Photography Tips for Travelling to The Galapagos Islands
How to Perfectly Capture the Spectacular Beauty of the Galapagos Islands on Camera
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but when photographing the stunning natural beauty of the Galapagos Islands, the photos are truly priceless.
Whether you are a professional photographer or just a hobbyist considering a trip to the Galapagos Islands, there are ways to maximize your experience and improve your chances of capturing the most incredible moments imaginable.
Which is why we’ve gathered the top industry tips for ensuring you get the perfect shot while remaining safe and respectful of the abundant wildlife that habitat the islands.
Cruise Vs Land-Based Tours – Which Will Provide the Best Photography Opportunities
If capturing all the amazing Galapagos wildlife and beautiful landscapes is top of mind when travelling to the islands, then a cruise will provide the best photo opportunities.
A cruise allows you to see the most remote and spectacular uninhabited islands, allowing you to capture a diverse range of impressive wildlife up close.
And because a cruise stops at a new island each day, every day offers something new and exciting to experience and capture forever.
What’s a Typical Day Like on a Galapagos Cruise?
Here is the timeline for an average day aboard a Galapagos Islands cruise tour:
- 5:30 AM: Wake up, have breakfast on the ship.
- 6:00 AM to 10:00 AM: Arrive on shore for animal/landscape viewing.
- 10:30 AM to 11:30 AM: Snorkelling or panga ride/kayaking.
- 12:30 PM: Break for lunch. Ship may travel to nearby destinations.
- 2:00 PM to 6:00 PM: Another shore landing and possibly more snorkelling.
- 6:30 PM: Dinner aboard the ship.
- 12:00 PM: Ship begins cruising to tomorrow’s destination.
What Kinds of Things You Will Be Able to Capture
The Galapagos Islands truly are a wildlife photographer’s paradise, as there is such an incredible range of biodiversity that isn’t found anywhere else in the world.
From unique creatures in their natural habitat to volcanic landscapes surrounded by stunning, crystal clear turquoise waters and pristine white sand beaches, there is no limit when it comes to the immense amount of beauty you will be able to capture when visiting Galapagos.
Some highlights of the close-up encounters you can expect with the islands’ wildlife include:
- Marine and land Iguanas sunning themselves
- Majestic birds flying overhead
- Playful sea lions frolicking on the beach
- Courtship displays of the Waved Albatross
- Vibrant red and blue-footed boobies
- Galapagos penguins swimming
- Magnificent giant tortoises
- Rainbow coloured Sally Lightfoot crabs
Types of Shots to Focus On
With so much to do and see during a Galapagos cruise tour, deciding what kind of images to capture can be difficult to narrow down.
Here are some recommendations for shots to focus on to make the most out of this amazing photography opportunity.
Galapagos has some of the most open and expansive landscapes you may ever see in your lifetime, so be sure to capture everything it has to offer by using a wide-angle lens. Make sure to capture the contrast of the vibrant blue waters surrounded by darky, volcanic rock and white sand beach.
Landscape with Focal Foreground Element
Focusing in on some flora or fauna in the foreground, while also featuring the gorgeous landscape in the background makes for another incredible landscape shot.
Landscape with Many Elements
Try to capture what it actually feels like to be in the Galapagos islands without making the landscape or wildlife the sole focus.
Photograph the landscape from a wider angle and feature some animals in the shot, without making them the focal point.
Use a longer lens to capture a portrait of one single animal and use a wide aperture to help blur the background. You should still be able to see enough of the background to get a sense of what is going on in the animal’s surroundings.
You don't need to just focus on portraits of the whole animal. Galapagos has several species with unique characteristics and other interesting details that make for incredible macro shots. Focusing on the vibrant feet of blue or red-footed boobies, in particular, make for great detail shots.
One of the most amazing things about the Galapagos Islands is that animals are typically not fearful of humans, allowing you the opportunity to see them up close in their native habitat, and capture their unique quirks and behaviour.
Take advantage of this opportunity by observing from a bit of a distance and using a longer lens to capture some of this behaviour in real-time.
What Photography Equipment Should I Bring?
When travelling abroad, lugging all of your expensive camera equipment with you can be a challenge, especially when taking part in a cruise.
To avoid having to pack up and lug around a large amount of heave photography equipment each time you leave the ship for an excursion, try and limit your gear as much as you can and only bring the essentials.
Avoid bringing a tripod, as it will only end up being a burden, and you will have limited opportunities to use it. Don’t bring a flash or drone either, as both are against national park regulations.
Do bring, however:
- A telephoto lens
- A wide-angle lens
- Extra memory cards
- Extra batteries
- Padded camera bag
- Extra camera strap
- An underwater camera for snorkelling shots
Photography Tips for Getting Great Wildlife Shots
Do Your Research and Get to Know the Animals’ Behaviour and Patterns
The secret to capturing the best wildlife shots in the Galapagos Islands is to get to know the animals you are photographing.
Do your research and observe them for a bit to find out when they wake and feed, what they eat, and where can they be found.
Get Close to Ground Level
Most animals in the Galapagos are small and reside quite close to the ground, so getting down on their level will help you see the world from their point of view and capture the perfect shot from straight on.
