Centuries ago, the Galapagos was of little interest to explorers and sailors because it was so far out to sea but today, that makes it all the more appealing as a travel destination. Yet, as the most remote and nature-rich group of islands on Earth, the Galapagos can seem like an elusive and inaccessible place. As a result, the region sparks a lot of puzzling questions like: ‘where actually are they?’, ‘what makes them so rich in nature?’, and ‘is it safe to travel to the Galapagos?’. Since there was almost no human settlement in the Galapagos until the last century, it’s no surprise we have so many questions about it. But now, it is time to answer them and demystify the Galapagos so that more people can experience the joy that comes with exploring one of the world’s most impressive accomplishments of nature.
Where are the Galapagos Islands?
The Galapagos is an archipelago of 13 major volcanic islands located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. At the whim of the Pacific Ocean, the tectonic plate that shifts beneath it, and the volcanoes that created it, the Galapagos’ geography is a jigsaw of unusual and beautiful landscapes that can be found nowhere else on Earth. Since this extraordinary archipelago is so remote, it has been largely free from human interference, allowing equally unusual and beautiful endemic flora and fauna to flourish. As a result, the Galapagos is known as one of the foremost destinations for nature and wildlife immersion. To get there, you have to travel to Ecuador and then take a connecting flight to the Galapagos, or you can take the boat from Guayaquil, Ecuador’s main port city.
What is the Galapagos famous for?
The Galapagos is famous for its endemic wildlife, aka rare plants and animals that are found only on this remote archipelago. Its islands are home to so many species of endemic wildlife firstly because its geography and climate are so unique that it’s the only place many of its plants and animals can survive. Secondly, as one of the most isolated places on Earth, it is one of the few places to have avoided human interference. Not only has this allowed wildlife to thrive in the archipelago beyond normal measure, but it has also prevented the wildlife from being taken from the Galapagos and introduced to foreign land.
While there is a human population in the Galapagos today, 97% of the land is protected to prevent human interference and promote conservation. Few other places on Earth are granted this level of protection which makes it a leader in wildlife research and conservation. World-renowned evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos in 1835 to study its endemic species, helping him to develop his Theory of Evolution.
What endemic animals can I see in the Galapagos?
When stepping onto the Galapagos Islands, you might feel as if you’ve found yourself in an alternate universe because the landscapes are otherworldly and the animals are unfamiliar and strange-looking. In fact, nearly all of the birds, reptiles, and mammals that call the Galapagos home cannot be found anywhere else on Earth. There are thousands of endemic plant and animal species living on the archipelago and Galapagos tours are designed to show you as many as possible (without interfering with their habitats of course). The animals you are most likely to see on your trip to the Galapagos include:
- Blue-footed boobies: large birds with bright blue feet
- Galapagos tortoise: the world’s largest species of tortoise
- Marine iguana: the world’s only swimming lizard
- Pacific green turtles: one of the rarest kinds of turtle
- Galapagos penguin: the world’s most northerly penguin
- Galapagos fur seal: the friendliest kind of seal
Is it Safe to Travel to the Galapagos Islands?
With a minute human population, the Galapagos Islands are largely crime-free making it a very safe place for tourists to travel to. Like many island destinations, it exudes relaxed, friendly, and welcoming island vibes that allow you to feel immediately comfortable when visiting. The Galapagos’ guides and locals are very happy to have visitors on their islands and enjoy chatting with tourists and showing off their beautiful home. Of course, tourists are encouraged to take all the usual precautions when traveling somewhere new for their own peace of mind.
As a remote island province filled with plants and animals that humans have had little contact with, it’s often assumed that there will be health risks associated with Galapagos travel. However, there are no serious health threats such as yellow fever or malaria in the Galapagos and tourists aren’t required to take any specific health precautions or get any vaccines before their arrival.
Is the Galapagos suitable for families and young children?
The Galapagos is a sensational family destination because it offers so many opportunities for your kids to explore, play, and indulge their infectious curiosity for our planet. The excursion leaders and expert guides are able to share their in-depth knowledge particularly and effectively to adults yet make it simple and fun for children to learn too. A large part of the knowledge imparted on Galapagos tours revolves around the conservation of rare, endemic, and endangered species, which are important life lessons for children to learn. And what better place to learn about it than the Galapagos? Plus, a Galapagos vacation includes lots of stimulating activities for children like snorkeling and wildlife spotting, which provide perfect opportunities for you to make special memories together as a family.
Are the seas rough in the Galapagos?
The best way to explore the Galapagos is on a cruise, as it allows you to see the beauty and diversity of the archipelago better than land-based stays or self-organized tours. This can be nerve-wracking for people who are unfamiliar with sailing or suffer with sea sickness. Fortunately, the seas around the Galapagos are generally very calm and you’re trip is likely to be smooth sailing. On occasion, the Galapagos does experience rough seas if a storm passes, especially when sailing against the current. This is most likely to happen between August and October, so it’s best to avoid those months in you are concerned about rough seas. Instead, opt for January to March as they are the calmest months for sailing.
For extra peace of mind, we recommend booking a cruise on a catamaran or a trimaran. These are multi-hulled boats built to provide extra stability and reduce the sense of motion on board. These are recommended particularly for those that suffer from sea sickness even when conditions are calm.
What is the best time of year to visit the Galapagos?
There isn’t a ‘bad’ time to visit the Galapagos because the warm to hot weather allows for visitors to come and enjoy its bounty year-round. That said, the activities available and the possibility of spotting wildlife vary throughout the year due to the changing seasons. The weather is warmer in the dry season between December to May, and cooler in wet season between June and November (although rain is still quite infrequent). Therefore, it’s best to plan your trip around the experiences and the kind of weather you would prefer to have. To learn more about the best time to visit the Galapagos, read our month-by-month guide here.
What is the best way to visit the Galapagos?
As an archipelago of 13 major islands, each of which has something special and unique to share, the best way to explore the Galapagos is on an island-hopping cruise. While most land-based trips only allow you to explore one or two of the islands, a cruise will take you to six or seven, ensuring you get to see the Galapagos’ top highlights. This way, you’re guaranteed to be taken to the best snorkeling, hiking, and wildlife-spotting spots across the entire archipelago rather than the best of the limited options offered by a single island.
Most cruises are five, eight or 15 days long and while the longer ones definitely give you a more in-depth experience of the Galapagos, the shorter ones give you a satisfying insight into the region by covering all of the top highlights. These include visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station, snorkeling in Tortuga Bay, birdwatching in Darwin Bay, and wildlife-spotting in Black Turtle Cove.
Meanwhile, a hotel stay with planned excursions might be better for those that would prefer to see the Galapagos at their own pace and those prone to seasickness. There are some beautiful hotels in the archipelago, some of which have their own yachts which give guests the chance to explore far and wide.
Find out what kind of Galapagos vacation would be best suited to you and your travel group here as we further compare Galapagos cruises and hotel stays.
Uncover the mysteries of the Galapagos
If the mysteries of the Galapagos have sparked your interest, why not embark on your own exploration exploration of the archipelago? Speak to our Galapagos experts to create your ideal Galapagos vacation or simply learn more about the region by calling toll free on 1 855 217 9045 (USA/Canada) or by filling in our online contact form.