The Wanderlust guide to the best of the Galápagos Islands

The Galápagos Islands are a dream destination for anyone curious about the natural world. Here’s everything you need to know to plan your trip

6 mins

The remote Galápagos archipelago was discovered in 1535, and named Las Encantadas (The Enchanted Isles) by passing Spanish seafarers. Charles Darwin's survey voyage aboard HMS Beagle and later publication of The Origin of Species helped to cement the Galápagos Islands' reputation as a magical destination.

Straddling the equator 1,000km west of mainland Ecuador, the Galápagos Islands were pushed up out of the Pacific by volcanic eruptions around five million years ago; the younger islands remain very active. The scenery is arid along the coast, with lush, forested highlands and turquoise lagoons, while the beaches are some of the finest in the world.

These unique climatic conditions, combined with the lack of dangerous predators, few human inhabitants and protected status, make this Pacific paradise an utterly unique wildlife destination.

Galapagos South Plaza (Shutterstockcom)

Galápagos, South Plaza Island (Shutterstock)

Looking for inspiration?

For wildlife lovers, a visit to the Galápagos Islands is the trip of a lifetime. But how do you get the most from your time there. David Horwell is on hand with his Galápagos Travel Blueprint, the ideal companion for steering your way around this Pacific paradise. Still in the planning stage? Then you’ll want this handy guide put together by Gwenllian Jones.

Self-confessed wildlife-nut, Lyn Hughes, loves the Galápagos Islands and lists the reasons why you will too. Julia Davidson, meanwhile, marvels at how sea lions, pelicans and in-your-face wildlife live in harmony with humans on the islands.

Will Gray sings the praises of cruising around the islands, saying it’s a great way to encounter all of their charms, even with children in tow, while Nick Boulos tries out a new land-based tour that not only avoids the crowds, but reveals a side to island life that many visitors miss.

More information

Galápagos Travel Blueprint: the top island adventures – David Horwell

How to plan a trip to the Galápagos Islands – Gwenllian Jones

The Galápagos Islands – Lyn Hughes

Dispatches: Galápagos – Julia Davidson

Change in Galápagos Islands – Nick Boulos

Cruising the Galápagos with children – William Gray

Blue footed boobies (

Blue footed boobies performing mating dance (Shutterstock)

Getting active in the Galápagos Islands

There’s plenty to see and do in the Galápagos Islands, even if it’s just hopping from one island to another, soaking up the biological diversity on offer.

How about an underwater safari? Mark Carwardine suggests snorkelling on the north side of Bartolomé, where the Galápagos penguins whizz around you in the water as they try to catch fish. Or maybe you’d rather swim with sea lions instead?

The Galápagos also boast one of the world’s top natural swimming pools, at Las Grietas, near Puerto Ayora. Set in a canyon formed of two walls created by lava, it is filled with both fresh and sea water.

Or you could just take a cruise and enjoy all of it. Snorkel with sea lions, meet 100-year-old tortoises, spot manta rays from the decks of your boat – a wildlife cruise through the Galápagos isles puts you in the world's most nature-rich waters.

More information

10 great island hops – Hayley Lawrence

8 ways for an underwater safari – Mark Carwardine

World's top 10 natural swimming poolsWanderlust Team

6 of the best cruises for adventurers – Hazel Plush

The world's top wildlife encounters – Lyn Hughes

Galápagos — Central, South & East Islands aboard the Queen (Magazine G-!)

Galápagos — Central, South & East Islands aboard the Queen (G Adventures)

Capturing it all on film

One thing is for certain: you're not going to have any trouble taking photos of the wildlife in the Galápagos Islands. The local creatures virtually pose for you.

Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that the resulting photos will be any good. There's a trick to taking a great wildlife photo. And thankfully, Steve Davey is willing to share that trick (amongst many others) in his article, Top tips for photographing wildlife. Or maybe you'd like to go on a specialised wildlife photography tour in the islands?

Inspiration, meanwhile, abounds in the photos taken by our readers on their travels in the Galápago isles.

More information

Top tips for photographing wildlife – Steve Davey

Top 9 photography tripsWanderlust Team

Readers' photos

Galapagos Sea Lion (

Galápagos sea lion (Shutterstock)

Everything you need to know

Ready to start planning your trip? Our Galápagos Islands travel guide is the place to start. Make sure you drop by the Galápagos Islands essential info page as well, for more everyday (but equally vital) information. And we’ve rounded up the latest travel news from the Galápagos Islands too.

If you have a particular question about the Galápagos Islands, pop over to the myWanderlust Forum where our knowledgeable readers are ready to spring into action and share all that they know. Or check out the questions that have already been asked about the Galápagos Islands. The answer to yours might already be there.

More information

Galápagos Islands travel guideWanderlust Team

Galápagos Islands essential infoWanderlust Team

Galápagos Islands travel news

Forum posts about the Galápagos Islands

Community content about the Galápagos Islands

Turtle and fish in Galapagos (

Turtle and fish, Galápagos (Shutterstock)

Ready to go?

Here’s a selection of fantastic tours offered by our partners. From budget adventures and luxury cruises to specialist photographic tours, there’s something to suit every taste and budget.

More information

Our Trip Finder can help you find adventures in the Galápagos Islands

Main image: 

Marine iguana (Shutterstock)

Related Articles