Make Sure Subject Is in Focus
There’s nothing worse than photographing an incredible subject like Galapagos wildlife and having your photo out of focus.
Prevent this by shooting at a higher shutter speed when capturing a moving subject and have your camera set to auto-focus.
Try to Capture Behaviour
As previously mentioned, spend time observing wildlife and their habits and try to capture some of their unique behaviour, such as:
- Sally Lightfoot crabs cleaning ticks from the skin of marine iguanas
- Male blue-footed boobies strutting in front of females
- Waved Albatrosses taking part in adorable breeding rituals
- Galapagos fur seals splashing around in the water
- Marine iguanas basking in the sun
In order to truly capture the unique characteristics of Galapagos wildlife, you will need to get close using a long lens. Get some tightly cropped close up shots of animals that allow you to see some amazing details.
Pay Attention to The Background
When photographing wildlife, it can be easy to forget about the gorgeous landscape that surrounds you. Keep in mind that the wildlife isn’t the only thing you will want to look back on and remember about the Galapagos Islands when you return home.
So, along with close up shots of wildlife, remember to get some shots with the stunning landscape in the background.
Don’t Get Too Close
While many Galapagos creatures don’t fear humans and may get close to you, National Park rules dictate that visitors must maintain a distance of at least 2 metres from all animals. This is for both your safety and the animals’.
For this reason, having a longer lens will come in handy for getting close up shots.
Take Your Time
To avoid frightening the animals, try not to rush and make sudden movements. Be patient and take your time observing the animals in order to get a few perfect shots, rather than running around trying to get as many photos as possible.
Always Look Behind You
Some critters are shy, but curious and may sneak up on you if you are not careful.
Always be looking around to prevent an unexpected run-in with the creatures you are trying to capture.
The most important thing to remember when visiting the Galapagos Islands is to show respect for the wildlife. After all, you are entering their habitat, not the other way around.
Remember that these are living creatures that are incredibly important to the delicate ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands, which is why the National Park has such strict rules in place.
The Galapagos Islands are one of the most unique travel destinations in the world and should be on the bucket list of every photographer.
However, it’s important to do your research and plan ahead to ensure you are able to get some amazing shots while staying safe and respecting the rules of the Galapagos National Park and the animals that live there.
The Unique History and Characteristics of The Galapagos Islands
Historical Significance of the Galapagos Islands and What Makes Them So Special
Along with being a spectacular place to visit with a wealth of unique experiences to offer, the Galapagos Islands have a lot of historical significance and unique characteristics you won’t see anywhere else on the planet. From volcanoes and origin stories of natural selection to endangered species, these islands are incredibly special and should be treated with care.
To help you gain a better understanding of the distinctiveness of the Galapagos Islands and what makes them so unique, here are some important facts about the islands to familiarize yourself with if you are considering a trip to Galapagos.
The Geography and Geology of the Islands
Located 906 km (600 miles) off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands are a volcanic archipelago made up of 13 main islands and nearly 100 smaller islands and islets.
The Galapagos Islands are located at the juncture of three different tectonic plates – moving pieces of the earth’s crust – making the Galapagos Islands one the most volcanically active places in the world.
Situated on top of a volcanic hotspot, the islands were created as the result of millions of years of volcanic activity, and there are currently 13 active volcanoes in the archipelago. There are several fumaroles (one is accessible as a visitor site), but eruptions only happen every few years. These are not explosive, but rather consist of cracks in the sides of volcanoes opening up and magma squirting out.
As a result, the Galapagos’ famous turquoise blue waters, lush greenery, and pristine white sand beaches are contrasted by a harsh yet stunning volcanic landscape.
Spectacular Wildlife and Biodiversity
The Galapagos Islands are perhaps best known for their unique biodiversity and impressive array of highly adapted species, many of which are endemic to individual Islands. In fact, 97% of the reptiles and 20% of the marine species found in the Galapagos Islands do not exist anywhere else on earth.
Due to their remote nature, very few mammals were able to make it to the islands – there are only 2 native mammal species there (a small rat and a bat).
But what really makes the animal life on the islands so incredible is that fact that the species have evolved with very little human contact or any major predators for hundreds of years. This means that they are typically not afraid of humans and will often either come close to you, or let you get close to them.
Some of the most distinctive animals from the Galapagos that you can expect to see includes:
- Marine and land iguanas
- Seals and sea lions
- Giant tortoises
- Green sea turtles
- Galapagos penguins
- Darwin’s Finches
- Blue-Footed Boobies
- Flightless cormorants
While the Galapagos Islands are known for being home to an amazing array of unique animal species, many people often do not realize how much historical – and scientific – significance these creatures have.
Back in 1831, famed naturalist Charles Darwin set sail on the H.M.S Beagle on a voyage to South America. By 1835, Darwin landed in the Galapagos Islands, where he spent 5 weeks studying the unique flora and fauna of the islands and collecting geological and biological specimens from the islands for further analysis.
During his time on the islands, Darwin noticed that while certain species such as finches (now known as Darwin’s Finches) were similar from island to island, each had evolved and adapted to their environments in different ways.
Darwin went on to use his observations to help develop his ground-breaking theory of evolution outlined in his 1859 publication, On the Origin of Species, and dramatically altered the way people at the time understood the biological origins of life.
