No matter how confident you are in your sea faring abilities take sea sickness tablets. The trip is incredible but you don’t want to risk anything as manageable as sea sickness ruining it.
Buy sun cream in advanced of travelling to Galapagos. Shops have very limited supplies on offer for extortionate prices
Take snacks – Snorkelling is hard work and even the most restraint of our team were craving snacks by the end of our cruise. A snickers on Galapagos will set you back $4 in places so take your own!
Trip Advisor before paying for anything! It is not possible to review every tour provider and trip however there is a lot of helpful information on trip advisor, especially with regards to the safety of certain scuba diving providers.
If you are taking a waterproof camera, look into buying a red filter for your lens!
This is something you need to consider strongly. Some people don’t have the luxury of being able to pick a particular time for their visit. The wildlife at the Galapagos Islands is incredible all year round and I guarantee you will love it whenever you visit. However, if you are flexible, there may be specific species you wish to encounter depending on your interests and you may wish to time your trip to coincide with these species. I thought it would be helpful to put all this information together.
Best Island To See Them
Red Footed Booby
No Set breeding season
Blue Footed Booby
All around but breed on Genovesa, North Seymour, Daphne, San Cristobel, Isabela
Aug-Nov (tower island) Nov-Feb (Espanola)
West Galapagos although small colonies also at Bartolome, Pinzon and Floreana
Magnificent and Great Frigatebirds
North Seymour, Genovesa
Swallow Tailed Gull
Most Islands inc, Genovesa, Isabela, Espanola
Breed in small numbers around most Islands -Genovesa, South Plaza
Galapagos Fur Seal
All year (Breeding Aug-Dec)
Galapagos Sea Lion
All year (Breeding July-Dec)
Present year round but peak season Dec-May
Can be seen all over however best chance at Gordon Rocks diving, and Kicker Rock snorkelling
Best place is on liveaboard dive vessel to Darwin and Wolf
Gordon Rocks, Punta Vi cente Roja
Most numerous when mating (Dec) and Nesting (Jan-May)
June-November peak season sightings throughout year at darwin and wolf,
Isabella, gordon rocks, Seymour, Kicker Rock
Lay eggs early year
Most Islands, Farms on Santa Cruz Very good
Other dates to be aware of are that the best visibility tends to be between January and March. The Dry Season is June – December. And the water temperatures are warmest between February and April.
If you are an experienced diver and love megafauna then this offers some of the best diving in the world.
First thing you need to know is that at present tour cruises are not allowed to offer diving as part of their service. If you want to dive you have two options Cruise on the Specific Dive Liveaboards or Dive on day trips from San Cristobel or Santa Cruz.
Dive liveaboards are the only vessels that are allowed to visit the famous Darwin and Wolf islands. These offer magnificent diving with a huge array of species including mega shoals of 100-200 hammerheads, manta rays and also whale sharks. However by choosing a diving trip you are sacrificing the landing aspect of your cruises since you will spend the majority of your time around Darwin and Wolf which prohibit landing.
It is possible to dive from Santa Cruz and also San Cristobel. This offers much of the same quality diving just to a slightly lesser extent, depending on which trips you opt for. I dived with Academy Bay Dive Centre, in Puerto Ayora, and had an incredible diving experience. Day packages included a safety check dive prior to two dives with lunch and snorkelling during the dive interval.
If you are diving from Santa Cruz, I would recommend diving Gordon rocks. Even though decent in the currents was slightly tricky conditions at the bottom were calm. I completed 4 dives here with highlights including 46 Hammerheads on one dive, 2 sunfish (outside of season), sealions, manta and spotted eagle rays, white tip and Galapagos shark as well as good numbers of large silver fish (tuna and amberjack) and bait fish.
Other popular dive sites are Floreana for its seals and seahorses and North Seymour for its White tip reef sharks and rays.
As a result of strong currents, cold waters and variable visibility, diving around The Galapagos can be very technical and hard work at times. To anyone who hasn’t dived in a while, I would recommend a refresher before you visit The Galapagos, to re-familiarise yourself with everything and to remove any cobwebs/nerves.
Due to the location of the islands, temperatures fluctuate massively between sites, as a result of different oceanographic currents. On average water temperatures are approximately 15 degrees centigrade. So for those of you used to diving in the tropics, be prepared to be a little cold!
There are 4 classes of yacht available for cruises. Differences in price can be huge between these. You are effectively paying for comfort of living as the itineraries run, are the same. One thing to consider when booking is that tour guides around The Galapagos are designated classes of yacht they can work on based on their experience and skill. So better yacht = better guide
If you do opt to go for day trips. I would recommend the following.
Snorkelling here is amazing, you will spend an hour within a cove used by huge quantities of sea lions which as long as you keep your hands to yourself are always inquisitive and keen to play. I promise you will not forget these guys!
The landing also has a lot offer; sea lions can be found loafing all over the island tops, both marine and land iguanas are here as well as the Galapagos hawk and the Santa Fe mockingbird.
Snorkel Kicker Rock – from San Cristobel
This is a snorkelling day trip to a submerged islet. Water around the islet varies between 5-15m and offers spectacular snorkelling. You will see huge shoals of bait fish and as a result the area is used by good numbers of black and white tip reef sharks, Galapagos shark and if you are lucky hammerheads also. We were also lucky enough to see double figures of green turtles, spotted eagle rays, golden cownose rays and sea lions.
