Why Go To The Galapagos Islands?


Seeing eye to eye with a giant Galapagos land tortoise, in the Santa Cruz highlands, Galapagos Islands

People travel to the Galapagos Islands for the wildlife! The Galapagos archipelago is justly famous for its unique endemic animal species and for the variations between species  on different islands. Yes, the landscapes are unique and beautiful, and there are some amazing beaches, but don't go if you are not interested in seeing, and experiencing up close, the wildlife.

Galapagos Wildlife

Most of the wildlife in the Galapagos hasn't learned to fear humans, making it very easy to observe the famous giant tortoises, penguins, blue footed boobies, frigate birds, Galapagos (Darwin's) finches, flightless cormorants, waved albatross, birds, and other wildlife. Even in the water the wildlife isn't afraid of you and you can have close and friendly encounters with sea turtles, sea lions, penguins, and even sharks!

In fact, when walking the Park's trails you have to watch where you put your feet to avoid stepping on sea lions, iguanas, or nesting birds:​

Some of the endemic (only found here) species in the Galapagos include:

  • ​the iconic Galapagos land tortoise, of which there are 11 subspecies currently in existence
  • three species of the Galapagos land iguana
  • the world's only swimming iguana, the marine iguana
  • thirteen species of Galapagos finches, also referred to as Darwin's finches
  • the only penguin living in the wild north of the equator, the small Galapagos penguin
  • the Galapagos fur seal
  • the endangered Galapagos hawk
  • the flightless cormorant, which is the only cormorant in the world that cannot fly
  • the Galapagos flamingo
  • 7 species of lava lizards
  • colorful large painted locusts
  • the Galapagos mockingbird, first bird that Darwin noticed was different on each island

What makes the Galapagos so unique?

It is the endemism, or unique species only found in the Galapagos, that makes the islands so interesting, and that helped Charles Darwin shape his theory of evolution by natural selection following his 5-week visit to the archipelago aboard the Beagle in 1835. Darwin initially noticed great variations between mockingbirds on each island. He also had heard many tales of differences in size and shape of the tortoises, and he eventually studied the beaks of the finches to see more of this variation. 

As Darwin noticed, endemism in the Galapagos doesn't just mean a species is unique to the island chain, but it often is endemic to a particular island, or even a particular volcano (only Isabela Island has more than one volcano, and each volcano has it's own unique species of tortoise). Thus, the plants and animals can be very different on island from the next, and viewing this variation is a fascinating part of the experience. 

Natural selection continues in the Galapagos, and it is quite easy to see the variations between species by visiting multiple islands, and this is a big reason to visit. The archipelago has become an important laboratory in our desire to understand this phenomenon and scientists are conducting research on various species on different islands. Much of this study has focused on the Galapagos finches: 

Who Should Go? Is the Galapagos for Everybody?

The Galapagos Islands are for nature lovers who wish to see, interact with, and learn about the incredible and unique plant and animal species and unique and diverse landscapes of this archipelago. The Galapagos is not for people seeking a beach vacation where they will be served drinks with umbrellas in them while relaxing around the pool or on the beach. 

​Traveling with kids in the Galapagos is an amazing experience for all. I don't recommend taking really young kids, say younger than 4, however, and found with my own kids that the 8 year old was able to pay attention to the naturalist on walks, while the 6 year old got bored and just wanted to walk around. Going with the kids is definitely a different experience for the adults too, as you may not get to hear everything the naturalist says, but you will get to experience the joy and wonder of wildlife encounters through the eyes of your children."

Benjamin Findley, 6, meets a waved albatross on Española Island, Galapagos

Greg Findley 
Detour Founder and CEO
  • Families: The Galapagos may be the best family destination for wildlife on the planet. Truly a place for kids of all ages, families can safely get close to many species of animals in the wild. Families will have a blast seeing wildlife, as well as enjoying time together on boat rides, strolling beaches and swimming in the ocean.

    For younger kids we recommend a land-based trip, ideally in private service, as young kids sometimes don't do well cooped up in a boat for 8 days. Private trips give you more flexibility and free time to explore on your own. Some cruises, such as the Eric, Letty, and Flamingo I offer family trips where they put families with similar aged kids together to make the trip more enjoyable for all, and these are highly recommended.
  • Seniors: The Galapagos is indeed for all ages, including those lucky people who have had more time than others to check items off a bucket list. All travelers must be able to walk over uneven ground, and get in and out of a dinghy or speed boat with assistance from your guide or boat captain. Sometimes these are wet landings, where you step out into the water, but the water will not be higher than your knee. 
  • Adventurers: Adventure or Multisport trips trips are designed for active travelers who seek excitement, movement and options for extended outings such as hiking, kayaking, and snorkeling. With a focus on activities on and near shore of inhabited islands, these trips provide more opportunities than a cruise to get to know an island although they visit fewer islands than are accessed on a cruise.

    Be advised, however, that due to Galapagos regulations, the Galapagos are not the place for long-distance paddling, long hikes, peak bagging, or even trail riding on a mountain bike, as what you can do, and where you can do it, is heavily regulated by the Galapagos National Park. So, you can kayak along the coast for several hours, but you can't do a self-support kayak camping trip, for example. 
  • Limited Mobility: People with limited mobility or who desire a more stable environment might want to consider a large passenger boat, which is also a good option for people who cannot or do not want to participate in all off-boat activities and excursions.

