ANSWERS TO FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT VISITING THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
You’re traveling to the Galapagos Islands! Be prepared because the Galapagos Islands are unique and special – unlike any other place on Earth.
This post provides you with some of the practical information every traveler to the Galapagos Islands should know: the weather, what to pack, our currency, and other general information that will help you prepare to make your trip as seamless as possible.
What is special about the Galapagos Islands?
Visiting the Galapagos Islands is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Make it a memorable one!
With the exception of hotel and shipboard amenities and delicious food, you are leaving big city life behind. You will travel to places where things are not the same as they are back at home. Here, things are understated, not fancy. They are designed for relaxation and enjoyment. Nature, not materialism, is the focus of your time in the Galapagos Islands.
Our culture differs from yours in many ways. Be prepared for some trade offs. For example, in exchange for maintaining our environment (land, sea and air) in as pristine a way as possible and for protecting our plant, animal and marine life, we limit land use, energy and water consumption and even the number of people and boats. If you find that your hotel room is a little smaller than expected, remember the land use and ownership limitations that bind us. And remember too that it’s these very regulations which give us all the privileges of marveling at sea lions lounging on both the beaches and Main Street, blue footed boobies dive bombing into the Pacific Ocean, giant Galapagos tortoises roaming in the wild, hundred of animal and marine species endemic only to Galapagos, volcanic vistas, stunning pure blue skies and much much more.
Enjoy your stay in the Galapagos Islands. When you are here, we want you to experience and become a part of the wonderful Paradise we call our home. But most of all, allow yourself the luxury of experiencing our culture and special “quirks” and trends. Your stay will be most enjoyable if you “go with the flow.”
What are the rules and regulations of the Galapagos Islands?
Everywhere you go in Galapagos is subject to rules and regulations mandated by the Galapagos National Park Service, which is responsible for overseeing and protecting the Galapagos Marine Reserve and Land Reserve. Since 1959, the Park Service, together with the Charles Darwin Research Foundation, has overseen the 1,714,000 acres of the Galapagos Islands. The Park Service monitors and controls visitor numbers as well as all Park sites throughout all of the Islands.
The Park Service is responsible for conservation of the ecological integrity and biodiversity of island and marine ecosystems of the protected areas of the archipelago, as well as the rational use of goods and services they generate for the community. All park rules and regulations have been developed for the purpose of protecting area resources.
Here are your basic guidelines:
- You will be in a National Park where everything is regulated and overseen on both the land and in the water.
- You will be expected to comply with these rules at all times, everywhere you go.
- All flora and fauna is protected. Don’t touch any animal no matter how tempted you might be by those adorable sea lion pups.
- The amount of land one may own is limited; building sizes are restricted.
- Water and electricity are rationed. You are likely to be asked to be aware of conservation during your stay here.
- Hotels and boats must comply with very strict regulations. Remember, this is not New York City!
- Don’t even think about taking home a grain of sand! Seriously, luggage is thoroughly checked and consequences for non-compliance can be considerable.
For more information on the National Park and Marine Reserves Rule and Regulations, read our Publication, Nature Interpreter on Medium.com.
Should I take a cruise ship or stay at a hotel and take day trips?
Once, not so very long ago, virtually everyone came to Galapagos with the expectation of taking a cruise ship around the islands. They would stay for a few days or a week, or even two, never disembarking to experience the local culture except on the day designated by the cruise to go to Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz or The Interpretation Center on San Cristobal.
Those days are gone! Now tourists have a choice of whether to cruise or to stay in a hotel and select a land-based itinerary. More and more, land travel is the modality of choice. Why? Because it allows for a richer cultural experience. Visitors can get to know our cultural heritage, visit our neighborhoods, interact with shop owners and other Galapagueños, eat at authentic restaurants and visit cultural centers and even our schools. This is the new model for ethical and responsible travel.