Other Interesting Facts About the Galapagos Islands
To help you understand even more about what makes the Galapagos Islands so unbelievably unique, here are some additional facts about the islands that many visitors may not know.
In 2012, the Galapagos suffered a huge loss when Lonesome George — the sole remaining Pinta Island tortoise and icon of the Galapagos conservation efforts — died, marking the official extinction of the species.
For many years, Lonesome George was the last known surviving Pinta tortoise and considered the rarest creature in the world.
In fact, The Pinta tortoise was thought to have gone extinct in the early 20th century. It wasn’t until 1971 when a scientist discovered that one still remained, who was swiftly brought to the Charles Darwin Research Station where he lived for the rest of his life and was given the name Lonesome George.
While in captivity, efforts were made to have George mate with females of other Galapagos tortoise species but were unsuccessful.
During his time at the research station, George remained in relatively good health and is estimated to have lived to over 100 years old by the time he eventually died of natural causes.
97% of Galapagos Is A National Park
Another factor that makes the Galapagos Islands one of the most unique vacation destinations is that the 97% of the total area of the islands remains uninhabited and is a part of the Galapagos National Park.
Established in 1959, the Galapagos National Park is the oldest national park in Ecuador and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This means that strict measures are in place to protect the islands and minimize the impact of visitors.
As a result, any tourist visiting the islands on a cruise or other tour must be accompanied by Galapagos National Park certified guide.
The Galapagos National Park also collects an entrance fee of $100 USD from each visitor, which goes directly towards conservation efforts along with the protection and management of the islands.
Presence of Penguins
When most people think of penguins, they think of snow, ice, and freezing cold climates. However, the cute, beloved birds can actually be found in warmer climates like the Galapagos. In fact, the Galapagos Islands are home to the only species of penguin found north of the Equator.
These penguins are typically found on Isabela and Fernandina Islands but can also be spotted on Floreana and Bartolome islands.
Galapagos penguins are able to survive in hotter climates by developing ways to adapt to the warm weather, such as walking on land with their flippers over their feet to avoid being burned from the sun.
The penguins are also able to thrive in their tropical habitat due to the cool, nutrient-rich waters of the Humboldt Current that flows north from Antarctica.
Pirates and Buried Treasure
Nearly 200 years before Charles Darwin even stepped foot in the archipelago, the Galapagos Islands once served as a safe haven for English pirates and Buccaneers after attacking and looting Spanish treasure fleets transporting gold and silver from South America to Spain.
The islands provided the perfect spot for taking refuge because they were close enough to shipping routes to serve as a launching pad for attacks on Spanish ships but were far enough from the South American mainland that pirates could make a clean break and hide out and guard their loot.
According to local legend, some of that treasure remains hidden in the Galapagos to this day.
Major Landmarks and Visitor Sites
There are endless things to see and do when visiting the Galapagos Islands, so how do you know where to start?
To give you an idea of what to look for when selecting an itinerary, we’ve broken down some of the most iconic and historical attractions in the Galapagos Islands.
Charles Darwin Research Station
The Charles Darwin Research Station, located in the city of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, is a biological research station operated by the Charles Darwin Foundation along with over 200 scientists and volunteers.
Founded in 1959, the foundation has dedicated its efforts towards the preservation and conservation of the Galapagos Islands along with the many animals and plants that live there.
This includes monitoring the conservation of the islands’ and flora and fauna, caring/rehabilitating for injured and/or endangered animals until they are ready to be released back to the wild, and tracking the movement of sea turtles, Galapagos penguins, and sharks around certain islands.
The Charles Darwin Research Station itself is a popular tourist destination where visitors can witness the famous tortoise breeding center – where Lonesome George lived until his death – and learn more about local conservation efforts and the Galapagos wildlife.
Punta Suarez, Española Island
Punta Suarez is one of just two visitor sites on Española and is home to the Galapagos' only colony of the Waved Albatross – a rare endemic species that can only be seen on Española Island.
The main activity for visitors to enjoy is hiking a 2 km trail through Masked and Blue-Footed Booby colonies and enjoying the spectacular views this island has to offer.
Another highlight of this hike is a lava fissure that has created a blowhole that sprays water nearly 30 metres into the air.
Punta Vicente Roca, Isabela Island
Located on the largest island in the Galapagos, Punta Vicente Roca is home to the remnants of an ancient volcano that has formed two turquoise coves and is one of the islands’ top-rated snorkelling sites.
Animals that call this spot home include blue-footed and Nazca boobies, flightless cormorants, sea lions, and sea turtles.
Popular activities include taking a panga ride along the cliffs or exploring the partially sunken cave located right at the water’s edge.
Devil’s Crown, Floreana Island
Known as one of the best places for snorkeling in the Galapagos, this visitor’s site got it’s name from a large ring of jagged, volcanic rocks resembling a crown that stick up from the water just off the shore of Floreana Island.
What makes the site so enticing for snorkellers and scuba divers is that the rocks make it an attractive spot for smaller fish, which attract larger fish for feeding, and so on.
Marine life that can be spotted by snorkellers include hammerhead sharks, white-tipped reef sharks, sea turtles, manta rays, and spotted eagle rays.
There is also a colony of playful sea lions that live among the rocks and along the nearby shore.
