TRAVEL GUIDE: Everything You Need to Know To Choose and Plan Your Perfect Galapagos Trip

Travel Guide Table of Contents

Why Go to the Galapagos Islands? Best Ways to Experience the Galapagos Planning Your Trip to the Galapagos How to Get There and Get Around Weather and When to Visit the Galapagos Safety and Health Environmental Concerns in the Galapagos Learn More About the Galapagos

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 more! 

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:​

Blue-Footed Booby Mating Dance, Witnessed on a cruise on the Odyssey Galapagos Yacht

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

RELATED ARTICLE: Wildlife You Are Likely to See on Each Island in the Galapagos

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. 

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. — Greg Findley, Detour Founder and CEO

Benjamin Findley, 6, meets a waved albatross on Española Island, Galapagos
  • 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 Letty Galapagos Cruise, 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.

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 to 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?

On a Naturalist Cruise

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. You can read more about our favorite islands in the Galapagos in the following related article. 

RELATED ARTICLE: What Islands Should My Galapagos Cruise Visit?

On a Land-Based Trip

Again, each populated island has unique things to see and do, so each is worth your time. Isabela Island stands out, however, both for its 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.

San Cristobal Island has the second largest population in the Galapagos, and is our close second favorite island to Isabela Island. San Cristobal Island has incredible snorkeling, white sand beaches, huge colonies of sea lions, and it is a charming, fun place to explore for a few days. 

Floreana Island is also unique, and very few travelers spend time there, as it’s challenging to get to. 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. Floreana offers fantastic snorkeling with abundant sea turtles and even occasionally penguins. The highlight of the island is the deep and peaceful darkness, showcasing a starry night like you’ve never seen before.​ Explore Floreana Island on the Ultimate Galapagos Adventure.

Santa Cruz Island is a necessary stop for all land-based trips. It’s the busiest island in the Galapagos and has the largest town. It’s busy compared to the rest of the islands, and while there’s a lot to do, it’s not as laid back and relaxing as the other inhabited islands. 

RELATED ARTICLE: 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 to 15 days will allow you to have a comprehensive 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 to 6 days if you have very limited time but still want a memorable experience
  • 7 to 8 days if you want a good comprehensive Galapagos trip that allows you to experience the diversity of the different islands
  • 9 to 15 days if you want to maximize your experience and really get to know the Galapagos

What Type of Trip Should I Take? 

Naturalist Cruise

Sun Deck on board the Beluga Motor Yacht

​Exploring the islands on a small yacht is the classic way to see the Galapagos. You travel from island to island and site to site on board the boat, disembarking multiple times a day to explore on foot and go snorkeling.

On a typical day on any cruise, you wake up early in the morning for a quick breakfast and then go out a site on an island for about 2 to 4 hours. You’ll explore on foot and/or go snorkeling. Then you’ll return to the boat for a little down time and lunch. During this time, the boat will travel to either a different island, or a different site on the same island. Then you go on your next excursion in the afternoon. Similar to the morning, it will last for a few hours, and you’ll go on foot and/or snorkeling. In addition to the two main excursions of the day, it’s also likely you will go kayaking or stand up paddle boarding, or take the small zodiacs out to explore the shoreline. These excursions are usually shorter, but still worthwhile. In the evening, you’ll have dinner, a briefing for the next day, and down time. At night, the boat will travel to a different site for the next day’s adventures. 

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 one 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 Española 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

Here are some of our favorite cruises in the Galapagos: 

$1,850$4,295

The Angelito I Galapagos Cruise is a perfect way to experience the best of the Galapagos Islands for travelers seeking a quality Galapagos naturalist cruise but who don't need luxury accommodations. It offers great guides, personal service and top-notch wildlife-rich itineraries. Trip Lengths: 4, 5, 8, 11, 12, or 15 Days Destination: Galapagos Islands Lodging: 16-Passenger, tourist superior class yacht Activities: Wildlife viewing, naturalist walks, snorkeling