In 2015, 224,755 tourists visited the Galapagos Islands according to the National Park Service. Of these more than half stayed in a hotel in town instead of setting off on a cruise ship. This represents an increase of 8% in land-based travel in a one year period. On-board vessel traffic was down 3%. This trend is continuing.
There are many excellent reasons for this trend. To mention just a few:
- As travelers become more savvy and aware of their environmental responsibilities, they want to leave less of a footprint.
- Land-based travel allows visitors to customize the tour that they want. They are unconstrained by the set itinerary of a cruise ship.
- It is less expensive to stay in a hotel and take day trips than to spend time on a boat.
- Travelers get to interact within our local communities, experience our local culture and enrich our culture by sharing their experiences with us.
Galapagos Eco Friendly was created with the land-based tour model in mind. Our owner Harry Jimenez is delighted to help all of our guests plan the perfect vacation suited to their activity level, interests and budget. Read our section on Ecotourism to learn even more about this exciting and innovative way to visit the Galapagos Islands.
What’s the weather in the Galapagos Islands?
You may experience vastly different climates during your visit. While we are located on the equator, often it is not as hot as you might expect it to be. Sometimes the temperatures are unpredictable. In the higher altitudes on the mainland, particularly Quito, it may be 50º F. At the same time, it may be 100º F in the Galapagos Islands. Plan for both extremes. It is coldest with the heaviest seas in the summer months of June, July and August. It is warmest with the calmest seas in January, February and March. This is all due to the currents that run throughout the Pacific Ocean. To learn about the currents and how they effect our weather read our Publication, Nature Interpreter on Medium.com.
Here in the Galapagos we have basically two seasons. It is dry and cool (never cold) from June through November, with a constant mist called “garua.” In this period, the average outdoor temperature ranges from 70-75 degrees, with July tending to be the warmest month. The average water temperature in this period ranges from 70 to 73.
It is more warm and humid from December through May. In these months, the average outdoor temperature ranges from 74 in December to 83 degrees in March and April. The average water temperature in these months ranges from 74 to 77 degrees.
During the cooler season, the Pacific Ocean is cooler as well, but at any season the Galapagos Marine Reserve is bustling with activity. Both are excellent times to visit because the plant, animal and marine life all change with the seasons. Many visitors travel to Galapagos more than once so that they can experience the seasonal changes themselves.
|Cooler Temperature; Mistier Weather; Calmer Seas|
|Average Water Temperature||73||71||70||71||72||73|
|Warmer Temperature; Drier Weather; Rougher Seas|
|Average Water Temperature||74||76||77||77||77||76|
Where are the Galapagos Islands?
The Galapagos Islands are located 600 miles west of the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. The islands are found at the coordinates 1°40’N–1°36’S, 89°16’–92°01’W. Straddling the equator, islands in the chain are located in both the northern and southern hemisphere, with Volcán Wolf and Volcán Ecuador on Isla Isabela being directly on the equator. Española, the southernmost island, and Darwin, the northernmost island, are spread out over a distance of 220 km (137 mi).
How do I get to the Galapagos Islands?
You will travel by plane to continental Ecuador, either to Quayaquil or Quito. Guayaquil’s (GYE) airport receives flights from U.S. cities of Miami and New York, European cities of Amsterdam and Madrid, and major cities of Central and South America. Quito’s (UIO) airport receives flights from the U.S. via Atlanta, Houston, Miami, and New York; from Europe via Madrid and Amsterdam; and from many major cities in Central and Southern America.
There is a lot to do on the mainland in Ecuador before or after your Galapagos Island trip so you may want to plan your travel plans accordingly. Often, your cruise travel agent will have a hotel in mind for you; check that before making a separate hotel reservation. In early 2013, Quito opened a new airport. The old airport was right next to the city. Now there is a drive from the airport into the city if you have plans to go sight seeing there. If your hotel is in the city, make sure to leave plenty of time to return to the airport for your flight to the Islands. The traffic can be problematic.
