The Ultimate Travel Guide to Galapagos: Everything You Need to Know

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The Ultimate Travel Guide to

The Galapagos Islands

So many questions come to mind, like, what can you expect? What should you know before booking your trip? When should you visit?

No worries! We are here to help you.
After you read this guide, you will know everything you need to know before you travel to the Enchanted Islands.

Where are the Galapagos Islands?

While the Galapagos Islands are well-known among scientists, nature enthusiasts, and travelers, it is possible that some people may not be familiar with their exact location.

When is the best time to visit The Galapagos Islands?

The Galapagos Islands can be visited year-round, but the wildlife and weather vary.

The islands have two seasons: the “warm season” (December to May) and the “cool season” (June to November).

In the warm season, the temperature is higher, resulting in sunny days and occasional afternoon rain. This season brings green vegetation, providing plenty of food for land animals. Snorkeling is excellent during this time due to the calm seas and good visibility.

In contrast, the cool season has lower temperatures and a constant misty fog called Garua. Rain is rare, but the ocean is rougher due to increased tradewinds. Snorkeling is still good, but visibility is slightly reduced. This season is ideal for spotting penguins, dolphins, whales, and other large marine animals because of the increased marine life caused by cold currents and mixing.

How many visitors?

The Galapagos National Park has rules about how many visitors can come to protect the delicate environment. Even when busy, they ensure there aren’t too many people. If you want a quieter time, you can go in April to May or October to November when there are usually fewer people on the islands.

December to MayWarm season (rainy season)
June to NovemberCool season (dry season)
Where you can fly to

Airports

This volcanic archipelago is located in the Pacific Ocean, 1,000 km off the coast of Ecuador.

There are no direct flights to the Galapagos Islands from other countries, so you will need to take an international flight to Ecuador and then take a local flight from Ecuador’s main cities: Quito or Guayaquil to Baltra (GPS) or San Cristóbal (SCY).

There are three airlines that operate daily flights to the Galapagos Islands:

  • LATAM (recommended)
  • Avianca
  • Equair

Tips

  • When packing for the Galapagos, you are allowed one checked bag weighing up to 50 lbs. 23 kg. and one small carry-on.
  • It is almost always necessary to spend at least one night in Quito or Guayaquil before flying to the islands since the Galapagos flights depart in the morning.
  • There is a third airport on Isabela Island for small aircraft flights from San Cristobal or Baltra.

Before your flight

STEP ONE

You need to get a Transit Control Card (TCT). The cost is USD 20  per person – paid in cash only.

You can find the Immigration Control and Transit Control Card Emission booth at Quito & Guayaquil airports.
You will need your passport and your boarding pass.

NOTE: You need to keep your TCT for your flight back.

STEP TWO

After getting your TCT, you need to go to the luggage inspection.

Here, you will have to get your baggage x-rayed to ensure you’re not carrying fruits, plants, seeds, or anything else organic that may harm the delicate ecosystem of the islands.

Only the checked bags will be sealed with a plastic seal.

STEP THREE

After you check your TCT and luggage, you can proceed with the check-in at your airline’s counter.

STEP FOUR

Once you land in The Galapagos, you will walk to the main airport building, where you will pay the entrance fee of USD 100 per person  – only payable in cash.
For kids under 12 y/o, the fee is USD 50.

Requirements

  • Passport
  • Round trip air ticket to the Galapagos province
  • Traffic control card (Ingala card) issued by the Special Regime of Galapagos Government
wildlife encounters

Tourism is a mixed blessing for the Galapagos but the fact is, if there were no tourism to the islands and the local people did not get any income from it, there would be nothing left there now.

Sir David Attenborough

Visitor's Sites

Only 5% of the islands are inhabited.
The Galapagos National Park protects the other 95%.

Facts

  • The Galapagos Islands have a law to protect their environment and keep a balance between people and nature.
  • The Galapagos National Park Directorate organizes group visits to certain places. Some places are off-limits.
  • Tourists can only go to some places with a certified guide.
  • The number of visitors is limited, and they can stay for different durations depending on the site and activities available.
What's the best option for you?

Cruise vs Island Hopping

Mode of Transportation

The primary difference between island hopping tours and cruising in the Galapagos Islands is the mode of transportation. Island hopping tours involve traveling between islands on smaller boats or speedboats while moving typically involves larger cruise ships or luxury yachts.

Itinerary Flexibility

Island hopping tours offer greater flexibility in terms of itinerary customization. Travelers can choose specific islands they want to visit and spend more time exploring those areas. On the other hand, cruises have predetermined itineraries that may include multiple islands but follow a fixed schedule. 

Accommodation

Cruises provide onboard accommodation, ranging from standard cabins to luxury suites. Island hopping tours typically involve staying at hotels or lodges on the islands, providing more varied accommodation options.

Group Size

Cruises tend to accommodate larger groups of passengers due to the capacity of the ships. In contrast, island hopping tours often involve smaller groups, allowing for a more intimate and personalized experience.

Duration

Cruises in the Galapagos Islands typically last for several days, ranging from four to fifteen days or more. Island hopping tours can last as long as you want. 

 

Wildlife Encounters

Both island hopping tours and cruises offer opportunities to observe the unique wildlife of the Galapagos Islands. However, cruises have the advantage of reaching more remote islands and offering greater access to diverse ecosystems, increasing the chances of encountering a wider variety of species. 

