The Galapagos Islands Tourist Information
Things to do on your Galapagos Holiday
The Galapagos Islands represent one of the world's most pristine environments. From the depths of the ocean rose these remote volcanic outcrops which have since become a biological paradise where both scientists and nature-loving tourists come to marvel at the wonder of evolution and the species diversity resulting from it.
Set in an area of 4,800 km², the Galapagos consists of 6 principal islands, 12 lesser ones and over 40 outcrops too small to be called islands. Those to the west, particularly Fernandina and Isabela Island, are the latest to arrive on the scene and still demonstrate some volcanic activity. This is no surprise since the islands sit above the intersection of 3 plates of the earth's crust. They are a fine example of an oceanic archipelago, unconnected to a continent.
The initial Spanish settlers named the islands from the word ‘galapago’ meaning a type of Spanish saddle of which the tortoise shells were reminiscent. One can only imagine their sense of wonder at the levels of endemism to be found here. Not only would they have marveled at the marine life, land creatures and the variety of bird life but they would also have not failed to notice that some 40% of the flora species are endemic to the islands.
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How to Get There
For holiday makers, travel to the Galapagos National Park involves an international flight into Ecuador followed by a domestic flight out to the islands. There are 2 international airports in Ecuador - Guayaquil and Quito. There are direct international flights from many South American countries but also from Spain, the Netherlands and the USA. The US airports that connect to Ecuador are Atlanta and Miami.
You will need to overnight in Guayaquil or Quito before flying on to Baltra Airport in the Galapagos. To ensure easy flight connections, a 2 night stop-over is recommended. On the return leg you will probably need to overnight in Guayaquil or Quito since most international flights depart too early to make the connection possible. The flight from Baltra Island arrives in Guayaquil (and then Quito) in the afternoon.
We will place your domestic flight requirements with the liveaboard operator who are responsible for booking the flights. We request your patience with this process since there are often waiting lists and slow confirmations of availability. You must inform us whether you are flying into Guayaquil or Quito before domestic flights can be considered. If you wish to extend your holiday in Galapagos to enjoy land tours please decide that early in the booking process to ensure flight availability.
Where to Stay
Our affiliated hotel reservation agents Agoda.com have a variety of accommodations in Galapagos. Browse the choices on their website, use their live chat to ask your questions, and then simply use your credit card to make your reservation.
Locations include Isla Santa Cruz and Isabela. In any location you can benefit from Agoda's 'Low Price Guarantee', so you will always get top-dollar value for money.
The Galapagos Islands experience a subtropical climate, regulated by both the warm El Niño current and the cold Humboldt current. This results in a dry season from July to December meaning cooler water, clear skies and occasional afternoon showers. The wet season from December to June sees cloudier skies and daily rain, but warmer water.
The National Park
To visit the Galapagos National Park there is an entrance fee of US$ 100 for adults and US$ 50 for children under 12. Note that you pay at the airport upon arrival. So have the cash in US dollars for ease of payment. Your entrance fee will contribute to preserving the future of the islands.
Strict guidelines exist to allow tourist visits without negatively impacting the wildlife or the ecosystems. These include:
- Follow the marked trails and never leave them.
- Do not touch the animals.
- Do not get too close to the animals.
- Do not smoke on the islands.
- Do not take food to the islands.
- Do not litter.
- Do not take souvenirs from the islands.
Sightseeing and Things to Do
Your Galapagos diving safari will include at least 1 land tour to the Santa Cruz Highlands, Santa Cruz Puerto Ayora and/or San Cristobal Island. Santa Cruz's main town, Puerto Ayora, is the Galapagos' most developed and many tourists overnight here as it represents one of the only shopping opportunities in the islands. Santa Cruz is the most densely populated spot and consists of a bay normally full of boats, tour desks, some shops, cafés and the national park headquarters.
A must-visit is The Charles Darwin Research Station, some 10 minutes stroll from the town centre. Here you can learn much of the details of Darwin's research and study. Established in 1959, the Darwin Station works closely with the national park, protecting the islands and marine reserve. It is a very interesting glance into the past and a tangible link to one of the most profound and elegant answers to some of the greatest mysteries of life.