Prince Phillip’s Steps, Genovesa Island
Named after England’s Prince Philip, who visited Galapagos in 1965 and again in 1981, this site is a steep, rocky trail leading up a cliff that provides the perfect opportunity to spot a variety and abundance of birdlife including:
- Red-footed boobies
- Nazca boobies
- Short-eared owls
- Red-billed tropicbirds
- Galapagos swallows
- Galapagos doves
During your time at this area of Genovesa Island, you will have the opportunity to see a small fur seal colony, along with variety of marine life clinging to the rocks, and stunning views of lava plains.
As you can see, the Galapagos Islands truly are a treasure trove full of history and natural wonder, and are the perfect destination for history, science, and animal lovers alike.
So, when planning your next big vacation, consider a cruise to the Galapagos Islands in order to really experience all that the islands have to offer.
Why an Expedition Cruise in the Galapagos Islands is Perfect for Your Next Family Vacation
How to Take A Trip to the Galapagos Islands with Children
If you're planning your next big family trip and are unsure of where to go, why not consider the sunny, ecologically diverse Galapagos Islands?
With so much to do and see, the Galapagos Islands can be an incredible destination for both parents and kids of all ages.
From the stunning turquoise blue waters contrasted by rocky, volcanic terrain, to the spectacularly diverse species of animals, both parents and children will fall in love with Galapagos, making the islands a once in a lifetime travel opportunity that you will never forget.
What to Expect When Travelling to the Galapagos Islands Depending on Your Children’s Age
Travelling abroad with children can pose some challenges at any age, but certain age groups may be more difficult to travel with than others.
To help you better prepare for a trip to the Galapagos Islands, here are some tips for planning your vacation based on the age of your kids.
Infants and Toddlers
While it is possible to take an infant or toddler on vacation to the Galapagos, you may encounter some challenges trying to explore the islands and navigate the rocky terrain.
Also, keep in mind that when touring the Galapagos Islands, the uninhabited islands on many itineraries do not have bathroom facilities, which can become a problem if you need to change your infant’s diaper.
To ensure that you as a parent, and your child are able to fully immerse yourself in the Galapagos experience and take in everything that the islands have to offer, it’s recommended that you wait until your child is a bit older to travel with them to the islands.
Ages 5 to 12
Many parents ask themselves, “Is my child old enough for overseas travel?” This is a particularly common question asked by parents considering a trip to the Galapagos Islands.
There really is no simple answer to this, as your child’s readiness all depends on their level of maturity, behaviour, and respect, as they will need to be able to follow the rules of the National Park and respect the Galapagos wildlife.
They will also need to have some patience to sit through long flights with connections and be physically able to hike rocky terrain.
How Long Should I Book My Family Trip?
If you are travelling to the Galapagos Islands with your children, a shorter trip will likely work best for your family. However, this is completely up to you. While 8 days is the standard length for a cruise, it’s possible to find 5- or 6-day cruises for those short on time.
Are the Galapagos Islands Safe for Kids?
When done correctly, a family trip to the Galapagos Islands can be 100 percent safe and beneficial for young kids.
In fact, with knowledgeable guides and proper supervision, one of the only safety risks you’ll need to worry about is the harmful rays from the sun.
What Food Should We Expect?
On the islands themselves, you can expect lots of delicious fresh seafood (ceviche is an especially common dish) along with plenty of exotic fruits.
Galapagos meals are fairly simple, light, and fresh, combining the elements of Ecuadorian cuisine like meat, potatoes, and grains with coastal ingredients like yucca and seafood.
But if your kids are picky eaters, not to worry, most cruise ships will offer child-friendly meals if requested.
Travelling by Land Vs. Sea – Which Is Better for Families?
Benefits of a Cruise
When it comes to getting the full Galapagos experience, travelling by cruise is by far the most relaxed and efficient way to see everything the islands have to offer, especially if you are travelling as a family.
Since Galapagos is an archipelago made up of a dozen larger volcanic islands and nearly 100 smaller ones located 600 miles/1000 km off the coast of Ecuador, cruises are the most efficient way to visit these islands, especially remote ones without any human habitation.
Many of these islands are not able to be visited in just a day trip if you are staying in a hotel on one of the main islands.
With a cruise, your ship is usually travelling at night or during meals, allowing you to visit many different islands during your trip without having to ever miss out on valuable exploration time.
In fact, most cruises have pre-planned, diverse itineraries, allowing you to visit up to two sites per day where you can enjoy a variety of activities, without the stress of planning.
An added benefit is if you choose to participate in a cruise that is specifically designated as a family cruise, child-friendly activities are likely to be incorporated.
This means that their days will be packed full of fun adventures, tiring them out by the evening and pretty much guaranteeing they’ll be in bed early most nights.
Plus, there are likely to be many other children on board that your kids can play with, giving you as a parent a bit of alone time to take in your surroundings. And of course, this also means there will be other parents for you to chat with and enjoy the company of other adults.
Top Attractions and Activities for Kids
When visiting the Galapagos Islands with your kids, you will never run out of fun activities. Here are some examples of family-friendly activities the whole family can enjoy.
A defining feature of the Galapagos Islands is the vast number of unique species that call the islands home.
