Galapagos National Park, some 600 miles west of the Ecuadoran coast, is a prime bucket list destination for many travelers. Made famous by the British scientist Charles Darwin — who visited in the mid-19th century and later published his book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection — the volcanic archipelago of more than 200 islands and islets draws thousands of visitors each year.
Most travelers to the destination take cruise trips, whose itineraries are all shaped and monitored by park officials eager to protect the many unique land and sea creatures that are only found in Galapagos. There's a wide range of vessels to choose from, from small boats to grand yachts, from expedition ships to traditional and luxury cruise ships.
Considering the marvelous scenery and sea creatures, a Galapagos adventure is indeed the trip of a lifetime for many. Whether you're considering a trip in the near future or are just dreaming of the ultimate adventure, here are five things Galapagos visitors should know:
1. When to Go
Since the Galapagos is located near the equator, there are no dramatic changes in weather as the seasons change. But, the two peak times for tourists are mid-June through early September, and mid-December through mid-January, mostly because these timeframes coincide with traditional vacation times. So, keep in mind that if you're looking to travel during these months, you'll need to book well ahead. Otherwise, spring visitors can expect warmer water and air temperatures (high 80s with humidity), while water currents bring cooler temps closer to the low 70s from June to November.
2. Ports of Call
The Galapagos archipelago that cruise ships visit consists of 13 main islands and six smaller islands. Since the islands are close together, some under 10 miles apart, itineraries sometimes include two port calls a day, depending on how long your sailing is. The major islands are: Baltra, Espanola, Fernandina, Floreana, Genovesa, Isabela, Marchena, Pinta, Pinzon, San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Santa Fe, and Santiago.
3. Wildlife Spotting
According to Galapagos Conservancy, visitors will have opportunities to view mammals like the Galapagos penguin, sea lion, and humpback whale; along with reptiles like the giant tortoise, sea turtle, land and marine iguana, and lava lizard. Plenty of birds also also inhabit the islands, including red- and blue-footed boobies, albatrosses, cormorants, flamingoes, and herons.
5. Galapagos Etiquette
Here are some general rules of thumb to follow when cruising the Galapagos and exploring the islands:
- Once you're off the ship, be sure to follow the marked trails, and don't veer off of them
- Don't touch or disturb the animals; keep your distance by staying at least six feet away from the wildlife
- Don't take anything from the island
- No smoking and no littering
- Some guides have a no-food policy, while others allow food, but prohibit seeds along with many fruits and vegetables.
- No selfie sticks
- No flash photography
- "Leave no trace" — make sure that, when you leave a site, it looks the same as when you arrive.