The Galapagos Islands are a series of 20 islands located about 550 miles (900 km) off the coast of Ecuador.
Famous in our understanding of evolution as providing a simple example of natural selection, the Galapagos are now a top travel destination to enjoy incredible wildlife, beautiful scenery and beaches,
The main islands that offer hotels, restaurants, cafes and attractions are Santa Cruz and Isabela. These are also two of the largest islands and are home to Galapagos residents. For a little more information you can see the Galapagos Islands Travel Guide.
To reach the islands, you can fly from either Quito or Guayaquil in mainland Ecuador and you will land on either of two airports serving the Galapagos Islands. One of these is on Baltra Island, which is best if you’re staying at a hotel on Santa Cruz or if this is where your Galapagos cruise departs. The other is located on San Cristóbal island.
The archipelago is protected by the Galapagos Islands National Park, which covers an area just under 8,000 km². The national park was established in 1959 and protects the majority of the Islands with only 3% of the Galapagos area set aside for residents. The Galapagos Marine Reserve then protects 130,000 km² of the surrounding water.
Weather & Migrating Wildlife
As the Galapagos Islands are located in the world’s tropical zone, you can expect warm temperature throughout the year. The difference in temperature is greater between day and night than between months. However, there are two season on the Galapagos Islands. Wildlife can be seen at all times of year. There are a few migrating animals, which we will cover below.
The seasons are broken down into the cool and dry season provided by the Humboldt Current and the wetter and warmer season caused by the El Niño Current.
From December to June, the temperature is between 80ºF (27ºC) and 90ºF (32ºC).
Between June and November is when you find the drier and cooler weather. This is also the best time to visit if you enjoy diving. Expect an average temperature of 70ºF (21ºC) to 80ºF (27ºC).
As mentioned above, some animals do migrate, including some of the iconic marine animals. The wildlife seasons for these are below.
- Manta Ray Season: December – May
- Whale Shark Season: June – November
- Hammerheads: December – May
When to visit the Galapagos Islands • in/°F | mm/°C
One of the main attractions about the Galapagos is the incredible and iconic animals. Enjoy spotting the famous Galapagos animals, such as marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, giant tortoises, sea lions and many more.
One of the most famous animals of the Galapagos Islands, marine iguanas are the only lizard that can forage for food in the ocean. No matter where you are on the islands, you’re sure to never be too far away from marine iguanas.
You can also see them sunning themselves on the sidewalks, rocks or beaches. You can also spot them on the decking of different hotels, such as the recommended Galapagos Habitat Hotel.
Another iconic Galapagos animal, giant tortoises can be found on different islands and are most often seen in the wild in the highlands of Santa Cruz. They can weigh over 400 kg (900 lb) and reach 1.3 m (4 ft) in length.
These are the world’s largest tortoises and are an incredible animal to find. In addition to seeing the tortoises in the highlands, you can also visit some of the giant tortoise breeding centers on the different islands. These are areas where organizations are recovering the tortoise populations, which were threatened by both habitat loss and introduced species.
Galapagos Sea Lions
The Galapagos sea lions are another favorite animal to find on the Galapagos Islands. These are often seen on beaches and even relaxing at the different Galapagos hotels, such as the Galapagos Habitat Hotel.The Galapagos sea lion only breeds on the Galapagos. One of the favorite times of year to find the sea lions is around November when the pups can be seen playing and swimming around the beaches. A great beach for seeing the pups is Gardner Bay on Española Island.
The Protected Area
The Galápagos National Park protects 97% of the land area of the Galapagos Islands. The marine area is then protected by the Galápagos Marine Reserve, which protects 133,000 km2 (51,000 square miles) of the surrounding water.
Given the protected status, there are several rules for visiting the majority of the Galapagos area. These include being accompanied by an authorized naturalist guide, staying to official trails, maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet (two meters) to any wildlife, never feeding wildlife, not using flash photography when photographing animals, not introducing food, animals or plants into the protected area, and being careful not to purchase souvenirs made from animals, plants, coral, or lava rock.
Within the Galapagos archipelago, you can find 20 different islands. These include 13 main islands and then seven smaller islands. In addition, there are around 100 islets and outcrops. You may find different information on the number of islands, as the definition of what is an island, islet or simply a rocky outcrop can be fuzzy.
The five islands inhabited by people are Baltra, Santa Cruz, Floreana, Isabela and San Cristóbal. San Cristobal and Santa Cruz then offer hotels, cafes and restaurants.