$3,695$5,744

The Galapagos Odyssey was designed specifically for comfortable cruising in the Galapagos Islands, with spacious communal areas and picture windows in each cabin. During your downtime, you can relax and enjoy the view from one of the Galapagos Odyssey’s many decks, or soak in the outdoor jacuzzi. Trip Length: 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, or 15 Days Destination: Galapagos Islands Lodging: 1st-Class to Luxury Class Activities: Wildlife viewing, naturalist walks, snorkeling, kayaking

$8,050$8,450

The luxurious 20-passenger Origin and Theory Galapagos Yachts are sister ships custom designed for comfort and sustainability. The sophisticated design maximizes ocean views from the ten deluxe staterooms on the main deck and the expansive indoor and outdoor social and observation areas. The Origin and Theory offer world-class service and amenities while saving fuel and treading gently on the earth.  The itineraries are carefully designed so you will experience the best of the Galapagos, while the inspired gourmet style menus, open bar policy, and sun deck and hot tub will keep you comfortable and happy. Trip Length: 8 Days Destination: Galapagos Islands Accommodations: Luxury yachts with 20 passengers each Activities: Wildlife viewing, naturalist walks, snorkeling, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding

Multisport or Active Adventure Trip

Kayaking on Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos

Multisport Adventure​ trips are land-based. On these trips, you 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 paddle boarding (SUP).

On a typical day on a multisport adventure, you’ll wake up early for breakfast, and head out for the day. You’ll go on some combination of kayaking, hiking, biking, SUP, or snorkeling. Lunch is normally a box lunch that you’ll eat at a trail head or on board the boat you’re using for the day. You’ll get back to your hotel in the mid to late afternoon, and the rest of the day is free to relax or explore on your own. When you travel from island to island, it will be in the morning or in the afternoon, and you’ll have one short activity before or after the traveling. 

There are a number of different itinerary options for these trips, with differences in the trip length, 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.

“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 paddle board 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

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.

Here are some of our favorite Galapagos Multisport Adventures: 

$3,355$3,993

One of the very best active trips possible in the Galapagos Islands, this land-based multisport adventure combines nice accommodations with great guides and equipment and a well-planned itinerary designed to maximize recreation while seeing as much wildlife as possible. This trip is ideal for private groups or families, too. Trip Length: 7 Days Destination: San Cristobal, Isabela, & Santa Cruz Islands, Galapagos Lodging: Your choice of 3- or 4-star hotels Activities: Hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, mountain biking, wildlife viewing

$5,299$6,695

Kayak, snorkel, hike, and bike your way through the four inhabited islands of the Galapagos, getting up close and personal with the incredible wildlife, learning about the natural history from your expert guide, experiences the local way of life. This trip includes a day in Quito on either end and roundtrip Galapagos flights, so everything you need for your adventure is set to go! Trip Length: 10 Days Destinations: Quito, San Cristobal Island, Floreana Island, Isabela Island, & Santa Cruz Island Lodging: basic but comfortable 3-star hotels Activities: Hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, biking, optional Scuba diving, optional stand up paddle boarding

$2,485$3,368

Hike, sea kayak, bike and snorkel your way through the Galapagos. By joining onto shared tours (but with your own top-notch guide) you save on logistics while not skimping on quality. This trip offers an ideal mix of active excursions into the park and chill time to explore on your own. Trip Length: 7 Days Destination: Galapagos Islands Lodging: Mid-range (3-star) lodges Activities: Kayaking, biking, hiking, snorkeling

Island Hopping Trip

​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.