    All travelers must be able to walk over uneven ground, and get in and out of a dinghy or speed boat with assistance from your guide or boat captain. Sometimes these are wet landings, where you step out into the water, but the water will not be higher than your knee.

    Unfortunately there are extremely limited options to see the Galapagos from a wheelchair, as the majority of the Galapagos is not wheelchair accessible. The cruise ships, yachts and speedboats are designed for more able-bodied people and lack sufficient means to accommodate those with limited mobility. 

    Even on a land-based trip, streets in in the towns are paved, but steep curbs can be a problem. And sticking to the towns defeats the purpose of a Galapagos visit. Some sites near town are accessible, but won't give you the full Galapagos experience.

Related Articles:
Family Galapagos Cruises on the Eric, Letty, Flamingo I

Return to Top


Best Ways To Experience The Galapagos


How Many Islands Should I Visit?

Because seeing and experiencing the variations in species from island to island is a big part of visiting the Galapagos Islands, we don't recommend only visiting one island on your trip. 

Recommended number of islands to visit:​

  • 2-4 Islands if you want to see most of the species, but only want to see a bit of variation between islands. More islands means more and different species, so 4 is generally better than 2. 
  • 5 or more islands on a shorter cruise or a land-based trip with day-trips to other islands to see more species and more variation.
  • 6 or more islands if you are really interested in exploring the variations between species and want to see more of the different habitats and the adaptations they have brought about.
  • If you are really fascinated by this, you should definitely take a cruise of even more than 8 days (12-15) to get to experience as many islands as possible. 

NOTE ON GALAPAGOS PARK REGULATIONS: WHERE YOU CAN GO AND WHAT YOU CAN DO IS HEAVILY REGULATED BY THE GALAPAGOS NATIONAL PARK

97% of the Galapagos Islands are in the Galapagos National Park, and the Park regulates where you can go and what you can do so as to limit impacts to the endemic flora and fauna on the islands.

Most sites in the Park can only be visited in the company of a licensed Park naturalist. Some sites are accessible only to yacht passengers, while others are only accessible to those on land-based trips. Yachts are assigned itineraries in advance, and cannot deviate from their assigned itinerary. Yachts can only visit each site once every two weeks, so they have created 2 separate week-long itineraries. 

Which Islands Should I Visit?

Cruises

Cruises will visit multiple islands, and since each boat is only allowed to visit any particular site once every two weeks, you can't see everything in one short trip. Of course if you want to see everything, you can book a 15-day trip! You won't see everything but you'll come close.

Many naturalist guides and other Galapagos experts feel that while every island has something amazing to offer, there are three islands that are more unique, and therefore more special, than the rest: Genovesa, Fernandina, and Española Islands. If your itinerary includes at least one of these islands, you have a very good itinerary.

Related Articles:
What Island's Should My Galapagos Cruise Visit?

Land-based Trips​

Again, each populated island has unique things to see and do, so each is worth your time. Isabela Island stands out, however, both for it's long beach right in town, but also for the number and variety of species you can see there. We suggest making sure you visit Isabela on your land-based trip.

Floreana Island is also unique, and very few travelers spend a night or longer there. It has the smallest local population, fewer than 130 residents, making it a sleepy and relaxing visit. It also was the first island settled in the Galapagos, and it has a fascinating human story that you can experience with a visit here. Florin offers fantastic snorkeling with abundant sea turtles and even occasionally penguins, and the Lava Lodge is one of the few place in the Galapagos that has Stand Up Paddleboards (SUPs). The highlight of the island is the deep and peaceful darkness, showcasing a starry night like you've never seen before.​

Related Articles:
Best Snorkeling Spots in the Galapagos Islands

How Much Time Do I Need to See the Galapagos Islands?

Because it takes time and money to get to the Galapagos Islands and the first and last days of your trip are mostly travel days, we recommend you plan to spend at least 5 days in the Galapagos, and 8-15 days will allow you to have an even better Galapagos experience.

We highly recommend not going to the Galapagos for less than 4 days! If that is all the time you have, save the Galapagos for another trip when you have more time.

Recommended length of visit:

  • 4 days if you just want to check the Galapagos off your bucket list, but don't really care to fully experience it
  • 5-6 days if you have very limited time but still want a memorable experience
  • 7-8 days if you want a good comprehensive Galapagos trip that allows you to experience the diversity of the different islands
  • 12-15 days if you want to maximize your experience and really get to know the Galapagos

What Types of Trips Are Offered In The Galapagos Islands?

Take a Cruise

Cruising the Galapagos Islands on the Nemo I Sailing Catamaran.

​Exploring the islands on a small yacht is the classic way to see the Galapagos.  Yachts range in size from 10 - 100 passengers, although a majority hold 16 passengers as this is the maximum number of visitors who can tour anywhere within the Park with 1 naturalist.

