Galápagos Islands Travel Guide

The Galápagos archipelago is world-renowned for its unique and fearless wildlife much of which was inspiration for Charles Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection.

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All the info to prepare your trip to Galápagos Islands. How to get in, maps, activities...
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The Galápagos archipelago is world-renowned for its unique and fearless wildlife- much of which was inspiration for Charles Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection. The islands are therefore very popular amongst natural historians, both professional and amateur. Giant tortoises, sea lions, penguins, marine iguanas and different bird species can all be seen and approached. The landscape of the islands is relatively barren and volcanic, but beautiful nonetheless. The highest mountain amongst the islands is Volcán Wolf on Isla Isabela, 1707 m (5600ft) high.

The Galápagos were claimed by newly-independent Ecuador in 1832, a mere three years before Darwin’s visit on the Beagle. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the islands were inhabited by very few settlers and were used as a penal colony, the last closing in 1959 when the islands were declared a national park. The Galapagos were subsequently listed as a World Heritage Site in 1978.

Strict controls on tourist access are maintained in an effort to protect the natural habitats and all visitors must be accompanied by a national park-certified naturalist tour guide.


The Galapagos Islands have a highly variable climate, as does Ecuador’s mainland. There are two seasons in the islands: the hot/rainy season, from December to June, when humidity is high and average temperatures are in the 80s F (26°-30° C). There may be occasional showers, but the days are generally warm and sunny.

From June to November, you can expect cool winds, occasionally bringing with them a light misty-type drizzle called “garúa.” Temperatures average in the 70s F (20°-24° C) during the day and lower at night.

Each month brings unique climate variations and wildlife viewing opportunities. Peak season for naturalist tours is typically December through May when the seas are the calmest and the weather the warmest. However summer months June, July and August are also very popular as the animals are more active. September through November is typically low season when most boats will leave the islands for dry dock. For divers peak season is from July – November when whale sharks can be found at Wolf & Darwin.

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The Islands

  • Baltra (an airport)
  • Bartolome
  • Darwin & Wolf
  • Espanola
  • Fernandina
  • Floreana
  • Genovesa
  • Isabela – the largest island
  • Marchena
  • North Seymour
  • Pinta
  • Pinzon
  • Rabida
  • San Cristobal (an airport and military base)
  • Santa Cruz – the main island and population centre
  • Santa Fe
  • Santiago
  • South Plaza
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  • Puerto Ayora
  • Puerto Baquerizo Moreno
  • Puerto Villamil
  • Puerto Velasco Ibarra

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By plane

Flights to the Galapagos are relatively easy to arrange and depart from Quito and Guayaquil on a daily basis for the Isla Baltra Airport, about two hours by public transport from Puerto Ayora, the main settlement of the Galapagos, on the central island of Santa Cruz. There are also daily flights to San Cristóbal. The airport is a 20 minute walk from the center of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.

Flights from Guayaquil are slightly less expensive than from Quito, however as there is more availability from Quito as there are typically 2 flights a day from Quito and only 1 from Guayaquil. Most flights from Quito route through Guayaquil.

Aerogal, Tame and LAN Airlines have flights to the Galapagos. The price varies a bit between companies, for foreigners around $457 from Quito in low season / $505-$512 in high season (July, August and December) and less from Guayaquil, $419 low season to $522 in high season. Ecuadorians pay almost half the price and there is a 15% discount on TAME flights and a 20% discount on Aerogal flights if you have an ISIC studentcard.

It’s not possible to buy a one way ticket without proof of transportation from the islands. It’s easy however to change the date of your return ticket or to switch your departure to another island.

Inter-island flights are available to both major airports (Baltra and San Cristobal) for flights between islands. There is also a small airport in Isabela. Flights usually range $160-$170 each way or $260 round trip.

Step by step procedures at NEW Quito airport (Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Tababela)

Procedure for flying from NEW Quito airport to Galapagos (as of April 2014):

1. Begin at the domestic (“nacional”) terminal. Go to the far end of the domestic terminal.

2. Next to some ticket (“boleto”) booths (TAME, LAN etc.) there is a booth there where you obtain your $10 “visa”. (This “visa” is really an Arrival/Departure Record Form which you fill out before getting to Galapagos.) After you buy your $10 “visa”, look for a smaller door to your immediate right.

