Visiting The Galapagos Islands: How to Plan Your Trip

Visiting the Galapagos Islands may take a bit more planning than your average vacation, but why shouldn’t it?  There’s nothing average about this untouched, wild paradise!


Visiting the Galapagos Islands is truly a one-of-a-kind adventure.  Colorful beaches, pristine waters, up-close encounters with wildlife, and incredible landscapes are only some of the exciting experiences these ancient islands offer.  Because a Galapagos holiday is like no other, it requires a bit more planning than your average vacation.  Here are a few things we learned while planning for our trip to the Galapagos Islands -- and some tips from the experts -- to help make sure your trip goes smoothly!


When to Visit

First things first.  When is the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands? It's important to know that there are only two seasons on the islands; the cool/dry season and the warm/wet season. July-November is the cool, dry season, and December-June is the warm and wet one. Most people will recommended that you visit during the warm and wet season to find the best temperatures, calmer seas, and optimal underwater visibility.

Our trip to the Galapagos Islands was in early November, just at the end of the cool/dry season. Overall, the weather was quite comfortable during the day, and would be a bit cool at night on the water. We were comfortable wearing shorts and sandals during the day, a light jacket at night. When we went into the water, we always wore a wetsuit, which helped to keep us warm in the chilly water!

If we were to return, we'd probably select go in November again, as overall the weather was nice, and the crowds were definitely much thinner that at the peak of high season (December-June). Also, for the best rates, be sure to avoid visiting during December if possible to skip holiday traffic and higher fares! 


Getting to The Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos are part of Ecuador, so you’ll need to fly to either the capital, Quito, or to the coastal city of Guayaquil. Please be aware that there are not many flights in Equador -- so give yourself extra time to arrive. For instance, we arrived in Guayaquil a full 24 hours ahead of our cruise departure, just in case of any flight delays!

From either Quito or Guayaquil, you will then need to take a flight to the Galapagos airports on Baltra or San Cristobal Island.  Which island to fly into depends on which port your cruise departs from.  Many cruise operators organize flights to the islands from Quito and Guayaquil as part of their tour package, which makes things much easier and guarantees you a seat on the plane. 


Where to Stay

There are two types accommodation options when visiting the islands.  You can stay at a hotel on Isla Santa Cruz or on a small cruise ship. Our advice would be to  go for the cruise. First, many of the different islands of the Galapagos as pretty remote, so it would be almost impossible to to day trips to each place and still make it back to your hotel each evening.

Secondly, visitors are not allowed to explore the Galapagos on their own. Everyone must be accompanied by a professional guide at all times -- which means that you would have to organize individual tours for every activity you wish to do, which can get pricey and convoluted. By taking a cruise, you ensure that everyday you will have quality accommodation with a guide included and a comprehensive tour planned by experts. 

We believe that taking a Galapagos cruise is not only the best way to turn the planning process into a cool, island breeze but also offers an unparalleled look into the wild heart of the archipelago that inspired Darwin and changed science forever.  What are you waiting for?


A cruise is the best way to discover the more remote corners of the Galapagos Islands


Finding the Right Cruise

There are many Galapagos cruises to choose from.  To find the right one, you have to ask yourself what you want to get out of your trip.  Do you want a long trip or a short stay?  Are you looking to break a sweat or lounge on beaches with a cool drink?  We wanted a moderately adventurous trip with lots of snorkeling, but at least a few hours of downtime each day to sit and relax, so we chose to cruise with Quasar Expeditions and were absolutely thrilled.  There are boats of all sizes and levels of luxury available, just make sure to do proper research and read plenty of reviews before you make your choice.


We went with Quasar Expeditions for our Galapagos Islands cruise


What to Bring

You’ll need more than a fanny pack and a disposable camera to get the most out of the Galapagos. Here’s a list of what to pack to stay comfortable and prepared.

  • T-Shirts and long-sleeve shirts (synthetic, quick drying clothes work best)
  • Shorts, pants, and jeans
  • Light jacket and a windbreaker
  • Snorkeling gear, wetsuit, and a swimsuit (if you’re traveling with Quasar Expeditions, they provide all this for you)
  • Sandals, tennis shoes or hiking shoes
  • A waterproof backpack or bag
  • Hat
  • Binoculars
  • Camera with underwater case (and lots of extra batteries!!)
  • Sunblock and insect repellant
  • Power converter

Also, odds are that you will not have internet access while in the Galapagos Islands. Occasionally, you might pick up a cellular signal, but you'll never be able to do much beyond check email. If you like to stream Netflix or watch movies, at night, bring along a computer or tablet, and make sure they are loaded with movies and TV shows before you go!


More Helpful Information

Temperature:  The average temperature during the warm, wet season is between 80°-90°F, and when you are out hiking around all day you can really start to feel the heat! Also, you will spend a lot of time on the water, with very little protection from the sun -- so be sure to bring sunscreen and keep a water bottle with you all the time!

Staying Safe: Don't drink the water! The water found on the Galapagos Islands is not drinkable unless purified.  Check with your cruise operator or hotel to find out if the tap water in your room is safe to drink. And while there aren’t any dangerous insects, it does make sense to bring bug spray to avoid mosquitos! When hiking, be aware that some plants are poisonous, so never stray from the path, even if it means missing that perfect shot! Finally, male sea lions, sharks, sea urchins, and the poisonous lionfish pose threats to visitors. Listen closely to your guide and you’ll have nothing to worry about.

Travel Documents:  If you’re from the USA, Canada, or the EU, all you’ll need is a passport valid for at least six months and evidence of a return ticket.  In rare instances, you may need to show you have the financial means to support your stay.  

Travel Insurance:  Get it!  Good travel insurance should cover your flight, baggage, and medical care. Our cruise operator actually required us to have proof of travel insurance. And it actually makes a lot of sense -- your really are out in the middle of nowhere in the Galapagos, and if something goes wrong, you can find yourself in a really tough spot. Having good insurance will ensure you can get safely off the island, and that you are well taken care of.