Comprised of nineteen islands, impressive volcanoes, amazing flora and fauna species (20% of which are endemic to the islands) that live side-by-side with no natural predators, and a delicate ecosystem that has persisted and persevered for millions of years, Galápagos Islands is a place unlike any other in the world.
Whether you’re looking to scuba dive in world-class waters off the coast of Wolf Volcano, snorkel alongside century-old tortoises, bathe in the warm waters off Isabela Island or admire and learn more about the life of Charles Darwin and his seminal work on the theory of evolution, Galápagos Islands will undoubtedly broaden and deepen your appreciation for the world we live in.
5 things to avoid:
- It’s illegal to take rocks, seashells, plants or animals from one island to another, not to mention to the mainland.
- Wear plenty of sunblock to avoid sunburn even if it doesn’t seem too hot. Remember, the islands are situated right on the equator so the sun’s rays are much more powerful.
- Do not touch or disturb the animals, especially if you’re snorkeling or scuba diving.
- Recycling is a big deal on the islands so never leave trash behind and always put recyclables in its proper bin.
- Always throw toilet paper in the bin and never in the toilet.
- Jan-May: Rainfall: 1-1.5 in. Weather: 70-90°F. Wet season means tropical weather with almost daily rain, but a great time to visit for swimming and snorkeling given the warmer waters. Birds and sea mammals are most active during this time of year.
- Jun-Dec: Rainfall: 0.25-1 in. Weather: 60-80°F. Dry season brings plenty of sun, with periodic warm showers, not to mention calm waves and light winds.
Local time is GMT minus six hours.
Visa requirements for Ecuador also apply to Galápagos Islands. Citizens of the US, Canada, EU, Japan and Australia are not required to have a visa for tourism, business or student purposes (for stays of less than 90 days). Entrants will be issued a T-3 tourist card (don’t lose it!) valid for 90 days. Upon exit from Ecuador, you’ll be asked to present the T-3 tourist card. All passports must have at least six months of validity left upon exit of country, proof of onward travel (either by land, air or sea) and proof of sufficient funds (i.e. credit cards, bank statements, ATM cards). It’s advised to carry a photocopy of your passport with you at all times, especially due to the rising number of passport thefts. Visas will be required for stays longer than 90 days, so plan accordingly. Please visit the US State Department for additional information.
- Hello = Hola (o-la)
- Goodbye = Adiós (a-dyos)
- How are you? = ¿Qué tal? (ke tal)
- Fine, thanks = Bien, gracias (byen gra-syas)
- Excuse me = Perdón (per-don)
- Sorry = Lo siento (lo syen-to)
- Please = Por favor (por fa-vor)
- Thank you = Gracias (gra-syas)
- You are welcome = De nada (de na-da)
- Yes = Sí (see)
- No = No (no)
- My Name is… = Me llamo… (me ya-mo)
- What’s your name? = ¿Cómo se llama usted? (ko-mo se ya-ma oo-ste) / ¿Cómo te llamas? (ko-mo te ya-mas)
- Do you speak English? = ¿Habla ingles? (a-bla een-gles) / ¿Hablas ingles? (a-blas een-gles)
- I don’t understand = Yo no entiendo (yo no en-tyen-do)
Do not attempt to touch or feed the animals and always maintain at least 2 meters (6 feet) of distance. All photos must be taken without flash and professional photographers are required to register with the Galápagos National Park. It’s important to carry all trash and recyclable material with you and remember that smoking is prohibited.
Crime isn’t a big problem on the islands but always keep a watchful eye on your belongings, nonetheless. The biggest problem tourists face tends to be seasickness, which is common on small boats (lanchas) and on long cruise trips. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids and try to sit anywhere on the boat that gives a view of the water, that way you can avoid feeling disoriented, especially if you happen to be situated inside the boat, which can prove difficult to maintain equilibrium. And once you land, there’s of course land-sickness, which happened to me a few times; if you feel lightheaded after a boat ride, just lie down for a bit and relax, it’ll go away in due time.