Travelling to the Highlands of Santa Cruz represents a great opportunity to experience the various ‘life zones’ of the Galapagos from the coast, through agricultural lands and up into misty forests. A great variety of birds can be found in the highlands. You will also see many of the giant tortoises here in their natural habitat. In addition, there are fascinating volcanic elements to the landscape such as sink holes, lava tubes and craters.
2 of the best known craters are known as Los Gemelos (The Twins) and they are an attraction in themselves with unique vegetation and a variety of bird life. A licensed guide will allow you to visit these areas and make the visit a special one full of interesting facts and sightings.
Liveaboard guests get some experience of land creatures during their diving cruise, although the island chain has much more to offer than that brief exposure. If you want the full land and sea experience of the Galapagos Islands, we recommend that you consider a non-diving, land tour liveaboard cruise.
There are land tour daytrips available from Puerto Ayora and San Cristobal. Our experience of these is that the quality varies greatly and many such tours are very disappointing and not good value-for-money. We suggest that you aim for a high quality experience. This means avoiding the many daytrip providers whose unjustifiable high prices for a low quality experience can lead to disappointment. There should never be any reason to be disappointed when on a diving holiday in the Galapagos!
Dining Out & Nightlife
You won't be coming to the Galapagos for its nightlife. Phat tunes and mad DJ skillz are perhaps better elsewhere than a remote, volcanic wildlife sanctuary. Nevertheless you can still throw some shapes should the mood take you at La Panga, a lively dance venue in Puerto Ayora. The music is a mixture of Latin and pop and throbs till 03:00 hrs on Friday and Saturday night.
There are several options for dining out in Puerto Ayora and indeed some liveaboard cruises involve a dinner on shore here during the final evening. Many are on Avenida Charles Darwin including Italian cuisine such as in Four Lanterns and unsurprisingly, at La Dolce Italia. Seafood favourites are served at both La Garrapata and La Tolda Azul on Muelle Municipal.
Most, but not all, of these restaurants accept credit cards.
The Galapagos were first named and detailed in 1525 but with no attempt to claim them. For centuries thereafter, passing soldiers and pirates would occasionally dock to allow time to rest and repair their ships, or to hide away prior to conducting coastal attacks on Peru or Ecuador. The whaling industry also saw the islands used as an important way-station until the late 1800's.
Only as recently as 1832 did Ecuador assert a territorial claim with the establishment, on Floreana Island, of a colony of exiled soldiers. A ship sailed past less than 3 years later and on board stood a man whose observations and conclusions would change the world. Charles Darwin recorded notes on the flora and fauna he encountered and such notes became a cornerstone of his theory of evolution (read our articles on: On the Origin of Species and The Voyage of The Beagle).
How he must have marvelled at the tameness of these ‘wild’ creatures. He soon concluded that timidity, so important in other ecosystems in avoiding predators, must not be necessary where there is a lack of predation. Hence the seemingly friendly, sociable behaviour of many of the species found in the Galapagos.
Although the theory that complex organisms have developed gradually over time from simpler ones had been around for some time, Darwin made an incredible breakthrough. He gathered so much corroborative evidence and built on this initial premise with his explanation of natural selection that it was his work, supported by his eminence, that caused a seismic shift in the way people thought about the natural world.
In 1935, 100 years after Darwin's first visit, parts of the islands were decreed as wildlife preserves in a sign of what was to become the ultimate fate for the archipelago. The 2nd World War saw the U.S. Navy establish bases in the islands. In 1960 the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands began operations and has been conducting vital survival and repair work for the benefit of the islands' ecology and animal inhabitants.
The Local People
The Galapagos Islands have no indigenous people and the population consists mostly of Ecuadorian Mestizos, the mixed descendants of Spanish colonists and indigenous Native Americans. Most arrived in the last century from Ecuador. There is also a significant number of Spanish descendants. The number of Ecuadorians living on the islands is increasing dramatically and straining scarce resources. This is one of the largest challenges facing those who seek to protect the unique ecosystems of the archipelago.
If you're keen to take a holiday in the remote island chain of the Galapagos, then click below to check your options for:
Be sure to book in plenty of time to avoid limited choice. The small number of liveaboards and popularity of this holiday destination means that you must book well in advance to ensure your reservation!