And rather than shying away from you, most animals feel comfortable being amongst humans, and may even approach you, allowing you to get close enough to – respectfully – observe them in their natural habitat.
This can be a great learning experience for kids, as they will learn how to respect the wildlife and know that they don’t need to be afraid of exotic animals.
Some cool creatures you can expect to see, and in some cases maybe even interact with include:
- Sea lions
- Marine and Land Iguanas
- Giant tortoises
- Lava Lizards
- Galapagos penguins
- Sea turtles
If your kids are strong swimmers and aren’t afraid of getting up close and personal with marine life, then snorkelling can be a great activity that you, as a parent, will enjoy as well.
The Galapagos Islands are home to hundreds of fascinating species that can only be found in this part of the world, making it one of the top destinations for scuba diving and snorkelling.
So, when taking part in a snorkelling expedition led by an experienced guide, your child will be able to learn all about whitetip reef sharks, sea lions, green sea turtles, exotic fish, and even Galapagos penguins by getting to see them up close in their natural habitat.
If your kids are too young for snorkelling or are simply not interested, relaxing or exploring one of the Galapagos’ many pristine, white, red, or black sand beaches can also be a fun family activity.
Not only will you be able to soak up some sun, build sandcastles, and take a dip in the ocean, but Galapagos beaches are also another great opportunity to take in the incredible wildlife native to the islands, such as penguins, turtles, sea lions, and more.
Perhaps the best way to truly experience everything the Galapagos Islands have to offer is to explore them on foot.
Expedition cruises will take you around to visit several of the islands, exploring them on foot with your naturalist guide.
Hiking the islands is a perfect activity for young explorers, as children will be able to learn all about how volcanic islands are formed as they trek across lava fields, tuff cones, craters, and sunken calderas.
For those who prefer to remain above the water but still want to see various marine life up close, kayaking is the perfect, family-friendly activity.
Kayaking will allow you to still explore the ocean by skimming across the surface, without having to get too close for comfort to all the underwater creatures.
Along with the untouched natural beauty and biodiversity, the Galapagos Islands are known for their rocky, volcanic landscapes, produced by millions of years of ongoing volcanic activity.
A product of this is stunning underground lava tunnels found across the islands.
You can explore these natural cave formations with your children to help them – and yourself! – develop a better understanding of the volcanic nature of the archipelago and feel like a true adventurer.
Charles Darwin Research Station
Named after the famed naturalist who spent time developing his ground-breaking theory on evolution in the Galapagos Islands, the Charles Darwin Research Station is a biological research station operated by the Charles Darwin Foundation.
The centre is home to several exhibits along with a breeding centre where you can see iguanas and giant tortoises in various stages.
Visiting the station can be a great educational opportunity for your children to learn more about the animals living on the islands along with the foundation’s conservation efforts to help preserve these species.
When taking a family vacation to the Galapagos Islands, your children will gain incredible experiences and develop precious memories that will last a lifetime.
From days filled with exploration and adventure to days spent taking in the diverse wildlife and stunning views, visiting the Galapagos Islands will help kids to discover the beauty of nature and the magic of animals running free without fear of humans.
So, when planning your next big family vacation, consider the Galapagos Islands for a trip of a lifetime that both you as a parent and your children will remember forever.
The Best Times to Travel to the Galapagos Islands
When to Travel to The Galapagos Islands for Ideal Wildlife Viewing and Outdoor Activities
The Galapagos Islands are one of those year-round destinations with mild weather patterns and gradual changes throughout the year, making it an ideal vacation spot anytime you choose to go.
However, depending on what you are hoping to do and see while visiting the Galapagos Islands, there may be certain times when it is better to go than others.
To give you a better understanding of the Galapagos climate when planning your trip, we’ve broken down the different seasons on the islands and the most ideal times for travel in terms of activities and wildlife viewing.
Seasons – What to Expect
Weather-wise, there isn’t ever a bad season in the Galapagos Islands. We like to say that the climate there could actually use a good cup of coffee – e.g. there are no storms, and the weather is pretty much the same from one day to the next. This is all very convenient because there is no “Weather Channel” or connected weather stations that operate in the Galapagos Islands.
However, there are two distinctive seasons, along with two transitional periods that bring about slightly different weather conditions.
Hot Season – Later in December to earlier May (more or less)
The warmer season in the Galapagos begins in December and lasts until May, however, the hottest temperatures are typically experienced during February through till April.
During this hot season, you can expect temperature highs to range from 30to 33 degrees Celsius (? to ? degrees Fahrenheit). For those who would rather avoid hot temperatures, you may wish to consider the cooler season (see below).
During this season, you can expect warm, humid sunny periods and an occasional, spectacular tropical downpour (maybe once a week? It varies a lot). The ocean also warms considerably during the hot season, making it the ideal time for snorkelling and swimming.
The tropical hot season in the Galapagos Islands peaks by mid-March, after which the cool water currents and southeast trade winds slowly bring the islands into their cool, dry season.
Garua Season – Middle of May/early June to November/December (more or less)
Here on the equator, the northern hemisphere summer months mark the start of the cooler season on the Galapagos islands. This period is also much dryer, particularly in the lower, coastal areas.
