Many world travelers consider the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles from Ecuador, a “bucket-list” destination. The Galapagos islands are remote and protected National Parks. This makes them expensive. This is particularly true since the best way to see the islands is by taking one of the 80 approved tourist boats that offer wildlife cruises around the archipelago.
You can still experience the most unique and memorable wildlife encounters anywhere in the world if you plan your itinerary well and choose the best time to visit Galapagos.
Independent Galapagos Cruise Experts have helped us to provide a guide on the best times to visit the islands and the best places to see during a brief visit.
Which is the Best Time to Visit Galapagos Islands?
You don’t need to worry about when you can visit Galapagos. The islands are located on the Equator, so there’s plenty of wildlife activity throughout the year. There is also no cold spell or monsoon season. However, there are high and low seasons. The high season coincides with North American school vacations.
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Avoid December through January, June through August, and July through August. There are more options available outside of these times. If you love snorkeling and swimming, February through May is a good time. The sea temperatures are warmer, and there is less swell. There is no wrong time to visit!
Why take a Galapagos Boat Tour
It is possible to visit the Galapagos Islands and stay in a guesthouse or hotel on one of the main inhabited islands. The problem is the Galapagos has over 13 main islands and many smaller ones that cover 23,000 miles in the Pacific. If you can only travel so far that a boat can transport you, there is no way to truly experience the Galapagos.
A four-day Galapagos cruise can give you more than a week-long stay in a hotel. This is the best way to make the most of your visit if you have limited time.
While many Galapagos cruise boats target the high-end market, plenty of affordable liveaboards will let you experience more of the islands. You can search for the right combination of ships, dates and itineraries using a search engine like www.galapatours.com.
Things to Do Galapagos + Must-See Places
There are more than 100 tourist sites, but we recommend choosing a Galapagos cruise route that includes at least one of these “must-see” Galapagos experiences.
Tortuga Bay – The Perfect Beach
Tortuga Bay (or Turtle in Spanish) is undoubtedly the most beautiful beach in Ecuador. It is located on Santa Cruz Island and can be reached by 2.5km from Puerto Ayora. You can also see the perfect sugar-white sandy beaches. If you visit the Galapagos Islands in January or February, you will be able to see the eggs of black turtles and the hatchlings making their way toward the sea from April through May. You can also see marine iguanas or Sally Lightfoot crabs outside these times. Or relax and admire this beautiful tropical beach.
Post Office Bay and a Murder-mystery
Fond on Floreana island, Post Office Bay was named because of a tradition that began when the Pacific Whalers started. People left letters here for their loved ones, hoping someone would return home to pick them up and deliver them. This tradition is still alive and well. If you are visiting, bring your postcard and try to help another person’s message back to them. Floreana was also home to a notorious Galapagos scandal in the 1930s that involved sex and unsolved deaths. You can learn more about this mystery human history by visiting the Baroness Viewpoint.
Genovesa, Island of Birds
You’ll see why we recommend you anchor your boat in Darwin Bay, the remains of a volcano cone. You will find thousands of seabirds flying overhead from the high cliffs. You can nest blue-footed boobies by taking a dinghy to the Prince Philip Steps or the sandy Darwin Bay Beach. Your naturalist guide will take you to the Nazca boobies and frigatebirds. These species are rare to find anywhere else than the Galapagos.
Photo by: David Broad.
Mangle Point – Underwater Delight
This hidden gem, known locally as Punta Mangle, is located on the east side of Fernandina Island. It’s a fantastic spot for excellent snorkeling. You will find sea lions and green turtles in the calm natural inlet, as well as sharks, right from your boat. You can take one of the small cruise boats’ dinghies out to explore the mangroves near the shore. These are home to many bird species, including the rare Galapagos flightless Cormorant.
El Chato Tortoise Reserve
The Giant Tortoise is one of the most notable species in the Galapagos. El Chato, on Santa Cruz Island, is one of the few places you can still see in their natural habitat. It’s a beautiful place to wander around and observe these gentle creatures going about daily. You will have the opportunity to meet them in person, as they are not afraid of humans like most wildlife on the Galapagos. Remember your camera!
