What to expect in the Galápagos
For many, the Galápagos Islands are the ultimate bucket list destination and that’s because they are simply extraordinary.
Located on both sides of the equator, about six hundred miles from mainland Ecuador, this archipelago offers the most amazing experience of nature at its best. Get ready to experience the weird and wonderful. Modern-day explorers can follow in Charles Darwin’s footsteps, in search of otherworldly flora and fauna. Giant, ancient tortoises, sea birds with bright blue feet, sharks with heads like hammers, curious lions of the sea, swimming reptiles that look like dinosaur punks, the most beautiful coloured crabs and a wonderland of birds.
With a committed approach to responsible conservation, you can enjoy the pristine beaches, underwater beauty, and endless landscapes, in a positive and conscious way. Even better, thanks to their position on the equator, you can visit the main islands all year round.
We’ve put together this Galápagos travel guide to help prepare and inspire you for your next adventure. Get ready to fall under the Galápagos’ spell.
The Galápagos is great for:
Wildlife: From majestic whales to the smallest mouse, there are over two hundred recorded species here. Get ready to spy an array of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds, many of which can only be found on these islands. Many of the animals here show no fear of humans, having never been hunted by alpha predators. It’s this – their innocent curiosity and cheeky interactions – that means your time here is like nowhere else on the planet. See our Galapagos wildlife guide for an in-depth overview.
Adventure: Your flight from mainland Ecuador over to the islands is just the beginning of your Galápagos experience. During your time here, you can choose land and/or boat based tours. Whether you choose to hike lava rock trails, explore the untainted beaches, muck about in the mangroves, or a walk to the top of Sierra Negra, you’ll definitely feel that sense of adventuring into the unknown. The clear Pacific waters mean you can cruise around in a sea kayak or ‘panga’ dinghy, stay shallow while snorkelling with a rainbow of tropical fish, or dive deeper with sharks and rays. The back of a horse or a mountain bike also offers more ways to enjoy these mysterious landscapes.
Making good things happen through travel: Pretty much all of the activities you can do here offer a chance to learn about Galápagos history and culture, environment and sustainability. If you’re one of around a quarter of a million people that now visit each year, being prepared and armed with some knowledge, goes a huge way towards minimising your human footprint on the islands. Aside from respecting conservation and wildlife guidelines, you can also tune into a movement of conscious tourism. This basically means some mindful reflection on the way you travel; educating yourself about the local communities and businesses and the activities you decide to do. With our help, you can make sure that your choices are a force for good, as well as feel good.
A brief history of the islands
There are nineteen main Galápagos Islands, plus lots of smaller islets. Four of these islets are inhabited and they include: San Cristóbal, Isabela, Floreana, and Santa Cruz. The capital of the province of Galápagos is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, which lies at the southern tip, close to the airport.
Many moons ago, these Pacific Islands were pretty much pirate country; a hideout and hangout for buccaneers, whalers, and sailors of the 17th and 18th centuries. The first humans began living on the islands in the 1830s after it became part of Ecuador and the islands were given their current Spanish names. Small communities began to develop on the four currently inhabited islands.
In the early 20th century, the Galápagos Islands hosted three penal colonies on San Cristóbal, Floreana, and Isabela – the haunting Wall of Tears on Isabela is a harrowing reminder of its prisoners. During World War II, Santa Cruz, and Baltra were used as a minor military base for the U.S.
Things have changed since then and the Galápagos Islands became and remain a much more tranquil site, home to some of the world’s foremost conservation efforts and marine and terrestrial research. The biggest boom in human presence began in the 1980s and has continued to grow year on year and around thirty thousand people now populate the islands. It blends cultural influences from Europe, the U.S., and mainland Ecuador, so it has a wonderfully interesting mix of ethnicities and traditions.
As you might expect, tourism is now the main industry for the islands and locals enjoy an income from this. Research and investigation are also a big draw for travelling scientists, conservationists and researchers, who enthusiastically follow in Charles Darwin’s footsteps. The Charles Darwin Station is the keystone of the conservation and research of these pristine islands.
Top Galapagos highlights
- Get your wildlife fix on Isla Isabella: Spot blue-footed boobies, penguins, brightly coloured crabs and marine iguanas lazing in the sun. And top it off with a visit to the Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre.
- Snorkel with turtles in Isla Floreana: Dive into a marine world of wildlife wonders. Snorkel amongst the resident sea turtles and keep an eye out for rays, sea lions, and small sharks too.
- Swim with sea lions: Head to the island of Santa Fe for a splash in the sea with the curious sea lions that live here on the coast.
- Kick back on Bahia Gardener beach: On the coast of Isla Espanola is a stunning beach where sea lions and mockingbirds commune. Offshore, you can snorkel amongst turtles, reef sharks and heaps of tropical fish
- Visit the Charles Darwin Research Centre: On Isla Santa Cruz you’ll find the home of one of the Galapagos’ most popular residents (especially with children), the giant tortoise. These huge creatures are part of a breeding programme to keep the species alive, and it’s a great chance to see them up close whilst you learn about the conservation efforts being made here.
Galápagos essential information
Best time to go
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December to May for enjoyable temperatures and sunny days – with some rain, because it’s equatorial. December and January and June, July and August are popular tourist times.
The main language in Ecuador is Spanish, with English widely spoken.
