Q&A: Galapagos islands
The Galapagos Islands are probably the most famous wildlife watching destination in the world and a true bucket list destination. Here we answer some key questions for those travellers looking to follow in Darwin’s footsteps.
How do I get to the Galapagos?
Getting to the Galapagos isn’t as tricky as you might think with daily flights from Europe and the USA into Quito and Guayaquil on mainland Ecuador and from here it’s a two-hour flight. Most of the domestic flights depart for the Galapagos in the morning and so an overnight stay the night before departure is required.
Where else can I visit in conjunction with the Galapagos?
Ecuador is smaller than the American state of Nevada, yet it is home to picturesque colonial cities, and snow-capped Andean peaks, rich in indigenous culture, Inca sites and colourful markets; fascinating Amazonian wildlife and indigenous tribes and the famed Galapagos Islands. It’s comparatively small size makes it easy to travel around and experience some true bucket-list experiences in one holiday. Wildlife loving families look no further than Ecuador and Galapagos for the Family, off-the-beaten-track adventurers check out Intrepid Ecuador and National-Geographic enthusiasts will appreciate our Natural Wonders of Ecuador itinerary.
What is the best time of year to visit the Galapagos?
The Galapagos is a year-round destination, straddling the equator, peak seasons are simply dictated by holiday periods. The longest and shortest day over the year varies by just seven minutes. The busiest times are June to August and December to January, when advanced planning is required. From January to May, the seas are warmer and calmer, making them the best months for cruises if you are susceptible to seasickness. These are also the rainier months, but once it has rained it usually clears up quickly. June through to November is the dry, cooler season but air temperatures don’t fall much below 20 degrees. Sea temperatures are lower but most boats will provide shortie wetsuits either free of charge or for a small rental fee, or we recommend packing a rash-vest for extra insulation.
What are the main benefits of choosing an expedition cruise over staying at a lodge?
Katie, one of our Latin America Travel Consultants, explains the differences between experiencing the Galapagos on a live-aboard cruise ship and opting for an island lodge with licensed day trip boats in her blog.
What are the restrictions on the Galapagos Islands?
There are 19 islands that make up the archipelago, of these only four are populated and the rest is designated National Park. Despite concerns over the environment, it is reassuring to know that tourism is more highly regulated than anywhere else in the world. Every year, a maximum of 75,000 visitors may enter the national parks; this is around the same volume as the amount of football fans that fit into Manchester Stadium on match day.
There are 63 vessels visiting 145 different sites, all on carefully planned itineraries which are monitored by the national park and timings cannot be changed. Over the last 15 years, it is reassuring to know that the capacity hasn’t increased on the ships. For visitors staying on a lodge on Santa Cruz Island, it is important to know there are just 7 boats licenced for day tours with a total capacity of 80 people, so our travel experts will ensure your day trips are planned well in advance of arrival.
Your luggage will be carefully scanned before arrival because any non-indigenous plants and seeds introduced to the islands can have devastating impact on the fragile ecosystem. Even foodstuffs such as oranges are carefully monitored!
Would you recommend taking children to the Galapagos?
Each day in the Galapagos offers a new adventure, where children can observe wildlife close up, and learn all about evolution and nature without the need for a text book. See Galapagos for families for more information about taking kids to the Galapagos.
Can I touch the animals?
Despite their curiosity with humans, visitors shouldn’t touch the animals and you should really try not to let them touch you. The Galapagos is a fragile ecosystem and infections and disease can have devastating consequences. Anyone travelling into the park must be accompanied by a naturalist guide, and they are on hand to ensure regulations are adhered to and to educate visitors on the unique flora and fauna.
What are the sea conditions like?
The Galapagos Islands are situated in the doldrums, a tropical belt where the prevailing winds are calm. Between December and March, winds are entirely absent, whilst August and September bring the strongest winds and with them slightly choppy seas. This is less noticeable on larger vessels so if sea sickness is a worry then we would recommend choosing one of the bigger ships during these months.
Can I organise diving in the Galapagos?
The Galapagos is one of the most unique diving destinations in the world and a number of cruise ships, such as the Galapagos Sky, offer diving specific itineraries which exclusively tour the best marine sites. If you prefer to combine diving with excursions on land then hotel based packages offer a little more flexibility in terms of wildlife viewing and island visits. For absolute beginners, PADI offers a fantastic introductory ‘Discover Scuba Diving’ package for those 10 years and up which enables you to get certified. The course combines theoretical training which can be completed online in advance, as well as practise sessions in the pool before getting stuck in at sea.
Is there internet access in the Galapagos?
If you need to stay connected during your holiday, you can. It is important to know that service on the whole is slow, with intermittent reception and low band width. Lodges such as Pikaia, Finch Bay and the Galapagos Safari Camp have WiFi but it can’t really handle large data downloads. La Pinta and Silversea (on varying packages) offer complimentary WiFi. On board the Eclipse, Santa Cruz II and Isabela have WiFi packages available for a charge. At the moment, the smaller vessels do not have WiFi capability. During visits within the national park (which excludes the populated islands), visitors are required to switch mobile phones to ‘Airplane mode’. Populated areas, like Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz do benefit from cell phone coverage from local providers Movistar or Claro.
How mobile do I need to be to enjoy the Galapagos?
The main physical challenge on the Galapagos is getting on and off the boats in often choppy seas. For anyone with walking difficulties, we would recommend staying at Pikaia Lodge, as you can still experience some fascinating wildlife like sea lions, iguanas, giant tortoises, pelicans and birds with only short boat rides involved. Good mobility is required for the other lodges and boats, as many of the trails are rocky with irregular terrain, and wheelchairs are virtually impossible to operate at many of the sites.
What additional costs should I expect?
While cruises and lodge packages are mostly inclusive, guests can expect to pay for alcohol, wetsuit rental on some cruises, tips for guides and staff, and souvenirs. Some of the cruises also have the internet packages for purchase. We recommend checking in advance if your cruise can take card payments on board, because some of the smaller ships will only accept cash. Visitors to the Galapagos are also required to pay a park fee and purchase a tourist card prior to arrival at the National Park, which is usually included when you book with Scott Dunn. However it is worth being aware that when not booking a cruise it may not be possible to pay this in advance.
A maximum of 75,000 visitors a year can visit the Galapagos Islands, which is roughly the same number of football fans that fit in Manchester Stadium on match day.
There are less than 2,000 Flightless Cormorants on the planet, making them one of the world’s rarest birds.
The famous Galapagos Marine Iguana can live on land and in the sea, watching them dive to depths of up to 30 feet is quite a sight.
Located around 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands can be combined with an Amazon rainforest adventure or a visit to Peru’s magnificent Inca Ruins of Machu Picchu.
The blue-footed booby is an adorable bird with electric blue feet, they have a fantastic courtship dance where they prance about, spread their wings and make a bow!
The Galapagos Islands were discovered in 1535 when a ship was blown off course; Charles Darwin actually arrived 300 years later when his visit resulted in his theory of evolution published in The Origin of the Species.
Just 3% of the Galapagos Islands are populated; the rest is designated National Park and remains one of the most protected wildlife areas in the world.