average amount of precipitation in the islands for you to review below.
What You’ll See (By Month)
What you will see in the Galápagos Islands will depend mostly on when you decide to visit. Many of the animals that live in the Galápagos Islands are year-round inhabitants. However, they may be in different areas at different times of the year.
Because of this, you will need to know where to find them in order to plan your trip correctly. Other animals only visit the Galápagos during specific times of the year. So, you have to visit during those times in order to see them.
For more information on the various animals in the Galápagos Islands, make sure you read my wildlife guide linked below. In that guide, I provide a lot of in-depth information on the most popular animals that are found in and around the Galápagos.
This includes how to identify them, and where and when to find them. To give you a general sense of what you might see throughout the year, I have also included my Wildlife Event Infographic for you to review below.
Galápagos Islands Mistakes to Avoid
The Galápagos Islands is a dream destination for many people. If you are reading this guide, I am guessing it is a location that you would like to visit sometime soon as well. As beautiful a destination as it is, the Galápagos can also be a very challenging trip to plan.
If you aren’t careful in your planning, you can make a mistake or two that can really put a damper on your trip. To help you avoid making any really big mistakes in your planning, I have put together a list of the mistakes people sometimes make and how to easily avoid them.
Not Packing Motion Sickness Pills
Even if you don’t typically get motion sickness, I would plan on packing an ample supply of motion sickness pills. As I outline in my Guide to Getting to the Galápagos Islands, you will be taking a number of lengthy boat rides. Even if you are taking a land-based tour, you will spend a considerable amount of time in boats. Sometimes, this will be in choppy seas. So, motion sickness pills may come in handy.
If you are going to take a Liveaboard cruise, then motion sickness pills are even more important. If you get motion sickness easily, I strongly suggest that you get a prescription for the motion sickness patches. I am very susceptible to motion sickness and those patches worked wonders for me when I was in the Galápagos.
Seeing the Wrong Galápagos
The Galápagos Islands are unlike many of the other tourist destinations you might visit. With the Galápagos, the main attractions aren’t the cities or restaurants. Instead, they are the wildlife areas on land and in the surrounding water.
Roughly 97% of the land and all of the surrounding maritime area is part of the Galápagos Islands National Park. This includes roughly 70 terrestrial and 75 maritime visitor sites. These are the main attractions in the Galápagos Islands. Without a doubt, these are the areas that you will want to explore when you visit.
Don’t Fail to Do Your Research
One of the biggest mistakes that people tend to make is failing to do their research on tours. A vast majority of the visitor sites in the Galápagos are only accessible via a Liveaboard cruise. This means those sites will be inaccessible if you book a land-based tour.
That’s not to say that land-based tours aren’t worthy of being booked. However, you need to understand what you will and will not be able to see when you book a land-based tour.
Also, if you are planning to see the Galápagos on your own, you need to be extra vigilant. You should pay extra special attention to what the day tours you book offer. Remember, you need to be with a wildlife naturalist certified by the national park to visit the wildlife sites. You cannot just go off on your own.
Use a Tour Company if You Aren’t Comfortable with All the Logistics
If you are visiting the islands without a tour, you will need to book different day tours during your stay. The logistics on which tours to book when are typically handled by a land-based or liveaboard tour operator. In those cases, the tour company arranges your day tours for you.
Keep in mind, the tour operators in the islands are in constant competition for spots for their customers. You will need to make sure you have tour spots reserved before you arrive, which can be a challenge.
If you want my advice, I strongly recommend that you either book a larger land-based tour package or a Liveaboard cruise tour package. This takes the planning, coordination, and confirmation of multiple-day boat tours out of your hands. It also helps ensure that you will have the tours you want to be reserved when you arrive.
Most tours will have detailed itineraries listed. So, you can use this guide to determine which areas in the Galápagos you want to see. Then, you can match that up with an appropriate land or Liveaboard tour that visits those areas.
Not Booking the Right Airfare
Another common mistake people make is to book their airfare before they have their tour package selected and booked. Before knowing which tour package you’re using and speaking to the operator, you won’t have details on when to arrive and depart.
If you book your airfare before your tour, you could end up having to pay rebooking fees. Either because your flight gets you to the islands to late or brings you to the wrong airport. This mistake can easily be avoided by waiting to book flights until after your Galápagos tour package is booked.
Not Planning Enough Time
One of the bigger mistakes you can make is to not leaving yourself with enough time. This can result in not seeing everything you want to see in the islands. There is a lot to see in Galápagos and transportation from one island to another can be time-consuming. This is why most of the outer islands are only accessible via a Liveaboard tour.