3. Go through the smaller door and have your bags checked for banned agricultural products. They basically scan your bags. You need to do this before checking in and getting your tickets in Step 4.

NOTE: There is a separate $100 park entrance fee to pay when you land in Galapagos. Make sure you have cash for that as they will not accept Visa.

4. Now you proceed to the ticket counter and do the typical ticket counter things.

5. Then go through security opposite the ticket counter. They are only looking for metal. So you don’t need to take off your shoes (unless they contain metal), remove your computer from your bag, or empty your water bottle.

By boat

Private yachts can arrive into any of the 5 ports in Galapagos while in transit and remain at that port for a maximum of 21 days. Boats wishing to visit more than one site or cruise the islands may do so but only by special permit from the national park and by working with a licensed yacht agency.

There are cargo boats that travel to the Galapagos each week. However these boats are not allowed to take travelers on board.

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By boat

Seeing the sites and wildlife of the Galapagos is best done by boat. Most people book their place well in advance (as the boats are usually full during the high season). Booking a boat tour with a company in your home country is usually the most convenient, but is often considerably more expensive.

There are a VAST number of companies that can book accommodation on a Galapagos tour either in Puerto Ayora or from Guayaquil or Quito. While it is possible to get a last-minute deal, be aware that many budget tours may spend extra time in Puerto Ayora, might not have the best boats, and may only visit the inner islands. Last minute 4-day cruises can be organized in Puerto Ayora for around $400-500.

When looking for a tour consider the following:

  • Number of passengers. The national park restricts the size of the boats allowed to cruise the islands, with some islands such as Genovesa being limited to boats with no more than forty passengers. Though the maximum size boat permitted to cruise the islands is 100 passengers, as you might imagine 100 people showing up on a beach all at the same time can be overwhelming to the local wildlife. All passengers will be divided up into a maximum group size of 16 passengers per naturalist guide. Therefore it is generally best to travel on a boat with fewer passengers (between 16 and 32 passengers is ideal).
  • Itinerary. The National Park sets all of the cruise itineraries. Each itinerary is designed to have a mixture of habitats and showcase the diversity of the islands by combining the Southern Espanola and Floreana, Central, Western Fernandina, Isabela or Northern Genovesa Islands. Most boats will visit 2 or 3 of these areas during a week.
  • Availability. Most of the best cruises are booked up months in advance, so best to book early.
  • Level of Activity. Visits to the islands are only permitted during the twelve hours of daylight 6am to 6pm. Typically a cruise will have two excursions each day a morning and an afternoon that will be a combination of shore and water excursions. Walks are generally at a slow pace offering plenty of time for interpretation and photos. The landings may be slippery and some trails can be rocky making them difficult for older people with balance problems, but in general the walks are easy. Water excursions may include snorkeling, kayaking, panga rides (rides in local dinghies) as well as rides in a glass bottom boat depending on your cruise. Life under the water is more diverse than that on shore and snorkeling with sea lions is frequently the highlight of the trip for many visitors.
  • Additional costs. Many tours do not include the $100 park entry fee or the cost of a flight from the mainland to the islands (apx. $422 from Quito) as well as a $10 INGALA Tourist Control Card. Additionally less expensive boats will charge for beverages, use of snorkel equipment, wetsuits and kayaks.
  • Time spent in the islands. The cruise length includes the day you arrive and the day you depart the Galapagos. Flights typically arrive the islands around noon time or in the early afternoon and leave the islands about the same time. On your first day you will typically have 1 excursion and on the day you leave you may or may not have an excursion. In addition all 8 day cruises are required to visit the town of Puerto Ayora and the Charles Darwin Research. Many itineraries will combine this day with a visit to see the tortoises in the wild in the highlands of Santa Cruz. Shorter cruises will take advantage of the close proximity of the Baltra airport to Puerto Ayora and let passengers who boarded the cruise in San Cristobal leave the cruise in Santa Cruz or vice versa.
  • Type of boat. Quality of boats varies widely. Less expensive tours use boats that may not be capable of traveling as quickly between islands, be as comfortable, or be as well-maintained.