At the beginning of Garua season, temperatures will begin to drop, resulting in warm days and cooler nights. This is a great time to visit for those who don’t have a high tolerance for heat and humidity and prefer cooler temperatures.
This season tends to peak around October, with an average temperature high of 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit).
Keep in mind that the ocean is also cooler during this time, and seas can be a bit choppier.
Cusp Seasons – December to January and May to June
Towards the end of both the hot and Garua seasons, we have what’s called cusp seasons that act as transitional periods in between the two seasons.
Between December and January is when Galapagos transitions from Garua into the hot, rainy season and temperatures begin to rise and precipitation increases.
Galapagos then begins to transition back into Garua around the months of May and June, and the weather begins to cool just slightly.
El Niño is a complex climate phenomenon that occurs every 2 to 7 years when ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean rise to above-normal levels for an extended period of time.
During an El Niño event, the Galápagos is especially vulnerable as the islands are geographically positioned right in the centre of the warming ocean waters.
In Galapagos, only the more extreme El Nino events have a significant impact. The last significant El Niño occurred between 1997 and 1998 and resulted in extremely hot and humid weather in the Galapagos Islands for one year, along with lots of rain and very warm waters.
A significant El Niño event can be great for terrestrial species; however, it also has the ability to devastate the islands’ marine life.
In fact, following the 1997/1998 El Niño, the Galapagos Islands experienced a massive 65% decline in the population of Galapagos Penguins.
What About La Niña?
La Niña is the opposite of El Niño and occurs when the ocean waters drop to lower-than-normal temperatures.
During a La Niña event, marine life tends to flourish due to the cooler waters, while terrestrial life struggles due to the lack of rain and reduced vegetation.
Ideal Times to Travel Based on What Activities You Want to Do
This one is a double-edged sword. While the warner water temperature experienced during the hot season can make for more a more pleasant snorkelling experience, marine life is less abundant. You may see fewer large schools of fish – but rest assured, the stars of the show are still there in their usual numbers – sea lions, sea turtles, penguins, rays, sharks and more.
On the other hand, in the Garua season, water temperatures are cooler. The nutrient-rich Humboldt current during this time helps to sustain marine life, resulting in great plankton, leading to more fish in general.
So, if snorkelling amongst a rich diversity of marine life is more important to you than the comfort of warmer waters, consider visiting the Galapagos during the Garua season. Just be sure to put on your wet suit before you dive in! But at the end of the day, there are great underwater thrills to be had all year long.
The Galapagos Islands are a birdwatchers paradise. But when is the best time to see all the spectacular birds that habitat the islands?
In general, birds tend to enjoy the dry season, and many bird species, such as the American flamingo, can be seen taking part in elegant mating rituals.
However, January can also be a good time as this is the nesting period for a variety of birds such as the blue-footed booby and white-cheeked pintail duck.
Regardless of when you go, you are bound to see an abundance of birds unique to the Galapagos when you visit any time of year.
Waters tend to be both rougher and cooler during Garua season, so if gliding through the Pacific Ocean in a kayak is at the top of your list, consider visiting the Galapagos Islands during the hot season.
Wildlife You Can Expect to See Based on When You Visit
Typically, the best time to see terrestrial wildlife in the Galapagos Islands is during the hot season when vegetation is flourishing, insects abound and creatures like Darwin’s finches, land iguanas, and tortoises are out in full force.
However, it is in the Garua season that most of the Galapagos’ wildlife tends to mate, giving you the opportunity to spot newborn seabirds, shorebirds, giant tortoises, sea lions, fur seals, marine iguanas and much more.
Therefore, anytime you visit the Galapagos Islands, there will be no shortage of activity from the local wildlife.
However, if you are hoping to get up close and personal with a particular creature when visiting the Galapagos Islands, here is a breakdown of the best times to see different species in their natural habitat.
One of the few migratory species that can be found near the Galapagos Islands is the majestic humpback whale.
So, if whale watching is something that interests you, visiting the islands between June and September can help ensure you get a front-row seat to see whales migrating from the south, past Peru and mainland Ecuador. Besides the humpbacks, other marine mammals such as dolphins, orcas, pilot whales, sperm and even blue whales are around all year long – some are more often spotted than others.
Baby Sea Lions
Who doesn’t love baby sea lions? In order to spot baby sea lions shortly after birth frolicking along the beach, the best time to visit the islands is in August. If swimming with sea lions is something that’s on your to-do list, hold off on visiting the Galapagos Islands until November when playful sea lions pups will be getting their sea legs (or flippers!).
Giant tortoises are considered an icon of the Galapagos Islands, and seeing them up close is understandably a huge draw.
Female tortoises tend to migrate to nesting zones to lay their eggs between June and November.
As these eggs begin to hatch, you will see tiny baby tortoises less than 5cm long scurrying around the islands. These can be seen at only a handful of visitors sites – please plan accordingly.
Blue Footed Boobies
By May, the blue-footed booby mating season is in full swing. This means you may just get to see these majestic birds taking part in an adorable mating ritual that consists of a courtship dance. Depending on the abundance of marine life, the boobies could also mate during other times of the year.
The cooler weather brought on by the Humboldt Current makes for ideal conditions for Galapagos penguins, making Garua season (September in particular) the best time to spot penguins swimming, fishing, mating, and waddling around the beaches.