How Long To Spend On The Islands
To make the most of the islands if you want a short visit, we would recommend a minimum of 4-days to enjoy the many different things to do, see the famous wildlife, visit some beautiful beaches and to enjoy a few different islands. Many of the cruise have a 4-day minimum. At the other end of the scale, you can then enjoy a 15-day mega cruise to fully explore this incredible place.
There are many things to do on the Galapagos Islands. For a detailed in depth look including a guide to the different islands you can see our guide to 100 things to do on the islands.
There are also a few of the top things to do and places to visit.
You can see wildlife no matter where you are on the islands. However, there are some favorite places to have the best chances of seeing certain animals or for visiting some of the most beautiful beaches, iconic landmarks or areas of significance
Some of the top wildlife-rich areas to visit are Espinosa Point on Fernandina, Suárez Point on Española Island, Gardner Bay on Española Island, Cormorant Point on Floreana Island and Tortuga Bay on Santa Cruz then offer two of the many beautiful beaches, and Devil’s Crown off Floreana Island offers some incredible diving and snorkeling opportunities.
For some more information on these areas, you can see the top points of interest on the Galapagos Islands.
Accommodation & Restaurants
If you visit the islands independently, you can find accommodation on Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Isabela Island.These islands also offer some fantastic restaurants, sights and things to do.
A recommended hotel is the Galapagos Habitat Hotel on Santa Cruz Island. The island offers very comfortable rooms, a top rated restaurant on the islands, and a chance to see marine iguanas, sea lions, pelicans and other wildlife from the comfort of the hotel. We will mention the hotel a little more further down.
Tours & Cruises
There are some fantastic package tours from hotels and aboard cruises to enjoy the Galapagos Islands.
Here are some of our favorite experiences.
The Ocean Spray Cruise
The Ocean Spray Cruise is one of the top experiences of the Galapagos Islands. Enjoy very comfortable accommodation aboard the luxury-class cruise on your choice of 4-day, 5-day, 6-day and 8-day itineraries.
Aboard the cruise, enjoy guided island tours, kayaking tours, and snorkeling tours. Explore the islands to see the top wildlife destinations and the famous attractions.
The Ocean Spray vessel offers comfortable suites, delicious meals, and areas to relax. These include the sundeck with jacuzzi, the dining room, and the lounge area. Your suite then offers a private balcony to keep you connected to the islands.
The Eco Galaxy Cruise
The Eco Galaxy Cruise provides a first-class cruise vessel for exploring the Galapagos Islands. The vessel is a comfortable way to cruise from island to island where you will enjoy guided trail walks,
You can choose either an upper deck or lower deck cabin. These offer either twin or double beds, private bathrooms, air conditioning, and telephone and internet communication.
The relaxation areas aboard the Eco Galaxy Cruise include the lounge to relax with a cocktail or drink from the bar, the outdoor seating area, and enjoy delicious meals in the dining room.
The main attraction is the Galapagos Islands themselves and the incredible wildlife. Explore the islands with your naturalist guide to find the iconic Galapagos animals, visit beautiful beaches and see the famous landmarks.
The Galapagos Habitat Hotel
The Galapagos Habitat Hotel is positioned on Santa Cruz next to the Charles Darwin Research Center. Enjoy some fantastic views of the bay and ocean. Your suite offers a high level of comfort and the hotel restaurant is consistently voted as one of the best on the island.
A fantastic feature of this hotel is that you can see marine iguanas, pelicans and sea lions on the hotel deck itself.
In addition to enjoying the hotel, you can choose from the Galapagos Habitat Hotel package tours. Hop from island to island with your naturalist guide to enjoy some of the favorite areas of the Galapagos.
While back at the hotel, either enjoy your comfortable suite, the dining room or explore the many art galleries, cafes, restaurants and attractions nearby.
The Nemo III
The Nemo III offers a motor-sail catamaran for cruising the Galapagos Islands. Choose from 8-day itineraries for either the northern or southern islands. If you are more restricted for time, you can also join the cruise for 4 or 5-days of its voyage.
You will then enjoy island trail walks to find iconic Galapagos animals, such as marine iguanas, sea lions, blue footed boobies, pelicans and many more.
The Nemo III itself then offers twin or double cabins, private bathrooms with hot water, social areas with a jacuzzi, and delicious regional cuisine.