Galapagos Islands travel guide, including map of the Galapagos, top Galapagos travel experiences, tips for travel in the Galapagos Islands, plus the best wildli
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 the HMS Beagle and later publication of The Origin of Species helped cement the Galápagos Islands' reputation as a magical land.
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.
Evolving in the isolated Galápagos, the animals are fearless: here you can walk among reptiles and swim with sea lions, watch iguanas sit motionless on black lava, step over nesting boobies, be licked by curious seal pups and come face to face with giant tortoise.
Consider taking/hiring a wetsuit so that you can snorkel for longer if the water is chilly. You can choose between three-night, four-night or seven-night cruises – try to stay for a full week: much of the first and last day is spent travelling, so on a four-day trip you will only get two full days actually exploring the islands.
The best three visitor sites are on Española, Genovesa and Fernandina – pick an itinerary that includes these islands. Specialist cruises – for divers, bird-watchers, anglers etc – are available.
The Galápagos is exciting year round. If you like it hot, go between December and March, when average temperatures range from 25-33°C, and the sea is ideal for snorkelling and diving. Land-based creatures thrive at this time of year, as there is plenty of food for insects, seeds for birds and fruits for iguanas. At sea, marine turtles come to mate and lay their eggs along the sandy beaches.
From April onwards the weather is cooler; there is lots of activity on land and at sea, and the islands are still green with plenty of flowers and insects. It’s also the time when albatross come back to Española to start their courtship.
By June many trees have shed their foliage and the islands take on a more arid appearance with no rain but a morning mist. Tortoises and sea lions begin breeding, as do many seabirds such as boobies and frigates. The seas get quite choppy between July and September and temperatures drop to 18-23°C.
Baltra (GPS) on Baltra Island, one hour from Puerto Ayora
Domestic flights to the Galápagos Islands from Quito or Guayaquil are generally booked in conjunction with your cruise. Practically all visitors to the Galápagos get around by boat, joining a multi-day cruise. Tourism is strictly controlled on the Galápagos, with visitors only allowed at certain sites. The national park administration controls the routes of all boats in order to prevent overcrowding. The individual boats all follow their own set itineraries and are not allowed to deviate from them.
There are a few hotels on the Galápagos, on Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal, Isabela and Floreana. However, most visitors stay on boats. There are broadly three categories: small (12 to 20 passengers); medium (about 50 passengers – these include the most luxurious vessels); and large (about 100 passengers – which are all first- to luxury-class cruises).
The cheaper boats are generally the smallest and least spacious, though most have cabins with private bathrooms. One advantage of small boats is that much less time is spent embarking and disembarking, meaning you get more time ashore and you will have a more intimate experience with the islands.
If you’re after comfort and a firm hull for unsteady sea legs, opt for a bigger ship.
Food on Galápagos cruise ships varies depending on the class of boat. The more expensive and luxurious vessels will serve up large, Western-style meals of excellent quality – mostly meat or fish with plenty of salads, vegetables and fresh tropical fruit; ceviche (raw seafood marinated in lemon) is a delicious speciality if prepared properly. There will be three main meals a day, plus snacks between shore landings and snorkel dips. Cheaper boats will offer more basic fare.
Food in general is quite expensive on the Galápagos – most produce has to be imported. Wine (often shipped up from Chile) is fairly pricey; local beer is a cheaper option.
Vegetarian food isn’t commonplace but if you notify your cruise operator before departure you will be well catered for.
No inoculations are required and there are no nasties to catch, except the usual stomach bugs. Seasickness is an issue, so if you are prone take some remedies and consider a bigger boat if travelling during the cooler, rougher season. For mainland Ecuador hepatitis A, typhoid and dengue are present so consult your doctor before you go.