Comfort level on yachts is generally broken up into categories, including Tourist, Tourist Superior, First Class, and Luxury. We generally don't recommend Tourist Class yachts as the level of service and comfort is often quite bad, and you don't want to spend all the time and money to get to the Galapagos to end up sick or not able to enjoy the experience. Generally as you go up in class you gain a larger cabin, more common areas, better and more diverse food, fancier dining rooms and settings, and more accommodating and helpful staff.

Yachts can be single hull motor boats, catamaran motor boats or motor sailers, or motor sailboats. Sailboats don't travel by sail much, if at all, as motoring is more reliable and helps keep the boat on its assigned itinerary.​ Catamarans are generally wider, thus offering more space for their length, and also more stable. Sailboats are usually long and narrow, with smaller cabins, and they can be a bit less stable than single hull or catamaran boats. As a general rule, the longer and wider the boat, the more stable it is in the ocean as it won't be affected by rolling seas as much.

I read the book "The Beak of the Finch" while on my first Galapagos trip, and I became really fascinated with the diversity between species on the different islands, so I was glad I was on an 8-day yacht trip that visited lots of islands."

Greg Findley
Detour Founder and CEO

Pros of a cruise:​

  • ​You will visit more islands, and thus see more species and diversity of species, than on a land-based trip
  • You can (depending on the itinerary) visit more remote sites and observe greater numbers of wildlife in natural settings
  • Can be quite comfortable, and you don't need to pack and unpack to move to different islands
  • Living on a boat, and waking up in a new spot each day, can be great fun
  • Yacht trips can be quite relaxing, with plenty of time lounging about on board the boat
  • You will have a daily routine of two land visits, and one snorkel, on every full day of the trip
  • The daily excursions are generally not physically difficult, making them accessible to people of all ages and health
  • You will get to meet, and possibly become friends with, people from all over the world

Cons of a cruise:

  • If you really struggle with sea-sickness as you may not want to live and sleep on a boat
  • Activities on a cruise are slow-moving with lots of stops to watch and talk about nature. This may not be enough activity for you if you prefer to be pretty active
  • Although some cruises have kayaks on board, usually the number is limited and the cruise itinerary will only allow kayaking in a few spots for a short period of time. The kayaks will most likely be cheap sit-on-top kayaks. 
  • You will be doing everything - excursions, meals, even relaxing on the boat - with a group of other people
  • Space on a yacht is limited. Your cabin will be relatively small, and the shared spaces are limited compared to walking around freely in a town.
  • Your meals will all be provided for you on the yacht so you won't have any (many?) chances to pick the type of food you want to eat. The exception is if your itinerary involves free time in Puerto Ayora, as then you can pick a restaurant of your own choosing.
  • Night-life on a yacht is pretty mellow, and most people just go to bed not long after dinner. A land-based trip would offer more opportunities for going out to bars and exploring the night-life in towns.
  • Yacht  trips tend to be fail;ry expensive. The cheapest yacht (Tourist Class) tend to be a very bad value and you would be better off taking a land-based trip than traveling on a low-priced yacht

NOTE ON GALAPAGOS CRUISE ITINERARIES

Due to Galapagos National Park Regulations, each cruise can only visit any particular site one time every two weeks. This makes it very difficult to see every great site in the islands without taking at least a two week trip.

While it is true some itineraries are better than others, we recommend picking an itinerary that goes to one or two of the most special sites​, and then just enjoying what you get. You won't be able to get everywhere, so go with the flow and enjoy it.​

That said, we do recommend choosing an itinerary that gets you away from just the populated islands and to some of the more remote sites, such as Genovesa, Fernandina, ​or Español Islands. Read more about what islands you should visit here:

Related Articles:
What Islands Should My Galapagos Cruise Visit?
Short Galapagos Cruises To The Western Islands of Isabela and Fernandina

Multisport or Active Adventure Trip

Kayaking on Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos

Active Adventur​e​ trips, also sometimes referred to as multisport trips, generally stay in hotels on one or more of the 4 inhabited islands and explore the wildlife and scenery of the islands while kayaking, biking, hiking, snorkeling and possibly even stand up paddleboarding (SUP).

There are a number of different itinerary options for these trips, with differences in the number of islands visited, the activities you do, and even the level of hotels and accommodations you experience.

Regarding hotels, please note that while there are some very comfortable hotels there are no true luxury hotels, at least outside of Santa Cruz Island.

For examples of some true Galapagos multisport adventure trips, check out:
Galapagos Multisport Adventure
Galapagos Premium Multisport Adventure

I love seeing wildlife, but I really like to be active on my vacation. Slow moving nature walks are too sedentary for me, so I'm glad I got to hike, kayak, and snorkel a lot on my Galapagos Multisport Adventure, and we saw lots of wildlife."

