If you have ever taken a Biology class, you have likely heard of the famous Galapagos Islands where Charles Darwin conducted his research on life evolving due to a process called natural selection. These islands are quite remote and isolated having been out of contact with the rest of the world until recently.
The islands are a treasure trove of untouched natural beauty and unique wildlife thanks to their unspoiled remote location. The Galapagos are also listed as a World Heritage Site.
Visiting the Galapagos has gotten easier in recent years after the construction of two new airports on the islands. That said, still, not many people travel to this paradise (which in a sense is a good thing).
Things To Do In Galapagos
he Galapagos archipelago consists of 13 main islands and 6 smaller isles. The best way to explore the wildlife and natural beauty of the Galapagos is to take a cruise. Booking a cruise that originates in your country may be expensive (based on how far it is).
Cruises are your only option to see the majority of remote islands. All cruise ships are required to have a certified naturalist guide. Each cruise ships has a fixed itinerary for the year which is set by the Galapagos National Park, with the purpose being to control the number of tourists arriving at any time on each island. We recommend booking your travel dates in advance.
Cruises are available in 2, 4, 5, 8 and 15-days options. The following is a list of typical sights:
- Climb the hill on Bartolome for the classic Galapagos view
- Visit the Giant Tortoise breeding and rearing program at the Charles Darwin Research Center on Santa Cruz.
- See the red neck sacks of the Magnificent Frigatebird on North Seymour or El Junco, San Cristobal.
- Visit unique and color species like the Galapagos penguins on Isabela or Floreana.
- Go snorkeling with Sea-lions and Pacific Sea Turtles as often as possible.
We recommend that you reserve a cruise that departs from Ecuador, which will inevitably be less expensive.
On the other hand, the Galapagos Tours offer you 6 days on the first class yacht, the Xavier, costing you only $900. Scuba diving in the Galapagos is an affordable way to discover both the land and the sea.
For a first-hand adventure on the archipelago, book a tour with Galapagos Unbound which includes beach camping and water sports.
Land Based Tours
Land-based tours are getting popular. In 2017 while approximately 72,000 people enjoyed a cruise every year, almost 150,000 visitors came to the islands on land-based island-hopping trips.
As a land-based visitor, you basically trade off the opportunity to travel around to remote parts of the archipelago and the convenience of waking up at a new destination every day, for the cheaper cost of overall travel. Plus, you get to make your own itinerary.
Another key difference is while cruise tourism of the Galapagos Islands is strictly regulated (with a cap on the total number of visitors allowed), no such cap of regulations exist for land-based tourism.
Therefore, more and more agencies are offering island-hopping land-based trips. You can search for them online according to your taste and budget.
A third option could be opting for a self-guided trip. You can book your own accommodations and daily travel plans directly.
At many national park locations and all uninhabited islands, the number of visitors are limited, and there are only a few official landing and visitor sites.
You must follow the instructions of your guide to protect the wildlife and you are not allowed off the marked paths. This is not a problem as the animals are so tame they will sit right on the path or cross it without caring about mere tourists.
The Charles Darwin Foundation administers several research stations throughout the islands, including a large station in Puerto Ayora that is worth visiting for its animal and natural history exhibits, the Galapagos Interpretation Center in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and the Tortoise Breeding Center are the most interesting of the breeding centers in Puerto Villamil.
Snorkeling & Scuba Diving
Snorkeling and diving are very popular activities as the sea life is so rich and colorful.
Snorkeling equipment should be available from your tour operator (but check first) if you don’t have your own. You may also want to bring a waterproof camera. Remember to wear at least a T-shirt and sunblock if you are snorkeling, as it’s all too easy to get sunburnt in the strong sun. Snorkeling offers a way to be in the water with fish, sea turtles, sea lions, and other creatures and is a great option for those who don’t have scuba certification. The islands that are older (further to the west) often have cold temperatures. Wetsuits can be rented at the same locations as snorkeling equipment.
Diving in the Galapagos is incredible, as noted by Rodale’s Scuba Diving Magazine. Darwin and Wolf Islands have been ranked as the best dive destination in the world for several years in the categories of healthiest marine environment, best big animal dive and best advanced diving. That said, the Galapagos is not necessarily the right place for beginners or novices. Currents, surge, cold water, and sometimes poor visibility and depths make this a challenge. Certification courses are available in both Santa Cruz and San Cristobal for those looking to learn, and there are several dive sites that are relatively beginner-friendly.
There are 2 ways to dive in the Galapagos Islands:
Daily dives with a local tour operator from Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Cristobal.
Galapagos liveaboards. Only liveaboards reach Darwin and Wolf. These 2 sites are the reason most divers come to Galapagos.
Two of the world’s premier diving destinations, Darwin Island and Wolf Island, are accessible only via live-aboard cruises. These islands present challenging currents and are not suitable for beginners, but offer amazing opportunities to see huge schools of hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks, Silky sharks and whale sharks in season (July-Nov), in addition to other pelagic life like giant mantas, eagle rays, sting rays, huge schools of jack and tuna, sea turtles, sea lions and more.
Park regulations may change unexpectedly (without prior notice). For this reason, travellers are advised to get the most up-to-date information possible when planning a dive trip to the Galapagos Islands.
In 2010, the National Park began regulating land-based diving, and few of the many shops operating had the necessary permits.