At the end of the day, there really is no time that is better than others to experience the stunning beauty and biodiversity of the Galapagos Islands. Therefore, the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands really depends on you, what you’d like to see, and what activities you’d like to take part in.
So, if you are planning a cruise excursion to the Galapagos Islands, carefully plan out what things you want to do and creatures you’d like to see and find an itinerary to match...
The Most Exciting Things to Do in the Galapagos
Fun Activities to Try When Visiting the Galapagos Islands
Whether you're already booking your trip or still deciding, there are a plethora of activities and endless experiences awaiting you at the Galapagos Islands.
With postcard-worthy views, pristine white, sandy beaches, stunning flora and fauna, it's no wonder these gorgeous islands are at the top of most eco-travellers’ bucket lists.
So, if you are looking for your next travel destination or actively considering taking a trip to the Galapagos Islands, here are some of our top recommendations for the best activities offered around the islands.
See our earlier article on choosing between an expedition cruise and a land-based approach. We recommend the expedition cruise as the most effective way of maximizing your exposure to the best of what the islands have to offer.
Activities and Experiences to Enjoy While Visiting the Galapagos Islands
Snorkelling and Scuba Diving
In the brilliant turquoise blue waters surrounding the Galapagos Islands, marine life is abundant and striking, making the Galapagos one of the world’s greatest destinations for snorkelling and scuba diving.
Some impressive creatures you can expect to spot include:
- Green sea turtles
- Sharks (hammerhead, black-tipped and white-tipped)
- Schools of colourful tropical fish
- Playful sea lions (like underwater puppies)
- Galapagos fur seals
- Galapagos penguins
- Several species of rays
- Seahorses (if you have a good eye)
Kayaking in the Galapagos is a truly magical experience. Not only does this allow you to enjoy the beauty of coastal ecosystems closely, but it’s also a great way to get about without the sound of an engine propelling you about.
This is a great option for those who are not into the idea of snorkelling or scuba diving, but still want to experience the beauty of Galapagos marine life.
Experiencing the Wildlife and Biodiversity
Due to the fact that the majority of the Galapagos Islands remain uninhabited – along with major conservation efforts – Galapagos remains one of the world’s most unspoiled areas in the world, with an impressive and unique array of reptiles, amphibians, and bird species. In fact, the near-complete absence of native mammals in Galapagos, and with landscapes dominated by reptiles, this is as close as one can get to the age of the dinosaurs!
In fact, 80% of the islands’ land birds, 97% of reptiles and over 30% of plants are unique to the Galapagos islands and cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
There are over 200 recorded species of vertebrates that call Galapagos home, including:
- Marine iguanas
- Seals and sea lions
- Giant tortoises
- Galapagos penguins
- Darwin’s Finches
The unique wildlife living among the Galapagos Islands, particularly the Finches, the Giant Tortoises and the Mockingbirds helped inspire Charles Darwin’s ground-breaking theory on biological evolution and his subsequent publication "On the Origin of Species.”
Which brings us to our next point.
The Charles Darwin Research Station
When Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands for five weeks in 1835, he spent time observing and studying the flora and fauna native to Galapagos. This largely influenced the development of his theory of evolution, and later led to the creation of a foundation named in his honour, along with a research facility known as the Charles Darwin Research Station.
Run by over 200 scientists and volunteers, the station is open for visitors and is a must-see for those who are interested in learning about the Islands’ unique wildlife.
Besides its dedication to research and conservation efforts, the research station also helped establish the Giant Tortoise breeding center, which is accessible to visitors. It also has a new museum and gift shop – the only place where you can find Charles Darwin Research Station branded gifts.
For travellers who love a good adventure and enjoy being active, hiking in the Galapagos is an absolute must.
The Galapagos Islands have no shortage of regulated hiking trails with sweeping views. From trails along white, sandy beaches, to forests of cacti, and blackened volcanic rock, you are sure to have many close encounters with wildlife and experience spectacular views. Most of these are accessible by dedicated cruise ship excursion.
Lounging on The Beach
If diving and kayaking aren’t your cup of tea, the Galapagos has some beautiful beaches where you can kick back and soak in all the natural beauty that the islands have to offer.
Plus, you’ll have sea lions, iguanas, turtles, and rare, exotic birds to keep you company as you relax on the whitest sand you may ever see. Though a few are accessible from established towns, the more remote and wild beaches can be visited via dedicated expedition cruises.
Besides the untouched natural beauty, stunning wildlife, and biodiversity, a defining feature of the Galapagos is its rocky, volcanic landscapes.
The Galapagos Islands sit on a volcanic 'hotspot,' resulting in millions of years' of ongoing volcanic activity.
A product of this is the islands’ conical structures, along with stunning underground lava tunnels found across the islands.
Some of these tunnels are open to the public for exploration and are a must-see when visiting the Galapagos Islands if you aren’t afraid of the dark and don’t mind getting a little dirty.
Picking Up Some Fresh Seafood at a Fish Market
Seafood lovers are in for a real treat when visiting the Galapagos, as the islands have some of the freshest, most delectable seafood you will ever experience.
Rather than dining out at a restaurant, the freshest catch can be found at one of the many fish markets on the islands.
