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Galapagos Islands | © Arnie Papp/ Flickr
Galapagos Islands | © Arnie Papp/ Flickr
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The Ultimate Guide to Exploring the Galapagos Islands

Picture of Vibeke Johannessen
Updated: 16 October 2017
The Galapagos Islands are a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, birdwatchers, scientists, and of course the average tourist. The islands that inspired Darwin’s evolution theory, the archipelago totals 19 islands and is a living museum where you can observe species that are not found anywhere else on the planet.

Travel by cruise or by land?

The most expensive way to see the Galapagos Islands is on multi-day cruises, with the most popular selling out a year in advance. Cruises usually cover a great range of islands and you get the opportunity to see the islands that are further away with a good chance of observing different mammals and seabirds. The meals and bed are included in the price. Prices vary greatly, and the most expensive luxury cruises can cost up to $10,000, with the cheapest economy cruises around $400–$2,000.

Galapagos Sea Lion
Galapagos Sea Lion | © Vibeke Johannessen / The Viking Abroad

The cheapest way to see the Galapagos Islands is to get to Puerto Ayora and book either day trips from there or a last minute cruise. There can, of course, be a chance of not getting a last minute cruise, however there will always be day-trips and hotel deals available.

What islands should I see?

There are 13 major islands with six smaller islands in the Galapagos. Some of the islands are unique where you can spot species found nowhere but on that Island. Nevertheless, many of the species can be seen on multiple islands.

The most popular islands to visit:

Santa Cruz is a great starting point to many islands. On the island itself you can see giant tortoises in their natural habitat at El Chato, not to mention the beautiful beaches Tortuga Bay, Bachas and Garrapatero.

North Seymour is the best island to spot blue-footed boobies and magnificent frigatebirds.

Bartolome is popular for the Pinnacle rock and its breathtaking landscape.

Fernandina is the youngest islands in the Galapagos, where you can find species that are not on the other islands.

Floreana is mostly famous for its Post Office Bay where whalers got their mail sent out through fishermen. The Post Office is still operating.

Map of the Galapagos Archipelago
Map of the Galapagos Archipelago | © JA Davey/Flickr

Española is located in the far southwest where you can spot lava lizards, waved albatross and marine iguanas.

San Cristobal is a habited town where you can get tours to visit Kicker rock. You can see the giant tortoise reserve and the many beautiful beaches, like Purto Chino and Punta Carola.

Isabela is the biggest island in the Galapagos, where you can see a large range of species like flamingoes, penguins, giant tortoises and sea lions to name a few. You can also do a day trip to the Volcano Sierra Negra. Isabela should be done on a two-day trip if you want to explore both the volcanoes and wildlife.

Rabida is famous for its red sand and beautiful landscape. Also a great place for diving and birdwatching.

Santa Fe is a good spot for divers. The island has two trails where one leads to a cactus forest and the other one to a gorgeous viewpoint.

Galapagos Islands
Galapagos Islands | © Arnie Papp/ Flickr

What animals will I see?

The Galapagos Islands have many animals native only to the archipelago, such as the marine iguanas, Galapagos tortoise, Galapagos penguins, Darwin’s finches, and Galapagos fur seal. You can also see other incredible animals like blue-footed boobies, land iguanas, magnificent frigatebirds, and the list goes on.

Galapagos Boat
Galapagos Boat | © Vibeke Johannessen / The Viking Abroad

When should I visit?

You can visit The Galapagos Islands anytime of the year, however, there are warmer and colder seasons, the warmest being from December to May, with the peak season from June to August. If you are interested in specific species and animals it can be a good idea to visit during their mating season. The hatching time for the giant tortoise eggs is in January and December, while blue-footed boobie mating season is in May where you can see their incredible courtship dance.

Tortuga Bay
Tortuga Bay | © Vibeke Johannessen / The Viking Abroad

How long should I stay?

This depends on your budget and if you are doing a cruise. Most people stay from 4–10 days. There are numerous volunteer opportunities which can accommodate you for some weeks.

Any rules I need to follow while visiting the Galapagos Islands?

Do not get closer than two meters to any plants or animals.

Do not ride the tortoises or touch any animals.

Do not walk outside the walking trails.

Pick up your rubbish.

Do not use flash when photographing animals.

Do not visit the inhabited islands without a naturalist guide.

You need to pay an entry fee of $100 when you arrive.

Do not take any organic materials like rocks, shells or plants when you leave the islands.

Galapagos Sea Lion
Galapagos Sea Lion | © Vibeke Johannessen / The Viking Abroad

What do I need to bring?

Strong sunscreen.

Sun hat.

Waterproof walking shoes/aqua shoes.

Seasick tablets.

Swimsuit/bikini.

Snorkel set.

Underwater camera.

Sunglasses.

Quick-dry towel.

Waterproof bag/dry bag.

Galapagos Boat
Galapagos Boat | © Vibeke Johannessen / The Viking Abroad