Note that while the majority of the islands will be off-limits without a guide, it is possible to travel via speed boat between the towns on San Cristóbal, Santa Cruz and Isla Isabela; trips to Floreana can also be arranged. Speed boats cost $30 one-way, or $50 both ways with an open return date. Each of these islands offers the possibility of joining organized local daytrips or of traveling on your own while within the town limits.

Hotels and hostels are available on each of these islands from $10-$500+, while hotels along the water are generally full especially in Santa Cruz. During peak season (Christmas & Easter weeks) as well as during special events all hotels are frequently sold out well in advance. However, if you are traveling at other times of the year you may be able to find availability by just showing up.

From Santa Cruz it is possible to book day trips to the uninhabited islands of North Seymour, South Plazas, Santa Fe and Bartolome. Advance reservations are normally required, however on occasion you can find space due to a last minute cancellation the night before.

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Cruises and boats


  • Aida Maria Travel. owns 2 Galapagos cruise boats, Aida Maria , Eden, that offer from 4 up to 15 days cruises in the galapagos , they are 100% galapagos locals and have been offering galapagos tours since the early 1960´s . Prices start at $150 per day.
  • Imagine Ecuador, 593-032743472/ 0987286625, A tour Operator and Travel Agency with German-Ecuadorian management offering Galapagos Islands Cruises and Tours, Galapagos Last Minute Deals, Budget and Economic Galapagos Cruises and Tours, Galapagos Island Hopping, Galapagos Land Based Tours, Flights and Hotel Reservations in the Galapagos Islands.
  • Galapagos Cruise Links. This site connects you directly with the ship owners. It displays constantly updated last minute deals (within 90 days of the sailing date) with a variety of ships. Find your ideal cruise, and contact the owner directly for bookings or for further questions. Negotiate prices directly with the ship owner.
  • Galasam Cruises, 9 de Octubre 424 y Cordova (Edificio Gran Pasaje Planta baja), ☎ 593 4 304488 ( Galasam owns 3 Galapagos cruises, Millennium, Estrella de Mar I and II, with 4 to 8 days itinerary in Galapagos islands. Prices start at $150 per day.
  • The Galapagos Tours. The Galapagos tours offers good rates for Galapagos cruises on Galaven II motor yacht (Tourist class), Xavier motor yacht (First Class) and Queen Beatriz Catamaran (Luxury) with 5, 6, and even 7 days itinerary in Galapagos Islands. Prices start at $875 5D/4N to $1,186.


