Getting to the Islands
Although it is possible to get to Galapagos by boat, the majority of visitors choose to take the quicker option and fly. Flights depart from the coastal city of Guayaquil or the capital city Quito (via Guayaquil) on mainland Ecuador. There are two main airports in Galapagos, one on Baltra Island and the other on San Cristobal. Upon arrival, you will have to pay an entrance fee to the National Park (currently $100 for adults and $50 for children) which is used to fund management and conservation in the Islands.
At each visitor site on the Islands a marked trail provides excellent views of the wildlife, vegetation and landscape of Galapagos. Most trails are less than a mile long but a few can be fairly difficult underfoot, leading over rough lava or uneven boulders. There are also one or two longer hikes in the highlands where it can be humid and damp.
The different sites are amazingly varied in their scenery and vegetation and most have particular highlights in terms of the wildlife that can be seen there. That said, some species are common across many sites; at coastal sites, Galapagos sea lions, marine iguanas, lava lizards and a variety of coastal bird species are common; at sites further inland you are likely to see giant tortoises, land iguanas, yellow warblers, Galapagos doves, mockingbirds, flycatchers and several species of Darwin’s finches.
When walking to and from a particular site, it is important that visitors stick to the designated paths in order to avoid damaging habitats and disturbing wildlife.
A great variety of live-aboard vessels are available ranging from simple, converted fishing boats to luxurious cruise ships and fast launches. All rely upon engine power although some also have decorative sails. Which boat you choose depends on your budget, but also upon the style of trip you prefer. The smaller vessels can provide a more exclusive and adventurous experience, while the larger boats may have more facilities.
The large, comfortable cruise ships often have private bathrooms, bars and sun-decks and carry up to 100 passengers. The smaller boats vary greatly; from fairly simple 6 passenger vessels to comfortable, modern yachts and launches carrying 12 to 16 passengers. As standards vary, the smaller boats are now classified to indicate the facilities they offer. Most crew members are Ecuadorian and meals are usually freshly prepared and of a good quality. Please note, however, that tour boats are not permitted to fish in Galapagos as part of the management of the Marine Reserve.
All cruises and day trips into the National Park must be accompanied by a guide who is licensed by the Galapagos National Park Directorate and no tourist is allowed inside the park without one. There are several categories of guides who vary in their language skills and knowledge. A good guide who knows Galapagos well can make a big difference to your trip. The guide is responsible for ensuring that all tourists respect the National Park rules.
Time of year
There is always something interesting happening in Galapagos regardless of the time of year and there is no real off-season.
From about June to November it is the garua season when the weather is relatively cool and dry, considering the equatorial position, with sunny or overcast skies and occasional drizzle (or garua) in the highlands. August is the coolest month with average daily temperatures ranging from a minimum of 19⁰C to a maximum of 24⁰C. The sea is cool and can be rough. During this period most of the animals which rely upon the sea for their food will be breeding, including sea and shore birds, marine iguanas, sea lions and fur seals.
Between about January and April is the warm season, with higher temperatures and occasional heavy rains. The hottest month is March with an average maximum temperature of 30⁰C. The Islands turn green as the arid lowlands bloom and many of the land birds and reptiles begin to breed. The sea is also warmer and calmer. During El Niño years, these seasons can vary considerably and the animals’ breeding seasons and behaviour are often greatly affected.
Most people book their tour directly from their home country as a complete package which usually includes international flights, hotels and transfers on the mainland, flights out to Galapagos and the complete cruise in the Islands. Insurance, tips and the entrance fee to the Galapagos National Park are usually excluded. Many specialist operators now exist, often advertising their tours in the weekend press. Your travel agent should be able to advise you on the boats and itineraries available and of the options for land-based trips. Most packages will fly you to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and then on to either Baltra or San Cristobal airport in Galapagos where you embark immediately onto your boat.
It is also possible to make your own arrangements for a Galapagos holiday by booking flights and a cruise yourself through one of the many local operators. Again, a travel agent should be able to give you details on how to do this. Alternatively, you can book your cruise once you have arrived in Ecuador. Local agencies will usually have offices in Quito or Guayaquil and most speak good English. Prices are often cheaper this way but many boats run on fixed departure dates and you may not find vacant places on a trip that suits you. This option is most suitable for those with plenty of time to spare.
Inspectors from the Galapagos Inspection and Quarantine System (SICGAL) will check your luggage at the airport in mainland Ecuador before check-in to Galapagos and upon your arrival in the Islands to ensure that the risk of introducing foreign animals, plants, seeds and bacteria is minimal. For further information on the quarantine inspection system and prohibited products, visit the Inspection and Quarantine System for Galapagos (SICGAL) website.