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GALAPAGOS ISLANDS:

Land Iguana on North Seymour Island, Galapagos Islands 

  

 

The Galapagos Islands are the remote “Islands of the Tortoises,” the “Islands of Darwin.”  2009 marked the 200th anniversary of biologist Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of his writing Origin of the Species.  

 

A popular misconception is that Galapagos a singular island.  Actually, Galapagos is a group of fourteen small islands located some 600 miles off the Ecuadorian mainland.  The volcanic Galapagos are a province of Ecuador.  The islands are sparsely populated (only five are inhabited) but are considered “endangered” by UNESCO.  Ninety-seven percent of Galapagos is designated as a national park. 

 

Don’t expect to see tropical islands brimming with resorts and white sand beaches.  These three-to-five million year-old islands, while touched by humans, remain as unspoiled as any turf on earth.  Expect dazzling scenery and an astounding biodiversity.  The island resident hosts are rare marine mammals, aquatic life, and wildlife, and you are their visiting guests.  The unique animal and aquatic life has evolved due to an absence of natural predators. 

 

You should vacation in Galapagos for a once-in-a-lifetime experience of up-close viewing of an incredible array of unusual wildlife, marine mammals, exotic aquatic life, and birds, co-existing in an unspoiled environment, life one cannot see anywhere else in the entire world. 

Blue Footed Boobie, Galapagos Islands 

 

 

 

If you feel life is incomplete without witnessing the mating ritual of a pair of Blue-Footed Boobies or Waved Albatrosses, you must by all means visit Galapagos.  Trust me, you have never seen a marine iguana or giant tortoises, some weighing in excess of 500 pounds, to match those of Galapagos. 


Blue Footed Boobies Dancing

 

Visit soon before mankind and thoughtless tourism ruins nature’s balance.  To the Ecuadorian government’s credit, they have properly recognized the potential problem of massive tourist invasion and have attempted to address concerns by imposing strict quotas on the number of visitors, along with strict conservation practices.  Tourist visits, however, have doubled from 2000 to the present, averaging 110,000 annually. 

 

Sometime during your Galapagos explorations you will hear about “Lonesome George,” a Galapagos Giant Pinta Tortoise living on Pinta Island, the world’s only specimen.  Sadly, nothing is forever.  Lonesome George, first discovered in 1971, passed away in 2012 and the species is now extinct. 

 

Not all sea and wildlife universally exist throughout the Galapagos Islands.  Dissimilar conditions on each of the islands have fostered development of different animals and their ability to adapt to their environment.  Flightless cormorants and penguins, for example, exist only on certain islands. 

 

  

 

In addition to the wildlife gawkers, more adventuresome advanced divers are in for a treat in Galapagos, as are snorkeling aficionados.  This is no place, however, for novice divers as the ever present cyclonic currents are a definite safety hazard.  It is recommended that you book a tour with a specialist dive company.  There are seemingly endless opportunities to co-mingle and swim alongside with fish, penguins, sea lions and fur seals.  Kayaking is another popular water sport.  Darwin’s famous finches are unique only to Galapagos. 

 

These natural, undeveloped islands were formed by underground volcanoes some four to five million years ago.  The islands currently rest in one of the world’s most active volcanic regions. 

 

Galapagos’ weather is mild year-round, with slight seasonal fluctuations.  The humidity is surprisingly low.  There are two seasons: June through December is hot and humid, the “dry season.”  One should not be overly concerned with January through June’s “rainy season” as light showers do not linger.  Thunderstorms are the exception rather than the rule.  The old dreaded nemesis “El Nino,” however, pays an unwanted visit approximately every seven years. 

 

DOCUMENTATION: Valid-in-force passport plus evidence of onward airline ticket.  A new Immigration Control Card is being implemented to deter illegal immigration.  All visitors must present a Transit Control Card ($10.00) that lists traveler information, a photo of the traveler, a computer chip, and a bar code.  In addition, there is a $100.00 entrance fee assessed for Galapagos National Park.  Arrivals and departures will be tracked by the Transit Card. 