  • Galapagos Islands Cruises, Sul Biblos – calle 7ma – oficina 702, ☎ +593 9 93516575 ( owns the Queen of Galapagos, a Luxury Catamaran that offers itineraries from 4 days to 8 days, where you can visit the most exciting destinations around the Islands, they have been working on Galapagos Cruises for more than 40 years. Prices starting from $1500USD for full 4 days Cruises or more.
  • Adventure Life. Recognized by National Geographic Adventure as one of the “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth” Adventure Life provides land-based hiking trips, eco-hotels and multisport tours that include sea-kayaking, biking, horseback-riding, hiking volcanoes and snorkeling. This company also offers traditional Galapagos cruises.
  • Cultural & Natural Heritage (CNH) Tours. Rated one of the top three Galapagos tour operators by Top Adventure Tours, recommended by MasterCard World Elite Concierge, and owned and operated by Canadian Heather Blenkiron, a former Darwin Station staff with direct knowledge of the islands. Known for its highly acclaimed 13 day “Active Galapagos” tour (8 day cruise and land based) – for an active and engaged clientele. They also work with clients to design unique tailor-made trips, combining Galapagos and mainland elements.
  • Dive The Galapagos (dive-the-galapagos), Puerto Villamil, Isabela-Galapagos, ☎ 1-866-492-6645. Dive The Galapagos is the only company in the world that focuses exclusively on diving in the Galapagos Islands. This company also operates land-based tours from its base in Puerto Villamil.
  • Enchanted Expions (formerly Angermeyer’s Enchanted Expions), ( Enchanted Expions is in its fourth decade of operating tours in Galapagos and mainland Ecuador. Enchanted Expions is the exclusive representative of their own yachts Beluga (Superior First Class) and Cachalote I (First Class). They are well known for their experience of the islands offering excellent nature cruises. They are Smart Voyager certified, offering small 16 guest cruises with an intimate feeling and a focus on truly getting to see and experience the Galapagos. They sometimes have very good deals for their high standard cruises.
  • Explorers’ Corner. Offers sea cruises with optional kayaking, snorkeling and hiking excursions.
  • Galanet, ☎ +00 593 42 340 315. Operates the 16 passenger Daphne yacht.
  • Galapagos Legend, ☎ USA (1-888-810-6909) ( Operates the 100 passenger Galapagos Legend, one of the larger boats operating in the islands. Landing opportunities are limited due to the large number of passengers, but this ship offers a less-expensive way to visit some of the more popular sites within the Galapagos. Often offers discounted rates.
  • Latin Tour, Diego de Almagro 1219 y la Niña Quito Ecuador, ☎ 59322508800. Offers 8 days tours to Galapagos Island starting at $2850 with the vessels S/C Nemo II, M/Y Pelikano 2850.
  • M/V Galapagos Explorer II. Along with the Galapagos Legend, this is the other 100 person boat that operates in the islands. While most small landing sites are unavailable to this boat, it does provide a less-expensive alternative for seeing some popular destinations within the Galapagos. Often offers discounted rates.
  • Red Mangrove Galapagos Lodges. This company owns three lodges on Santa Cruz, Floreana and Isabela and offer a “Darwin’s Triangle” adventure program. Camping options on Santa Cruz and Isabela. They also offer an island-hopping scuba diving program, the “Dive Triangle”.
  • ROW Adventures. Awarded “Tours of a Lifetime” by National Geographic, this company offers the only vacation of its kind to the Galapagos Islands and allows two nights camping on the islands as part of the journey. Snorkeling, hiking, kayaking and swimming are all part of the trip.
  • SharkSky Ecoadventures Galapagos. Offers regular Island Hopping, but also Multisport, Adventure, Camping tailor made tours. Flexibility and assistance. They also offer dive tours.
  • Samba Galapagos, Chimborazo SE 110, Cumbaya, ☎ +593 2 289 0418. M/S Samba offers 8 or 15 day cruises around the archipelago. Her Galapagos trips are oriented to live and experience an authentic adventure in a unique and incomparable natural world. You will live an unforgettable Galapagos vacation due to the dedication they place on the learning experience about the natural history of the archipelago
  •, ☎ +1-800-747-4540. 6am-8pm Mon-Sun, 8am-5pm Sat/Sun PST. offers a variety of cruises to the Galapagos, as well as trips throughout mainland Ecuador and South America. Galapagos cruises and vacation packages can be customized to suit any traveler’s time frame, budget, and trip style.