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

Here are some of our recommended Island Hopping Trips: 

$2,297$3,055

A lodge-based naturalist trip in the Galapagos that visits and explores 3 different Islands. An ideal option for those who don't like boat travel, but still want a full itinerary, wildlife-viewing opportunities, and comfortable accommodations. Trip Length: 5 Days Destinations: San Cristobal, Isabela, & Santa Cruz Galapagos Islands Lodging: First-class, ocean-front lodges Activities: Wildlife viewing, naturalist walks, snorkeling

$3,274$6,082

A land-based, 3-Island tour focused on hiking and snorkeling; less strenuous than a multisport but more active than a land-based naturalist tour. Trip Length: 7 Days Destination: San Cristobal, Isabela, & Santa Cruz Islands, Galapagos Lodging: First-class, beachfront Optunia Lodges Activities: Hiking, snorkeling, wildlife viewing

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.
$6,395$7,595

One of the Galapagos' only dive-only cruises; good chances to dive with whale sharks, schools of hammerhead sharks, and/or manta rays. Trip Length: 8 or 15 days Destination: Wolf & Darwin Islands, Galapagos Islands Lodging: First-class, live-aboard dive yacht Activities: SCUBA diving, snorkeling, naturalist walks

$595$2,637

This is the perfect trip for divers to get in a day or more of Scuba diving before joining a naturalist cruise, multisport adventure, or other trip in the Galapagos Islands. You'll have daily excursions to fantastic diving sites with loads of incredible wildlife, and nights in a comfortable hotel in the lively town of Puerto Ayora. Trip Length: 3, 4, 5, or 6 days Destination: Galapagos Islands Lodging: Budget, Tourist Superior, or First Class Hotel Activities: Scuba Diving

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

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. What type of trip do you prefer? You can go on a naturalist cruise, or a land-based trip (a multisport adventure or a more mellow island hopping trip). See the previous section on Best Ways to Experience the Galapagos Islands for descriptions of the different types of trips. Or you can see these related articles: 
  3. 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 (some so small that only one person can stand at once) while luxury cabins can be like large hotel rooms.
  4. 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 a shorter cruise, or an island hopping or land-based trip.
  5. 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. 
  6. 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 / 3 nights, and even then feel 5 or 6 days trips are much better value.
  7. 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. 

Once you have some (or all) of these questions answered, the team at Detour can let you know all the trips that fit into your parameters. Get expert help planning your trip!

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 above.
  2. Decide if you are going to add on extra time in the islands for scuba diving, relaxing, or other island visits.
  3. 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.
  4. Double check that your passport is valid for at least 6 months, and get it renewed right away if it isn’t
  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. 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 discourage arriving into Quito or Guayaquil only one day before 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
Going to the Galapagos, Should I Fly into Quito or Guayaquil?

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 per person; travelers under 12 years of age is US$50 per person
  • Transit Control Card (Ingala Fee): Every foreign traveling going to the Galapagos Islands must also pay $20 per person 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 anywhere up to about $2,000 per person), and domestic flights between Quito or Guayaquil to the Galapagos and back ($450 – $550 per person, 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. Some cruises charge a penalty fee if you book flights on your own. If you’re on a land based trip, you are welcome to buy Galapagos flights on your own, but you need to check with us about the right arrival and departure times and airports before buying your flights.
  • Tips: While tips are always optional and based on the level of service, they are pretty much expected on a Galapagos trip. On a cruise you should plan to tip your guide $20- $30 per day per traveler, and the crew is tipped collectively another $10 – $20 per day per traveler. On a land based trip, you should plan on tipping your guide $20 – $30 per day per traveler, and $5 – $10 per day per traveler to the support team and hotel staff. 
  • Meals: On land-based trips, some trips have all the meals included, and others do not. If you’re on a trip that doesn’t include all meals, you should plan on $10 – $30 per meal per traveler. On cruises, all meals are always included. 

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 length of trip 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 (5 days and 8 days are very common lengths of trips, but you can go for any length of time):
    • Economy / Tourist Class Cruise: 5 days $2,400 to $3,000 per person; 8 days $3,000 – $4,000. Please note, we feel that for the most part, Economy / Tourist Class cruises are not good value and if looking for an inexpensive trip you should consider going on a shorter tourist superior class cruise, or going on a land based trip instead.
    • Tourist Superior Class Cruise: 5 days $2,000 to $3,000 per person; 8 days $3,500 to $4,500 per person
    • First Class Cruise: 5 days $3,500 to $5,000 per person; 8 days $5,000 to $6,000 per person
    • Luxury Class Cruise: 5 days $4,000 to $6,000 per person; 8 days $6,000 to $9,000 per person
  • Multisport Active Adventure:
    • 7 day trips range from $3,000 to $6,000 per person, 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 per person, 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 per person.
    • Beers are about $5 for a large. Sodas and fruit juice are around $2-$3 per drink. Batidos (smoothies) cost $3-$5 per drink. Cocktails and wine run $7-12 per drink.
    • Day Tours: These run anywhere from about $80 per person on a shared half day tour to a site near town, to about $400 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 $50 per person per way. Short flights between the islands are about $175 per person per way. 

