If you’re like me, it’s the night before you fly to Ecuador, and you’re wasting precious sleeping hours agonizing over what to pack for your trip to the Galápagos Islands and what to leave at home.
If you’re like my co-worker Katie, you are super organized and have everything laid out and ready to go well before you leave. Since she’s the pro here, I’ll let her take you through the details:
KATIE’S PACKING LIST
- Bring at least twice as much sunscreen as you think you will need. You’ll be right on the equator, and even though it doesn’t feel too hot, you will fry to a crisp unless you lather up 4 or 5 times a day. It’s possible to buy more sunscreen if you run out, either on board a cruise or in one of the towns, but it’s crazy expensive.
- Be sure to bring bio-degradable, reef safe sunscreen. Conventional sunscreens have chemicals that can wreak havoc on ocean ecosystems – from disrupting endocrine systems in fish to bleaching coral reef (Marine Safe). I recommend Think Sport, SPF 50. Unlike most mineral-based sunscreens, it is water resistant and it actually rubs in so you don’t have to walk around looking like you’re coated in a paste.
- Bring two swimsuits. You’re going to be snorkeling a ton, and it is very luxurious to not have to put on wet swimsuit every time.
- Take the most necessary items for your trip with you in your carry-on bag for your flights: a swimsuit, sandals, a sunhat, one change of clothes and a camera. If your checked baggage gets lost or delayed, you’ll need these items to really enjoy your trip in the Galápagos.
It’s always a good idea to travel light by bringing only what you need for your trip. Being over burdened with luggage can make transfers and travel difficult. And if you’re on a Galápagos cruise, most cabins are very small, so you don’t want to take up space with tons of stuff.
Check out the luggage restrictions for flights to the Galápagos here: What are the luggage weight restrictions on flights to the Galápagos Islands?
Following are my recommendations for luggage for your trip:
- Small day backpack: This bag will be the one stays with you at all times during your trip, and will make a great carry-on for your flights. This pack where you will keep necessities such as your camera, water bottle, sunscreen, sunglasses, windbreaker, and other similar objects during your daily excursions in the islands. Because you will be the one to carry this backpack you’ll want to keep the weight down. I recommend Patagonia’s Lightweight Blackhole Pack 26L. The water resistant fabric will help keep your belongings dry from any splash up as you head out for your day’s activities.
- Duffel bag, small suitcase, or larger backpack: In addition to your small day backpack, you should only need one duffel bag, small suitcase, or larger backpack to serve as your main luggage for the trip. This can also be your larger carry-on, but check with your airline to insure it meets specifications. Your duffel or suitcase should be well made and durable to take the punishment the airlines and traveling can dish out. I prefer to use a duffel bag or larger backpack, simply because they don’t have hard sides and can pack down small if needed. This is especially good for a cruise or longer stays at a lodge, as you can unpack and then stash your bag so it doesn’t get in the way. For you light packers out there I recommend Patagonia’s Blackhole Duffle 60L. It will work as a carry-on. They also make a 90 L Duffle if you need something a bit larger. You can purchase them directly at Patagonia.com.
- Spare Duffel: It’s a good idea to carry a spare duffel rolled up in your main luggage piece. This is not only good in case you want to leave some belongings at your hotel in Quito while you are in the Galápagos or Amazon, but it comes in handy for those who like to do a good deal of shopping and need more space to get everything home.
- Small Padlocks: These help discourage casual theft. Be sure to have a TSA-approved lock.
- Plastic Bags: Sturdy zip lock bags or dry bags are great to keep important items dry while in the Galápagos or Amazon. Or, for a more sustainable and durable option consider a small dry bag. Check out Backcountry.com for a slew of dry bag options.
- Comfortable tennis shoes or light hiking boots with good traction: Hiking in the Galapagos is not strenuous, but the ground is uneven and rocky in some places. Sturdy sandals like Chacos, Tevas, or Keens are also fine for hiking.
- Sandals with a heel strap: You will want sturdy sandals with a heel strap like Chacos, Tevas, or Keens for the wet landings and/or for the hikes on the islands. On some trips, you will be stepping out of a small boat (a panga) onto the shore. The waves will be very gentle and won’t be higher than your knees, but your feet will get wet. You can go barefoot and then put on your shoes on shore, or you can wear sandals with a heel strap in the water. Do not wear flip flops for wet landings, as you might lose a shoe in the waves!
- Flip flops: Not really necessary, but you might like having dry sandals for using around the boat or in your hotel. On cruises, it’s also acceptable to go barefoot.
- Comfortable athletic type socks for walking and hiking. Non-cotton socks are best, as they dry more quickly.
- Wind shell (ideal for the islands, as it doesn’t rain very much but it can be windy), and rain jacket or a rain poncho with a hood. To cut down on luggage, I brought just a rain jacket instead of both a wind shell and a rain jacket, as I was traveling in the Ecuadorian Andes after my Galapagos trip, and the mountains get a lot more rain than the Galapagos Islands.
- Medium to light fleece jacket or fleece sweater (wool is good too)
- It doesn’t get very cold in the Galapagos, but it’s nice to have a couple of warm layers. The above items are frequently needed when it gets cooler in the islands during the evenings, which is the time you will experience more breezes as you cruise to another location, or enjoy the beach at sunset. Also remember that Quito can be cool and it can get downright cold if you go higher into the mountains.