To avoid sunburn, wear plenty of sunblock and a hat when outside. Temperatures can cool a bit during the wet season, especially at night or cruising on a boat so a light jacket can prove useful. Sea lions are known to be aggressive at times but only if you approach too close to their space, so it’s important to always maintain your distance. Tides and currents can be quite strong and swimming in pairs is a good idea. Some tour operators will require scuba divers to wear a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon), such as this one from EPOD, in case strong currents wash you away.
Galápagos Islands, like Ecuador, uses the US Dollar (USD). Bills and coins are the same as those used in the US (without the faces of US Presidents, of course). Carry bills in denominations of $20 or less, as change can be difficult to secure.
Exchange money at the mainland (Ecuador) or at the airport before you board your flight, as there are no money exchange offices on the islands.
ATMs are only found in Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz) and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (San Cristóbal). There are no ATMs on Isabela. It’s highly recommended to bring cash with you, in case there are any problems with ATMs and if you plan on taking many tours.
Credit cards are accepted but some retailers will incur a surcharge, so cash is always better.
Tipping crew members for day trips is always appreciated but not required; the same applies to taxis. At restaurants feel free to round up to the nearest whole amount but it’s generally not expected.
If you plan to bring your own phone, Porta and Movistar networks work best on the islands. Or, you can purchase a prepaid phone from the mainland (Ecuador) before arriving to the islands.
Look for Porta or Movistar SIM cards, which are widely available at any newsstand or kiosk on the mainland, as well as on the islands.
Wi-Fi and Internet access is widely available, and there are many cafes and hotels that offer free Wi-Fi. If you’re looking to upload photos from your trip, it’s best to wait until after you reach the mainland to do so.
Galápagos Islands uses the two-prong, flat outlets (same as in the US), which runs at 120V at 60 cycles.
Always drink from bottled water, since tap water is not considered safe to drink.
Water taxis that travel from one end of town to another are very cheap (USD$1 per person) and they charge the same regardless of how many people are on the boat. Speedboats that take you from one island to another are a little more expensive at around USD$25-30 per person. Speedboats (lanchas) leave from Puerto Ayora to San Cristóbal everyday at 2PM and returns from San Cristóbal leave at 7AM each morning (each boat takes approximately 2.5-3 hours to reach its destination and it’s not a smooth ride). Likewise, boats from Puerto Ayora to Isabela leave early in the morning (around 6-7AM) and return trips leave around 2-3PM (2.5-3 hours per ride).
There are daily buses rids (last bus leaves at 9AM and costs approximately USD$3) that go to and from Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz) to Isla Baltra (where the airport is located). If you’re in a rush, there are plenty of taxis available that can take you as well but for a higher price (USD$18).
Remember, if your tour package does not include round-trip transportation to and from an island, you must register your name with the Ecuador Ministry of Tourism at least one day prior (there are offices on each island), in order to secure your place on a boat. You cannot show up and expect to find a ride if you’re name hasn’t been placed on a list.
There are a plethora of tour agencies and guides available on the three major islands, and in particular Santa Cruz. You don’t need to pre-plan your entire trip before your arrival but it’s always best to research the tour operator to make sure they are licensed and sanctioned to conduct tours by the Ministry of Tourism; with that said, feel free to browse and bargain with operators for a price that works with you. Cruises and tours are always cheaper if you book from the islands rather than from the mainland.
If you plan on doing any tours from Isabela, I highly recommend Pahoehoe Galapagos Tours. They were professional, courteous, honest, fun and incredibly knowledgeable of the flora, fauna and delicate ecosystem of the islands. On the other hand, however, DO NOT (I repeat, DO NOT) book with an agency called Seamoon Travel (based on Santa Cruz), they are beyond shady and caused me nothing but problems, headaches and stress, and so I implore you, please do not book any tours with them (more on their sketchy behavior and antics in a future article).