Galapagos National Park, some 600 miles west of the Ecuadoran coast, is a prime bucket list candidate for many travelers. Made famous by the British scientist Charles Darwin — who visited in the mid-19th century and later published his book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection — the volcanic archipelago of more than 200 islands and islets draws thousands of visitors each year.
Most travelers to the destination take cruise trips, whose itineraries are all shaped and monitored by park officials eager to protect the many unique land and sea creatures that are only found in Galapagos. There’s a wide range of vessels to choose from, from small boats to grand yachts, from expedition ships to traditional and luxury cruise ships. Some companies operating in Galapagos include Lindblad Expeditions, Ecoventura, Silversea Cruises, and Celebrity Cruises, to name a few examples.
Considering the marvelous scenery and sea creatures, not to mention the significant costs ($200-$500+ per day), a Galapagos adventure is indeed the trip of a lifetime for many. Whether you’re considering a trip in the near future or are just dreaming of the ultimate adventure, here are five things Galapagos visitors should know:
1. When to go.
Since the Galapagos is located very near the equator, there are no dramatic changes in weather as the seasons change. But the two peak times for tourists are mid-June through early September and mid-December through mid-January, mostly because these timeframes coincide with traditional vacation times. So if you wish to travel during these months, you’ll need to book well ahead. Otherwise, spring visitors can expect warmer water and air temperatures, well into the 80s with humidity, while water currents bring cooler temps closer to the low 70s from June to November.
2. Ports of call.
The Galapagos archipelago that cruise ships visit consists of 13 main islands and six smaller islands. Since the islands are close together, some under 10 miles apart, itineraries sometimes include two port calls a day — one in the morning and one in the afternoon. This is especially typical of 10-day sailings. The major islands are: Baltra, Espanola, Fernandina, Floreana, Genovesa, Isabela, Marchena, Pinta, Pinzon, San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Santa Fe, and Santiago.
3. What to pack.
Because there are no manmade docks on many of the islands, visits typically require wet landings — meaning visitors disembark a tender just off a beachfront and walk through knee-high (or sometimes higher) water to the destination. Bring water sandals for these landings, along with lightweight hiking boots for lava treks. Other necessities include waterproof bags for camera equipment, a rain jacket or poncho, a backpack, and binoculars.
4. Wildlife you can expect to see.
According to Galapagos Conservancy (formerly the Charles Darwin Foundation), visitors will have opportunities to view mammals like the Galapagos penguin, sea lion, and humpback whale as well as reptiles like the giant tortoise, sea turtle, land and marine iguana, and lava lizard. Plenty of birds also call the islands home, including red- and blue-footed boobies, albatross, cormorant, flamingo, and heron.
5. Galapagos etiquette.
Silversea Cruises, which operates its luxury ship Silver Galapagos year-round in the archipelago, offers the below guidelines for visitors to the national park. (These general rules of thumb, of course, apply for all natural destinations and sensitive environments.)
- Do not remove animals, plants, rocks, or their remains from the islands.
- Do not take any food to the uninhabited islands.
- Do not touch, feed, or handle the animals.
- Do not disturb or chase any animal from its resting or nesting place.
- Stay within the designated visiting areas.
- Do not buy souvenirs or objects made of plants or animals from the islands.