Hayley Mortimer
Traveler

Pros of a multisport or active adventure trip:​

  • ​Your days will be much more active than if you were on a cruise, as rather than slow nature walks you will hike, snorkel, kayak, bike, and even stand up paddleboard to view the wildlife
  • You can experience and learn new sports, such as kayaking or stand up paddling
  • If you visit 3 or more islands you can see all, or at least most, of the island's wildlife species (with the exception of the waved albatross, which can on be seen on Española Island while on a cruise)
  • Staying on land is a great option for you if you are very prone to seasickness. We would recommend flying between islands, however, as the speedboat rides can be rough
  • Private trips can start on any day so they are easy to fit into your own travel plans
  • Private trips can be tailored to the skills and interests of your group, so they are great options if you really like one activity over another. They are also great if traveling with kids or people of different levels
  • You are not cooped up on a boat so will be able to get out and explore on your own when not on a tour
  • You may be able to choose what and where you want to eat, depending on your itinerary
  • If you want to check out night-life you will be able to go out to bars or discos, at least in Puerto Ayora
  • Depending on your itinerary you can add on some day trips to visit other islands to round out your wildlife viewing experience

Cons of a multisport or active adventure:

  • ​While you may see most or all of the species, you won't visit as many islands and thus won't see as much variation in the species as you would on a cruise.
  • You won't get to some of the more remote and less-visited sites, so your trip may not feel as wild as it might on a cruise
  • Unless you do a day trip to a remote island, you probably won't see wildlife in as great numbers as you can at some cruise sites
  • You will have to pack up and move to a new hotel every few days, depending on your itinerary
  • You will be staying in towns, some of which can seem quite lively, as opposed to being out in a remote bay from from civilization
  • Traveling between islands on speedboats can be quite uncomfortable and can cause seasickness, although the journeys only take about 2 - 2 1/2 hours

Getting the Sea Kayaks Ready on a Real Galapagos Multisport Adventure

NOTE ON GALAPAGOS MULTISPORT TRIPS

Due to the popularity and commercial success of multisport adventures in the Galapagos Islands, many island-hopping trips are adding in some sit-on-top kayaking or biking and calling their trips "multisports." Most of these trips are not true multisport adventures, as the activities are just added into an itinerary with no thought of how the activity enhances the experience, and the guides are not trained to lead groups of people participating in these activities. There are only a few true multisport adventure trips in the Galapagos, led by trained guides, using real kayaks and good bikes, and with itineraries designed so that the activities enhance the wildlife viewing experience. The safest way to book a true adventure trip is to get help from a trusted tour operator such as Detour.

For examples of some true Galapagos multisport adventure trips, check out:
Galapagos Multisport Adventure
Galapagos Premium Multisport Adventure

Island Hopping Trips

​Island hopping trips can be quite similar to multisport adventures, just with a slower pace and less activity. These trips can be a good option for people who don't want a cruise, but also don't seek an active adventurous trip. Island hopping trips can be less expensive than other types of trips, but in order to maximize your experience we recommend visiting at least 3 different islands.

Recommended Island Hopping Trip: http://www.detourdestinations.com/trip/galapagos-island-hopping-adventure

Pros of an island hopping trip:

  • ​If you visit 3 or more islands you can see all, or at least most, of the island's wildlife species (with the exception of the waved albatross, which can only been seen on Española Island on a cruise)
  • Staying on land is a great option for you if you are very prone to seasickness. We would recommend flying between islands, however, as the speedboat rides can be rough
  • Shared trips and private trips can start on any day so they are easy to fit into your own travel plans
  • Private tours can be tailored to the skills and interests of your group, so they are great options if you really like one activity over another. They are also great if traveling with kids or people of different levels
  • You are not cooped up on a boat so will be able to get out and explore on your own when not on a tour
  • You may be able to choose what and where you want to eat, depending on your itinerary
  • If you want to check out night-life you will be able to go out to bars or discos, at least in Puerto Ayora
  • Depending on your itinerary you can add on some day trips to visit uninhabited islands to round out your wildlife viewing experience

Cons of an island hopping trip:

  • ​While you may see most or all of the species, you won't visit as many islands and thus won't see as much variation in the species as you would on a cruise. Also, you may not see wildlife in as great of numbers as you would on a cruise.
  • You won't get to some of the more remote and less-visited sites, so your trip may not feel as wild as it might on a cruise
  • You will have to pack up and move to a new hotel every few days, depending on your itinerary
  • The trip probably won't be very active, and also may not visit places as remote as those visited on yacht trips or multisport adventures
  • You will be staying in towns, some of which can seem quite lively, as opposed to being out in a remote bay from from civilization
  • Traveling between islands on speedboats can be quite uncomfortable and can cause seasickness, although the journeys only take about 2 - 21/2 hours

Scuba Diving

Scuba Diving with whale sharks in the Galapagos Islands

Scuba Diving in the Galapagos is known as some of the best diving in world, but it isn't easy diving, nor is it easy to access. Diving is not allowed from a naturalist yacht trip, and the very best diving is only accessible from a week-long live aboard dive boat. All that said, diving can be arranged for a day or two either before or after your Galapagos cruise or land-based trip, or it can be built into a land-based trip as one or more of the days of the program.