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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. If you’re not into planning that far in advance, 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 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.

The months of March, April, and May are also very busy in the Galapagos, and spaces tend to sell out about 6 to 9 months in advance. If you’re thinking about traveling during these months, we highly recommend that you book your trip as soon as you have dates in mind. The earlier you book, the more options you will have available to choose from. 

The other months don’t sell out so rapidly. Usually spaces are limited 6 months or less in advance. 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. ​

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 only. You will need to fly to the Galapagos 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, the two largest cities in Ecuador, or travel overland from Peru (although Ecuador also borders Colombia, very few travelers enter Ecuador from Colombia, as the border is not safe). Airlines that fly to Ecuador include American, Delta, LATAM, TAME, United, Copa, Avianca, KLM, Aeromexico, US Airways, Iberia, and TACA. 

Many people will book their air tickets from and online sites such as kayak.com. ​If you want assistance with your flights, we use Exito Travel as their air desk to take some of the hassle out of booking air tickets. The agents at Exito Travel are excellent at finding the least painful routing and good prices. While it is not the cheapest option, they definitely make it easy! 

RELATED ARTICLE: 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, between 6am and 11am. Because of flight schedules, it is necessary to spend one night in either Quito or Guayaquil before going to the Galapagos Islands. It is not possible to fly to the Galapagos Islands without a night in or near one of these cities. 

We highly recommend spending two nights in Ecuador before flying to the Galapagos so that if your arrival flight is delayed or your luggage is lost you won’t miss your flight to the Galapagos. Plus, this will give you time to explore mainland Ecuador, which is a lovely! 

All cruises and some 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. And in the case of cruises, there are seat allotments from the airlines to make sure all passengers on the cruise can get to the Galapagos in time for their trip. If you are on a different flight, other than one booked through the cruise, the trip will not wait for you if your flight is delayed. 

​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 a little money. You will need to check with us though, before arranging your flights, to make sure that you arriving/departure at the correct times and correct airport. 

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 all logistics and costs are covered in your trip.

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 three of the populated islands (Santa Cruz, 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 ($175 per person each way, or $350 per person 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, where most hotels are located.
  • Public speedboats are the transportation for the locals, and they take about 2 to 2 1/2 hours from Puerto Ayora to any of the other islands. These can be crowded, hot, and very rough, but only cost $40-$50 per person each way. Not recommended if you suffer seasickness, at least during the June – November period with rough seas. These speedboats operate between Santa Cruz and Isabela, and Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. There isn’t a speedboat between Isabela and San Cristobal, for that you would need to go through Santa Cruz and it would take all day. It would be better to fly to connect those two islands.
  • 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. 
  • Floreana Island has a small town, but there is no public transportation to/from this island. All the transportation is on chartered speedboat, so it is best to only plan to go there on a cruise or on a packaged land based trip. 

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 ($5 per person) 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 (a couple of dollars 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 a few dollars per person. A taxi will ​cost about $25 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. 

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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, with the warmest months being 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 the most calm this time of the year and the water temperature is warmer (70 – 85 F and 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 and 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. 

Note on Sea Currents

While there is a noticeably rougher and calmer time of the year, the Galapagos Islands are mostly sheltered, and it is not often that you are in the open ocean. Even during the time of the year when seas are rougher, they are not huge waves. During the warmer time of year, the water is calmer and the visibility is better for snorkeling. But there is not as much nutrients in the water, so marine wildlife is not as active. In the cooler time of year, the water is a bit rougher and visibility isn’t as good, but the cold water brings nutrients to the water and the marine wildlife is more active. It’s a trade off!  

