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...