The Galápagos Islands are governed by a Special Law that supports conservation and the preservation of its unique environment. The Galápagos Governing Council is responsible for the overall management of the Archipelago, working to ensure a balance between the populated areas and protected areas. For this reason, the movement of visitors and inhabitants in and out of the Islands requires careful management.
Traveling to Galápagos
Most visitors will travel to Galápagos by air from mainland Ecuador. Flights depart daily from the principal cities of Guayaquil or Quito (direct or via Guayaquil). Three companies currently offer flights: TAME, LAN-Ecuador, and Avianca. Airfares are similar between the companies, but you may get lucky and find a promotional offer. In general, you should expect to pay between $380 and $500 for a round-trip ticket. Non-residents cannot buy a one-way ticket to Galápagos.
There are two main airports in Galápagos, one on Baltra Island and the other on San Cristóbal. At the airport in mainland Ecuador before checking in, you will be required to have your bags inspected by the Galápagos Biosecurity Agency quarantine staff and obtain a mandatory $20 tourist transit card. Upon arrival in Galápagos, you will have to pay an entrance fee in cash to the Galápagos National Park (currently $100 for non-Ecuadorian adults and $50 for children). Returning to the US or other international destination from Galápagos generally requires an overnight stay in either Quito or Guayaquil.
Choosing a Time of Year
Galápagos is a terrific place to visit anytime of the year. Because of the Islands’ location on the equator, the air and water temperatures remain relatively stable all year long. During peak seasons (mid-June through early September, and mid-December through mid-January), it is particularly important to make your travel arrangements well in advance.
From December through May, the water temperature (avg. 76°F/25°C) and air temperature (avg. low/high 72-86°F/22-30°C) are slightly warmer. Seas tend to be calmer. Rainfalls are common for a short period of time each day, but the remainder of the day tends to be very sunny resulting in high humidity. Flowers come into bloom and vegetation is more colorful. This is a good time to observe birds mating or sea turtles nesting on the beaches.
From June through November, the Humboldt Current brings colder water (avg. 72°F/22°C) and cooler land temperatures (avg. low/high 66-79°F/19-26°C) It also brings nutrient-rich water that attracts fish and sea birds: albatross arrive on Española and penguins are easier to encounter. This is the mating season for blue-footed boobies. During this time of year clouds fill the sky and a misty rain called Garua is common. Winds tend to be stronger and seas a bit rougher. The abundant marine life makes this the preferred time of year for experienced divers.
Cruises vs. Hotels and Day Trips
One can visit Galápagos on a live-aboard experience lasting from 4 days/3 nights to 12 days/11 nights. Boats range from 12–110 passengers and are divided into four categories of service: economy, tourist, first class, and luxury. Cruise itineraries take advantage of night hours to travel long distances between islands in order to arrive at the next visitor site refreshed and ready to explore. Groups of 12 or more might want to consider chartering an entire boat. This approach can actually be less expensive per person than joining an organized tour, and can provide opportunities for customization of the tour.
Another option, which is becoming more popular, is to stay ashore in a hotel on one of the larger populated islands (Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal, or Isabela) and take day trips to nearby uninhabited islands. While this option can be more economical and provides an interesting perspective for travelers, the range of islands that can be visited is limited by distance. Also, there are several animal species that likely will not be encountered on day trips.
Island-hopping tours, designed to experience Galápagos without having to be onboard for the entire trip, are becoming more popular. Visitors take speed boats or public transportation between inhabited islands, staying overnight at hotels and exploring local sites and enjoying activities near the towns. Day trips can be arranged from San Cristóbal and Santa Cruz, whereas island-hopping is mainly based from San Cristóbal and Santa Cruz, with lodging also available on the less populated islands of Floreana and Isabela.
Day trip operators range widely in comfort and safety standards, and it will be important to choose a reputable tour provider. There are many providers to choose from, and we recommend that you visit our Travel Partners page for a list of our trusted providers.
Visitor Sites and Guides
Ninety-five percent of the land area of Galápagos is designated as protected by the Galápagos National Park Directorate (GNPD), and tourists are permitted to explore specific visitor sites only with Park-certified naturalist guides. The GNPD coordinates group visits to these 60+ sites and carefully monitors ecological conditions. Different sites are known for their specific scenery, vegetation, and wildlife. However, many species, such as sea lions, marine iguanas, lava lizards, and a variety of coastal birds such as herons, tattlers, plovers, turnstones, and whimbrels, are commonly seen at most locations.
Each visitor site has a marked trail, most of which are less than a mile long — often passing over rough lava or uneven boulders. Some sites have “wet landings” (visitors wade to shore from rafts or dinghies) and others have “dry landings” (passengers step foot directly onto dry land). All live-aboard cruises and reputable day-tour outfitters employ licensed guides who must accompany travelers to these sites.
Diving in Galápagos
Galápagos is a world-class destination for scuba divers because of the abundance of sharks, sea lions, fur seals, marine turtles, rays, mantas, marine iguanas, and reef fishes. The GNPD has granted permission to a select number of tour providers. If you plan to dive on your trip, check with your provider to make sure the company is authorized to offer this activity.