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 April as the seas are generally calmer during this time. 
  • If you want warm water for snorkeling, you should travel between December and April, 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:
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COVID-19

At the time of writing (June 2020), the Galapagos Islands is getting ready to open up to travelers in a few weeks. Here are some the safety measures that our partners are taking: 

  • Health status of crew, guides, and passengers will be constantly monitored. 
  • Upon arrival in the Galapagos, travelers will have their temperature taken. In the event that you have a high fever, the nearest health service will be called to carry out the corresponding COVID-19 procedures. 
  • Daily deep cleaning and disinfection processes are carried out in all interior and exterior areas of the vessels. 
  • Twice daily all high touch surfaces in communal areas, both indoor and outdoor, will be disinfected. 
  • A safe distance between people will be maintained at all times. Some boats are limited the number of people allowed on the boat in order to space people out. 
  • Face masks will be available and use will be required when it’s not possible to be a safe distance from others.
  • Regular hand washing and use of hand sanitizer will be required for everyone. 
  • All crew members will receive protective equipment for activities and will strictly follow all established hygiene measures. 
  • Disinfection and cleaning areas for shoes and luggage will be available at all entrances of the boats. 
  • Special shoes to wear just on board the boat will be required. 
  • The common area capacity will be reduced to 50% occupancy, and people will need to spread out. 
  • All meals will be plated, rather than buffet style. 
  • There could be two meal shifts in order to keep distance between people. 
  • The dining cabin and bar area will be disinfected before and after each service. 
  • Landings on islands will be done in groups respecting physical distancing. 
  • Guides will carry antibacterial gel at all times. 
  • Travelers must bring their own personal snorkeling equipment on some boats. The boats will offer new equipment for sale. Other boats just highly recommend it. 
  • Multisport equipment, such as kayaks, stand up paddle boards, and bikes, will be sanitized before and after each use. 
  • Hotels in mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos have implemented international health and prevention protocols according to guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Ecuador Ministry of Health, and the Ecuador Ministry of Tourism. 

Each boat and trip operator have their our health and safety guidelines. They are all quite similar to this list. We can send you the specific list for any trip that you’re considering. 

At the airports in mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos, travelers will need to stand a safe distance apart. Masks will be required. There will be health screenings for all arrivals and departures. Flights going to and from the Galapagos have always been disinfected, to prevent invasive species from getting to the islands, but the cleaning processes will be increased. 

We will update this section as needed. 

Seasickness

If you are prone to seasickness you might prefer a trip in the hot, wet season (December – April) 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 their advice.

RELATED ARTICLES:
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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 rather than the crew.

Medical Facilities

There are medical facilities on the three most populated islands (San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, and Isabela), although staff and services are limited. Cruises are usually quite far away from the population centers. Guides and crew are trained in first aid, and you will be rushed to a medical center as quickly as possible. 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, but it is not common. For divers, care for decompression sickness is also limited in the islands, although there is a hyperbaric chamber in Puerto Ayora.​

Shipwreck and Mechanical Issues

This is rare, but it is possible that boats can run aground. The guide and crew are highly trained to help people get off the boat in an emergency situation, and very rarely are there injuries or deaths. ​It is very important to pay attention to the safety briefing on your boat when starting a cruise. 

All boats in the Galapagos are required to go into dry dock for a few weeks out of the year for routine maintenance. All the boats that we work with are well cared for, and it is very rare that there are mechanical issues. If something happens to the boat and it cannot operate, travelers will be switched to a different boat. 

Drinking Water and Food

Tap water in the Galapagos is not potable, but you will find large containers of purified drinking water on boats and in hotels and restaurants. Please carry your own reusable bottle to refill from the drinking water containers. ​

All food on yachts from Tourist Superior Class and higher will be safe to eat, as well food in restaurants in towns. ​If you’re adventurous and want to try street food, make sure it’s food that has been cooked! 

