Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
Comprised of 18 main islands and many more islets on both sides of the equator, this archipelago is one of the most bucket-listed destinations in the world. The stunning Galápagos Islands are officially the property of Ecuador, which is the closest continental country despite being over 900 kilometres away to the east.
Though over 25,000 people call the islands home, the human locals are not the source of the archipelago’s popularity. It is the animals here (many of which are endemic to their respective islands) that are the primary attraction. Not only is the wildlife wildly diverse; many of the creatures are unusually curious about their tourist spectators rather than afraid of them, making this a must-do holiday for any animal lover.
The Galápagos Islands form one of the very first World Heritage Sites; the archipelago is considered both a national park and a marine reserve. The rich array of fauna spans from the surrounding Pacific Ocean depths to the island grasslands – and beyond into the sky, where a birdwatcher’s dreams frequently come true.
A thriving tourism industry sustains the economy of the Galápagos Islands, facilitated by its two airports and a variety of boat tour operators. Cruises are run by companies including Silversea Cruises, Lindblad Expeditions, Tauck, and Celebrity Cruises.
The two main ports of the Galápagos Islands are found on the islands that also have airports: Baltra near the centre and San Cristobal to the east. Your cruise will begin and end at either of these two islands.
Cruises stop at a variety of islands throughout the archipelago. Depending on your ship’s specific itinerary, your Galápagos adventure may feature islands including:
Facilities vary from island to island, but each site puts nature at centre stage. With this in mind, you should make the most of the amenities provided on board your ship between each shore excursion.
How to Get Around
The only way to properly get around the Galápagos Islands is via a boat cruise. This will allow you to explore the rich diversity of landscapes and wildlife this unique part of the world is home to.
Currency – As with mainland Ecuador, the Galápagos Islands’ official currency is the US dollar (USD). Banknotes come in $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 denominations, while coins are available in pennies (1 cent), nickels (5 cents), dimes (10 cents), and quarters (25 cents). While 50 cent and $1 coins also exist, these are not so common.
Time Zone – The archipelago has its own time zone (Galápagos Time or GALT), which runs 6 hours behind Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).
Weather – Despites their geographic positioning on the equator, the Galápagos Islands do not experience a tropical climate (with the exception of during the occasional El Niño phenomenon). This makes the archipelago a fantastic year-round destination. It’s important to keep in mind that climate and conditions can change quite wildly from island to island, particularly across islands with varying altitudes. However, there are general conditions that typically run true throughout the region. From June to November, there is a consistent cool wind and regular fog. The weather during this time is frequently drizzly and temperatures hover around 22 degrees Celsius. December to May is the season for sunshine, though this is interrupted by isolated and brief rains. In these months, the temperatures rises to around 25 degrees Celsius and the breezes of the previous months die down dramatically.
Snorkelling and Scuba Diving – Beautiful waters and a plethora of fascinating sea creatures invite diving enthusiasts to explore the ocean waters that the Galápagos Islands are surrounded by. Spy on schools of fish, get playful with a sea lion, or admire the graceful sea turtles – the wildlife under the waves is as delightful as that on the land. Diving deeper with scuba gear can give you the chance to get close to mantas and a diverse range of sharks. There are many great spots for snorkelling and scuba diving throughout the islands, with some highlights including Punta Espinosa on Fernandina Island, Los Tuneles on Isabela Island, and Cousin’s Rock off Santiago Island.
Reserva El Chato – In many minds, the giant tortoise is the most iconic creature of the Galápagos Islands. The Reserva El Chato on Santa Cruz Island provides visitors with an unparalleled opportunity to witness and interact with these amazing animals in their natural habitat. Once you’ve filled up your camera or smartphone’s storage space with countless photos of these majestic roamers, take some time to explore the intriguing lava tunnels that are also a key part of the area.
North Seymour Island – North Seymour Island embodies the essence of a trip to the Galápagos Islands: up-close encounters with fantastic animals that are typically more curious about human visitors than they are afraid. From joyful sea lions and iguanas to exotic frigates and blue-footed boobies, the biodiversity of this island makes it a joy to experience.