  • Cheeseman’s Ecology Safaris, ☎ (800)527-5330 ( An American company that specializes in in-depth nature and wildlife trips featuring the maximum time allowable on the islands and snorkeling. Cheesemans’ tours always include one or more top-notch naturalist guides to give you an informative and meaningful experience. They are geared towards photographers and wildlife lovers. Galapagos trips are 18 days with 15 days aboard the ship so you can get to the less-visited outlying islands. All Cheesemans’ trips are totally non-smoking.
  • Epicurean Galapagos, ( The comfort+++ portal for Cultural and Natural Heritage Tours (see above), Epicurean Galapagos represents only the highest-end half-dozen ships in the islands and the most comfortable boutique hotels on the mainland. For those who are set on the best that Galapagos has to offer.
  • Natural Habitat Adventures. The official travel provider for World Wildlife Fund, this American company specializes in both luxury land- and ship-based Galapagos Island Tours. NatHab guarantees each trip will go no matter how many people are booked. Tours from $5200 for an 8-night land tour or cruise.
  • Galapagos Boat. Galapagos Boat offers private crewed yacht charters in the Galapagos Islands. Tours feature customized itineraries and activities as well as a personal chef on board to prepare gourmet meals of choice. Charter yachts range from 145-foot Motor Yacht Grace to 84.5-foot sailing catamaran Rose of Jericho.
  • Nina and Athala Catamarans. Nina and Athala are the only two luxury catamarans in the Galapagos islands. The boats are the biggest boats out of all the small yachts in Galapagos. Cabins size is comparable to big ships (17 and 19 square mts). Nina has a private balcony in all cabins.
  • Galapagos Odyssey yacht. The Galapagos Odyssey is a luxury class yacht built entirely in Guayaquil – Ecuador, true pride of “Guayaquileño” artisans. The Galapagos Odyssey offers 3, 4 and 7 night cruises visiting a variety of National Park sites always in company of a naturalist guide. Cruises from $2200 for a 3 night cruise.
  • Galapagos Travel (US). An American company that specializes in 11 and 15 day trips around the islands. This company caters to photographers and provides service in luxury-class yachts with extensive itineraries. Costs begin at $5200 and do not include park entry fee or airfare to Baltra.
  • Galapagos Travel (Ecuador). Ecuador based tour operator offering 3, 4 and 7 night cruises on board the luxurious catamaran M/C Galapagos Seaman Journey, cruises feature a Galapagos Park guide, cruise director and 11 crew members to pamper 16 guests throughout a natural history tour visiting the less visited excursion sites in the archipelago.
  • INCA (International Nature & Cultural Adventures). INCA is an American company with unique itineraries on the luxury, 16-passenger small yachts M/V Integrity and M/V Reina Silvia. All INCA Galapagos adventures feature 7-night cruises including outlying islands, and most include stays at the Royal Palm Resort, Finch Bay Hotel or Galapagos Safari Camp on Santa Cruz Island. Private trips available on either yacht. Options for Amazon, Otavalo and Machu Picchu. Costs begin at $5295, not including park fee and airfare.
  • SunWind Travel. An Ecuadorian company with offices in Galapagos, Quito and Florida. SWT charter the finest yachts and arrange high quality cruises. Owners are +20 year-experienced level III naturalist guides. Costs begin at $3165 and include 7-night cruising, 3-night accommodation in Quito, a la carte welcome and farewell dinner, all-day tour of Quito, private transfers. Not included park entry fee and flight to/from Galapagos.
  • Steppes Travel. Steppes run regular cruises around the Galapagos. Almost all of the boats we use have use of kayaks and organise snorkelling trips, both are a must as life is thriving under the sea! Visit our site to see our suggested itnieraries.
  • Anahi Galapagos Catamaran. Ecuador based tour operator offering 3, 4 and 7 night cruises on board the luxurious catamaran M/C Anahi. Ship owner based in Galapagos and operatating from Quito-Ecuador.
  • Treasure of Galapagos Catamaran. Treasure of Galapagos first class catamaran, compiles unmatched quality and comfort for a Galapagos Cruise experience, offering 5,7,9,11 and 15 days itineraries.
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On each island, the number of visitors are limited and there are only a small number of official landing and visitor sites. You must follow the instructions of your guide to protect the wildlife and you are not allowed off the marked paths. This is not a problem as the animals are so tame they will sit right on the path or cross it without caring about mere tourists.

The Charles Darwin foundation administers several research stations throughout the islands, including a large station in Puerto Ayora that is worth visiting for its animal and natural history exhibits, the Galapagos Interpretation Center in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and the Tortoise Breeding Center are the most interesting of the breeding centers in Puerto Villamil.

  • Samba Galapagos, Chimborazo SE-110, ☎ 289 0418. M/S Samba offers 8 or 15 day cruises around the archipelago. Our Galapagos trips are oriented to live and experience an authentic adventure in a unique and incomparable natural world. You will live an unforgettable Galapagos vacation due to the dedication we place on the learning experience about the natural history of the archipelago 2.850.
  • Independent Travel Guide, Isla San Cristóbal Av Alsacio Northia y Esmeraldas (Galapagos), ☎ 095283409. 10. Ecuador based ten year independent Galapagos Islands travel guide. American expat guides couples and families throughout the enchanted islands. 600.
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Cruises are the only option to see the majority of remote islands.Galapagos Cruises on the Galapagos Islands Imagine Ecuador The Galapagos Tours 36, other options for selecting a cruise in the Galapagos Islands from local operators are Galapagos Boutique Yachts 37, Galapagos by Voyagers Travel, amongst other specialized travel agents.

An important cruise review site to look at and find trip reports and comments refering to the different boats operating in the archipelago is: Galapagos Travel Advisor 39.

Although the Galapagos Islands are a beautiful once -in- a -lifetime experience no matter which boat you are on, remember that you’ll still spend a considerable amount of your holiday on board. Here are the most common considerations when choosing a boat.

