10 things to know before travelling to the Galápagos islands
There is nowhere quite like the Galápagos.
We fell in love with the Islands on our 8-day cruise and for those inspired to visit, here are ten things you should know.
Nº 1 - There's no 'bad' time of year to go
The weather in the Galápagos is generally hot and wet from December to June, and dry and slightly cooler from July to November. We went in May, and I don't remember it raining at all.
Aside from the typical increase in families travelling over school holidays, there is no 'best' or 'worst' time to visit the Galápagos. Animals are at various stages of courtship and offspring-rearing at different times of the year, so you should try and time your visit with what you want to see. For example, if you're a birder, you may want to see the waved albatross laying eggs on Española Island in May.
Nº 2 - The Islands have an interesting history
From the 'discovery' of the Islands by Panama bishop Tomás de Berlanga in the sixteenth-century, to the hundreds of tortoises who were brought aboard by whalers for food in the 1800s, the history of the Galápagos is fascinating. The name is said to come from Berlanga's description of the saddle-backed tortoises - Galopegos meaning 'gallop' in Spanish, and therefore having a connection to the equine... I'm not sure how much truth there is in that!
Charles Darwin was famously part of the HMS Beagle voyage, which visited the islands of San Cristóbal, Floreana, Isabela and Santiago in 1835. His studies on animals such as the now eponymous finches provided evidence for his theory of evolution, which he wrote about in his 1859 book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection: or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.
The archipelago became a national park in 1959 and since then, tourism has boomed, with an estimated 100,000 people visiting each year.
Nº 3 - the Galápagos is bloody far away
If I had a penny for every time someone asked whether our Galápagos cruise started from the mainland… the Islands are technically part of Ecuador, but they are still some 1000km west! That's around a 2 hour flight from Guayaquil, or even longer from Quito.
Nº 4 - The seas can be rough
At certain times of the year, and in certain areas of the archipelago, the ocean can be choppy. Assuming you plan to make the most of your time on the Galápagos by visiting different islands by boat, you should make sure you are fully prepared by bringing medications/remedies that work for you.
Read our tips on how to avoid seasickness
Nº 5 - The animals seem to lack fear of humans
"It would appear that the birds of this archipelago, not having as yet learnt that man is a more dangerous animal than the tortoise or the [marine iguana], disregard him."
These are the words of Charles Darwin, and the same remains true today. The Islands are not home to tame animals - the opposite is true - but the comparative lack of predators has led to a decreased levels of skittishness. Thankfully, this provides ample photograph opportunities and the chance to witness some incredible natural phenomena up close, 'Planet Earth' style.
Of course this does not mean that the so-called 'Elevator Effect' is non-existent. Most creatures would dislike people coming too close for comfort, and this is why the Galápagos instructs all its visitors to keep a couple of metres away and to never, ever touch the animals.
Nº 6 - It's not a Glamorous holiday
There are a limited number of luxury hotels on the four inhabited islands, and a handful of genuinely luxury cruises. This should alert you to the fact that a trip to the Galápagos is one of discovery, and you should be packing your binoculars and walking boots, not your straighteners and party clothes.
If you're planning on taking a cruise, the majority of cabins are small and simple. The focus will always be on your itinerary and guide, as these are the things that can make or break your trip, not whether your boat has a Jacuzzi.
Nº 7 - You can D.I.Y or take a cruise
Our seven-night cruise of the North-Western Islands was incredible, but you don't have to explore the Galápagos this way. It's possible to book a flight independently and explore on your own, taking day-trips to neighbouring islands. You may choose to do this first, and then decide to take a cruise to islands further-afield later on. It is certainly possible to book things last minute.
Find out how you can book a last minute cruise
Nº 8 - It's best to choose a cruise that travels further afield
Looking at the vast number of cruises on offer, it can be challenging to work out which ones offer the best itinerary and value for money.
One thing we realised fairly early into our research is that some cruises circled the inhabited islands and their itineraries included activities that could be completed independently, or organised simply as a day-trip. The issue with this is that you may be paying over the odds to visit sites that have less regulation and are easily accessible without a cruise. Put simply, those sites are likely to be quite busy.
We quickly ruled out such itineraries and focussed our research on those that travelled further afield to places that could only be reached by hours of sailing overnight - in 8 days we completely circled Isabela island and there was only ever one other boat at each site.
Nº 9 - A good guide can make or break your experience
We had read some horror stories about Galápagos guides and were crossing our fingers on our flight from Quito to San Cristobál. Fortunately, our guide Cesar was fantastic. He was incredibly knowledgeable and friendly, and he answered nearly every question about the Islands our group threw at him over the 8 days. It is worth noting that when it comes to cruises, the higher standard of boat tends to correspond with a higher standard of guide. Don't be afraid to ask who your guide would be and do some research before organising your cruise or day trip.
Nº 10 - It is 100% worth the cost
Just a couple of months before we were in Quito negotiating a last minute cruise, we had spent a month in Myanmar. One month of travel cost $1000 for both of us - that's for all accommodation, food, travel, spending money... The cost of our week in the Galápagos significantly exceeded this amount, and I admit to feeling a little queasy handing over the cash.
We knew that our cruise would be an incredible experience, but it exceeded our expectations in nearly every way. It was truly the best holiday we have ever had, and we frequently find ourself flicking through photographs and dreaming about returning, to explore the islands we missed.
Find out how much our Galápagos cruise cost