What To Expect When You Travel to the Galápagos From Ecuador
Let’s get ready for an exciting expedition from Ecuador to the Galápagos Islands!
The archipelago is a majestic showcase of evolution. It’s home to one of Earth’s most amazing ecosystems due to its location at the meeting place of three ocean currents.
Where are the Galápagos Islands? They lie in the Pacific Ocean, 621 miles (1,000 kilometers) off the coast of Ecuador.
Eons of seismic and volcanic activity, along with the extreme isolation of the islands, led to the development of exotic flora and fauna, including the famous giant Galápagos tortoises, huge cacti, and colorful subspecies of mockingbirds and finches—among countless others.
Read this article to discover the Galápagos Islands and learn how to travel there—and all the wonderful things to do once you arrive!
A Brief History of the Galápagos
The layering and lifting of volcanic action formed the islands. Interestingly, the western islands (Isabela and Fernandina) are millions of years younger than the eastern islands (San Cristóbal and Española).
English naturalist Charles Darwin famously visited the islands in 1835 to study their fascinating plant and animal life. Darwin’s 1859 masterpiece, On the Origin of Species, highlighted not only his theory of evolution but also the Galápagos Islands.
The Galápagos Marine Reserve became Ecuador’s first national park in 1959 and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978. Today, more than 275,000 travelers make their way to the Galápagos annually to see its spectacular sights first-hand.
Getting to the Galápagos Islands
The sole way to travel to these remote islands is by air. There are no cruises, bridges, or ferries from the mainland.
Getting to the Galápagos by air involves flying to Baltra Island, then taking a bus and ferry to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. Most cruises set sail from here. Alternatively, you can fly into Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island, but in Santa Cruz.
Post-pandemic flights to the Galápagos Islands have resumed, but they are not as frequent. International flights to Ecuador include options originating in major US hubs such as Houston, Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles, and New York. (I’ll talk more about COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines for travel to the Galápagos in a bit.)
Being Land-Based Versus Water-Based
Once you travel to the Galápagos, you could either stay in a hotel room on one of the three inhabited islands (and explore other islands and areas on day trips) or take a cruise (also known as a “live-aboard boat”) with built-in accommodations that transports you from island to island.
If you’re on a tight budget, being land-based is typically less expensive but it requires more travel time to get to different spots around the islands. Because cruises navigate at night while you sleep, you’ll wake up in a new destination ready for a full day of exploration.
What To Do in the Galápagos
If you love hiking, snorkeling, and witnessing Earth’s incredible biodiversity, this is the ideal place for you. Partake in activities from island walks featuring remarkable species unique to this area to snorkeling off the black or white sand beaches alongside dolphins and sea lions.
The brilliant array of animals in the Galápagos Islands include flamingos, iguanas, short-eared owls, penguins, seals, and the famous blue-footed booby—among so many others. Check out the following adventures to consider including on your journey to the Galápagos.
1. Take a Cruise
Book a cruise to see as many distinct areas of the Galápagos Islands as possible. Live-aboard boat options range from all-inclusive 5-day to 8-day journeys. Galápagos National Park officials determine the cruise ships’ routes to prevent crowding and minimize environmental impact.
Boats in the Galápagos Islands carry a maximum of 100 passengers, but most hold fewer travelers. Daily per person rates for cruises around the Galápagos range from approximately $400 to over $700.
2. Paddle in a Panga
Explore the area in a panga (a small fishing boat) for a breathtaking view of the land and its animals.
3. Go On a Magical Hike
Climb over lava flows at Punta Moreno for awesome bird watching.
Hike the Sierra Negra volcano, the second largest volcanic crater in the world on Isabela, the archipelago’s largest island and home to six volcanoes.
Check out Los Gemelos, two sinkholes surrounded by forest.
4. Get in Touch With a Tortoise
Visit a giant tortoise breeding center that focuses on preserving some of the Galápagos’ most renowned residents at the Charles Darwin Research Center in Santa Cruz or the Galápagos Interpretation Center in San Cristobal.
The most interesting breeding center is off the beaten path in Puerto Villamil on Isabela.
5. Buy Souvenirs
Visit the town of Puerto Ayora for souvenir shopping.
6. Scuba Dive
Go diving on Wolf and Darwin Islands to swim alongside hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, eagle rays, jack fish, and more.
7. Play in the Water
Kayak with or without a guide at Tortuga Bay in Santa Cruz. Go surfing in a port town like Santa Cruz or San Cristobal.
Volunteer on a farm or help with habitat restoration through The Foundation “Bolivar Education.”
9. Gaze at the Wildlife
Check out the marine iguanas in Fernandina and a giant sea lion colony at Punta Suarez.
Visit Punta Espinosa in Espanola from April to November to spot albatross with a wingspan of 8 feet (2.5 meters).
When To Go to the Galápagos
The busy season is in June, July, and August, and from mid-December to mid-January. Hotel and cruise prices are typically highest at these times as well. (If you’re going during a busy season, be sure to book a few months in advance as boats often fill up.)
December to May is the warm, rainy season when the ocean is the calmest. Daily morning rains give way to sunny skies, and temperatures in the 80s.
From June to November, the Humboldt Current brings chilly water and slightly cooler temperatures. The colder water attracts fantastic marine life including hammerhead sharks and whale sharks!
Current Ecuador and Galápagos Travel Restrictions
Ecuador’s COVID-19 protocols apply to the Galápagos, as well. Please note that these restrictions are subject to change at any time.
Entry to Ecuador is open to citizens of the United States, Canada, Europe and most other countries. After being closed for a few months due to the pandemic, the Galápagos Islands reopened to foreign visitors in July 2020. Galápagos cruises are operating.
Travelers who arrive via international flights must provide either proof of completed COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test result within 72 hours of arrival. Alternatively, travels may show proof of recovery from COVID-19.
The entire adult population of the Galápagos (30,000+ people) is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Learn more about the islands’ travel policies and restrictions.
Speak the Language of the Galápagos!
Are you ready for the adventure of a lifetime? This fantastic archipelago of 18 major islands has been naturally “socially distanced” for millions of years. Humans inhabit less than 3% of the 3,000 square miles of this remote wilderness.
Becoming bilingual improves your cognition and decision-making abilities and makes travel to Spanish-speaking countries both easier and more meaningful. Why not get a head start to reaching Spanish fluency before you travel to Ecuador and the Galápagos? Learn to speak Spanish with our certified Guatemalan teachers at Homeschool Spanish Academy. Take a free trial class today to try it out for yourself!
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