If you book a land-based tour, you will need to take a number of lengthy speedboat rides between islands. Essentially, these boat rides consume about half a day. Unfortunately, many visitors don’t account for this when they plan their trip.
If you book a Liveaboard tour, most often the boat will travel between destinations while you sleep. This is why they are the more time-efficient tour option. It is also why they allow you to access places that land-based tours are not able to access.
The best advice I can give you is to start with my wildlife guide to determine what you want to see. You will also want to make note of where I mention the best places are to see those animals. With this information, you can start browsing different tour packages. You will be able to see which tours hit the places on your list and do the activities you want to do.
If you are interested in snorkeling or scuba diving, you will also want to read my Scuba Diving and Snorkeling Guide. It outlines the best places to do these activities for all skill levels. By reading this guide, you will know which snorkeling and scuba diving sites you will want to visit.
Traveling with a Crowd
One of the best parts of the Galápagos Islands is that it is primarily a wildlife destination. When you visit the Galápagos, you are visiting a pristine wilderness. Most of the islands are free from the hustle-and-bustle of human activity. This is what makes the wildlife viewing experience so special. Unfortunately, this pristine experience can be ruined if you aren’t careful about which tours you book.
Some tour companies in the Galápagos operate with large vessels that can fit 50 to 100 people on them. With those large vessels come large crowds. These tour companies may offer cheaper tours, but those cheaper prices come with a price.
When you book these tours, you are essentially bringing a large crowd with you. Instead of having a beach almost exclusively to yourself, you will be stuck in a crowd waiting for your turn. That is not the experience many of us envision when we think of the Galápagos Islands.
Not only will you be missing out on a pristine wilderness experience, but large groups also take longer to organize and coordinate. This means you will most likely have more wasted time on your trip. As I mentioned above, time is a valuable resource when on a trip in the Galápagos. So, avoiding larger tours and saving time is something you will definitely appreciate when you are on your trip.
Going Cheap on Your Tour Package
The quality of your tour guide in the Galápagos Islands can really make or break your trip. A great tour guide will take your experience to the next level. Great guides know where to look for and find the wildlife you want to see. They are also able to answer all your questions and give context to your experiences. In essence, great guides generally know what people want to experience and are good at providing those experiences.
On the other hand, a poorly trained or inexperienced tour guide can really put a damper on your trip. Tour guides play an important role no matter where you travel, but this is especially true in the Galápagos Islands.
Without the proper guide, you won’t have the slightest clue where to look to see the wildlife. And even if you do see wildlife, it is hard to know exactly what you are seeing.
I would strongly advise that you carefully read the reviews for the tour companies that you are looking into booking. Pay close attention to how people described their experiences.
Most often, the best tour guides aren’t going to be working for the bargain tour companies. I am not saying you need to break the bank when you book your tour in the Galápagos Islands. However, make sure that you are purchasing a quality experience when you do book a tour.
Not Bringing a GoPro or Waterproof Camera
One of the most regrettable mistakes I have heard and seen people make when visiting the Galápagos Islands is to not bring a GoPro or waterproof camera with them when they visit.
When you are in the Galápagos, you are going to spend a vast majority of your time near the water. After all, 97% of the Galápagos National Park is the ocean that surrounds the islands. That is where a vast majority of the wildlife you will see spends its time.
If you want to capture some remarkable moments during your visit, then I strongly encourage you to invest in a GoPro or other type of waterproof camera. You will not regret making this investment.
For some more tips on how to capture your memories of the Galápagos Islands, please check out my Galápagos photography guide. In that guide, I discuss which equipment you should consider bringing with you and how to take the best pictures while you are there.
Planning Your Trip to the Galápagos Islands
What Do You Want to See?
As I mentioned previously, the biggest factors you will need to consider when planning your trip is what you want to see. To give you a sense of which wildlife it is possible to see in the Galápagos Islands, I have created a Wildlife Viewing Guide.
In this guide, I let you know when and where you are most likely to spot the animals in the Galápagos. This way, you’ll have a better sense of which sites you will want to visit and when to visit them.
For instance, if you want to scuba dive with whale sharks, it makes no sense to visit during February or March. Whale sharks are only in the Galápagos Islands between June and December, so you are unlikely to see them in February or March.
Likewise, whale sharks are primarily only seen around the remote parts of the Galápagos near Wolf and Darwin islands. If you book a land-based tour that won’t access these islands (because only Liveaboard cruises can), then you again would be missing out on the top item on your list.