Hike through forests of Giant Daisies
You can trek to Los Gemelos from Santa Cruz and walk through the Scalesia forest. These daisy-related species can reach up to 65ft (20m) in height. You will find some of the most famous Galapagos species, such as Darwin’s finches and Vermillion Flycatchers. It is breathtaking to see the lush canopy from the Los Gemelos canopies.
Divers of the highest quality at Darwin and Wolf
A dedicated diving cruise is an excellent option for scuba divers with at least 50 to 100 open-water dives. You will also visit Darwin and Wolf, remote, uninhabited islands, as part of your itinerary. These two islands are among the most popular dive spots in Galapagos and around the globe. You will have close encounters with turtles and hammerhead sharks at this site.
The Rarest Albatross, and A Dramatic Bombhole
Visit Suarez Point, on the island of Espanola, to see the last known breeding grounds of the endangered Waved Albatross. This species is one of the most endangered seabirds in the entire world, with only 12,000 remaining breeding pairs. The blowhole, known as El Salvador, is another remarkable feature found here. The incoming waves are channeled through a narrow tunnel until compressed air and water rise from a small hole in the top of the rocks, up to 70ft up the sky.
Watch the Mating Dance of The Blue-Footed Booby
The Galapagos islands, home to half of the world’s population, are the ideal place to view these amazing birds. It’s difficult to imagine how blue their feet look, especially for the fittest males, until you see them in person. Unfortunately, their courtship ritual involves them showing off their bright-colored webbed feet. This funny waving of the feet gives the blue-footed Booby their reputation for their clownish, clumsy, and clown-like dance. Remember what you saw!
Surf with the Sea Lions
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, a beach town on San Cristobal Island, has a growing reputation for being one of South America’s most famous surfing spots. This is a great spot to learn how to surf and showcase your skills. The surf scene is concentrated around the public beaches north of town, one of the few places in the world where the beach is only available to local sea lions. Tongo Beach, to the west of the city, is home to one of the most consistent and best breaks. You can rent gear or take lessons at one of the many surf shops in this area. Surfing in the “cradle for evolution” deserves bragging severe rights once you return home.
Swim with Sea Lions
You can encounter the Galapagos Sea Lions in many locations around the islands, but the most beautiful and tranquil spot is Lobos Island off the northwest coast of San Cristobal. This channel is between Lobos Island and the main island and is calm and clear. It’s the ideal place to snorkel and swim with these curious and friendly creatures. Here you can see Galapagos Fur Seals enjoying the sun and a small group of Blue-footed Boobies. This beach is the ideal spot to soak up the sights and sounds of the Galapagos.
Visit One Of The Most Largest Volcanic Craters in the World
It is an incredible experience to stand on the edge of 6-mile-wide holes in the ground. The excursion to the Sierra Negra volcano, Isabella’s most significant, is well worth it. You will need 45 minutes of driving and two hours of hiking to reach the crater’s edges. This is not for the faint-hearted. You’ll be rewarded with one of the most spectacular views in the Galapagos. This includes views of Isabella’s volcanoes and Fernandina, the island to the north. As you stand at the rim, the second-largest volcanic caldera in the world, the scale of this place is incredible.
What to Bring for Galapagos
Bring a quality camera, many memory cards, and plenty of batteries. Nearly all boats have 110v outlets that you can charge.
Make sure to use sunscreen. Even during cooler months, the equatorial sunlight can quickly burn you. Use sunscreens as often as possible, use a hat, and cover as much skin as possible.
Seasickness Bands or Drugs
You can get a band if you are prone to motion sickness. Stock up on prescription and over-the-counter drugs for seasickness. Or try patches or wristbands. Sometimes, the Galapagos swells can cause smaller boats to move in ways that can make susceptible people feel nauseated.
Cool, lightweight clothing is a must! Galapagos is casual, so there is no need to dress up for dinner.
For walking, make sure you have sturdy shoes. Even though you will be “cruising,” your itineraries will likely be active. You should bring boots or good walking shoes. Some lava is sharp, and others can be uneven and rocky.
Take care of your budget.
Although it is possible to travel to Galapagos with a budget, this destination can be expensive. Before you start your trip, make sure to calculate your budget carefully.