  • ​Most dives in the Galapagos are challenging due to cold water and strong currents. If you want easier dives, the best options are from Puerto Ayora where you can dive in Academy Bay and other easier sites.
  • For more advanced sites you should have been diving within the last year, and ideally will have at least 50 dives, some of them in thick wetsuits and strong currents, under your belt. Be honest with yourself and if you aren't prepared some dives can get scary in a hurry.
  • If adding a day or two to dive onto your Galapagos itinerary, we recommend diving before your cruise or multisport, rather than after. The reason for this is that you shouldn't fly on an airplane until more than 24 hours after your last immersion. 
  • The very best diving in the Galapagos, and possibly the world, is at Wolf and Darwin Islands, and can only be reached on a live-aboard dive trip such as the Galapagos Sky. These trips are for serious divers as you will dive up to 5 times a day, and the shore naturalist visits are quite limited.

Do It Yourself / Backpacking

​A Do It Yourself trip can be hard to pull off but the option can be cheaper than a pre-packaged trip. Unlike true backpacker, do it yourself style, however, you will still have to book tours with licensed tour operators/guides to visit any regulated sites in the Galapagos National Park. But, you can book your own lodging either in advance or on arrival on each island you visit (again, only 4 islands have any lodging at all) and you can book tours through tour operators located on each island. We suggest you book your lodging and tours in advance, especially outside of Santa Cruz, as the options are limited and you may find yourself with nowhere to stay or with all the tours filled up.

Pros of a Do It Yourself Trip:

  • If you are on a tight budget, this can be your cheapest option
  • Like any land-based trip if you visit 3 or more islands you can see all, or at least most, of the island's wildlife species
  • Staying on land is a great option for you if you are very prone to seasickness. However, if visiting more than one island you will probably end up traveling by public speedboat which can be very uncomfortable.
  • You will have a lot of flexibility over what you do as you won't have an itinerary put together by a tour operator.
  • You won't be cooped up on a yacht in the evenings so you can go out to restaurants, check out nightlife, and in general see how people live in the Galapagos.

Cons of a Do It Yourself Trip:

  • Planning the trip can be difficult and you may not have as much freedom as you hoped due to limited tours and travel options
  • Speaking at least some Spanish will really help as you won't have English speaking tour operators and staff to help you out along the way
  • Quality of locally booked tours can sometimes not be great as the licensed naturalists hired for these trips sometimes are the ones who can't get better paying jobs with the top tour companies
  • Eating in restaurants can be more expensive than expected
  • Traveling between islands on speedboats can be quite uncomfortable and can cause seasickness, although the journeys only take about 2 - 2 1/2 hours
  • Your tour options might be quite limited as every tour and activity requires a tour operator to have a permit to conduct the tour, and many of these are only available to people on cruises or on packaged tours booked in advance
  • Day tours can be quite expensive
  • If you really want to save money by not taking any guided tours you will not come close to really experiencing the Galapagos Islands and we suggest you use your money to go to another beach location instead

Related Articles:
What Is The Difference Between A Land-Based And Yacht-Based Trip In The Galapagos? 
What Is The Difference Between A Naturalist And A Multisport Trip In The Galapagos Islands?
Galapagos Multisport Adventures Are Perfect For The Active Traveler
Galapagos Islands Trips: Land-Based Tours Vs Yacht-Based Cruises

Click to replace anchor text

Return to Top


Planning Your Galapagos Trip


How to Choose a Galapagos Trip

​Choosing a Galapagos trip can be hard, but there are a few decisions you need to make that will really help you narrow down your options:

  1. What is your trip budget? Keep in mind that actually getting to the Galapagos is somewhat expensive, so you will need to budget for this too.

    See the section below on costs to determine what is possible for you both in class and length of trip.
  2. How comfortable do you want to be?

    The biggest difference between classes of boats will be in the size of cabins and common areas on board, and in the quality of food and dining rooms. Tourist Superior cabins can be quite small (so small only one person can stand at once) while luxury cabins can be like large hotel rooms.
  3. Do you just want to see wildlife, and ideally most of the Galapagos' species, or are you interested in seeing the diversity between species on the different islands?

    If you really want to see the diversity of wildlife between the islands, you should take a cruise (ideally 8-days or more). If you don't care so much about the diversity, but just want to see the wildlife, you might be a good candidate for an island hopping or land-based trip.
  4. How active do you need to be?

    If you want to be really active, especially if you want to do multiple sports, you should take an active multisport adventure trip, as the other types of trips will feel too slow and sedentary for you. 
  5. How much time do you have for the trip? Don't forget you need to arrive in Ecuador at least one day before your Galapagos trip, and you can't depart until the evening your Galapagos trip ends.

    Keep in mind we don't recommend going to the Galapagos for fewer than 4 days, and even then feel 5 or 6 days trips are much better value.
  6. When can you travel and are your dates flexible?

    The more inflexible your dates, the farther in advance you should try to book, or the more flexible you may need to be to accept a trip that isn't your ideal as others may already be full. 

How to Plan Your Trip

There are many places to start in planning your trip, as you may only have certain days free to travel, or you may have a specific trip, or type of trip, in mind.