Start by Reviewing My Galápagos Wildlife Guide
For these reasons, I would recommend that you start by reviewing my Galápagos Islands Wildlife Guide and making a list of all the wildlife that you would like to see. Makes sure you note which times of years and locations are best for seeing these animals.
I would also recommend reviewing my Galápagos Islands Scuba Diving and Snorkeling Guide if you plan on getting in the water to see the wildlife up close (which I strongly recommend that you do). Once you have a good sense of what you want to see and when and where to see it, you can start to put together a plan for your trip.
At that point, you will be ready to start looking at itineraries for tours and determine which tour would be best for you. Again, the absolute last thing you will do is book your airfare. At the end of this guide, I go into more detail on the differences between land-based tours and Liveaboard tours so that you have a better sense of what each type of tour entails and which would be best for you.
Wildlife Viewing in the Galápagos
Before you can get any real sense of when you should visit the Galápagos Islands or which parts you should see, you need to understand what types of wildlife live in the Galápagos, when they are there, and where you need to go to see them.
In my Galápagos Islands Wildlife Guide, which I linked to below, I cover which animals you will commonly see in the Galápagos Islands, as well as where you can typically see them and when.
Before you start with any of your other planning, I would read thru this guide to get a sense of what you want to see. This information will be critical as you start to put together your trip plan.
|Ultimate Galápagos Islands Wildlife Guide|
Snorkeling and Scuba Diving in the Galápagos
One of the best ways to get up-close-and-personal with the wildlife in the Galápagos Islands is to go snorkeling or scuba diving. For many people, that will be their main draw of coming to the Galápagos.
For others, it is just an activity that they can use to enhance their experience. Whichever camp you fall into, you are going to want to make sure you book the right tours to see what you want to see.
After you have read my Galápagos Islands Wildlife Guide, I would recommend that you read my Galápagos Islands Scuba Diving and Snorkeling Guide, which I linked to below.
In this guide, I let you know what type of gear you should bring with you on your trip, and what you can easily rent while there. I also talk about the best places to go snorkeling or scuba diving, and what you might see at those sites. Knowing this information will be critical as you start to shop for a tour or tours to book for your trip.
Photographing the Galápagos
When you are planning a big trip like one to the Galápagos Islands, it is easy to get caught up in the minutia of figuring out the logistics and completely neglect to do any planning for taking pictures while you are on your trip.
It is important to properly plan for taking pictures in the Galápagos because while it is a unique and interesting destination, it can also be a challenging destination to photograph.
To assist you in making sure you are properly prepared with the right gear and give you some tips on photographing the wildlife of the Galápagos, I have put together a Galápagos Islands Photography Guide, which I linked to below.
|Galápagos Photography Guide|
Choosing the Right Trip for You
Now that you have reviewed my wildlife and scuba diving and snorkeling guides for the Galápagos Islands, you should have a good idea of what wildlife you would like to see and when and where you need to be to have the best chance of seeing it.
You should also be familiar with what type of logistics you should expect in getting to the Galápagos Islands, as well as what to pack for your trip because you reviewed my getting to the Galápagos Islands and packing guides. Now comes the fun part. You should now be ready to start thinking about what type of tour or tours are right for you.
To assist you in doing that, I am going to explain the three different ways in which you can visit the Galápagos Islands so that you have all the information you need to determine which trip type is best for you. I will also provide you with some popular tour companies and resources that you can check out as you start to plan your adventure.
Land-Based Galápagos Trips
When I say “land-based trips”, that can be a little deceiving because you are still going to spend quite a bit of time in a boat or in the water. However, you will not be spending 16+ hours a day on a boat (including sleeping on one) like you would be with a Liveaboard tour. There are several advantages and disadvantages of booking a land-based tour, which I have outlined below.
Advantages of Land Based Tours
- Your schedule is typically much more flexible.
- You get to spend more time exploring the islands themselves.
- You can move more at your own pace.
- They are typically more economical.
- You can sleep in a hotel instead of on a boat (important if you get seasick easily).
Disadvantages of Land Based Tours
- It can be a little overwhelming choosing between all of the day tours and tour packages that are available.
- You cannot access the outer islands (you will spend the majority of your time around Santa Cruz, Isabela, and San Cristóbal Islands).
- There is typically more wasted time traveling between islands and to do activities.
Who Land Based Tours are Good For
- First-time visitors to the islands who want to get a good overview experience of the Galápagos.
- People who get seasick quite easily and don’t want to sleep on a boat.
