Considering the small size of these islands, we feel the more astonished at the number of their aboriginal [endemic] beings ... we are led to believe that ... both in time and space, we seem to be brought somewhat near to the great fact, that mystery of mysteries―the first appearance of new beings on this earth.
― Charles Darwin, 1845
Situated to the west of continental Ecuador (which it is also a part of) is an alluring Pacific archipelago of volcanic islands, distributed on both sides of the Equator. Officially known as Archipiélago de Colón, and more commonly as the Galápagos Islands, it is a group of 18 major islands and several smaller isles, all famous for their colossal volume of endemic species. The islands came into the limelight after Charles Darwin's visit. He stated that they, in fact, might be the place of the origin of species.
Irrespective of whether Darwin's theory holds ground or not, what we know for sure is that the Galápagos is a truly amazing destination for adventure-seekers as well as nature-lovers. With unparalleled animal life, beautiful beaches, state-of-the-art tourist infrastructure, and a surprising level of development, the Galápagos are definitely worthy of a visit. In fact, they are among the very few inhabited places on our planet, where human intervention in the natural environment has been successfully restricted.
Planning a Galápagos Vacation
A diving and snorkeling enthusiast or merely a peaceful sightseer, the Galápagos Islands will keep you entertained, no matter what. You will be so overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and isolation of the islands that you will surely want to return for more. Here are a few essential tips to help to plan an animate vacation to the archipelago.
When to Go
- There is nothing like a bad time to visit the Galápagos, the islands can be visited at any time of the year. However, there are two so-called peak seasons on the islands viz., mid-June through early September, and mid-December through mid-January.
- From June to September (or even November), the islands are pleasantly cool. The skies are cloudy; however, it doesn't always rain. Apart from being the mating season for the blue-footed boobies, this period is also considered to be ideal for deep-sea diving.
- On the other hand, December to May is the warmer period of the year, when the seas are calm and there are sporadic showers. With lush vegetation and fully bloomed flowers, this is the best time to be on the islands for nature lovers. Moreover, for birdwatchers and animal lovers, this time of the year is a great opportunity to see the birds mating, and the mighty sea turtles nesting on the sandy beaches.
Note: Only a limited number of visitors are allowed on each island, even during the peak season. Therefore, if you plan to travel during this time, it is vital that you book well in advance. Moreover, be a little flexible with your travel dates, in order to get the best possible deals on airlines, and accommodations as per your wishes.
- An organized cruise is, by far, the most popular way of getting around the islands. In general, cruises range from 4 days/3 nights to 12 days/11 nights, depending on the itineraries, which often travel between islands at night, thus, saving money on overnight hotel stays.
- Some islands are located really close to each other, and it is possible to visit them independently, more like a day trip. To travel around these islands, several inter-island boat rides and even flights are available; however, these can be more expensive than organized cruises.
- Furthermore, if you are traveling in a group of 12 or more, it is a good idea to charter an entire boat. This option not only allows you to customize your tour, but it can also be cheaper than joining an organized tour.
- If you prefer to stay more on land than spend nights on a cruise ship, there are several options available. Quality lodging facilities are available even on some of the less populated islands of the Galápagos, like Floreana and Isabela. However, staying ashore can prove to be an expensive option, especially if you are aiming for inter-island day trips.
Tip: Opt to stay on land if you want to savor the local culture and traditions of the Galápagos. You will be able to travel a limited distance; however, you will gain an interesting perspective about the daily life on the islands.
Cost of Travel and Food
- Whether you book in advance or crack a last-minute deal, there is no denying the fact that trips to the Galápagos are expensive. According to South American Vacations, a 4 days/3 nights cruise (including the Quito-Galapagos-Quito airfare) costs around USD 2,000 per person.
- Moreover, there are additional costs like the entrance fee for the Galápagos National Park, the fee for the Transit Control Card, additional charges for guided activities and excursions, etc.
- Food in the Galápagos is not cheap either, and prices (quite obviously) vary from island to island, with more crowded islands, like Santa Cruz, being more expensive.
Tip: While there are a number of pricey, touristy restaurants that offer diverse cuisines, there are also smaller establishments, offering lighter meals at affordable prices. Budget travelers can opt for these.
Modes of Transport
- Boat tours and inter-island ferries are, by far, the most popular and preferred modes of transport on the Galápagos. Their prices vary, depending on the time of year, and can be booked in advance.
- Inter-island airplanes are also available; however, airfares are expensive in spite of being a faster mode of transport. Plus, there are several luggage restrictions one has to adhere to.
- Overland and water taxis also run across the Galápagos, and they can be hired pretty easily, and at affordable prices.
- Renting a bike is also popular, especially among those who want to explore the island(s) on their own. Moreover, taking walking tours across some of the tourist areas of the islands is not only fulfilling, but is also free-of-cost.
Tip: There are several defined bike trails across the islands, but if you wish to explore some of the less-explored ones, you can do so by consulting your hotel help desk or your tour operator.
For the Divers
- Galápagos is a world-class scuba diving destination that boasts not only of up to the mark facilities, but also of an extremely abundant marine life comprising sharks, sea lions, fur seals, marine turtles, rays, marine iguanas, and reef fish.
- For many years, numerous tour operators have been offering scuba diving on the island without the essential authorization of the Galápagos National Park Service (GNPS), owing to which, many of the unauthorized companies were not allowed to operate without proper permits since 2007.
- However, now, a number of companies have been granted a temporary permit until they procure a valid authorization.
- So, if you are interested in scuba diving and want to indulge in it during your Galápagos vacation, make sure that the diving company you hire has proper permits.
- The Galápagos Islands are officially a part of Ecuador, and so, you will need a valid visa to travel to the capital Quito, from where you will head to the islands. However, citizens of the U.S., Canada, and most European countries do not require a visa to travel to Ecuador, only a valid passport.
- Once you arrive at the Quito airport, you will have to acquire the INGALA Transit Control Card, in order to visit the Galápagos Islands. This card is to keep a check on immigration to the islands, and allows the maximum residency of 90 days on the islands.
- You will also need to be aware of the immunizations required before traveling to the islands. For more details, visit CDC's official website.
- Purchasing an appropriate health insurance before visiting the Galápagos is of utmost importance, especially if you plan to indulge in activities such as scuba diving. Medical facilities are limited on the islands and are very pricey.
- Moreover, several specialty medicines may not be available on the islands. So, if you are taking any, make sure that you carry an appropriate quantity with you.
- Lastly, be absolutely sure that you choose a reputed tour provider to ensure a hassle-free vacation. Adhere to all the laws of the land, and stay safe.
So, head to the Galápagos, respect the local restrictions, and make the most of your vacation!