Shrimp ceviche in particular is a common delicacy in Galapagos, as is tuna, lobster, squid, red snapper, and sea cucumber.
Galapagos is an archipelago of 18 main volcanic islands and several other ‘minor’ islands, many of which are uninhabited. The most popular of the major islands include:
Santa Cruz Island (inhabited)
Santa Cruz Island is considered a central base for exploration, as it is home to the archipelago’s largest town, Puerto Ayora, and is the economic centre of the Galapagos.
Here are some of the top attractions on Santa Cruz:
- Charles Darwin Research Station
- Tortuga Bay beach
- Dragon Hill
- Reserva El Chato Tortoise Reserve
- Los Gemelos
- Lava Tunnels
- Rancho Primicias Tortoise Reserve
- Puerto Ayora fish market
- Punta Estrada Beach
- Cliff jumping at Las Grietas
- Playa De Los Perros
*Located beside the main town and nearby visitors sites, most of it is accessible by expedition cruise only.
Isabela is the largest island in the Galapagos and was formed around 1 million years ago due to the merging of 6 volcanoes, the majority of which are still active.
The island is mainly known for its stunning beauty along with white sand beaches, blue lagoons, and of course, volcanoes.
Top attractions on Isabela Island include:
- Sierra Negra volcano caldera
- Flamingo Lagoon
- Giant Tortoise Breeding Center
- The historic Wall of Tears
- Los Tuneles
- Las Tintoreras Islet
- Elizabeth Bay
- Tagus Cove
- Urbina Bay
Floreana Island (inhabited)
Officially known as Santa Maria, this island is located at the far south of the Galapagos archipelago and is best known for its unique animal inhabitants like flamingos, sea lions, and sea turtles.
Floreana is perhaps the best destination in the Galapagos for those who are interested in snorkelling and scuba diving.
When visiting Floreana, some top destinations and activities include:
- Snorkelling with sea lions at La Loberia
- Snorkelling or scuba diving at Devil’s Crown
- Snorkelling at Champion Islet
- Visiting the Baroness Viewing Point
- Checking out the flamingo lagoon at Cormorant Point
- Hiking to the historic caves at Asilo de la Paz
One of the smallest islands in the Galapagos, Espanola is unpopulated, but filled with natural wonder and an abundance of wildlife.
It’s also home to sea lion colonies, iguanas, countless birds, and around 1,500 tortoises, and is the only nesting site for the Galapagos Waved Albatross.
Things you can do while visiting Espanola include:
- Snorkelling, kayaking, and wildlife watching at Gardner Bay beach
- Birdwatching at Punta Suarez
- Diving at Islote Gardner
- Diving at Bajo Gardner
Santa Fe Island
Santa Fe is the oldest Galapagos island and is often characterized by its vegetation and thick forest, along with its flat surface compared to other islands.
Visitor points on Santa Fe include:
- Barrington Bay
- El Fondeador, La Encanada and Costa Este marine sites
San Cristobal Island (inhabited)
San Cristobal is the closest island to the South American mainland and is known as the most humid Galapagos Island due to underground aquifers and freshwater flows.
The island is also notable for being the first Island visited by Charles Darwin and is where he discovered the first species to form the basis for his Theory of Evolution.
Top attractions and visitor points on San Cristobal Island include:
- Tongo Reef
- Carola Point
- Las Loberias beach (Ideal for sea lion watching)
- El Junco
- Punta Pitt visitor site – to see the Red Footed Booby nesting site
- Cerro Brujo visitor site
- Tijeretas visitor site – the very first point that Charles Darwin visited on his journey
- Cerro Colorado visitor site – home of the Tortoise breeding centre
- Tijeretas Hill
*Accessible by expedition cruise only.
Also known as Tower Island, Genovesa is a rocky volcanic caldera north of Santa Cruz that is most known for its abundance of spectacular bird species, making it ideal for bird watchers.
Top points of interest for visitors include:
- Darwin Bay
- Prince Phillip’s Steps
- El Barranco
*Accessible by expedition cruise only.
This is the island where Charles Darwin stayed the longest and consists of two overlapping volcanoes.
Top things to do include:
- Seeing the lava flow at Sullivan Bay
- Snorkelling and swimming at Sombrero Chino
- Explore deep pools and caves in Puerto Egas
- Diving at Cousin’s Rock
*Accessible by expedition cruise only.
The youngest of the Galapagos, Fernandina is the only island in the world without introduced species and is famous for its volcanic landscapes, and for having the largest colony of marine iguanas.
Top sights to see include:
- Lava fields of Puna Espinoz
- Espinosa Point
Known as one of the most scenic islands in the archipelago, Bartolomé Island is famous for the Pinnacle Rock, along with its black volcanic formations.
Here are a few things to do when visiting the island:
- Climb the volcanic spatter cone
- Take in the view of Pinnacle Rock from the overlook
- Go snorkelling at the Bartolome diving site
- Hike the trail leading to the island’s southern beach
Whether you’re an adventure junkie, beach dweller, or an animal lover, the Galapagos Islands truly do have something for everyone. So when planning your next big vacation, be sure to consider a trip to the Galapagos to witness yourself all the spectacular beauty and amazing fun that can be had.