North Seymour –
If the frigate birds and blue footed boobies are breeding this is a must do. Watching the Frigate Birds displaying is like nothing you will ever see again and the blue footed boobies are also stunning animals.
If you are based from Santa Cruz this trip offers the best opportunities for seeing the Galapagos penguins. You will also visit a mangrove area which is used as a hangout for white tip reef sharks and on your way back you will stop within a cove used by good numbers of green turtles.
Day Trip Around Santa Cruz.
There are many activities available on the main islands of Santa Cruz and these can be done very economically. Many of the tour companies around the islands will try and sell you a package where you visit 4 of these in a day and pay a lot of money. For me, this is a rip off. Whilst walking through the town you will see white 4x4s everywhere, these are taxis. If you decide on which activities you want for the day you can ask a driver to chauffeur you between these venues over the course of the day. This allows you to prioritise which activities you want to do and also saves you massive amounts of money.
I would recommend visiting one of the Giant Tortoise reserves, Las Grietas and the Lava Tunnels. For me, the twin craters are just holes in the ground.
If you are trying to save large amounts you may have been recommended to stay on the islands and book day trips. This is definitely an option and you can go on some great trips. However I think that having decided to do the Galapagos you should experience everything it has to offer. Here are some useful things to consider when making this decision.
With the exception of Isabella and Saint Cristobel day trips set off at 730am and return the same day. This immediately limits the distance that you can travel around the islands. As a result there are many islands that you are not able to visit on day trips. For me, these are the islands that offer the most. Espanola, Fernandina, Genovesa and Floreanna are the 4 most highly rated islands according to me and everyone that I spoke to around South America. Of these Floreanna is the only one that you can access on a day trip.
Another thing to consider is that many of the islands are wide spread and involve long boat crossings. The cruise schedules are designed so that you make most of long notoriously bad crossings over night when you are sleeping. You are also on board a larger vessel and therefore the motion is less exaggerated. Finally, if you are on a day boat, all passengers are confined to a small area so if someone is very annoying or violently sick, you are stuck next to them for the duration of your crossing. So it may be a good idea to take headphones and a few spare sea sickness tablets.
There are a few hostels around, however for what they offer, they are not very economic. When you consider for a day trip you are paying $110-$150 a day plus evening meals and accommodation, you don’t save much compared to a cruise.
Having completed a cruise followed by a day trip I have to say I found the latter experience comparatively underwhelming. However the experience is still incredible.
When setting off for South America I put aside enough money to do the Galapagos properly. However I am always looking for ways to save money and The Galapagos offers great opportunities to save big. Although it is tempting to satisfy those organisational needs and have everything planned and booked well in advance I would recommend, if you have any flexibility, waiting until you are at least in Quito. Even though we arrived during the peak travel season where availability was low, we still managed to save 50% on our trip.
There is more scope for saving money if you are willing to pay by cash as most card transactions incur a 20% charge, in order to avoid carrying large amounts of cash with you travel agents allow you to pay deposits over a number of days. Just make sure you get receipts and confirmation. For this reason and also in order to ensure you get the right trip for you it is necessary to give yourself 3-5 days in the town of booking.
You have three options of where to book in Ecuador; Quito, Guayaquil, or on the Galapagos islands. Whilst the latter two are likely to save you small amounts of money, I would recommend booking in Quito.
Quito is a friendly safe city, it is surrounded by a number of incredible day trip opportunities to keep you entertained and fill the time whilst you are waiting to travel. I would recommend Cotopaxi, Quilotoa Crater Lake, and also at least 2 days around the cloud forest of Mindo.
Guayaquil is an industrial town, less catered for tourists and with much less to offer in terms of surrounding entertainment. Whilst I never experienced any trouble here, I heard many stories of people less fortunate.
Galapagos is the final option and a great option if you are there at an offpeak time of year. Whilst you wait for the perfect trip to come around there is plenty to keep you entertained on the islands. However many of the day trips from the islands will be covered in your cruise. Also if booking during peak times of year you may find all accommodation on the island of Santa Cruz either fully booked or very expensive.
Other things to consider whilst booking, you will need to fly to the Galapagos, if you are waiting to book and are travelling during the peak seasons I would recommend leaving 5 days in order to ensure availability on flights.
Like it or not, haggling is part of the culture in South America. Most agencies will be selling the same deals so a very easy way of haggling is by simply playing agencies against each other. Ask one agency for their lowest price and then ask the next agency to beat the deal. There are several charges additional to your trip costs which you will be expected to pay once on board the vessel. If you don’t have a wet suit, fins or snorkel combined these will set you back up to $100 per person per week. Most agencies will happily include this in your price if you ask. What I would say is make sure you get all of this in writing. Several passengers on board our vessel, had made deals with agencies which were not communicated with the ships crew, this resulted in large amounts of complications for the passengers, which could have been sorted with some simple paperwork.
Booking my trip to the Galapagos Islands was a ridiculously stressful process. There are so many things to consider, especially when parting with so much money, to ensure that your trip is as amazing as it should be.
Here I hope to take you through the booking process I went through in order to make your experience that little bit easier and your decision making more informed.