If you are going on a boat trip, your tours generally will start on Saturday or Sunday (although recent changes allow mid-week itineraries as well). Of course, you might not be taking a boat trip at all or you might want to combine your cruise with some time in a hotel. At Galapagos Eco Friendly we will help you plan your day trips, customized to your special wants and desires.
There are daily early morning flights directly to the Galapagos Islands, either Baltra or Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal. Where you land will be determined by your Galapagos Island trip itinerary. TAME, AEROGAL and LAN airlines operate these routes. Flights from Quito usually stop in Guayaquil on their way to the islands.
What should I pack?
Packing for Galapagos can be a bit daunting. But one thing is consistent – it is always casual. Our list is comprehensive.
There is a per person weight limit of 44 pounds (20 kg) of luggage to the Galapagos Islands.
If you are staying at a hotel in Quito or traveling outside of the Galapagos Islands, you may want to consider arranging to leave non-Galapagos items at your hotel. It’s a good idea to have a small extra bag to fold into your regular luggage for this purpose and to accommodate anything you might buy and accumulate during your trip.
There is only one underlying guideline for clothing: Think casual! For traveling in the Galapagos clothing ranges from informal to very informal. Here are our comprehensive packing suggestions for land and cruise tours:
- Sneakers or walking shoes for dry landings and hiking on sand, lava, boulders and volcanic rock and compacted ash. Having an ample amount of tread is important. On the cruise ships, usually walking sticks are also available to help you with your balance.
- Waterproof shoes such as Tevas for wet landings on beaches. Shoes with toe protection are best because you also will use these on some of the rocky trails.
- Sandals or other casual shoes for evening on the boat or in town, although some passengers never put shoes on when they are on a the boat. The shoes you wear on the island visitor sites may not be worn on the boat because of cross contamination, so do plan on bringing an extra pair.
- Shorts for hiking and most wet landings. This is a subjective decision as some people like to avoid the sun completely by covering their legs as well. If you choose not to bring shorts, be sure that at least some of your long pants can roll up for when you do have a wet landing.
- At least one pair of light-weight pants. Sometimes the hikes will take you to areas that are buggy and you may want to cover your legs. Or, you may simply want to wear long pants for sun protection. If you are a person who prefers long sleeves and long pants, pack a few of each. You can rinse them out, but the boats don’t tend to have laundry service. Another thing – if you are going to Galapagos in the warm winter months (late December – early April) pack more than you will in the cooler summer months because your clothes will get wet because of the heat and humidity.
- Long sleeved and short sleeved lightweight shirts. Wicking shirts are the best. Many people pack only short sleeved shirts or tank tops and find that the sun on their arms is too much. It’s a good idea to prepare for this possibility.
- Bathing suits – some prefer two, one for swimming and one for under a wet suit.
- A wide-brimmed hat; consider one with U.V. protection.
- Wind breaker or light jacket for evenings and in case of rain.
- Casual clothing for evenings, such as shorts and shirts, sundresses or anything comfortable. Also a wrap or sweater for the cooler evenings when you want to go outside to look at the stars!
- Socks for your hiking shoes and sneakers and other personal items.
Other items on your packing list
- Sunscreen – pack plenty and never go anywhere without it
- Insect repellant
- Lightweight daypack or backpack. You will carry this each day of touring and hiking.
- Water bottle to put in your pack or one on a belt to wear around your waste for the times you aren’t carrying your pack
Snorkel and Scuba Gear
Bring your own wetsuit if you have it because then you will be assured a correct fit. If you don’t have your own, the cruise ships always provide for their guests and, for those staying at hotels, excellent products are available for rent in the towns on Isabela, San Cristobal and Santa Cruz. I suggest that you bring your own goggles too, including prescription ones if you have them. Flippers will be provided and because they are a little more difficult to pack, even those guests who bring their own wetsuits opt to borrow these.
Taking beautiful and memorable photographs will be one of the highlights of your trip to the Galapagos Islands. Make sure you bring everything you personally need to memorialize your adventure.
