The Galapagos Islands

The islands that changed the world

For such a tiny smattering of islands flung far into the Pacific Ocean, the Galapagos archipelago has had an outsized impact on humanity and our understanding of ourselves. Cut off from human contact for millennia and under unique geological conditions, the islands became a petri-dish for mother nature; a place where species could mutate and evolve in isolation, leaving clues for what would become Charles Darwin’s revolutionary theory of natural selection. The Galapagos today remain an exemplary natural wonder despite centuries of settling, intensive fishing and, more recently, a booming tourism industry. Done right, tourism to the Galapagos can play a key role in their conservation, so plan your trip carefully, tread lightly, and help preserve the Galapagos for generations to come.

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The Galapagos Islands travel guide

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The Galapagos Islands

A guide to responsible wildlife watching

A visit to the Galapagos Islands is an experience. Sheltered from human intervention for millennia, this group of volcanic islands cast adrift in the Pacific Ocean was instrumental in changing the way humanity viewed itself, once we finally found them. For it was at the Galapagos that Charles Darwin formulated his theory of evolution by natural selection, inspired by the variety and adaptability of the islands’ wildlife.

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Things to do in The Galapagos Islands

Our recommended experiences and activities

Snorkelling at Los Túneles

A maze of submerged lava tubes formed by Isabela Island’s numerous volcanoes, Los Túneles is refuge to sea turtles, reef sharks, mantas, seahorses, and numerous other species. Snorkelling here is akin to swimming in a giant aquarium.

Swim with sea lions

Sea lions are abundant across the islands and are generally fearless around humans. Go for a swim on any of San Cristobal’s beaches and you’re bound to encounter a colony sunning on the beach or playing in the water.

Penguins and Pinnacle Rock

Pinnacle Rock on Bartolomé Island is one of the most recognisable landmarks in the Galapagos. Climb its 114m summit for views before heading down to the beach to see -- and swim -- with the diminutive Galapagos penguin.

Walk with giant tortoises

The endangered giant tortoise is making a comeback on the Galapagos thanks to a concerted conservation effort. Head to the highlands of Santa Cruz to see these gentle giants shuffling around the hills.

Birdwatching on Genovesa Island

Horseshoe shaped Genovesa Island is your prime destination for a bit of birdwatching. Created from a collapsed caldera, the island is home to Nazca and red-footed boobies, magnificent frigate birds and more.

Get the inside story on Galapagos conservation

The Charles Darwin Research Station is the Galapagos Islands’ conservation headquarters, where giant tortoises, iguanas and other endangered species are bred for reintroduction into the wild. Although the exhibits are a little dry, the Station is a great starting point for your journey into Galapagos wildlife.

Dive with sharks

Tiny Darwin Island, at the remote far north of the archipelago, is one of the world’s premier scuba locations. Rarely visited by short tours, these quiet waters teem with whale, Galapagos and silky sharks, hammerheads and more.

Hike Volcán Sierra Negra

Dominating Isabela Island is the rumbling Volcán Sierra Negra. A 5 mile hike affords great views, plus a chance to spot various endemic bird species.

Sea kayaking on Española

Kayaking is a great way to explore the marine environment without getting too close to the wildlife. There are various designated spots but Española Island, with its mangrove forests and coral beaches, is especially good.

When to visit the Galapagos Islands

Galapagos seasons & climate

While the Galapagos Islands’ climate can be roughly divided into two seasons, its tropical location means this is a destination worth visiting year-round. Choose the dry season (June-November) for cooler weather and an abundance of nesting birds, or visit in the wet season (December-May) to see mating turtles, tortoises and sea lions and for better diving and snorkelling.

Be aware of the El Niño current, which affects the Galapagos Islands every five to seven years. This current of warm water can cause excessive rainfall and heavy flooding on the Islands, and often has a negative effect on the region’s marine life. There is no way to predict when the current will strike next, although scientists are able to give an indication of how likely it is in a given year. While it is safe to visit the Islands during El Niño, be prepared for heavy rainfall.

Galapagos_weather-chart

Galapagos seasons month-by-month

The new year brings hot and humid weather to the Islands, with drizzle a persistent factor. January is when green sea turtles begin to lay their eggs and land birds begin to nest. Look out for male marine iguanas changing colour to attract mates. The start of the year is generally considered one of the best times to visit the Galapagos.

Warmer, wetter weather settles across the Islands between February and April, with many of the Islands’ wild inhabitants (such as sea lions and tortoises) beginning their breeding and nesting seasons. March is a great month to visit for snorkelling due to the clarity of the water. By May, spring flowers are in bloom and the rainfall is beginning to recede. Look out for blue-footed boobies beginning their unusual courtship dance.

June signals the beginning of the colder, drier months known locally as the garúa. The weather creates a proliferation of plankton in the seas around the Islands, making it a great time to watch penguins and albatross feeding. This is also the time to visit for whale-watching, with humpback whales and whale sharks spotted around the Galapagos.

August is the coldest month to visit, but brings the benefit of seeing baby sea lions on the western and central islands. This is the time to visit to watch Galapagos penguins courting and mating on Bartolomé Island.

By November, the weather is beginning to warm up again, with whales once again visible near the northern Islands. December is one of the best months to visit the Galapagos, with plenty of sunshine and warm water to swim and snorkel in. Visit to see giant tortoises hatching and albatross migrating. Book early -- the Christmas period coincides with the South American holiday period, so cruises and boats are booked well in advance.

The Galapagos Islands recommended routes

The Galapagos Islands trip ideas

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