Salad In Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz

Invasive Species

Invasive species have long been an issue in the Galapagos Islands, from insects to plants to escaped farm animals. The Galapagos is such an isolated ecosystem, that any introduction of another species can have devastating effects. You can learn more from the Galapagos Conservation Trust

Climate Change

The warming air and ocean temperatures are putting a lot of stress on wildlife in the Galapagos Islands. The islands depend on the colder water and temperature from the Humboldt Current, which brings nutrients to the surrounding ocean. Without it, animals struggle to find food, and they stop reproducing. Warmer weather means more rain in the Galapagos. Rain washes away eggs in tortoise nests. Since the islands are naturally dry, increased rain is bad for native plants, but ends up being good for the invasive plants and animals. 

Overtourism and Overpopulation

With increased popularity of traveling to the Galapagos, more and more Ecuadorians are moving to the islands for work. This as increased significantly has land-based trips in the Galapagos have become popular. The infrastructure in towns is fragile and underdeveloped, so the increased building of hotels and and restaurants and homes have put a lot of stress on the towns and surrounding natural habitat.  

Overfishing and Illegal Fishing

Illegal fishing has devastating effects on the marine ecosystem. It leads to decreased food supply for many animals. Ecuador has expanded the marine reserve over the years, but illegal fishing is a challenge to regulate. 

Pollution

Nearly everything needs to be shipped from mainland Ecuador to the Galapagos: building supplies, food, and even some drinking water. More tourism leads to more consumption and inevitably more waste. There are very few waste management systems in the Galapagos, and no recycling, so most needs to be shipped back to mainland Ecuador, but it can end up on land and in oceans. In addition, soil and noise pollution are created by the increasing human activity on the Islands, and light pollution can affect the migration of birds and turtles.

What can you do about it? 

Buy Locally Operated, Sustainable Trips

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. We at Detour are selective about who we partner with in the Galapagos, and we can help you find a local, sustainable trip. 

Stay An Extra Day and Go Fishing

But wait, doesn’t the Galapagos have issues with overfishing? It does, but think of it this way. If a fisherman takes a group of travelers out for a day of mostly catch and release fishing, and maybe keeping a fish or two for lunch or dinner, it’s a lot more lucrative for them than catching a ton of fish. In addition, if you’re on a fishing boat, you get to go to places around the island where cruises and land based trips aren’t allowed, so you’re truly off the beaten path and get to have a really unique experience. It’s super easy to add on an extra day or two in the Galapagos to experience the culture of the islands and to go fishing. 

Take A Longer Trip

While it’s possible to go to the Galapagos for only 4 or 5 days, many travelers doing short trips increases the number of flights made to and from the islands. Flights are a major contributor to climate change. Besides, you’re probably only going to go to the Galapagos once, so make it count! 

Donate to an Organization that Supports the Galapagos

There are some amazing organizations working to control invasive species, make the islands more sustainable, and protect the ecosystem. We highly recommend making a donation to support the future of the islands. Or, donate to an organization that is combatting climate change on a larger level. Here are some of our recommendations: 

The Galapagos Islands are an incredible, magical place! And we never get tired of learning more about these islands. Here are some of our favorite books, videos, and podcasts:

The BBC’s Galapagos is a comprehensive series exploring the history, ecology, and geography of the islands. Settle in, the whole series is about 2 1/2 hours long! 

The podcast Radiolab explores the Galapagos Islands. It’s a fascinating story about the invasive goat population on Isabela Island, and the lengths that scientists and conservations went to protect the giant tortoise population and the ecosystem of the island.

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden is a wild, scandalous story about some of the first settlers in the Galapagos. It’s a documentary film, but you’ll feel like you’re watching a soap opera crossed with a murder mystery.

The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time is a Pulitzer Prize winning book about two scientists who spent 20 years studying the evolution of finches on Daphne Major. Little did Darwin know that natural selection is taking place hour by hour, not just over years!

And now for some action! Iguana vs Snakes is one of the coolest clips from Planet Earth II. A marine iguana manages to evade tons of snakes on Fernandina Island in the Galapagos.