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Galápagos Islands: What to Know Before You Go

Sea lions, iguanas, and turtles, oh my!


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Six hundred miles off the South American continent sits the 19 islands that make up the Galápagos. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Galápagos Islands are one of the best spots in the world for wildlife adventures. And of course, re: Charles Darwin fame, the islands inspired the theory of evolution following his visit in 1835. The Galápagos is where natural elements converge: It sits at the intersection of three ocean currents and lets you gaze into both the southern and northern hemispheres. Here’s everything you need to know about planning a Galápagos adventure.

Where to Visit in the Galápagos Islands

Isabela Island is the largest island in the Galápagos, known for the collection of islets called Las Tintoreras. Tourists often visit Las Tintoreras to see blue-footed boobies, Galápagos penguins, and hopefully to encounter sea lions and green sea turtles in the water. Isabela Island is also home to one of the largest volcanic craters in the world: Volcan Sierra Negra.

Santa Cruz Island is in close proximity to the airport on Baltra Island, and is therefore one of the first stops for most tourists. Here, you’ll encounter giant, 500-pound tortoises. Santa Cruz Island is known for their fish market and their lava tunnels. As for beaches, Tortuga Bay and Las Bachas are two of the most stunning.

San Cristobal Island travelers love to snorkel or dive the area around León Dormido (Sleeping Lion), also known as Kicker Rock. It’s the remnants of an ancient volcanic cone. You’ll want to see El Junco lagoon and visit the La Galapaguera Tortoise Habitat while on San Cristobal, too. Finally, be sure to visit La Loberia Beach, where travelers tend to spot marine iguanas, sea lions, and various fish species.

Choosing a Tour Operator or Cruise for the Galápagos Island

Of course, you shouldn’t rule out doing the Galápagos independently. There is enough tourism infrastructure to build your own experience, from luxury hotels to private boat transfers. That said, taking a Galápagos cruise or working with a luxury tour operator to organize your trip is a popular option.

If you’re looking to travel by land with a well-recommended tour operator, Classic Journeys orchestrates luxurious, highly personalized Galápagos adventure trips. Classic Journeys takes care of all the inter-island transport and curates a selection of the best boutique hotels in the Galápagos. Excursions are led by local guides, all eager to share their deep knowledge of the area. The Classic Journeys’ itineraries usually include experiences like kayaking with baby sea lions and sea turtles, visiting an Ecuadorian coffee plantation, and stargazing in both the northern and southern hemispheres at the same time.

Those hoping for an intimate cruising experience can set sail on the MV Evolution Galápagos, which has gorgeous suites equipped for just 32 passengers. Guests partake in included excursions like snorkeling, island hiking, and seakayaking. The MV Evolution sails two seven-night, eight-day itineraries; One focuses on Isabela Island, Rabida Island, and Santa Cruz Island, while the other spends time on San Cristobal Island, Floreana Island, and Santa Cruz Island.

Where to Stay on the Galápagos Islands

Angermeyer Waterfront Inn is on Santa Cruz Island, sitting along the water. An exclusive family-run hotel, Angermeyer provides ample opportunity for guests to spot blue-footed boobies, giant tortoises, and marine iguanas on property. The boutique hotel’s suites have ocean views and offer an al fresco dining area.

Iguana Crossing is an Isabela Island boutique hotel with both volcano view and ocean view rooms and suites. Their gastronomy is locally focused—their milk and coffee is sourced from the property—and the restaurant serves classic Ecuadorian fare like ceviche and sancocho (soup made with yucca and fish). Iguana Crossing also offers snorkeling and land tour packages for travelers touring the Galapagos without a cruise or tour operator.

Getting to the Galápagos Islands—and Getting Around the Galápagos Islands

Considering the Galápagos Islands are a) a stringently protected national park, and b) 600 miles off the coast of South America, they’re still fairly accessible. International flights won’t fly directly into the Galápagos—you’ll have to fly through Quito or Guayaquil, both on mainland Ecuador. It’s easier to fly from Guayaquil, because there are regular direct flights to the Galápagos, whereas more often than not, flying Quito to Galápagos means stopping in Guayaquil anyway.

As for getting around once on the Galápagos, you can take a passenger ferry, hire a speed boat, or charter a yacht or helicopter, all depending on your price range and desired experience. INGALA runs ferries between Isabela, Santa Cruz, Floreana, and San Cristobal islands daily—you can purchase tickets upon arrival to the station. You can also charter a boat through Nemo Galápagos or a private yacht with Quasar Expeditions. Finally, you can, of course, use your preferred helicopter charter service to access more remote Galápagos locals and to island hop.

Best Time to Visit the Galápagos Island

In terms of weather patterns in the Galápagos Islands, there are two distinct seasons to watch for: warm but rainy (June to November), or cooler but dry (December to June). Whether you’d prefer the warmth of summer and fall or the cool, precipitation-free winter and spring depends entirely on what you want to do in the Galápagos. Diving season, for example, is June to November. February, March, and April are breeding and nesting season for most of the animals. December is when the islands’ giant tortoises hatch. However, there’s no one right or wrong time to visit the Galápagos Islands. It really is a year-round destination—with year-round wildlife.


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