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A fantastic experience from the start with some amazing work by our destination specialist... We saw amazing wildlife, the crew onboard the Ocean Spray were amazing and we loved the local wildlife. Hats off to you Chimu!! - SueV
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Each month brings unique climate variations to the Galapagos and with it varying wildlife viewing opportunities. Peak season for a Galapagos tour is typically December through to May/June when the seas are the calmest and the weather the warmest. June, July and August are also very popular as the wildlife tends to be more active. For divers the peak season is from July to November when whale sharks can be found at Wolf and Darwin Islands.
The Galapagos Islands have a subtropical and dry climate with comfortable temperatures year-round. The warmest months are usually from December to June (high season). It is generally warmer and sunnier during this period with higher ocean temperatures (of up to 24°C). It can be hot and humid from January to March. From July to November (low season) it is generally not as warm and you can expect cool winds that occasionally bring with them a light misty drizzle called "garúa”. From June, ocean temperatures can dip to as low as 15°C. The average year-round temperature is 24°C (76°F).
The Galapagos Islands are home to vast numbers and varieties of wildlife, both land and marine. Many of these species are unique to the Galapagos as a result of the isolation and remoteness of the archipelago.
Mammals: There are only a limited number of mammal species found in the Galapagos and the majority are sea mammals including whales, dolphins and sea lions. Fur seals are also found here as are Galapagos rice rats and the eastern red bat.
Birds: There are 56 native bird species in the Galapagos, 45 of these being endemic (only found in Galapagos) and 11 being indigenous (native to Galapagos but also found elsewhere). In addition there are 29 migrant species. Galapagos birds can be separated into sea birds, shore and water birds and land birds. Some of the birds you may see on a Galapagos tour include: Galapagos doves, hawks and penguins, Darwin's finches, frigatebirds, waved albatrosses, gulls, blue and red-footed boobies, Nazca or masked boobies, pelicans, hawks, tropicbirds, flamingos, egrets, mockingbirds and flightless cormorants.
Reptiles: Amongst the retile species found in the Galapagos are giant tortoises, green sea turtles, land and marine iguanas and lava lizards.
The Galapagos Islands are part of Ecuador and the principal language on the islands is Spanish. The population of the islands is now over 25,000, the largest ethnic group being Ecuadorian Mestizos, the mixed descendants of indigenous Native Americans and Spanish colonists who arrived mostly from mainland Ecuador. There is also a small percentage of African-Ecuadorians and Europeans, mostly of Spanish descent. Five of the islands are inhabited: Floreana, Isabela, San Cristobal, Baltra and Santa Cruz. Baltra, or South Seymour as it is also known, is an Ecuadorian military base for the Navy and Air Force.
The Galapagos Islands have seen a huge increase in tourism over recent years. Approximately 97% of the total land area of the archipelago is National Park but only 3% of the total land area can be visited by tourists. In 1986, 70,000 square kilometres of ocean surrounding the Galapagos Islands was declared a marine reserve and in 1990 the area became a whale sanctuary. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve.
The National Park Service and Charles Darwin Station work for the protection and the sustainable management of the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos National Park Service monitors visitor sites and can close sites or change itineraries in response to growing pressures. Other standard protected area management techniques have included the introduction of trails, guides to accompany visitors, fixed itineraries and a limited number of tourism concessions.
Introduced plant and animal species are the main threat to the Galapagos. After evolving for thousands of years without predators, the wildlife of the Galapagos is not adapted to dealing with new species and is defenceless against them. The park service is trying to eliminate goats, rats, cats, dogs and introduced plant species on many of the islands. It is essential that visitors do not bring any plant or animal life to the islands, and that footwear is cleaned when travelling between islands to avoid transference of seeds.
While on a Galapagos cruise, you will have multilingual, naturalist guides who are trained by the Charles Darwin Station and licensed by the Galapagos National Park. The park is strictly regulated and during island visits, passengers must be accompanied by a guide at all times. Visitors are only allowed on land from sunrise to sunset and all itineraries are registered with the park in advance.
The Galapagos marine sanctuary is under threat from illegal fishing activities. Fishing is strictly forbidden, except on those boats specifically authorised by the Galapagos National Park.