No matter what, we suggest you plan your trip in this order:

  1. Choose a Galapagos trip and get it booked before booking anything else. See our How to Choose a Galapagos Trip to help you choose.
  2. Check international flights to see if there are reasonable flights available for you, but don't purchase anything until your trip is confirmed.
  3. Decide if you are going to add on extra time in the islands for scuba diving, relaxing, or other island visits.
  4. Decide what else you want to do on your trip, such as going to the Amazon, touring the Otavalo Market, or just spending time in Quito, and book those portions next, including hotels and transfers.
  5. Purchase international flights (see our flight section below).
  6. Add on any additional services or trip segments you haven't booked yet
  7. Buy travel insurance
  8. Read up on your destination, watch our videos on how to pack, and start getting ready
  9. Double check that your passport is valid for at least 6 months, and get it renewed right away if it isn't
  10. Relax and get excited to take a great trip

Additionally, you will need to start your trip from either Quito or Guayaquil, Ecuador, and you should plan to spend at least one night before your Galapagos trip in whichever city you are departing from as flights to the Galapagos depart early in the morning. We highly discourage arriving into Quito or Guayaquil early in the morning of your departure date for the Galapagos, as a flight delay on arrival could cause you to miss your trip. For that reason, we encourage people to arrive in Ecuador in time to spend at least 2 nights there before going to the Galapagos, as this builds in some wiggle room if your flights get delayed or your luggage gets lost.

After you Galapagos trip you could depart Quito or Guayaquil the same evening that you leave the Galapagos, but not before evening. Many people will find it most convenient to stay one more night in Ecuador before heading home. ​

Related Articles:
How To Book Flights For A Galapagos Trips

How Much Do Galapagos Trips Cost and How Far in Advance Should I Book?

Costs

Due to the remoteness of the archipelago and the fact that almost everything (food, fuel, building supplies, etc) has to be brought from the mainland, a trip to the Galapagos is not cheap. Trip options are available ranging from budget to luxury trips, and prices vary greatly depending on what options you choose. 

No matter what type of trip you choose, you will have certain fixed costs pertaining to getting to and entering the Galapagos Islands: 

  • ​Galapagos Park fees: All foreign tourists (non-residents of Ecuador) 12 years of age and over pay an entry fee of US$100; under 12 years of age is US$50 and under 2 is exempt. 
  • Transit Control Card (Ingala Fee): Every foreign traveling going to the Galapagos Islands must also pay $20 for the INGALA Transit Control Card, a program put in place to control immigration to the islands. 
  • Flights: Plan on two flights, one originating from your home airport to Ecuador (from the USA this can be $800 - $2,000), and one from Quito or Guayaquil to the Galapagos ($450 - $600, including taxes and fees). If you are booking a cruise the flight from Ecuador to the Galapagos and back must be purchased through the cruise operator as they have seat allotments on flights to guarantee all cruise passengers will be able to get to the islands in time for their cruise. 
  • Tips: While tips are always optional, they are pretty much expected on a Galapagos trip. You should tip your guide $10- $20 per day per passenger, and the crew another $10 - $20 per day per passenger.

Average Trip Costs: Trips range from budget to luxury options no matter what type of trip you choose, so prices can vary greatly depending on what style you prefer to travel in and what options you choose. Here are some rough trip-cost ranges: 

  • ​Cruise: the cost of a cruise depends mostly on the category of ship and the length of the trip (8-days/7-nights has always been considered a normal trip length):
    • Economy Class Cruise: 4-day $850 - $1,000, 8-day $1,500 - $2,000. Please note we feel Economy Class cruises are not good value and if looking for an inexpensive trip you should consider an island hopping trip instead.
    • Tourist Superior Class Cruise: 4-day $1,250 - $1,500; 8-day $2,625 - $3,500
    • First Class Cruise: 4-day $2,450 - $2,750, 8-day $4,100 - $5,000
    • Luxury Class Cruise: 6-day $4,500; 8-day $7,200.
  • Multisport Active Adventure:
    • 7-day trips range from $2,100 to $6,000, with cost depending on the number of people on the trip, lodging options, trip length and activities offered.
  • Island Hopping Trips:
    • Prices for a 5-6 day island hopping trip range from $2000 - $5,000, depending on the activities, whether the trips is private or shared,  as well as the level of accommodations. 
  • DIY Trips: Prices for DIY trips vary greatly, depending on level of hotels an other variables. 
    • Basic lodging runs around $20 per night at the cheapest, while luxury hotels can be $800 per night or more. 
    • Meals cost $10-25 per person (more in fancier restaurants), although many restaurants offer a fixed menu meal for $5-10.
    • Beers are about $5 for a large. Sodas and fruit juice are around $2.50. Batidos (smoothies) cost $3.50 -$5. Cocktails run $7-10.
    • Day Tours: These run anywhere from about $60 per person on a shared half day tour to a site near town, to about $275 per person for a shared full day yacht tour to a remote uninhabited island.
    • Public Speedboats (to get from one inhabited island to another) are about $45 per person per way.

Related Articles:
Extra Costs For A Galapagos Trips
Are There Any ATM's In The Galapagos?
How Much Cash Should I Take To The Galapagos Islands?
Why Is A Park Fee Charged When I Visit The Galapagos Islands?

Booking a Trip

The busiest times in the Galapagos are around Christmas and New Years, followed by Easter and Spring Break, and then the summer holiday season. If planning to travel over Christmas it is common for trips to sell out more than a year in advance. The other seasons don't sell out so rapidly, but the earlier you can plan your trip, the more options you will have available to you. 

