We visited the Galapagos Islands for just over a week on a cruise. It was an amazing, once of a lifetime experience! I highly recommend going, and taking your time. If you can fit it in, also check out what Ecuador has to offer, from the cities to volcanoes to cloud forests. Here are some tips we learned from visiting the Galapagos Islands.
What I Thought Were Highlights of the Trip
I have several things I found to be highlights of the trip, although I can’t say I had a favorite island. Do your research ahead of time so that you can make the most of your trip, and be prepared for what you want to see the most!
One of my favorite things was interacting with sea lions – snorkeling with them, and having baby sea lions come up to me.
Another favorite was swimming with sea turtles, rays, and marine iguanas. My husband’s favorite things were the snorkeling and the panga rides, especially the snorkeling at the islet of Tortuga. We both loved seeing the giant tortoises, and wish we could have spent more time there (we only stopped for about 10 minutes after hiking in).
There are also of course the famous blue-footed boobies.
It was also awesome to see the Pinnacle point on Bartolome.
My Least Favorite Parts of the Trip
Were there low points of the trip? Among the tours, I would have passed on the lengthy Sierra Negra hike. I would so much have preferred to hike to just the rim, rather than continuing up the rim to see the eruption site better. It just wasn’t exciting, as it simply consisted of a small area that was smoking. The dust from the trail/island got all over us and stained our clothing and shoes. Not a big deal, but I would have rather spent the time doing other things.
Also, the town of Puerto Villamil was not very impressive, but I was glad to have the chance to see it. It is also possible it has grown or changed over the years.
Choose Your Boat, Hotel and Tours Carefully
Be sure to pick a good tour operator, and in general, plan on spending a decent amount of money.
We spent a decent amount per person for our 10-day trip – which really comes out to be about a week on the boat (once you factor in traveling time). It looks like a week in the Galapagos now runs $9790 through Lindblad, as travel costs have gone way up. It is best to plan early to secure what you want, and at the best price (at least in terms of airfare).
There were some boats that we passed along the way that looked not very desirable. I heard that the Celebrity Expeditions is likely the biggest, nicest cruise boat in the Galapagos, but we preferred a smaller boat, with a longer trip and more time on shore. I suggest picking your most important factors, and go from there (i.e. size of boat, luxury, how many days in the Galapagos, boats that offer dives, etc.). We thought we wanted a large boat with about 40 passengers, and from there, we chose Lindblad.
Decide on a Time of Year
Do your research as far as what time of year you would like to go, as far as weather, snorkeling conditions, wildlife viewing, etc. We went in November, and we were surprised how dry it was. Normally when I see images of the giant tortoises, they are surrounded by lush green grass and often mud and puddles of algae – so I was surprised how dry everything was, not realizing that we were at the peak of dry season. There are pros and cons to each season, of course!
It is good to travel light, especially when going as far as the Galapagos. Pack carefully and strategically, and observe TSA regulations about things like liquids.
Sunscreen & sunglasses: The most obvious thing to bring would be reef safe sunscreen, and be sure that it is reef safe. (See my post about that here). We brought some pretty high SPF’s – in the 40’s. We used a lot of it, slathering it on every day. I also recommend sunscreen sticks. I bought a very high SPF face stick, and used it quite religiously. It was a little greasy, but it was great for putting on my ears (especially the tops) and face. It had great coverage especially for things like snorkeling. Our boat provided shorty wetsuits. This helped keep me warmer in the water, but just about as importantly, I didn’t have to worry about sunburns on my back, shoulders, neck, etc. I don’t think it is really possible to bring one (too heavy, too bulky) but find out if your boat provides them. Another good thing to bring is a long-sleeve rash guard to protect your skin from the equatorial sun.
Aloe for sunburn relief – for when you’ve had too much sun. Maybe also a lotion – my skin was getting crispy after a week on the equator. (Something like a little jar of body butter from the body shop?)
Snorkel / swim gear: The water temperatures in the Galapagos are fairly cool. The warmest time of year is December to May. We went in late November and I was surprised that we had water temperatures from 68-73 degrees F. (I thought the temperatures would be lower). The water was definitely chilly and I wore the wetsuits the boat provided us on each snorkel, as did everyone else. Check to see if your tour offers shorty wetsuits, or plan on bringing your own.
I always recommending bringing your own snorkel and mask, if possible, when traveling. There was no way I was bringing my fins, but bringing your own mask guarantees that it will fit your face well and that you’ll have an enjoyable snorkeling experience.
Photos: Plan on taking lots of photos. You could use a regular digital camera with an underwater housing, or an underwater camera, but now it is easy enough to get a underwater iPhone hard case. Either way, we took lots of underwater shots. The sea lions swim pretty fast and are really playful, and it’s easy to go through a lot of shots trying to catch one in action!
Motion sickness remedies / ginger. Heading around the equator, we had some rough seas. Our 48-passenger boat was rocking quite a bit. I don’t get seasick, but after a few days of strong rocking (think, walking in zig-zag lines down the hallways), I needed some dramamine or bonine. Ginger pills are also supposed to be useful, and can help for after you don’t feel well.
Stomach relief such as Immodium, Pepto-B, etc. – not really for the Galapagos. You’re supposed to stay away from any non-bottled water in Ecuador (e.g. Quito, Guayaquil), but regardless, you never know when something doesn’t agree with you, and you don’t need it to ruin your trip.
Variety of clothes – swimwear, shorts, tank tops, jeans/pants for at night and in cooler weather, some kind of pullover/ windbreaker/ sweater, etc. I also brought sandals, water shoes, and trail running shoes. We had wet landings (get out of the Zodiac into water) where I pulled off my sandals, and dry landings (right onto land) where I wore my shoes. Good water shoes are a must (we are a fan of these Neosport water shoes, which have thick soles).
There are a variety of activities on the islands that call for various gear. And don’t forget a hat to protect from the sun and wind!
Observe all rules when it comes to touring the islands, and respect the wildlife and the natural environment.
Prepare for this trip as you would with any other when it comes to safety, such as leaving behind valuables, and keeping your important documents (passports, etc) and money safe and hidden.
Check out my other Safety Tips for Traveling Abroad.