From Djibouti and Pakistan to Uruguay and Kosovo, experience the thrill of discovering new sights and cultures on these amazing trips to destinations that you might never have considered... More
We asked for your top tips for travelling to one of the world’s greatest lands for wildlife and you certainly delivered! Take a read of your need-to know-advice, including visiting on a budget... More
Editor-in-chief Lyn Hughes recalls the start of Wanderlust and pays tribute to her late-husband and magazine co-founder Paul Morrison... More
Live out the Galápagos dream with a visit to this land of some of the world's most diverse marine life, Darwin's legendary Theory of Natural Selection, and pristine landscapes that you've never seen before More
A land of rumbling volcanoes, wildlife wonders, Amazonian jungle and epic coasts – it's a wonder how you can cram in everything that Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands has to offer. Follow our guide... More
The Galápagos Islands top many a traveller's bucket list. Most of us dream of making a pilgrimage to this mystical archipelago – but it's time to stop dreaming and start planning. Here's where to begin More
Drive the ice roads of Canada, take the North-west passage or travel by train under the Northern Lights of Norway. Take your lead from the great explorers and create a polar journey to remember... More
From remote village communities in the Northwest Territories, to colonies of penguins on the Falkland Islands, here's 12 cultural experiences and top wildlife spots in the frozen corners of the world... More
Learning doesn’t have to be dull. From the awesome geology of the Canyonlands to the ancient monuments of Jordan and Cambodia, these trips prove that travel is the best teacher More
We have announced the winners of the Wanderlust World Guide Awards 2018. From overlanding in West Africa to walking in Italy and cruising the Mekong, here’s how you can have an amazing trip with them More
Dubbed by locals as ‘four countries in one’, Ecuador truly is a land of contrasts. Venture up volcanoes, encounter wildlife in the Galápagos, wander at the waterfalls, and explore Amazon rainforest More
From trekking in Nepal and safaris in Africa, to experiencing Japanese culture and chasing the northern lights in Sweden, these amazing family holidays are bound to give your kids a love of travel More
Whether you want to hike the Andes, self-drive Brazil, delve into the Guianas or take the train to Machu Picchu, these eight journeys will inspire a Latin adventure. More
Seeing a creature in its natural habitat is one of the greatest moments in travel: here's your guide to finding, tracking, and encountering the most magnificent species on Earth... More
There are a lot more differences to these polar regions than the bit of compass they point to. We've reviewed and compared the best of both, so you can choose your ice adventure with ease... More
It tops most travellers wishlist, and more than lives up to the hype. Set forth to Antarctica, be awed by the ice, whales and penguins, and venture where few others have yet visited More
Over the years, you've told us your ultimate travel experiences – so here it is, the definitive travel wish list... More
From whetting your palate in Portugal to splashing your way around Fiji and drifting the ice floes of the Antarctic, find your sea legs on these epic watery adventures... More
With a new series about the bad behaviour of animals about to hit our screens, BBC Science and Wildlife presenter Liz Bonnin reveals the wildlife experiences that moved her – and one that changed her life More
Wanderlust subscribers now receive a free £50 voucher valid on trips from a great selection of top tour operators
And the best bit is, this isn't a one-off offer, you get one every time you renew as well!
The £50 discount can be redeemed against one trip booking with one of our tour operator partners, by the expiry date printed on the voucher. The £50 can even be redeemed on top of any discounts our partners are already offering, ensuring Wanderlust subscribers get the best deal possible.
Simply quote your unique voucher code when booking to claim the discount. This offer is only available to Wanderlust subscribers.
UK subscribers automatically receive the voucher each year. Overseas subscribers receive it upon request.
This 11 day tour includes 5 days on the Galapagos Islands, visits Quito, the Ecuador’s capital surrounded by volcanoes, and Guayaquil Ecuador's largest city
This 14 day tour includes an 8-day Galapagos cruise on a 14-berth sailing yacht; and visits Quito, the capital of Ecuador surrounded by volcanoes in the Andes.
Start your journey into Ecuador’s fascinating cultural heritage and discover some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, alongside an experienced English-speaking local guide. While travelli...
Journey Latin America
Top quality comprehensive holiday with the highlights of Ecuador and a cruise around the Galápagos Islands. Includes Quito, Otavalo market and the Avenue of Volcanoes; a spectacular train ride and ...
This 10 day tour which includes an 8 day cruise is a great experience in one of the most unique and protected areas of the planet - the Galapagos Islands.
From: £Contact us
This voyage explores in depth some of the larger islands in the Galapagos, with landings to see Galapagos penguins, Galapagos giant tortoises and a host of unique bird species.
From: £Contact us
An exploration of the some of the Galapagos' smaller northern islands, with plenty of opportunities to view exceptional wildlife on hikes or panga rides.
Journey Latin America
A relaxed, deluxe holiday with elegant hotels, discovering Peru's top sights Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu in comfort; plus colonial Quito and a first class Galápagos cruise on Ocean Spray.
Always a winning combination, this classic Ecuador and Galapagos holiday is perfect for first-time visitors looking to discover the main highlights of Ecuador - including the iconic wildlife-abunda...
From: £Contact us
Discover noisy sealion colonies, Galapagos sharks, and a wealth of the archipelago's colourful birdlife on this one week trip in the Galapagos.
Cox & Kings Travel
This journey combines the ancient Inca sites of Peru with a cruise through the natural splendours of the Galapagos islands, bringing you into close contact with the islands’ unique biodiversity.
Enjoy a fascinating trip to mainland Ecuador, including the historical centre of Quito and the colourful markets of the north, before heading to the Galapagos Islands for your closest ever encounte...
Journey Latin America
From the vibrant port Guayaquil, fly to the Galápagos for a cruise on a small, good value, popular and informal vessel.
This 10 day tour includes an 8 day cruise visiting the eastern islands of the archipelago, including Floreana and Española; expect exceptional snorkeling, plenty of bird life and diverse landscapes.
Sign up today for free and be the first to get notified of new articles, new competitions, new events and more!