Often starting a few months before Christmas spaces that were held on speculation are released and you might be able to find space on a trip. If you really want to travel over the holidays but didn't book in advance, and you can be flexible on what trip you take and it's exact dates, you might get lucky and find an available trip. But don't count on it or plan your vacation based on picking up a cancellation.

For other seasons, boats often sell out months in advance, and they are selling earlier and earlier every year. Again, plan in advance for the best options, especially if your dates are not flexible.

When spaces don't sell boats will often offer trips at discounted rates for travelers who can leave soon. We don't recommend basing your trip plans on this option as it is totally random and you are much better off confirming a trip that you want and that fits your plans than waiting for the possibility that a trip might come available at a better price. ​

Return to Top


How To Get There And Get Around


Where are the Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands, consisting of 18 main islands that cover 3,000 square miles. They straddle the equator 560 miles west of Ecuador, of which they are a part (Source: Wikipedia).

Getting There

Getting to Ecuador

To get to the Galapagos Islands you must first travel to Ecuador, as flights to the Galapagos originate either from Quito or Guayaquil, Ecuador. You will want to fly as the islands sit 600 miles off the coast, and there is no regular passenger boat service. 

To get to Ecuador, you can fly into Quito or Guayaquil, or travel overland from Peru (although Ecuador also borders Colombia, very few travelers enter Ecuador from Colombia). Airlines that fly to Ecuador include American, Delta, LAN, TAME, United, Copa, Avianca, KLM, Aeromexico, US Airways, Iberia, TACA, and Insel Air. 

Many people will book their air tickets from and online travel agent such as kayak.com. ​If you want assistance with your flights, Detour and many other US tour operators use Exito Travel as their air desk to take some of the hassle out of booking air tickets. 

​Related Articles: 
Should I Fly Into Quito or Guayaquil

Getting to the Galapagos

Flights to the Galapagos Islands depart from Quito or Guayaquil, and generally depart early in the morning (7 – 11 a.m.). We highly recommend spending at least one night in Ecuador before flying to the Galapagos so that if flights or delayed or your luggage is lost you won't miss your flight to the Galapagos.

All cruises and most land-based Galapagos trips will quote you for the flight to the Galapagos. They do this to guarantee that everyone arrives on time for the trip so that people won't have to wait around for those arriving on late flights, and in the case of cruises they have seat allotments from the airlines to make sure all passengers on the cruise can get to the Galapagos in time for their trip. , and the trips stadditional airfare on top of the trip rate and start with your pick-up at the Galapagos airport on day one.

​If you are booking a land-based trip, or plan to Do It Yourself, you can book your own flights to the Galapagos and can sometimes save money. LAN is the newest airline to fly to the Galapagos, and while their flights don't arrive in time for Cruises or group land-based tours, sometimes they can offer good fares. 

You can fly into either Baltra (the most used airport), next to Santa Cruz Island, or to San Cristobal Island. Make sure to schedule your flight to the correct airport for your trip.​

Getting Around the Galapagos​

When you book a package tour or a cruise, you won't need to arrange any transportation on your own, as it will all be covered in your trips.

That said, you may have choices for getting between islands if you are on a land-based trip, and if extending a trip or traveling on your own you may need to arrange your own transportation.

Traveling Between Populated Islands:

You only have a few choices for traveling ​between the four populated islands (Santa Cruz, Floreana, San Cristobal, and Isabela):

  • ​Baltra (near Santa Cruz), Isabela, and San Cristobal all have airports, and there are small commercial aircraft for traveling between these islands. The flights are relatively expensive ($160 each way, or $260 round trip - children and seniors are less), but they are quick and pleasant. If flying in or out of Baltra keep in mind that you will be about an hour from the town of Puerto Ayora.
  • Public speedboats are the transportation for the locals, and they take about 2 2 1/2 hours from Puerto Ayora to any of the other islands. These can be crowded, hot, and very rough, but only cost $30-40 each way. Not recommended if you suffer seasickness, at least during the June - November period with rough seas.
  • Charter speedboats are often much more comfortable than the public boats, but they are expensive. Some group tours charter boats so it is good to know if your inter-island transportation will be by public or private boat. 

Traveling between Baltra airport and Puerto Ayora:

If you are flying in or out of Baltra for a land-based trip (most organized trips will meet you and drop you off at the airport) you have a few options for traveling to Puerto Ayora. 

Upon arrival at the airport, you will want to board one of the airline buses (free) that will take you the short distance (5-10 minutes) to the ​Itabaca Channel, where you will get off and grab your luggage. There you need to load onto a ferry for the short trip across the channel to Santa Cruz Island ($1 per person). From the other side, you can board a public bus or take a taxi to Puerto Ayora.

The bus will be very crowded and won't have air conditioning, but it is cheap at $1.80 (2014) per person.

A taxi will ​cost $18 (2014) one way. One advantage of a taxi is that you can ask the driver to stop to see the giant land tortoises as you will pass very near the reserves on your way to town. This stop might double the cost of the taxi, however. 

You can arrange through your hotel or one of your local tour providers to have a taxi meet you ​at the airport, and the driver will help you with your luggage on the bus, the ferry, and until you reach your hotel. Expect to pay more for this arranged taxi.