A and B
In the Galapagos and Ecuador, the power plugs and sockets are of type A and B. The standard voltage is 120 V and the standard frequency is 60 Hz.
USD is the official currency (since 2000)
Tipping is customary but it doesn’t have to be a large amount or specific percentage of the service. Tax and service charges are often added to bills, but if you’re impressed with the service, you could choose to tip directly.
With a low annual wage, voluntary gratuities from visitors are always welcome, at hotels and with guides and drivers.
Approximately 30,000 across the inhabited islands.
There are no direct flights to the Galápagos. From the UK you’d fly to Ecuador, which usually has at least one stop involved. Then there are daily flights to the Galápagos Islands departing from the cities of Quito and Guayaquil.
No visa required
Visitors from most countries do not need a visa for a visit of up to 90 days. You’re required to pay 100 USD entrance fee in cash to the Galápagos National Park (50 USD for children). There’s also a 20 USD cash payment for an immigration control card that is payable to INGALA at Quito or Guayaquil airport. Keep hold of this Transit Control Card as it will be checked upon your departure.
Wildlife in the Galápagos
One of the many curiosities of the Galapagos is, how did the wildlife get here? From gigantic tortoises to the smallest mouse, this wildlife wonderland is home to over two hundred recorded species, including an array of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. As the islands here are volcanic and are detached from any other landmass, this means that the wildlife arrived in one of three ways: flying, floating or swimming. This explains why there are no large land predators here and the lack of fear that many animals display around potentially scary mammals, like us humans.
Top islands to visit in the Galápagos
Jaw-dropping, secluded and home to some of the most bizarre and fascinating creatures on the planet, Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands really do feel like another world. Some islands were born from ancient erupting volcanoes, while others are home to the giant Galapagos Tortoise. Many boast spectacular snorkelling spots and few are inhabited by humans. If you’re looking for inspiration on which islands to visit on your Galapagos holiday, we’ve got you covered.
Getting around the Galápagos Islands
Taking a Galapagos cruise is by far the most popular way to experience the islands and we definitely recommend it. We work with some wonderful partners to offer beautiful, high-quality boats for your Galapagos adventure.
This works really well if you’re keen to enjoy more of the islands or if you’re simply short on time. Because the islands are relatively spread out, a cruising tour gives you the chance to explore more remote and wild destinations that you just wouldn’t otherwise get to see. Navigating between the islands at night also means saving on a lot of travel time too.
We know that many of our travellers love the flexibility of our semi-independent holidays. So if you fancy a little extra time here or there to explore under your own steam, our travel specialists can add that in before, or after, your Galapagos cruise – giving you more time to discover the sights on foot. The beauty of this is being able to enjoy a closer look at life here and the chance to hang out with the locals – people, not just animals.
You can travel between eight different islands in the Galápagos, four of which are inhabited (San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Isabela, Floreana) and four which are uninhabited (Seymour, Bartolomé, Plazas, Sante Fe). There are two ways to get between the islands: by air and by sea. Of course, timescales and costs vary for each, so it depends on your time and budget.
Food in the Galápagos
A great place for pescatarians, the food of the Islands reflects its location in the Pacific, with amazing seafood at the heart of many dishes. Seafood here is fresh, plentiful and heavily featured on menus across the Galápagos . From white fish like sea bass, tilapia and halibut, to local specialties like the famous spiny lobsters, which is often a feature of the Galápagos ’s most famous dish, Ceviche. It’s a splendid blend of citrus, sweet and spicy flavours, made with locally caught fish, shrimp, squid, crab, octopus or lobster.
In the more populated centre, you’ll be spoilt for choice with places to eat, from restaurants to street food stalls. They offer a tasty range of well-priced dishes like seafood casserole or ‘encebollado’ which is a pickled onion soup filled with yucca and fish.
Seco meat stews, plantain, and other traditional Ecuadorian food can be found here, including a glorious range of exotic fruits like Babaco, jocote, guanabana (soursop), guayaba (guava) and naranjilla, which you can eat raw in a ‘jugo’ juice, a ‘batido’ milkshake or in ice cream which is simply delicious.
Oh, and just in case you’re craving some Western comfort food, you can generally find plenty of options like pizza and pasta too.
Top foodie tip
If you’re on Santa Cruz, you are likely to come across Calle de los Kioskos in Puerto Ayora. Here you can enjoy an open-air meal in an entire street of pop up foodie stalls that serves crazy fresh seafood at extremely good prices.
Language and culture
The official language of the Galápagos Islands is Spanish, although English is widely spoken too. Tourism also means that the islands have become one of the most multilingual destinations in South America, with guides, hoteliers, and other islanders fluent in multiple languages.
Hola – Hello!
Buenos dias/tardes/noches – Good morning/afternoon/evening
Me llamo/llama – My name is.. (m)/(f) *Hint: two ‘ll’ is pronounced as a ‘y’ sound.
Adios – Goodbye
Hasta luego – See you later
Hasta pronto – See you soon
Necesito ir a el bano – I need to go to the bathroom?
Donde esta el bano – Where is the bathroom?
Cuanto cuesta? – How much does it cost?
Me gustaria una cerveza/una ron por favor – I would like a beer/a rum please!
Una cerveza, por favour – One beer please!
Necesito un médico – I need a doctor
Me duele aqui – It hurts here