13 Things To Know Before You Book a Galapagos Islands Holiday

Sometimes I think I’ve seen it all when it comes to travel…and then I go to a destination that blows my mind and makes me realize that I have a lot yet to see! My Galapagos Islands holiday was full of learning opportunities, but most of all it was full of awe and joy. How could it not be – the Islands and wildlife are stunning. It’s like being inside an episode of Planet Earth.

I can’t believe I waited so long to visit the Galapagos Islands! After years of people telling me I should go there, I finally pulled the trigger on the Galapagos in November of 2021 – a time when the world was slowly starting to move around again. It was a perfect time for me to visit these special islands for the first time.

During my 5 days there, I learned so much. My arrogant long-time-traveler side thought I knew what to expect…after all…I had seen it all before. But every day I learned something new that surprised and delighted me.

Galapagos Islands Cruises and Resorts

There are many, many Galapagos cruises (and even resorts!) to choose from. In addition to the type of tour, length of the tour, and type of boat – you’ll also have to choose which islands and wildlife you want to see. And finally, you’ll need to decide what time of year you want to come as it is a year-round destination!

galapagos islands vacation

1. It’s in Ecuador – the Galapagos Islands is not its own country

Actually – I did know this before my trip – however, I was surprised to find out that most people don’t know that the Galapagos Islands are a part of Ecuador. They are located 605 miles off the coast of Ecuador and are part of the country just like Hawaii is a part of the United States.

That’s why this is one dance party you don’t want to miss in person!

Best Time to See Waved Albatross Performing the Mating Dance

It is thought that some 20,000 pairs breed and nest on Espanola Island each year.
Courtship dances of newly-paired albatross and well-established pairs can be seen only between April and December. The closer to the end of that period you’ll see the courtship of pairs who did not breed that year, but are still practicing, normally peaking in October.

5. The Islands Were Originally Colonized for ‘Big Business’

The islands have an extensive human history that is often overlooked. They may have been one of the last places on Earth to be colonized by humans, but sailors, whalers, and adventurers have been stopping there for at least the past five centuries. In the 1860s the islands were colonized with the hope of big business and the manufacturing of a popular purple dye. The islands are filled with a lichen, orchil, which produces a purple dye that had ‘economic potential’.

Runs from December to May with average temperatures of 88 to 70 F
and water temperatures are 74 to 76 F

Ocean conditions are clear and warm; excellent for snorkeling and diving. Brief tropical showers that last 30 or 40 minutes interrupt bright sunny days keeping vegetation green and wildlife active. What’s really interesting is that if you look at the whole year, and see the number of hours of actual sun throughout the year, it is in the hot season that you get the most sun although it’s the time of the year when it rains.

Galapagos Dry Season

Runs from June to November with average temperatures of 78 to 62 F
and water temperatures are 74 to 66 F

Expect a bit more wind and water choppiness, but this is an excellent time for hiking and viewing active marine life. There is also plenty of snorkeling to be done – but you’ll probably be dawning a wetsuit to keep you a bit warmer. I went in November, the dry season, and I definitely used a wetsuit for snorkeling!

8. Galapagos Animals Aren’t Afraid of Humans

You have probably read this before – but it’s hard to really grasp until you are there, and a sea lion wobbles right past you, or a Blue Footed Boobie has a nest right on the trail and just looks at you as you walk inches away from it and doesn’t even flinch. The rule is to stay 6 feet away from the wildlife, but the wildlife doesn’t have a rule- they come as close to you as they like.

Our guides explained that the animal’s lack of fear of humans on the Galapagos Islands has to do with the fact that they have no predators. And they have no predators because they are on an archipelago 600 miles away from the nearest landmass; that’s when isolation comes in. Large carnivores would have never been able to reach the islands because they’re so far away. Large mammals can’t float there or swim there. Archipelagos behave very differently than continental islands where there’s a continuous migration movement of animals in the area.

In addition, the species on the island have learned over time that humans are not a threat to them. This is in part thanks to all of the conservation efforts put in place by Ecuador and the tourism industry. Hundreds of years ago before it was a protected area, sailors did come and take/kill animals on these islands. But through years of protection, now the generations of animals only know humans as no threat, so they will not be phased by you walking within a few feet of their nest!