Guided Excursions

Both options provide guided excursions led by naturalist guides. However, island hopping tours may offer more flexibility in the duration and focus of the excursions, allowing travelers to spend more time on specific activities or areas of interest.

Cost

In general, island hopping tours are more budget-friendly than cruises in the Galapagos Islands. Cruises often involve higher costs due to the added services, amenities, and the exclusive nature of the experience.

Environmental Impact

Island hopping tours can be considered more environmentally friendly since they involve smaller boats with a lower carbon footprint than larger cruise ships. Additionally, by staying on the islands, travelers can support local communities and contribute to the conservation efforts of the Galapagos Islands.

Accessibility to Remote Locations

Cruising in the Galapagos Islands allows access to more remote and less-visited locations. These remote areas often offer unique landscapes, wildlife, and pristine natural beauty that may not be as easily accessible through island hopping tours.

Essentials

What to pack for the Galapagos?

  • Breathable waterproof rain jacket
  • Hiking shoes
  • Sports sandals
  • Water-resistant daypack
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Reef-safe sunscreen
  • Lightweight long sleeve shirts
  • Eco-friendly insect repellent
A travel guide

How is the transportation between the islands?

If you decided against the cruise and went for an island hopping experience, you have two options to travel between the inhabited islands: by speedboat or inter-island flights.

Speedboats and inter-island flights are two standard modes of transportation in the Galapagos Islands, each offering distinct advantages and differences.

A clear idea of each experience will help you decide the best option according to your budget and needs.

Speedboats

Flights

  • Speedboats offer a slower mode of transportation compared to inter-island flights.It takes approx. 2.5 hours from island to island
  • Speedboats have more flexible schedules, allowing you to choose from various departure times throughout the day. This flexibility can benefit those who prefer to freely plan their activities and island-hopping itineraries.
  • Speedboats have a higher environmental impact compared to inter-island flights. They consume fuel and emit greenhouse gases while navigating through the water. Additionally, the disturbance caused by speedboats in the marine environment can affect marine life.
  • Traveling by speedboat provides opportunities for wildlife encounters along the way. Marine species, such as sea lions, sea turtles, and even whales, can occasionally be spotted during the journey.
  • Speedboats can be subject to the motion of the ocean, especially during rough weather conditions. Passengers may experience swells and waves, resulting in a less comfortable and potentially bumpy ride.
  • Speedboat transfers are more cost-effective compared to inter-island flights. Their prices are lower, making them a budget-friendly option for transportation between the Galapagos Islands.
  • Inter-island flights provide a much faster mode of transportation. Flying between islands significantly reduces travel time, and flights typically take around 20-30 minutes.
  • Inter-island flights operate between Baltra, San Cristobal, and Isabela. They are limited to specific airports and destinations, which might restrict access to certain islands.
  • Inter-island flights have a lower environmental impact in terms of carbon emissions compared to speedboats. However, it's important to note that aviation still contributes to the overall carbon footprint.
  • While inter-island flights do not offer direct wildlife encounters during the journey, passengers may still enjoy bird's-eye views of the islands and the surrounding marine environment.
  • Inter-island flights provide a smoother and more stable journey compared to speedboats. Passengers travel in small aircraft, usually with fewer than 20 seats, offering a more comfortable and controlled environment.
  • Inter-island flights are significantly more expensive than speedboat transfers. The cost of airfare is generally higher due to the operational expenses associated with running small aircraft and maintaining the necessary infrastructure.
A travel guide

Must Visit Places in Galapagos

tortoises turtle islands

Santa Cruz Island

The most populous island and home to the Charles Darwin Research Station, where you can learn about the islands’ unique ecosystem and conservation efforts.

Snorkeling and diving in Galapagos

Isabela Island

The largest island in the archipelago, Isabela, offers diverse landscapes, including volcanoes, lava fields, and pristine beaches. You can also spot penguins, marine iguanas, and giant tortoises here.

Bartolome - Destination Galapagos

Bartolome Island

Known for its iconic Pinnacle Rock, Bartolome offers breathtaking panoramic views from its summit. The island is also famous for its diverse marine life, including sea lions and Galapagos penguins.

Floreana Island

Explore the history of the Galapagos by visiting Post Office Bay, where an 18th-century tradition of leaving and picking up mail still exists. Floreana also offers excellent snorkeling opportunities.

Galapagos archipelago

Española Island

One of the oldest islands in the Galapagos, Española is home to unique wildlife species, such as the waved albatross and marine iguanas with distinct coloring. The island also has stunning white sand beaches.

Fernandina Island

Witness the unparalleled marvel of Punta Espinosa, where colonies of marine iguanas thrive alongside flightless cormorants, lending an insight into evolution’s wonders. Marvel at the strikingly unique lava formations at Punta Espinoza, formed from recent volcanic activity, a testament to the island’s geological history.

Galapagos Islands

Santa Fe Island

Explore the turquoise waters surrounding Santa Fe, where you can snorkel with sea lions, turtles, and vibrant fish species. The island’s endemic land iguanas are another highlight.

North Seymour Island

This small island is renowned for its abundant wildlife, including blue-footed boobies, frigatebirds, and land iguanas. You can observe their behavior up close while hiking the island’s trails.

Genovesa Island

Also known as “Bird Island,” Genovesa is a paradise for bird lovers. It hosts large colonies of red-footed boobies, great frigatebirds, and swallow-tailed gulls.

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