Do I take a Galapagos Large or Galapagos Small Boat? Small Galapagos boats, as well as impressive cruise ships have both advantages and drawbacks.

Small Galapagos Yachts:

For those who prefer a more intimate experience onboard and on the islands, we recommend choosing a small yacht. The small yachts that we offer are typically handmade romantic sailboats or swift modern motor yachts that offer high quality personal service. All the confort and luxury on board you will find on the Galapagos Catamarans.

There is less impact on the fragile Galapagos environment. Another advantage to small yachts is the fact that often, large ships cannot anchor or disembark at some visitor sites due to their size or a high number of passengers.

Galapagos Cruise Ships:

For those that want the extra safety, social feel, amenities, stability, and spaciousness that cruise ships provide, larger ships may be the ideal way to visit the Galapagos. The Galapagos National Park sets a wise limit on ships to 100 passengers.

The cruise ships offer more spacious and often more comfortable standards in service and accommodations than you thought necessary, but will truly enhance your trip.

Charter a Galapagos Boat If you are group of students, a corporation, a club, on a honeymoon and want a private experience, or any group of people who wants to explore the Galapagos Islands on a chartered boat.

When to go to the Galapagos Islands?

Both the availability of space and the weather in the Galapagos Weather in the Galapagos may affect when you choose to go to the Islands. Most boats fill up months, or even years ahead of time for July, August, December and early January. Other times of the year availability is greater.

All cruise ships are required to have a certified naturalist guide. Each cruise ships has a fixed itinerary for the year which is set by the Galapagos National Park, the purpose being to control the number of tourists arriving at any time on each island. Cruises are available in 2,4,5,8 and 15 day options.

The following is a list of typical sights:
  • Climb the hill on Bartolome for the classic Galapagos view
  • Visit the Giant Tortoise breeding and rearing program at the Charles Darwin Research Center on Santa Cruz.
  • See the red neck sacks of the Magnificent Frigatebird on North Seymour or El Junco, San Cristobal.
  • Visit unique and color species like the Galapagos penguins on Isabela or Floreana.
  • Go snorkeling with sea lions and pacific sea turtles as often as possible.

Observe the nature

Galapagos Tortuga
Gigantic Tortuga (Chelonoidis nigra)

Snorkeling & Scuba Diving

Snorkeling and diving are very popular activities as the sea life is so rich and colourful.

Snorkeling equipment should be available from your tour operator (but check first) if you don’t have your own. You may also want to bring a waterproof camera. Remember to wear at least a T-shirt and suntan lotion if you are snorkeling, as it’s all too easy to get sunburnt in the strong sun. Snorkeling offers a way to be in the water with fish, sea turtles, sea lions, and other creatures and is a great option for those who don’t have scuba certification. The islands that are older (further to the west) often have cold temperatures. Wetsuits can be rented at the same locations as snorkeling equipment.

Diving in the Galapagos is incredible as noted by Rodale’s Scuba Diving Magazine. Darwin and Wolf Islands have been ranked as the best dive destination in the world for several years in the categories of healthiest marine environment, best big animal dive and best advanced diving. That said, the Galapagos is not necessarily the right place for beginners or novices. Currents, surge, cold water, and sometimes poor visibility and depths make this a challenge. Certification courses are available in both Santa Cruz and San Cristobal for those looking to learn, and there are several dive sites that are relatively beginner-friendly.

There are 2 ways to dive in the Galapagos Islands:
  • Daily dives with a local tour operator from Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Cristobal.
  • Galapagos liveaboards. Only liveaboards reach Darwin and Wolf. These 2 sites are the reason most divers come to Galapagos.

Two of the world’s premier diving destinations, Darwin Island and Wolf Island, are accessible only via live-aboard. These islands present challenging currents and are not suitable for beginners, but offer amazing opportunities to see huge schools of hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks, Silky sharks and whale sharks in season (July-Nov), in addition to other pelagic life like giant mantas, eagle rays, sting rays, huge schools of jack and tuna, sea turtles, sea lions and more.

