What's Included in this guide to the Galapagos Island?
Planning a trip to the Galapagos Islands can be daunting! After all, there are a lot of decisions to make, and chances are your trip to the Galapagos will be one of the most expensive components of your trip to South America. We’ve put together this in-depth Galapagos Islands guide to help you plan your holiday. And our team of Galapagos travel specialists are here to help if you have any questions or doubts.
Why you should go to the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are one of the world’s most exciting destinations for wildlife enthusiasts, with a wealth of unique plants and animals found nowhere else in the world.
Their geographical location at the confluence of three ocean currents makes them one of the richest marine environments in the world. The islands themselves, formed by seismic and volcanic activity, have each developed distinct flora and fauna, which famously inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection after his visit in 1835.
Because Galapagos species have evolved without any human interaction, they are completely fearless. This means that extremely close encounters are not only possible, but almost inevitable! For wildlife enthusiasts, photographers, and anyone who loves nature, the Galapagos Islands are a must see.
How to get to the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are located approximately 1,000km off the coast of mainland Ecuador and are served by two main airports, Baltra and San Cristobal. There are several daily flights to/from Quito to both airports, all of which land in Guayaquil. If you are booking a Galapagos cruise, the cruise line will arrange your flights. Or, if you are booking a land package, your Contours Travel Consultant can book your return flights on your behalf.
The best time of year for a visit to the Galapagos Islands
Thanks to their location on the equator, the Galapagos Islands experience very little temperature fluctuation throughout the year. From December to June, the air and water temperatures are slightly warmer and the seas are calmer. From July to November, the Humboldt Current brings cold water and cooler temperatures. The seas can be rougher at this time of year, but the cold water brings an abundance of marine life, including large schools of hammerhead sharks.
Realistically, there is no “best time” to visit the Galapagos – wildlife is always active and close encounters are likely no matter what time of year you visit. Learn more about when to visit the Galapagos Islands for specific wildlife events.
Which Galapagos Islands should you visit?
The Galapagos archipelago consists of 19 main islands and dozens of smaller islets. The more islands you visit, the more you will appreciate the extraordinary diversity for which the Galapagos is renowned. But unless you have a very specific wildlife event in mind, there is no ‘best’ island to visit. If you have a particular species or landmark you want to see, read our detailed Galapagos Islands guide to find out which islands to visit.
Galapagos cruise versus landbased programs
Galapagos cruise programmes are highly structured and allow you to visit more sites in less time, thanks to the fact that the ships can move while you sleep. Land-based programmes offer a little more flexibility, but are limited by how far you can reasonably travel on a day trip.
Cruises only operate on fixed departure dates, so if you have a very short, specific window to visit the Galapagos, a land-based programme may be more suitable.
Whether you choose a cruise or a land-based Galapagos tour, you are guaranteed to have an extraordinary wildlife experience! Still not sure which option is right for you? Talk to our team of Galapagos specialists and we can help you decide.
How long should I spend in the Galapagos Islands?
Galapagos cruises run from a minimum of 3 nights up to 14 nights. We generally recommend four nights as a more realistic minimum – given the time and expense involved in getting to the Galapagos. For generalists and those who just want to get a taste of the islands, four nights is sufficient. Those with a deeper interest in wildlife, birding, and evolutionary biology should consider a 7-night cruise or longer.
What activities can you do on the Galapagos Islands?
Every Galapagos cruise includes hiking and snorkelling. But did you know that there are many other fun ways to explore the islands? If you choose a land-based Galapagos programme, there are more options, including biking, sea kayaking, paddle boarding and more strenuous, longer hikes.
When choosing a Galapagos cruise, check what is included in the package price – while snorkelling equipment (mask, snorkel, fins) is almost always included, wetsuits are usually available at extra cost.
Can I Scuba Dive in the Galapagos Islands?
It should come as no surprise that the Galapagos Islands are home to some of the world’s most famous dive sites. The most famous sites around Darwin and the Wolf Islands can only be reached on a 7-day liveaboard Scuba Dive cruise due to their location at the northwestern end of the archipelago. However, there are a few sites that can be reached from the main town of Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz. See our more detailed Galapagos diving guide for more information.
How to choose the right boat for your Galapagos cruise
Finding the right boat for your Galapagos adventure is all about working out what is most important to you! The size of the boat? The layout of the cabin? Are the amenities on board? Or is it simply your budget? There are many other things to consider, such as activities, itinerary, and length of cruise. Read on if you need more guidance on choosing the right Galapagos cruise. Alternatively, call one of our Galapagos cruise specialists and we can walk you through the options.
How far in advance should I book the Galapagos?
The best deals to the Galapagos Islands are generally found by those who book early – and those who leave it to the last minute. For Australian travellers, however, the early bird option is much more realistic. That’s because unlike US travellers, who have a huge choice of airlines and many direct flights to Ecuador, Australians only have two airlines to choose from – and the daily flights sell out well in advance. For peak season dates over Christmas and New Year, we recommend booking 10-12 months in advance. If you are flexible with your dates and not picky about the boat, you should still book at least 6 months in advance.
How much does it cost to visit the Galapagos Islands?
Several factors will affect the cost of your trip to the Galapagos Islands, including the length of your trip, whether you choose a land-based option or a cruise, and the quality of the lodge or boat. But however you choose to visit the Galapagos, it is likely to be the most expensive aspect of your trip – as a rule of thumb you should budget for at least AUD$1,000 per person per night spent in the Galapagos.
A four-night land-based programme including just one island starts at around $1,600 per person sharing (4 nights in a tourist class hotel, transfers to/from the airport, and 4 activities/tours) – but don’t forget you’ll also need to add in the cost of your flights to/from mainland Ecuador (typically $550 return), the Galapagos National Park fee of $100 and the INGALA Transit Card of $20. At the other end of the spectrum, a 4-night cruise aboard a luxury cruise ship can cost upwards of USD$4,000 per person sharing.
The Galapagos Islands are truly a bucket list adventure that most people only get to visit once in a lifetime, so it makes sense to make sure you have a good experience. This doesn’t necessarily mean choosing the most expensive boat available. Instead, choose an itinerary that includes a variety of islands so you can fully appreciate the extraordinary biodiversity, and know exactly what’s included so you don’t have any nasty surprises when you get there.