The Galapagos 101
Where are the Galapagos Islands?
600 miles off the coast of Ecuador lie the Galapagos Islands, an archipelago of islands so remote, many of the species are endemic to those islands. The lack of natural predators on the Galapagos Islands gives the wildlife a sense of security and visitors are rewarded with friendly, playful wildlife. Curious sea lions, marine iguanas and turtles, even penguins will seek you out and interact with you. Don’t be surprised to find yourself face to face with one of these creatures while snorkeling around many of the incredible islands.
Thanks to its geographical position north of the Equator, the Galapagos Island are a year round destination, with two distinctive seasons: dry and rainy. The dry season brings cooler temperatures from June-November and the wet season, from December to April, while rainier, brings warmer temperatures.
The best way to see the Galapagos Islands is by small ship expedition where the ships cruise around the archipelago of approximately 19 islands. Each of the island possesses its’ own wildlife and unique landscapes. Some are extinct volcanic craters inhabited by endemic bird species while others are sandy beaches where sea lions spend the afternoon bathing in the sun. Still more of the islands afford you opportunities to photograph sally lightfoot crabs digging their way through the sand.
How do I get to the Galapagos?
Most ships leave the Galapagos from Baltra, the islands’ main port. Baltra is easily accessible as a 2 hour flight from either Guayaquil or Quito, Ecuador. Most ships do alternating 7-day itineraries of north or south island trips. There are stringent laws about the itineraries which are governed by the Galapagos National Park. The routes are created to reduce crowds and environmental stress not only on the animals but also the flora, fauna and coral as well.
It is important to know what you want to see before you go as not all wildlife live on each island. If you have your heart set on seeing the red cormorant or the waved albatross, it is crucial to know which itinerary will allow you to see these endemic species. Made famous by Charles Darwin and his theory of “The Origin of the Species”, Darwin spent time in the Galapagos as part of a five year journey. Here he studied the natural flora and fauna of the islands prior to the publication of his 1959 groundbreaking book. The Galapagos Islands were the first world heritage site created by UNESCO in 1978 and the Galapagos Marine reserve was created in 1998.
When is the best time to go?
The Galapagos Islands are a year round destination, but they do have 2 main seasons: There is the dry season from June -November which has cooler temperatures (65F-75F). It is also the busier of the seasons when many families are on summer vacation.
The rainy season, from December-May, has warmer temperatures (80-85F), naturally has more rain usually in the morning hours and the sun breaks out in the afternoon.
Some say the dry season is better for wildlife spotting, when the Humboldt current passes through and provides a greater chance to see more variety of marine life including hammerhead sharks or even whale sharks in some remote parts of the islands.
How do I get there?
Most trips, either land or sea, will start in either Guayaquil or Quito, Ecuador. Whether you find your own airfare there or do it as part of a package, the operator will usually include the flight from either Quito/Guayaquil to Baltra, where the largest percentage of tours and cruises will depart. There are only 3-4 islands inhabited and Baltra is the main island for residents, tourism and commerce.
Which cruise lines visit the Galapagos?
The Galapagos National Park has strict tourism laws made to keep the wildlife safe and protect the fragile islands and marine life from over-tourism. All cruise companies must meet high standards to operate in the Galapagos. You won’t find 3,000 passenger fun ships in this corner of the world. Highly specialized cruise companies operate a fleet of expedition vessels with no more than 100 passengers on board at a time. There are many other types of travel companies that visit the Galapagos Islands, some will do a land based vacation with day trips to the surrounding islands, other will do a combination of hotel and cruise. Doing your research is important to finding the right trip for you and your travel needs.
What is a typical day like on a Galapagos cruise?
The experience you will receive on board an expedition vessel is nothing like a Caribbean cruise. A typical day could look something like this:
Get up early; have breakfast, go on a zodiac landing to one of the islands for a nature walk. An expedition leader will point out the many different species of birds and other wildlife and a brief overview of the island. Many of the cruises even have photographers who will share their knowledge and help you take amazing photos, even if it is with your iPhone. Lunch. Back on the Zodiac for an afternoon of snorkeling or other water sports. Dinner. Evening lecture, video or recap on the days’ events and an overview of what to expect the following day.
Do I need a visa?
US Citizens and Canadian citizens do not require a visa.
Please check with your local embassy or check your visa requirements here: www.visahq.com
There is a fee to enter the National Park, however, this is usually included in your package when you book.
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