- Visitors who aren’t overly interested in doing an extensive amount of scuba diving or snorkeling.
Browse Land Based Tours
If you are interested in booking a land-based tour, I have included a link to a number of different options you can review below.
Liveaboard Galápagos Trips
The other popular way that people tour the Galápagos Islands is by taking a cruise ship, on what is known as a Liveaboard tour. Unlike with the land-based tours, with a Liveaboard tour, you will be spending almost all of your time in the Galápagos Islands on a boat.
You will eat on the boat, sleep on the boat, and get to all of your activities with the boat. Like land-based tours, this type of tour has its advantages and disadvantages, which I have outlined for you below.
Advantages to Liveaboard Tours
- Less time wasted traveling as your boat will travel between destinations as you sleep at night.
- Typically all-inclusive, so you don’t need to worry about any meals.
- They can reach the outer islands that land-based tours typically don’t visit.
Disadvantages to Liveaboard Tours
- You have to sleep on a boat (accommodations aren’t horrible, but it can be tough for those who get seasick easily).
- Spending 16+ hours a day on a boat.
- You will be with the same group of people for the whole trip.
- Far less flexibility with activities.
- Typically, more expensive.
Who Liveaboard Tours are Good For
- Scuba divers or snorkelers who want to see more of the Galápagos Islands than land-based tours can offer.
- People who want to dive with Whale Sharks or Hammerheads.
- Wildlife enthusiasts who want to see all of the wildlife in the Galápagos Islands.
Browse Liveaboard Tours
If you are interested in booking a multi-day Liveaboard tour, I have included a link below to multiple options that you can review.
In addition to the tours, I have listed above, you can also explore all of the different Liveaboards that are available for the Galápagos Islands at LiveAboard.com. If you are interested in diving with Whale Sharks in the Northern islands, check out ExplorerVentures.com.
Plan Your Own Galápagos Trip
The final approach that you can use to planning your adventure to the Galápagos Islands can be the most daunting. If you are up to the challenge, you can book your entire itinerary, including all of your in-trip excursions, transportation, meals, and lodging on your own.
Personally, I would not recommend this option as there is so much that goes into the logistics of visiting the islands that professional tour groups have mastered, but I do admire someone who is up for the challenge.
To assist you in deciding whether this option is the right one for you, I have listed some of the advantages and disadvantages of planning your own trip to the Galápagos Islands below.
In case you decide to go this route, I have also listed a number of popular day trips and transportation packages that you can book as you start to plan your trip.
Advantages to Planning Your Own Trip
- This option gives you by far the most flexibility in how you manage your trip.
- Planning your own trip tends to be more economical than taking a tour.
- You can ensure that you get to see the places you want to see and just the places you want to see.
Disadvantages to Planning Your Own Trip
- It can be a ton of work to plan.
- You have fewer resources to guide you thru the logistics of getting around the islands.
- The day tours book up fast and far in advance as the hotels compete for limited tour spots for their visitors.
Who Self-Planning Tours are Good For
- People that don’t have a lot of time when visiting the Galápagos Islands (only a few days or so).
- People who know exactly what they want to see and cannot find the appropriate tour to fit their needs.
- Experienced travel planners or return visitors who want to maximize their experience in the Galápagos Islands.
Popular Day Tours and Transportation Packages
Important: When booking these trips, make sure you are mindful of where the tour picks up, how long the tour is, what is included in the trip (for instance, if snorkeling is included), and when and where it drops you off. Keep in mind, if you need to transfer islands, those boat rides are usually 2-3 hours long and only run once in the morning and once in the afternoon. These are the logistics that can make planning the trip on your own difficult.
Browse Ground Transportation
If you would like to coordinate ground transportation upon arriving in the Islands, I have included a link to some good options for you to review below.
Browse Day Tours
If you are looking for single-day tours and excursions to book for your trip, I have included a link below to single-day excursions for you to review.
Galápagos Islands Adventure
Visiting the Galápagos Islands was one of the most memorable adventures of my life. To see what my experience was like and what you might expect when you visit the Galápagos Islands, please check out the video of my adventure below.
Galápagos Islands Photo Gallery
The Galápagos Islands are one of this world’s top wildlife travel destinations. I was sure to capture plenty of shots of the amazing landscapes and wildlife when I visited and I have shared my favorite shots with you below.
If you would like to view some more of my top photos from this trip, as well as photos from some of my many other travel adventures, make sure you are following me on Instagram as well!
Fantastic tips and photos! Thanks for sharing!
Thank you so much! I am glad you enjoyed it!