Note that park regulations may change unexpectedly; in 2007, many divers were caught unaware as the National Park withdrew diving permits from quite a few cruise ships without notice, leaving many divers without dive cruises they had booked far in advance. For this reason, travelers are advised to get the most up-to-date information possible when planning a dive trip to the Galapagos Islands. As of 2010, the National Park is now regulating land-based diving for the first time and few of the many shops operating have the new permits necessary. It is best to ask if an operator has a dive permit, otherwise you may be turned back by Park Rangers and not permitted to dive. As of 2011, the National Park no longer permits dive liveaboards to offer land visits, except for the Highlands of Santa Cruz which is on all itineraries.


You can fish in the Reserve, for marlin, tuna, wahoo and many other species but only if you are using an operator and boat that have the requisite “Artisanal Vivencial Fishing” licences issued by the Galapagos National Park. “Sport Fishing”, as such, is prohibited. The Galapagos National Park publishes a list of Vivencial Fishing licence-holders and their boats but, unfortunately, they do not keep the list up to date.

When Vivencial Fishing, you can keep a limited quantity of fish for personal consumption but all marlin must be released unharmed.
Vivencial Fishing was conceived with the purpose of providing local fishermen with an ecologically sustainable alternative to commercial fishing. However, there is constant pressure, both political and commercial, to legalize “Sport Fishing” and open the market to better financed and better connected outsiders.


Hiking is often included as part of organized cruises or tours of the highlands. Although you will often see fewer animals during these tours, you will often gain a greater understanding of the difference in terrain and vegetation as well as the formation of the islands. Hiking is restricted in all National Park land, however several sights, like the Wall of Tears on Isabela and Cerro Tijeras on San Cristobal can be hiked independently.


Biking provides quicker access to far sites from the ports. Bike rentals are available on Isabela, San Cristobal and Santa Cruz for around $15/day.


The Galapagos provides some good waves and many locals make it a daily activity. Boards can be rented by the day or month at port towns. In general sites are marked with a place to rest surf boards as to not damage the land.

The following are beaches that allow surfing:
  • Punta Carola San Cristobal
  • La Loberia San Cristobal
  • Tongo Reef San Cristobal
  • Tortuga Bay Santa Cruz
  • Playa Ratonera Santa Cruz
  • Isabela has a more continuous sandy shoreline that provides open surfing
  • The Galapagos surf co. is the only surf travel company in the galapagos,they know where the waves are and unlike everybody thinks waves are not only in San Cristobal with north swell, there are south swell waves in Santa Cruz and Isabela islands as well.


    To minimize the impact of sightseeing on the unique ecosystem and mitigate issues with introduced species, several organizations provide conservation based volunteering.

  • Hacienda Tranquila works on envionmental, community and social issues. Volunteers stay on the grounds and cook for themsevles. The hacienda is owned and managed by locals.
  • Hacienda Esperanza works to conserve the environment and promote sustainable technologies. Volunteers are provided room and board as part of volunteering. The hacienda is owned and managed by locals.
  • Jatun Sachu works to conserve the Galapagos and covers a larger area. Volunteers are provided room and board as part of volunteering.


Kayaking allows you to navigate more of the water without a boat. Kayaks can be rented at Tortuga Bay in Santa Cruz and the port at San Cristobal to navigate the nearby beaches. Fish and sea turtles can often be seen while kayaking, however conditions should be checked before renting.

Horseback Riding

Horseback riding can be organized to allow you to see the highlands at greater depths. Tours are roughly $50. Additional tours may be found through inquiring with taxis or local tour agencies.

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There are hotels and other accommodation in the towns of Puerto Ayora, Puerto Villamil, and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, however if you really want to see lots of good wildlife, you will need to combine your stay on these islands with daily boat tours to other islands.

Hotels and hostels are available on San Cristóbal, Santa Cruz, Isabela, and Florena from $25-$500+, while hotels along the water are generally full especially in Santa Cruz. During peak season (Christmas & Easter weeks) as well as during special events all hotels are frequently sold out well in advance. However, if you are traveling at other times of the year you may be able to find availability by just showing up.

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In general, crime is not a problem in the Galapagos. Petty crime may occur in the towns, and occasionally fisherman will stage strikes or demonstrations that affect tourists, but for the most part there is little to be concerned about. It should be noted, however, that some items that have been reported missing have been found in the crews’ quarters! As most boats do not have lockable cabins, it might be advisable to keep your items locked away in bags in your cabins.