Other park rules include the following:
You must always be accompanied by a certified Galapagos National Park guide
Galapagos is a unique and fragile environment - take only photographs and video
Stay within the limits of the walking trails, for your safety and that of the flora and fauna
Help conservation by cooperating with the authorities in their inspection, monitoring and control duties
Do not introduce foreign organisms to the islands
Do not buy souvenirs made from black coral, sea shells, sea lion teeth, tortoise shell, volcanic rock or endemic woods Never feed or disturb the wildlife and avoid getting closer than 2 metres Do not spoil Galapagos landscapes by writing or etching on rocks or trees Do not leave any litter while on the islands or throw anything overboard Smoking or making camp fires in the National Park areas is strictly forbidden Jet skiing, submarines, water skiing and aerial tourism are all strictly forbidden
The Galapagos Islands, of which there are 13 major islands, 6 smaller islands and numerous islets and rocks, are an archipelago of volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean. They lie either side of the Equator and 1,000 km west of the South American continent and mainland Ecuador of which they are a part. The islands were formed as a result of volcanic and seismic activity and feature lava piles and shield volcanoes. They are located on the tectonic Nazca Plate where 3 ocean currents converge. The 13 main islands are Baltra, Española, Fernandina, Floreana, Genovesa, Isabela, Marchena, Pinta, Pinzon, San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Santa Fe, and Santiago. Española Island is the most southerly islet of the archipelago and Darwin Island the most northerly. The islands cover a land area of nearly 8,000 square kilometres. The landscape is strikingly rugged with high volcanic mountains, craters, cliffs and lowlands. The largest island Isabela, measures 5,827 sq. kms accounting for nearly three quarters of the total land area of the Galapagos. Volcan Wolf on Isabela is the highest point of the Galapagos at 1,707m above sea level.
As the Galapagos Islands are part of Ecuador, the cuisine of the islands is very similar to that of mainland Ecuador. Dishes featuring meat, vegetables, grains and potatoes originated from the highlands of Ecuador, with seafood dishes being more typical of coastal Ecuador. Rice and beans are common accompaniments to most meals. Beans are usually cooked as a traditional bean stew (menestra), with lentils sometimes being used instead. Meats include lomo (beef) and chancho (pork), served a la parilla or asada (grilled). Seco is a local meat speciality, a stew made with tomatoes, onions and coriander using either beef, chicken or goat. Estofado is another typical Ecuadorian stew made with chicken or meat with potatoes and carrots. Seafood is plentiful in the Galapagos, with ceviche being one of the most popular dishes, consisting of seafood, onions and coriander marinated in lemon or lime juice. Food is included on all Galapagos cruises. The food is generally varied with a range of chicken, fish or seafood dishes with rice, pasta or potatoes. Fresh fruit and vegetables are also plentiful. The menu may include some typical Ecuadorian dishes. There are restaurants in the main towns with both Ecuadorian and international cuisine available.
The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin
The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
The Galapagos Islands by Pierre Constant Galapagos
The Islands that Changed the World by Paul D. Stewart
Albatross, Their World, Their Ways by Tui De Roy, Mark Jones & Julian Fitter
Darwin in Galapagos, Footsteps to a New World by K. Thalia Grant & Gregory B. Estes
The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner
Galapagos - A Natural History by Michael H. Jackson
The Galapagos Islands currently use USD as their main currency.
Spanish is the official language of the Galapagos Islands, but English is widely spoken.
Some Galapagos cruise passengers do suffer from sea sickness as the waters around the islands can be a little rough at times, in particular during August and September. If you are concerned about getting sea sick, please ensure that you bring motion-sickness remedies with you. You should also consider choosing a Galapagos cruise that is aboard a more stable vessel such as a catamaran or selecting a land-based island-hopping Galapagos tour. The waters tend to be calmer between January and April.
Land-based Galapagos tours give you the opportunity to stay on selected islands including Isabela, Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and Floreana Islands. Galapagos Island-Hopping Tours are a great alternative to Galapagos cruises, giving you the opportunity to explore the archipelago’s wildlife and natural wonders by day and staying overnight in island hotels. This allows non-seagoing travellers to enjoy the highlights of the Galapagos Islands without compromising on their comfort and need to be on firm land. Speed boats or public transportation take island-hoppers from island to island, with accommodation in clean, comfortable boutique hotels.
The Galapagos Islands are renowned for their wildlife with vast numbers and varieties found on the islands and in the waters surrounding the islands. There are whales, sharks, dolphins, sea lions and fur seals, bird species too numerous to mention ranging from blue-footed boobies and frigatebirds to penguins and hummingbirds, giant tortoises, turtles, iguanas and lava lizards. Some species are seen only at certain times of the year.
