Galapagos vacations overview
Nowhere is the world’s wildlife as fearless and friendly as in the Galapagos, and that’s what lures people to this isolated archipelago. Out here, 1,000km into the Pacific, extreme isolation has shaped the beaks, shells and wings of the island’s unique species, and it’s erased their memories of fear. You can swim with sea lions, walk with tortoises and stroll past salt-snorting marine iguanas, experiences that are uniquely, indescribably wonderful. Even more phenomenal is that these species have survived in such hostile landscapes – a jumble of lava fields and still-smoking volcanoes continue to mould the islands today. Read our Galapagos travel guide.
Our top Galapagos Islands vacations
Best time to go on vacation to the Galapagos Islands
Unusually for a wildlife watching destination, the animals of the Galapagos can be seen year round, so the best time to visit depends on whether you want to focus around diving, or stay on shore. There are two seasons on the islands. June to November is cool and dry, while December to June is warm and wet. The warmer season is the best time to take to the water, as the sea will be warmer and calmer, and the underwater visibility good. Birdwatchers might want to time their trip for July: mating season for blue footed boobies and short-eared owls.
Map & highlightsThere are over 50 islands in the Galapagos. They are far from uniform, varying wildly in their wildlife and their geography. In the center of the island group are three bigger islands: Santa Cruz, home to the Charles Darwin Research Station and the majority of the population; Isabela, the largest island; and San Cristóbal, home of the capital city Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Floreana and Española lie southwards. Floreana is great for snorkelling, whilst Española has a large population of eye-popping colour-changing marine iguanas. Genovesa Island, a remote collapsed caldera in the far north, is known for its birdlife.
Wildlife in the Galapagos
Galapagos comes from the word ‘giant tortoise’ in Spanish – and these gentle animals have become the symbol for the island’s friendly, easy-going wildlife. But there is a wider cast of strange beasts on the islands: a belligerent chorus of sea lions and fantastically coloured iguanas on the beaches, and birdlife – from the world’s only nocturnal gull to the charming albatross and flightless cormorants. Charles Darwin realised the significance of the wildlife here when he arrived in 1835, but it was 100 years later, in 1934, that the islands’ wildlife was officially protected – and they remain remarkably free of invasive species.
How to choose a cruise
If you’re taking the time and effort to make the great leap to the Galapagos, then you’re likely to be agonising over how to choose a cruise. First thing to know is that passenger numbers are small: by law, the maximum capacity for a vessel is 100 passengers, and you can find really small, boutique trips in eight-cabin motor yachts and little catamarans. Most cruises visit the central islands of Isabela, Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal. Then you need to decide whether you want to add on remoter islands in the north, like Genovesa, or south, like Española and Floreana.
Land based tours
Less popular than going by boat, but really worth considering, land based tours can be great if you don’t want to confine your family to a cabin. You might find locally owned accommodation is a lot cheaper than a boat, and you’ll get home cooking and a taste of the area – something you can miss out on when you’re anchoring at night. Staying on shore doesn’t mean never leaving dry land – in fact, there are plenty of speed boat excursions and snorkelling trips and it’s a great way to have a more adventurous, activity-based vacation of hiking and biking.
More vacation ideas
From US $1999 to US $31998 days ex flights
Discover the highlights of the main islands in Galapagos
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Galapagos wildlife cruise plus Costa Rica nature/beach week
More about Galapagos
Traveling with children
There’s the joy of watching your kids discover something for the first time. Then there’s the very special joy of discovering the world together – and on a Galapagos family vacation, you get just that. These safe, friendly islands are amazing for children. Whilst many wildlife vacations require a good deal of patience and quiet – frustrating and boring for kids – Galapagos wildlife is more likely to be found right at their feet posing for a photograph. Congratulations: your children will now be spoilt for life. You can go on a specialised family cruise, or opt for land based accommodation.
Where to go
You’re likely to plan to visit more than one island on your Galapagos vacation, and there around 50 to choose between. If you choose to cruise on a small ship or yacht, you can see a different island every day, including smaller islands like Bartolomé, famous for penguins, or Santa Fe, with its strange forests of cacti. Most people will make stops in Santa Cruz for the Charles Darwin Research Station, and to see giant tortoises. If you choose to be land based, staying on Isabela, the largest island, means you can hike volcanoes and enjoy fantastic snorkelling from the shore.
Types of vacations & vacations to Galapagos
The standout reason for stopping in the Galapagos is for a wildlife vacation. Like Darwin before you, you can study unique animals – though the baby sea lions are far too playful to sit still for long. Small ship cruises visit a different island every day, but for a family vacation you may prefer land based accommodation so you all have a bit more space. Being land based also works well for multi activity vacations. Discover all the different ways you can get up close to nature – by hiking and kayaking, or by diving in the marine reserve.