SHIRTS & BLOUSES
- A few short sleeve shirts or light blouses. Try to avoid cotton, as cotton does not dry quickly, and it gets smellier more quickly than polyester or wool.
- A long sleeve shirt or blouse for cooler evenings and sun protection
For Swimming & Snorkeling
- Two swimsuits: It’s really nice to alternative swimsuits so that you’re not always putting on a still-damp swimsuit!
- Lightweight neoprene wetsuit: Completely optional, and usually unnecessary. You do want a wetsuit in the Galapagos, as it allows you to spend more time in the water, but the vast majority of trips will have wetsuits available for you to rent, or they are included in the trip pricing. It’s much easier to rent a wetsuit for a few days than to haul around your own wetsuit.
- Snorkel & Mask: Again, this is optional. You will be able to rent these, or they will be included in your trip. But if you already have a mask and snorkel, you should consider bringing them. It’s really nice to have a mask that you know will fit you. You’ll be spending a lot of time snorkeling, and you don’t want to have to mess around with an ill-fitting mask.
Pants, Skirts, & Dresses
- Hiking shorts: 1 or 2 pairs.
- Lightweight full length pants: Either synthetic or cotton is fine, and are great for cooler nights in the highlands or islands. 1 or 2 pairs
- Pair of dressier shorts and/or pants: The Galapagos is very casual, but in Quito and the larger cities in Ecuador, people tend to dress up very often.
- Women may want to bring a casual dress or skirt: I found it very comfortable to shower and put on a dress at the end of the day in the Galapagos. Again, the Galapagos is very casual, but you might want to consider bringing a nicer dress for the mainland.
- Sun hat. This is essential. The equatorial sun can be brutal. Wide brim sun hats are best, and should have chin strap in case they blow off your head. Baseball caps are alright, but be sure to put a ton of sunscreen on your ears and the back of your neck. Unless you have a really thick head of hair and never burn, sun visors are out.
- Bandana (great to shield your neck)
- Sun glasses with security strap (polarized lenses will help you to see more when looking in the water to spot turtles and rays). It’s a good idea to bring two pairs, especially if you need prescription glasses.
- First Aid Kit. While your Galapagos guide will carry first aid kits, you are responsible for bringing along your own personal medical kit including medications, especially prescription drugs, or vitamins you regularly take (fill prescriptions BEFORE you travel). A few over the counter drugs you might take are pain relievers, motion sickness pills, or indigestion tablets.
- Seasickness medication: While Galápagos waters tend toward calm, you’re still out on the ocean. If you are susceptible to sea sickness or or motion sickness, you’re going to feel it. And even if you don’t think you’ll feel bad, it’s still good to bring some medication just in case. Read more here: 5 Ways to Avoid Sea Sickness on your Galapagos Islands Tour. But don’t worry! Even if you get a little sea sick, it’s going to be the last thing you remember about your amazing trip to the Galapagos.
- Refillable water bottle: There is no way to recycle plastic in the Galapagos. It all has to be shipped back to the mainland, and even then it’s unlikely to be recycled. So do the Galapagos Islands a favor, and don’t waste plastic. Bring a refillable water bottle. On your trip you will have access to filtered, purified water, whether you’re on a cruise or on a land-based trip.
- Water filter: You might also consider bringing a small water filter. There are UV lights that will zap all the bacteria in the water, so you don’t have to worry about getting anything nasty! Seriously, don’t use plastic water bottles.
- Toiletry kit: Tooth paste, toothbrush, shaving kit, nail clippers, etc.
- Shampoo, Conditioner & Soap: Most cruises and hotels in the Galapagos will have shampoo, condition, and soap available for you to use. If it’s provided, the soaps are biodegradable and works with their grey water systems. So be sure to use them! You may need these things for your stay in mainland Ecuador, so bring some, but not a ton.
- Insect repellent: The Galapagos doesn’t have many mosquitoes or biting insects, but bring a little repellent just in case. If you’re traveling onto the Amazon, this is a must.
- Sunscreen with SPF rating of 15 or higher (you are on the equator so bring a full bottle)
- Aloe gel of a high quality (just in case you didn’t put on enough sunscreen)
- Chap stick with sunscreen of SPF rating of 15 or higher
- Hand sanitizers like Purell for a quick way to keep hands clean when traveling on your own.
- That book you have wanted to read
- Binoculars: Even though you can get up close to much of the wildlife in the Galápagos, you will still want a good pair of binoculars. Water resistance is a plus (and required for the Amazon)
- Camera: You’re going to take at least 2,000 photos in the Galapagos. Make sure your camera has plenty of storage capacity! Bring an underwater camera if you can. Underwater wildlife is a highlight of the Galapagos
- Travel alarm clock
- Small flashlight or headlamp (good for searching in your duffel and when in Amazon)
- Spanish / English pocket dictionary or electronic pocket translator
- Spare batteries or cords for recharging devices
If you forget something, don’t stress out! You’ll be able to pick up any forgotten items while you’re in Quito or Guayaquil before going to the Galapagos, or in one of the small towns in the islands. Trust me, you’ll be able to find all the essentials.