It is best to ask if an operator has a dive permit, otherwise you may be turned back by Park Rangers and not permitted to dive.
In 2011, the National Park stopped allowing dive live-aboards to offer land visits, except for the Highlands of Santa Cruz, which is on all itineraries.
You can fish in the Reserve, for marlin, tuna, wahoo and many other species but only if you are using an operator and boat that have the requisite Artisanal Vivencial Fishing licences issued by the Galapagos National Park. “Sport Fishing”, as such, is prohibited. The Galapagos National Park publishes a list of Vivencial Fishing licence-holders and their boats, but they do not keep the list up to date.
When Vivencial Fishing, you can keep a limited quantity of fish for personal consumption but all marlin must be released unharmed.
Vivencial Fishing was conceived with the purpose of providing local fishermen with an ecologically sustainable alternative to commercial fishing. However, there is constant pressure, both political and commercial, to legalize sport fishing and open the market to better financed and better connected outsiders.
Hiking is often included as part of organized cruises or tours of the highlands. Although you will often see fewer animals during these tours, you will often gain a greater understanding of the difference in terrain and vegetation as well as the formation of the islands. Hiking is restricted in all National Park land; however, several sights, like the Wall of Tears on Isabela and Cerro Tijeras on San Cristobal can be hiked independently. The rules are that a guide must accompany all groups of more than eight people in the National Park.
Biking provides quicker access to far sites from the ports. Bike rentals are available on Isabela, San Cristobal and Santa Cruz for around $15 per day.
The Galapagos provides some good waves and many locals make it a daily activity. Boards can be rented by the day or month at port towns. In general sites are marked with a place to rest surf boards as to not damage the land. The following are beaches that allow surfing:
Punta Carola, San Cristobal
La Loberia, San Cristobal
Tongo Reef, San Cristobal
Tortuga Bay, Santa Cruz
Playa Ratonera, Santa Cruz
Isabela has a more continuous sandy shoreline that provides open surfing, larger waves are at the end of the road that follows the beach in the opposite side of the port
The Galapagos Surf Co. The only surf travel company in the Galapagos. Waves are available not only in San Cristobal with north swell, but also in Santa Cruz and Isabela islands as well. edit
Kayaking allows you to navigate more of the water without a boat. Kayaks can be rented at Tortuga Bay in Santa Cruz and the port at San Cristobal to navigate the nearby beaches. Fish and sea turtles can often be seen while kayaking; however, conditions should be checked before renting.
Horseback riding can be organized to allow you to see the highlands in greater detail. Tours are roughly $50. Additional tours may be found through taxis or local tour agencies.
To minimize the impact of sightseeing on the unique ecosystem and mitigate issues with introduced species, several organizations provide conservation-based volunteering.
Hacienda Tranquila works on environmental, community and social issues. Volunteers stay on the grounds and cook for themselves. The hacienda is owned and managed by locals.
Hacienda Esperanza works to conserve the environment and promote sustainable technologies. Volunteers are provided room and board as part of volunteering. The hacienda is owned and managed by locals.
Jatun Sachu works to conserve the Galapagos and covers a larger area. Volunteers are provided room and board as part of volunteering.
Fundacion Bolivar Education has a conservation farm project on San Cristobal, as well as a habitat restoration project. Teaching programs in the islands include Alejandro Alvear School and Teaching Support at a local school.
Best Time To Go
It is best to avoid traveling to the islands during Easter and Christmas because that is the busiest time of year. However, a visit during June guarantees you calm weather and quiet hotels. July through November is the monsoon season, which brings with it never-ending drizzles and high winds.
The Galapagos Islands have a highly variable climate, as does Ecuador’s mainland. There are two seasons in the islands: the hot/rainy season from December to June, and the cooler season from June to November.
In the hot season, from December to June, the humidity is high, and the average temperatures are in the 80s F (26°-30°C). There may be occasional showers, but the days are generally warm and sunny.
In the cooler season, from June to November, you can expect cool winds, occasionally bringing with them a light misty-type drizzle called “garúa.” Temperatures average in the 70s °F (20–24°C) during the day and lower at night.
Each month brings unique climate variations and wildlife viewing opportunities. Peak season for naturalist tours is typically December through May when the seas are the calmest and the weather the warmest. However summer months June, July and August are also very popular as the animals are more active. September through November is typically low season when most boats will leave the islands for dry dock. For divers peak season is from July to November, when whale sharks can be found at Wolf & Darwin.
How To Get Here
The Quito and Guayaquil airports on the mainland of Ecuador are the only ones which offer flights to the Galapagos Islands. You will fly into either Baltar or San Cristobal, which are the only two islands with an airport. You can also travel between the islands by boat. There are five different ports which use private yachts to transport you amongst the islands.
Where To Stay
Even if you take a cruise, it is likely that you will need a hotel at some point during your vacation. San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, and Isabella have inexpensive hostels as well as hotels. If you plan to travel during a holiday, make sure to reserve a room well in advance.
The Galapagos Islands are part of Ecuador. Hence, most sockets on the islands are Type A and B. If you are not from a country which uses that size sockets, then you will need a travel adapter. Travelers from Asian, European and African countries need step-down transformers to match the voltage level on the islands, which is 120V.
December 29, 2017 11:49 pm