Top tips to consider during the planning process:
This may be one of the easier decisions. The Galapagos Islands are a year round destination, with no time being a bad time to go. Temperatures range from the low 80's to low 90's during the day and high 60's in the evening, year round.
- December - May is the hot season, with higher humidity, rain and temperatures. January - March receive the highest amount of rainfall (average 15+ inches); April - June the second highest (5+ inches).
- June - November is the dry season - some rain but usually hot and sunny. The waters are a bit cooler (60-70 degree Fahrenheit), and while the area is generally never stormy, the trade winds pick up June - September and can cause choppier water (important if you tend to get sea sick).
The holidays will be more crowded, especially with families on school break. May/early June, and late October through early December tend to be the least crowded.
Most visitors opt for a cruise, but this is not your only option. A wide variety of hotels, from budget to more luxury are available to visitors, with most being located near Puerto Ayora. When looking at hotels, be sure to look at the location in comparison to the sites you want to see. Some are near the water with great snorkeling opportunities; others are a bit off the beaten path offering more privacy but may be a bit of an adventure getting there.
A cruise around the Galapagos Islands will always be on a small ship, varying in size from around 12 passengers to a maximum of 100 passengers. The smallest ships are small yachts or sailboats with 12-30 passengers. The mid-ship ships are generally luxury yachts with 30-60 passengers, and the larger ships will have 60-100 passengers.
There are trade offs with the varying sized ships. For example, the small vessels tend to be the most active, intimate and flexible. Fewer passengers allows for more shore time. Smaller ships though will have smaller cabins, smaller bathrooms and less public space.
The larger ship, 60-100 passengers, are more stable, offer a variety of cabins, from port hole views to balconies, and more public space. Bigger ships are more social and may offer more "non-water" activities, for example glass bottom boats, perfect for those who would prefer not to snorkel. More passengers though means more people to shuttle on/off the ship and limitations on itinerary (some areas won't allow that many visitors).
All landings require you to be accompanied by a certified nature guide. Each group is limited to a maximum of 16 people in order to limit the impact on the eco system and preserve the experience.
Guides are trained, however the level of training and the number of years guiding varies greatly across the suppliers. And don't assume all guides speak English - they don't.
That said, the most experienced guides tend to work on the nicest ships. For example, one of the guides that works with/for Lindblad Expeditions has been guiding for 30+ years.
Land based visits limit you to seeing sites nearby or what can be seen on a day cruise, but offer the opportunity to see an area more in-depth. Overnight cruises are between 4-15 days, and rarely if ever have repeated landing sites. An 8 day cruise will give quite a bit of variety - the longest cruises will have you seeing most of the islands.
This is where you need to carefully consider what you want to experience.
Each island offers different landscapes, wildlife and activities. Landscapes vary from barren and volcanic to desert-like with cacti. Some areas are best for snorkeling or scuba diving, others better for hiking or observing the variety of bird life while others offer a look at the historical side of the islands.
Most visitors want to see the island's most iconic wildlife - the giant tortoises, marine and land iguanas, the variety of birds including the blue footed booby, and play with the seal pups. While seeing certain species isn't guaranteed, make sure the itinerary you are looking at visits the islands where you will have the highest chance to experience the wildlife.
This chart will give you an idea where you are likely to see certain animals.
Are you ready to send yourself, family and friends
a postcard from the Galapagos Islands?
for a complimentary discovery session.