The animal life in the islands is mostly docile with the exception of larger sea lions. Bulls, in particular, will vigorously protect their harems, and can inflict dangerous and potentially deadly bites. Do not snorkel close to sea lion colonies. If a bull sea lion approaches you, swim away from the nearest colony. While the bulls can be dangerous; swimming with juvenile sea lions can be one of the most exciting parts of a trip.

In addition to sea lions, there is a minimal danger from sharks. In general sharks will not attack unless provoked, although attacks can sometimes occur in murky water when sharks mistake humans for other animals. However, by exercising simple common sense experiences will be almost always be positive.

Be careful with the tap water, especially in Puerto Ayora. It is not recommended to drink it or brush your teeth with it.

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The park is strictly regulated. Outside of the towns visitors must be accompanied by guides, and visitors are only allowed on land from sunrise until sunset. Itineraries must be registered with the park prior to embarking on a trip, and animals should never be disturbed; while the wildlife in the Galapagos will usually ignore your presence, a general rule of thumb is that if an animal notices your presence then you are too close. Two meters is generally given as a minimum distance to keep away from animals; you will find that if you are calm and respectful that many animals will walk right up to investigate you.

One of the greatest dangers to the islands is introduced species. The park service is trying to eliminate goats, rats, cats, dogs, and introduced plant species on many of the islands, but it is a difficult battle; after evolving for thousands of years without predators, the Galapagos wildlife is not adapted to handle these new species. When traveling to the islands, do not bring any plant or animal life with you, and be sure to always clean your footwear when traveling between islands to avoid accidentally transferring seeds.

Illegal fishing is another threat to the park. Although park officials may deny it, illegal fishing for sharks and sea cucumbers occurs on a massive scale. The number of fishermen has increased rapidly over the last few years, while the number of fish have plunged. Due to ongoing tensions between fisherman, tourism, and science the level of enforcement of fishing laws can vary greatly, but even when policies are put in place to limit fishing enforcement is difficult due to the resources required to patrol the vast park area.

Another big threat to the park is the growing population. Although new rules make it impossible for people arriving from the mainland to live and work on the islands, the rules are hardly enforced, resulting in many people immigrating from the mainland to make quick money on the islands.


The codified park rules are:
  • To visit the National park you must always be accompanied by a certified Galapagos National park guide.
  • Galapagos is a unique and fragile environment. Take only photographs and video. Professional shooting needs authorization from the National Park.
  • Please stay within the limits of the walking trails, for your safety and that of the flora and fauna.
  • To avoid affecting the wildlife’s natural behavior please avoid getting closer than two meters to the animals.
  • Camping is only allowed in specific sites. If you wish to camp, you must first obtain a permit from the Galapagos National Park.
  • Help conservation by cooperating with the authorities in their inspection, monitoring and control duties. Report any anomalies to the National Park.
  • Do not introduce foreign organisms to the islands, as these can have a negative impact on the ecosystem.
  • Please do not buy souvenirs which are made from black coral, sea shells, sea lion teeth, tortoise shell, volcanic rock, or endemic woods.
  • Galapagos animals have their own feeding behavior. Never feed the animals. Feeding them can be detrimental to their health.
  • Galapagos landscapes are beautiful and unique. Do not spoil them by writing or etching rocks or trees.
  • Do not litter while on the islands. Always dispose of rubbish in a safe and appropriate way.
  • Smoking or making camp fires in the national park areas is strictly forbidden and can cause devastating fires.
  • Fishing is strictly forbidden, except on those boats specifically authorised by the Galapagos National Park.
  • Jet skiing, submarines, water skiing, and aerial tourism are all strictly forbidden.
  • Do not disturb the animals. They can harm you.

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The Galápagos Islands archipelago is world-renowned for its unique and fearless wildlife much of which was inspiration for Charles Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection. The islands are therefore very popular amongst natural historians, both professional and amateur.

Travel and tourism in the Galápagos Islands. How to get in, maps, activities to do, where to eat and sleep. Download the Free Galápagos Islands Travel Guide.

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Michel Piccaya


As a freelance travel photographer, Michel Piccaya has been on the road worldwide for more than 20 years, exploring the most incredible itineraries. He’s currently based in Brussels however never stays at home for a long time !

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