- Extra memory cards
- Extra batteries
- Extra lenses. Zoom lenses are a wonderful asset
- Video camera or capability
- Underwater camera equipment, disposable or other
- Your iPad or tablet outfitted to download the great photos you take every day, though you will not have internet service
Medicine and Miscellaneous
- Sea sickness patches, ginger pills, medicine, wrist bands just in case
- Prescription glasses, both regular and sunglasses
- All personal items that will make your trip more comfortable
What currency is used in the Galapagos Islands?
We use US dollars. In mainland Ecuador credit cards are widely accepted but in Galapagos while most boats and hotels accept credit cards, some require payments in cash. So bring cash for the bar on board and ask your hotel operator in advance how you will be expected to pay. You may want to carry some change for small items such as pay phones, water or other personal expenses you may require. You’ll also need cash for tipping on board the ship.
It’s also a good idea to let your bank know of your travel plans and ask if there are any special fees associated with being in Galapagos.
Do I need special electrical plugs or converters?
In Ecuador we use 110 V electrical current; the same is used on-board the cruise ships. No special devices required.
What is the situation with Internet and telephone?
While on the Ecuadorian continent, there is full phone and cellular service, though you must check to see whether you can use your particular provider. Generally, it is most economical to use calling cards. Also, there are internet wifi cafes available.
Once on the Galapagos Islands, internet service and even telephone is generally not available except in the ports of Puerto Villamel, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and Santa Cruz, where you may have access from your cell phone with a calling card or from an internet cafe. One of the delights of being in Galapagos is removing yourself from the sound of the telephone and pull of the internet. If you do need service, make arrangements at home with your carrier. Many of the hotels, including Galapagos Eco Friendly, offer wifi service. If you must use wifi and internet, be prepared for delays. You are most definitely not in New York City!
For more information on communications in Galapagos read our Publication, Nature Interpreter on Medium.com.
What fees and taxes should I expect?
The National Park Service charges $100 to each traveler arriving to the Galapagos Islands. The money goes towards conservation services. This fee must be paid in cash at the airport of arrival. Sometimes, but not always, your tour company will include this fee in the cost of your trip. Be sure to check on this before you leave. Upon departing for the U.S., a departure tax of $25.00 from Guayaquil and $48.40 from Quito will be charged.
How should I tip in Galapagos on a cruise ship or at a hotel?
You might want to ask your travel agent or tour company about the tipping policy before leaving for Galapagos. On most cruise ships, cash tips are given separately to the crew and to the guide. Policies differ depending on the cruise line and, of course, the level of service and your personal preference. A good rule of thumb is to figure on $15/day for the guide ($100 for a week long cruise) and another equal amount that the crew members will divide among themselves. Often additional tips are given to individual crew members for exceptional service. For more comprehensive information about tipping read our Publication, Nature Interpreter on Medium.com.
Will there be other expenses that I might not anticipate?
On land, your additional expenses will be for day trips, meals, incidentals and, of course, your souvenirs. As for boats, policies differ on how to pay for miscellaneous charges you may have incurred, such as drinks. Some require cash payments; others allow credit cards. Check with your cruise line or travel agent.
Besides the clothes in my suitcase, what do I need to remember to take with me?
It is suggested that you have copies of your passport, airline tickets (if not electronic tickets) and Travel Protection Plan. Do not carry expensive jewelry or valuables; you won’t need them. Bring extra money for souvenirs or some other things you may wish to buy. Binoculars are extremely useful to spot birds and wildlife. You may need a head-lamp or a small flashlight.
Will I need any immunizations before going to Galapagos?
You will not have to take any special health precautions before coming to Galapagos. However, we do suggest drinking only filtered water which will be provided in your hotel and on your boat.
What’s the most important thing to remember about traveling to the Galapagos Islands?
Have fun, enjoy your time in our Paradise. You are going to have a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Take advantage of every moment and bring back beautiful memories.