All of the islands offer something different and often unique. The western islands of Isabela and Fernandina offer great wildlife viewing opportunities with vast colonies of birds and marine iguanas and the opportunity to hike to the caldera of Sierra Negra on Isabela. The central islands include Santa Cruz, Santiago and Bartolome with its barren volcanic landscape, dramatic vistas and spectacular views from Pinnacle Rock. To the south, Espanola and Floreana offer white sand beaches and great snorkelling opportunities and of course the chance to visit Post Office Bay on Floreana, probably the most famous man-made site on the Galapagos, where mail can be left for another traveller to collect and hand-deliver. In the north, Genovesa is home to the largest nesting colonies of frigatebirds and red-footed boobies with a hiking trail to El Barranco.
The main considerations are type of ship, class of ship, duration of cruise and itinerary. The different ship types are:
The classes of boats are:
The main differences between the classes are space (cabins and common areas), private or shared facilities, experience of the guides, quality and quantity of food, availability of facilities such as air-conditioning, hot water, swimming pools and Jacuzzis, which will all affect the cost.
Galapagos tours generally range from 4 to 15 days allowing for different budgets and time constraints. 4, 5 and 8 day Galapagos cruises are the most common options and will include different islands, some of which may hold more interest to you than others.
Although the larger vessels are often more luxurious and stable and offer more facilities, the smaller boats offer a much more intimate experience with greater flexibility and more time on the islands.
In general, crime is not a problem on the Galapagos Islands although petty crime may occur in the towns. We advise you to keep personal items and valuables locked away in bags in your cabins. Most animal life on the islands is docile with the exception of the larger sea lions and in particular the bulls, who will vigorously protect their females, and can inflict dangerous and potentially lethal bites. Do not snorkel close to sea lion colonies. There is a minimal danger from sharks but in general sharks will not attack unless provoked.
Galapagos National Park rules state that no food is allowed to be taken onto the islands.
A pre-arranged visa is not required to enter Ecuador or the Galapagos for citizens of the following countries:
The United States
For other nationalities please visit the website of the relevant consulate. In regard to local taxes, a charge of US$100 is currently in place for ALL tourists travelling to the Galapagos Islands. This is payable in cash on arrival and subject to change.
The majority of Galapagos tours and Galapagos cruises are between 4 and 15 days. The longer the tour, the more of the archipelago you will visit.
Galapagos tours, whether land-based or a cruise, include all accommodation, meals and transfers and so you will only need to budget for drinks, souvenirs and tipping. On board the boats, bottled water, coffee, tea and hot chocolate are included. Soft drinks, juices, wine, beer and a basic selection of spirits are available for purchase. A budget of USD25-35 per person per day is a rough guideline for additional spending money.
The majority of ships accept credit cards (Visa, MasterCard and American Express) but we recommend that you carry some USD cash with you for tips to your guides and crew.
Some Galapagos cruises do offer internet facilities via satellite but please be warned that it is expensive.
We recommend that you visit your doctor or a traveller’s medical centre for current information specific to those places that you will be travelling through. As a general guide we recommend the following:
Most of the newer boats have both 110 volt (USA) and 220 volt (Europe/ Australia) outlets on board, although some of the older boats will only have 110 volt outlets.
Casual, light quick-drying clothing is recommended on board the ships.
• Cotton long sleeved shirts
• Lightweight pair of trousers
• Good walking shoes
• Thongs/flip flops or tevas
• Wide brimmed hat (with strap)
• Sunglasses (with strap)
• Windproof and waterproof jacket and maybe an umbrella
• Light sweatshirt or fleece
• Sunscreen (30+ & waterproof)
• Camera with spare memory cards and batteries
• Dry bags for cameras and other electronic equipment
• Refillable water bottle to reduce plastic waste
• Motion-sickness medication for boat tours
• US$ cash to cover the National Park fee and tips
Not all Galapagos tour itineraries offer diving as an option. If you are a keen diver then you may want to consider choosing a dedicated diving boat for your Galapagos cruise. These boats tend to have better equipment and dive masters and the itineraries are designed around visiting the best dive sites in the Galapagos Islands, in particular around Darwin and Wolf Islands. Alternatively you could add on a couple of days in Puerto Ayora at the end of a Galapagos cruise enabling you to include diving excursions, or it may be possible to arrange a diving excursion from your boat.
Most ships have snorkelling equipment and wetsuits on board - either for rent or included in the cruise price. If you have your own equipment (mask, fins, snorkel, wetsuit), you may wish to consider taking it with you as this will ensure you have well-fitting gear.
Apart from marvelling at the spectacular landscapes and impressive array of wildlife, there are opportunities to hike across volcanic beaches and to the crater of volcanoes, to explore lava tubes and to swim and snorkel amongst the marine life. There are tours to see giant tortoises in the wild and visits to the Charles Darwin Research Centre and the Interpretive Centre.
Yes, the Galapagos Islands is a wonderful family friendly destination, although the minimum age is usually 6.