 

LANGUAGE: Language is not a factor as you will encounter few locals.  Naturalist guides are available in English and other languages.

 

TIME: GMT minus 6 hours in the Galapagos Islands; GMT minus 5 hours on the mainland - Ecuador

 

 

 

PEAK SEASON:

Peak season for visiting is December to early January and mid-June to mid-September.

 

December to April is warmer with calmer seas, and more frequent, sometimes heavy, rain showers, especially in the evening. 

 

OFF SEASON: 

Off season takes place during mid-January to early June, as well as the second half of September to December 1.  March is the warmest month.  June through November is cooler and dryer.  The Waved Albatross migrates to the mainland from May to December.  There is no appreciable airline savings between Galapagos’ peak and off season rates.  January to June is the rainy season.  Temperatures are coolest in August.  The seas can be choppy - not recommended for the queasy, sea-sickness prone. 

 

TIME ON YOUR HANDS IN GALAPAGOS:

Galapagos is naturalist Charles Darwin’s famous “Islands of Evolution.”  Darwin’s The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, based on Galapagos research, was written in 1859.  It is theorized that the Galapagos’ remote location and the complete lack of natural predators is responsible for the one-of-a-kind wildlife species that thrive on the islands - literally a “laboratory of evolution.”  Many animals still lack any fear of humans.  Don’t visit Galapagos planning on seeing every advertised species. 


Feeding Frenzy at the Fish Market in Puerto Ayora, Galapagos Islands

The birds are trying to steal scraps.  The birds are fearless and crowd around the counter

sometimes flying down and grabbing a morsel in passing. 

 

  

 

In addition to viewing rare species, you’ll discover that the islands’ geography is equally astonishing.  Guided walks reveal white sand beaches and prehistoric landscapes of black lava studded with cacti and steaming volcano vents. 


Las Grietas, Galapagos Islands

 

The time of year will greatly affect your access and visibility. 

 

Heretofore, most visitors visiting Galapagos have flown by airline from Quito, Ecuador to Puerto Ayora, Baltra Island (a 2-hour and 15-minute flight, including one stop, plus 10-minute ferry boat ride) or Puerto Moreno, Cristobal Island.  The best choice is to fly to Baltra Island.  You are limited to only 20 kilograms or 44 pounds of luggage per person, plus small carry-ons.  Flying to Galapagos, frankly, can be a problem of logistical inconvenience.  If you choose to fly, reserve lodging prior to arrival!  Choose your footwear with care (rubber sole hiking shoes or tennis shoes) as proper footwear will be your most important apparel decision.  You will encounter considerable walking on rocky terrain.  Do not risk sunburn - keep in mind that you are on the equator, so the sun is more intense - bring lots of sun block!  Your options are to reside on the island and do day trips or join a local boat that visits several islands.  Daily walking tours begin early, are typically slow-paced, and cover short distances. 

 

The “local” boats, while less expensive, may also only offer basic, sparse accommodations (for 20 - 36 passengers) and varying quality of naturalists.  One advantage of the smaller boats is that they can make their way into the smaller coves, enabling you relaxing beach time. 

 

  

 

Stick to first class or deluxe cruises, unless your budget will not permit.  Check details of the boats and past references.  The larger vessels accommodate 40 - 100 passengers. 

 

SAVVY TRAVEL TIP: If you crave comfort at the end of a long day, your best choice is to select a first class ship in order to access the islands.  The shortest cruises are three nights/four days and stop at the most popular sites: Baltra, Espanola, Floreana and Santa Cruz. 

 

Other Galapagos cruises are 7 days/6 nights and 5 days/4 nights.  The7-day cruise is preferable to see the major sights in an unhurried fashion.

 

Five-day and eight-day cruises obviously are more leisurely and more comprehensive. 

