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How to Travel to the Galapagos Islands

Located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands are an equatorial archipelago of 13 major islands, six smaller islands, and many rocky islets formed by a volcanic hotspot in the Pacific Ocean. Thanks to their remote location, endemic wildlife has evolved in isolation amidst the lava landscape for eons—creating what Charles Darwin once called “a little world within itself.” The flourishing natural wonders of this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve continue to make it the perfect destination for wildlife enthusiasts of all ages.

To help preserve and protect this pristine environment, the Ecuadorian government closely controls cruise operations and the Galapagos National Park Service coordinates routes with adventure companies. Typically starting from the hub islands of San Cristobal or Baltra, just north of Santa Cruz, most itineraries either travel to the eastern islands or the western islands. Connecting via air from Quito in mainland Ecuador, we cruise both eastern and western routes—and can assure you of incredible wildlife sightings no matter which trip direction you choose.

Planning a trip to the Galapagos Islands? Read on to find out when to visit, what islands to visit, what to do, and much more to make your vacation unforgettable.

What is the best time of year to visit the Galapagos Islands?

 

The Galapagos Islands are an amazing year-round adventure destination with two main seasons created by shifting ocean currents. The warm/wet season runs from January to April/May bringing short, sporadic rain showers (often less than 10 inches a year in the lowlands) and air temperatures in the 80s–90s. The waters are generally calm and clear, and in the mid to high 70s. The cool/dry Garua season runs from May/June to December, bringing mist (but very little precipitation) and lower daytime air temperatures in the 70s. The waters are generally in the low to mid 70s. Regardless of the month or season you choose, wildlife activity abounds throughout the year with opportunities to see mating, nesting, hatching, and much more!

Eastern Islands

The eastern islands are geologically the oldest islands in the Galapagos, with many islands (such as Espanola and Santa Fe) formed by the uplift of lava flows that originally spilled out on the seafloor. While still a volcanic landscape, you’ll tend to see more vegetation in the east as fertile soils—created over time—have enabled flora to thrive. An eastern route will include stops at islands such as San Cristobal, Espanola, Floreana, Santa Fe, and Genovesa. These islands are home to key species such as blue-footed, red-footed and Nazca boobies, land and marine iguanas, and the waved albatross. You’ll have more opportunities view sea lions and sharks in the east—it’s also perfect for birders as there are more endemic species.

Highlights:

  • Espanola: See an age-old lava landscape, home to brightly colored marine iguana, lava lizards, sea lions, finches, blue-footed and Nazca boobies, Galapagos hawks; plus home to the only nesting site of the waved albatross
  • Santa Fe: Discover an island of uplifted lava topped with Giant Opuntia cacti and Palo Santo trees, rich in wildlife, with plentiful sea lions and endemic land iguanas basking in the sun; enjoy excellent snorkeling opportunities
  • Genovesa: Visit an arid, rocky island with gentle slopes and a volcanic caldera; it’s a bird paradise with massive colonies of red-footed and Nazca boobies, frigate birds, and storm petrels; it’s also one of the few places to see short-eared owls during the day
  • San Cristobal: Explore the easternmost Galapagos island with lush foliage in its higher (older) western part and the islands’ only freshwater lake; visit scenic Punta Pitt, a popular nesting site for great frigate birds and the only site in Galapagos with all three species of boobies; see the imposing Leon Dormido rock and visit beautiful Cerro Brujo beach
  • Floreana: Experience a mix of the gently sloping verdant hills and barren lava flows of volcano-studded Floreana; be wowed by the flamingo lagoon at Punta Cormorant, explore interesting rock formations, learn about human history in the Galapagos, and leave your mail in the barrel at Post Office Bay; also enjoy great snorkeling at Champion Islet or Devil’s Crown
  • North Seymour: Witness the courtship dance of the blue-footed booby and see amazing frigate bird colonies; plus great for spotting sea lions and land iguanas

Western Islands

The western islands are younger and more volcanically active, studded with cones, craters, and a rippled lava landscape. As you cruise the islands of Isabela, Fernandina, Santiago and Rabida, you’ll be amazed by the bounty of life that thrives in this volcanic landscape. Wildlife that can be predominantly found in the west include flightless cormorants, whales, and giant tortoises. Stunning beaches are also a key feature of the west and Punta Espinoza is one of the most pristine natural environments in the world—and home to the largest colony of land iguanas in the archipelago. Isabela is the biggest island in the Galapagos, more than half the total land surface of all the islands combined.

Highlights:

  • Isabela: Explore the largest island in the Galapagos, consisting of a chain of five active volcanoes—including Sierra Negra; see up to five species of giant tortoise, kaleidoscopic marine life, and incredible bird life such as penguins, hawks, flamingoes, and boobies; the waters around Isabela are especially productive, making it the best to see whales, dolphins, and many sea turtles
  • Santiago: Find well-preserved lava flows, a turtle nesting site at sandy Espumilla beach, and vast colonies of fur sea lions at James Bay; also great for spotting Galapagos hawks, and marine and land iguanas
  • Fernandina: Discover one of the world’s most impressive (and active!) volcanoes on the youngest of the Galapagos Islands; experience the black lava landscape of Punta Espinoza, which supports sea lions, marine iguanas and small colonies of penguins; also nesting sites for cormorants and hawks
  • Rabida: Be amazed by the red-sand shore of this small island as you follow trails to bird nesting sites and a flamingo lagoon.
  • Santa Cruz: Whether traveling east or west, your itinerary is likely to stop at Santa Cruz, one of the most diverse islands in the Galapagos. Visit the Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora, the bustling heart of the Galapagos, and travel to the highlands—the best place in the Galapagos to see giant tortoises roaming in the wild!

Our Galapagos Islands Trips

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