A note on Taxis in the Galapagos:​ Taxis are white,  small 4-door pickup trucks. You will ride inside the taxi, and your luggage will go in back. It is common for taxi drivers to pick up locals to ride in the back as you cruise around the islands. 

Related Articles:
How To Book Flights For A Galapagos Trip
How Long Is The Flight From Ecuador To The Galapagos Islands?
What Are The Luggage Weight Restrictions On Flights To The Galapagos Islands?
Galapagos Trips - US Flight Delays Can Make You Miss The Boat!
How To Pack For A Galapagos Islands Trip
The Must-Pack Gear For Your Galapagos Multisport Adventure

Return to Top


Weather and When to Visit the Galapagos


When is the Best Time to Visit the Galapagos?

There isn't a bad time to visit the Galapagos because the weather varies little at the equator and most of the wildlife does not migrate. An exception is the waved albatross on Española Island, which leaves the islands in December and returns in April.

There are basically two seasons in the Galapagos, which affect temperature, rainfall, sunshine, water temperatures, and sea roughness:

  • ​The warm, wet season is December to early May; the warmest months are February and March. Air temperatures average between 77 F and 88 F (25 C & 31 C), and it can rain every day. When not raining, however, the skies can be clear and sunny. The sea is generally calm this time of the year and the water temperature is warmer (70 – 85 F or 21 – 29 C), which is ideal for snorkeling without a wetsuit. On land, the heat can feel intense when walking over lava rocks and in open areas.
  • The cool dry season runs from June to December, during which time the southern trade winds bring the colder Humboldt Current north to the Galapagos Islands. Although mostly dry, this is also the Garua season, with high misty clouds in the morning, often burning off for the afternoon. Air temperatures average 68 F to 80 F (20 C to 27 C). During this season the water is also cooler, (60 – 70 F or 16 – 21 C), so snorkelers will usually want to wear a wetsuit. The seas also can be rougher this time of year, with the roughest seas occurring in September. The highlands will be green and moist while the lowlands and coast will be dry, and barren of leaves. 

When Should I Not Go?

Again, there is no bad time to visit the Galapagos Islands. However, you may want to take the following into account when planning your trip:

  • ​If you are prone to seasickness, you might want to consider traveling between December and May as the seas are generally calmer during this time. 
  • If you want warm water for snorkeling, you should travel between December and May, as the water is warmer at this time. 
  • If you are going to Español Island and want to see the waved albatross, note that they will be absent from the island from sometime in December until April, so plan to travel outside of that time.
  • If you don't want hot weather, consider traveling during the June to December time period when days are typically cooler. 

Related Articles:
Do I need a wetsuit for my Galapagos trip?
What is the Water Temperature in the Galapagos Islands?
What Is The Weather Like In The Galapagos Islands?
When Is The Wildlife Most Active In The Galapagos Islands?

Return to Top


Safety and Health


Seasickness: If you are prone to seasickness you might prefer a trip in the hot, wet season (December - May) when the seas are calmer. Many people have had good luck with the patch that goes behind the ear to help them with seasickness. You will need a prescription for this, so see your doctor before your trip to get her advice.

Read more about seasickness in the Galapagos here:
5 Ways to Avoid Sea Sickness on your Galapagos Islands Tour​
Is Seasickness Common On a Galapagos Islands Cruise?

Crime: The communities in the Galapagos Islands are safe in general and crime rates are very low. While the people are friendly and crime is not a serious threat in the Galapagos, always be cautious. Similarly, crime on yachts is rare and would most likely involve your fellow passengers.

Medical Facilities: There are medical facilities on the three most populated islands (San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, and Isabela), although staff and services are limited. For serious issues you may need air transportation to Ecuador or the United States, which is expensive without insurance (you really should purchase travel insurance!). A handful of cruises have an on-board cruise doctor who can tend to health emergencies. For divers, care for decompression sickness is also limited in the islands, although there is a hyperbaric chamber in Puerto Ayora.​

Shipwreck and Fire: Every year at least one boat seems to run aground or catch on fire, so this is a real threat, although it involves a tiny fraction of the visitors to the islands, and very rarely are there injuries or deaths. ​Pay attention to the safety briefing on your boat when starting a cruise just in case. 

Drinking Water and Food: Tap water in the Galapagos is not potable, and you will find bottled water and large containers of water on boats and in hotels and restaurants. Please don't buy small plastic water bottles, but instead carry your own reusable bottle to refill from the large containers of drinking water. ​

Food on yachts above Tourist Class will be safe to eat, as will food in restaurants in towns. ​

Salad In Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz

Return to Top


Environmental Concerns in the Galapagos Islands


The Galapagos face a number of threats, most having to do with invasive species, too many people moving to the islands, and overfishing/illegal fishing. 

Buy Local

One of the best ways you can help to protect the Galapagos Islands is to choose a local, sustainably minded operator to travel with. Look for boats with Smart Voyager status, and book with operators who purchase locally grown food, hire local people, and help to train local for jobs in tourism. Helping local people earn an income from tourism allows them to stop fishing and partaking in other extractive and potentially harmful industries.