 

Several small capacity passenger ships, some of luxury class, now visit the islands.  The nicer and larger cruise ships originate and sail from Ecuador and cover the major Galapagos Islands. 

 

 

 

Silversea Expeditions offers a choice of two seven-night luxury cruise itineraries and eight shorter 3 – 4-day voyages aboard the 100 passenger Silver Galapagos.  Celebrity Cruise Lines 96-passenger Xpedition offers a comparable luxury cruise experience with a choice of several 7 – 13-night cruise itineraries. 

 

Other small ship providers include the National Geographic Expeditions (Lindblad Expeditions), Metropolitan Touring (40 – 90-passenger yachts), Quasar Expeditions (18 – 32-passenger vessels) and Ecoventura (20-passenger yachts). 

 

By seeing Galapagos by cruise ship you will have clean, dependable nightly lodging, are allowed more luggage, can refresh in non-touring hours, and can look forward to a relaxing evening and superior meal; cruising is the best way to maximize your visit.  Logistically, it makes the most sense.  Your ship can easily visit several of the islands in ease, provides top notch naturalists and provides a less hurried experience of wildlife viewing.  In short, everything is arranged for you including shore excursions.  Don’t even think of exploring Galapagos on your own 

 

  

 

As a matter of fact, you cannot explore the islands independently nor are you allowed to touch the animals.  All visitors must be accompanied by a qualified naturalist.  A highly competent guide will add immeasurably to your Galapagos experience.  

 

Visiting Galapagos no longer involves having to “rough it” at one of the few utilitarian lodging facilities.  Galapagos tours are family-friendly. 

 

Baltra Island is home to the Seymour Airport.  It also has a ferry service to Santa Cruz.  Seymour is a great place for viewing large bird colonies, particularly blue-footed boobies and frigate birds on Seymour (also iguanas), and Genovesa has the red-billed tropicbird and red-footed boobies.  Both islands have seals and sea lions. 

 

  

 

The Galapagos Safari Camp, in Santa Cruz near a tortoise reserve, is a new eco-luxury tented camp for visitors seeking an extended stay on the island.  Nine spacious tents perched on a hill provide creature comforts with in-suite bathrooms and balconies complete with hammock and chairs.  The main lodge includes a lounge/bar and dining-room.  Expect to pay $500.00 per day double (plus tax) includes bed and breakfast.  Finally, one can experience Galapagos’ pristine natural environment and stunning landscapes close to nature in comfort.  Experience the organized onsite hiking, bird-watching, island excursions, kayaking, scuba diving, and guided nature walks.  For more information, please call 593-0-91794259. 


Giant Tortoise, Galapagos Islands

 

Santa Cruz is the most civilized of the islands with 6,500 residents. 

 

There are 60 approved visitor sites to view the wildlife that have been established by the Galapagos National Park.  97% of Galapagos’ land area is designated national park.  Do not wander off approved marked trails or attempt independent exploration at unapproved sites.

 

At Point Espinoza on the northern end of Fernandina, you will encounter groups of scaly, intriguing, marine iguanas, miniature versions of the ancient dinosaur and the only true remaining marine lizard in the world.  You’ll also view Sally Lightfoot crabs, hawks, penguins and the flightless cormorant.

 

  

 

You can observe tortoises, once close to extinction, and a booming iguana colony at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island.  The tortoises are being studied, bred in captivity, and later returned when strong enough to their natural habitats. 

 

Sea Lions, marine iguanas, and lava lizards are common at most of the islands’ designated sites.  Each site, however, seems to provide habitat for its own exclusive one-of-a-kind bird, mammal, or aquatic life.  Thus, you really need to visit at least ten of the sixty designated sites. 

 

 

 

Isla Floreana is the oldest and also the least populated island.  The island has an impressive large colony of Caribbean flamingoes.  


Baby Sea Lion Cub, Galapagos Islands