This is the same kind of thing that happens in Antarctica and the Subantarctic Islands. Penguins will surround you with no fear and I personally think that’s one of the things that makes places like this so magical. You’ll never experience getting so close to wild animals except on really remote islands. Maybe that’s why I love remote places and extreme travel so much!

9. Galapagos Sea Lions Think Everything is Theirs

Don’t be surprised if when you are in port towns like Puerto Baquerizo Moreno you’ll find the Sea Lions just hanging around town. And they aren’t just contained to the beaches or port. You’ll find them at bus stops, on top of picnic tables (seriously – how did they get on top of a table?!!), they will be everywhere. I figure they sort of do own the place…they were here on the islands first after all. Just beware – they may look domesticated as they lay on a bench at the bus stop, but they are still wild. Do not approach them or feed them or even think that they are ‘pets’.

I was literally screaming and giggling in joy as the sea lions swam around me. It seemed like the more twisting, turning, and bubbles I made, they were more interested thinking that I was just a friend playing with them.

So, if you are the type of person who is like…uh…I don’t know…the water looks cold…it’s cloudy…maybe I’ll just sit on the beach instead, I can see enough from here…


13. Every Island is a Separate World of Its Own – Your Itinerary Matters

Because there are different species and plants on each island, it’s important to pick your route carefully if there are specific animals you want to see. I did the Eastern Islands and there are no Galapagos Penguins on those islands. However, my favorite dancing Waved Albatross only exists on Espanola Island, and my itinerary went there!

The Galapagos is unusual because the islands don’t behave equally within the archipelago. Each island of the archipelago group behaves differently. You may think it doesn’t matter which islands you choose to visit – but it does matter. The more islands you see, the more you understand why the Galapagos is so different and important.

Galapagos Islands holiday

To help visitors tailor their itineraries and absorb the best balance of Galapagos wildlife, The BIG 15 was created. Built from consensus among scholars, Naturalist Guides, and island connoisseurs to choose the archipelago’s most unique and fascinating wildlife – these 15 animals are the most iconic Galapagos wildlife. To take it a step further – you can see exactly on which Galapagos Island each of these 15 animals resides. Hopefully, this helps your planning of exactly what islands you want to go to.

How to Get to the Galapagos Islands

The only way to get there is to fly. However, direct international flights do not exist; you cannot fly directly to the Galapagos. Travelers must first arrive at mainland Ecuador prior to their flight to the Galapagos Islands.

You’ll fly into Quito airport (UIO) or Guayaquil airport (GYE) for starters. You will likely stay overnight in one of those cities because most international flights get in late at night. However – this is good news as there are a couple of beautiful hotels I recommend if you stay in those cities! And both of these hotels are posh…they are both a part of the luxurious Relais Chateaux Collection. A collection of hotel properties that are five-star-quality offering a refined experience in rooms, service, and superlative cuisine.

I flew JetBlue which has some great deals to get to Quito (direct from Fort Lauderdale) and Quayaquil (direct from/to Fort Lauderdale or JFK)– be sure to check them out!

Where to Stay on Your Galapagos Layovers

Get a transfer into Old Town Quito and stay at historic Casa Gangotena. This hotel is such a treat to stay in – it not only offers a beautiful place to stay in heart of the historic center, but it also will lead you through the best parts of the city teaching you about Ecuador’s history, culture, and traditions. I stayed there for a few days and fell in love with the historic charm, unique things to do, and incredible cocktails!

Read Casa Gangotena reviews on Trip Advisor / Book a Room here / More hotels in Quito

If you are in Guayaquil – a short transfer from the airport is Hotel del Parque. This is pure colonial luxury surrounded by a lush park. I can’t imagine a more beautiful place to spend your transfer. I stayed there on my way home from the Galapagos Islands as I had one overnight before I could get a flight out. Not only was the historic building beautiful, the rooms large (with a bathroom about the size of a kitchen), but the restaurant and the tasting menu were exquisite – it was a perfect end to a magical Galapagos vacation for me!

Read Hotel del Parque Reviews on Trip Advisor / Book a Room Here / More hotels in Quito

Galapagos Islands Vacation

Hopefully, this helped you hone in on where you want to go in the Galapagos, as well as what type of ship you’d like to take! And it also probably refreshed your memory on turtle vs. tortoise! If you have any questions about the islands or how to choose, feel free to leave me questions in the comments and I’m happy to help based on my experiences or put you in touch with some tour providers who can answer all of your questions.

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