About the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are located in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles / 1000 km off the coast of Ecuador in South America. Explore the Galapagos Islands on Google Earth.
There are 13 main Galapagos Islands, only 4 of which are populated (Santa, Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela and Floreana) and hundreds of islets and rocky outcrops.
Read more: Our Guide To The Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands belong to the Republic of Ecuador in South America.
There is no international airport in the Galapagos Islands. All incoming flights are domestic and depart from either Quito (UIO) or Guayaquil (GYE) on mainland Ecuador. These flights serve Seymour Baltra Galapagos Airport (GPS) and San Cristobal Airport (SCY). The nearest airport to our camp is GPS on Baltra Island (sometimes referred to as Santa Cruz airport due to its close proximity to Santa Cruz). There is also a tiny landing strip on Isabela Island for hopper planes between Isabela, Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. The majority of flights to the Galapagos leave in the morning, so depending on your international flight you might need to spend a night in Quito or Guayaquil. We can book all domestic flights for you as part of your Galapagos Safari.
The Galapagos Islands are situated 600 miles / 1000 km west off the Ecuadorian mainland. About an hour-and-a-half flight from Guayaquil, and a 2-hour flight from Quito.
97% of the archipelago’s islands is designated a national park. This area covers just over 3000 squared miles. Human settlements are concentrated on the remaining 3%. There are strict rules about visiting the areas on islands that have been designated as visitor sites by the national park authorities. The oceanic area surrounding the Galapagos is one of the largest Marine Reserves in the world.
“In a lifetime making natural history films I’ve been to many wonderful places. But none more extraordinary than here. The Galapagos Islands” – David Attenborough, The Galapagos With David Attenborough
The Galapagos Islands have a variety of singular ecosystems, in which species that can’t be found anywhere else on this earth have adapted and evolved, thanks to unique environmental conditions. The islands are located at a juncture in the Pacific Ocean where a number of major ocean currents meet. It is the nature of these currents that makes this oceanic spot so rich in nutrients and in turn, wildlife.
For more information on the currents and how they make this archipelago so special, see When is the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands
When to Visit the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are an all-year-round destination. The best time to go very much depends on your individual interests and needs.
Read more: When is the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos can be visited at any time of year as there are no harsh temperature contrasts and the wildlife thrives all-year round. There are two seasonal periods:
Warm & Wet Season (January – June)
January through June sees monsoon-like rains followed by clear blue skies. The ocean temperature is warmer, ideal for swimming and snorkeling. Temperatures range from 25°C to 32°C (77° F to 90° F)
Cool & Dry Season (June – December)
From June to December the southern trade winds bring the colder Humboldt Current north to the Galapagos. This means that the water is cooler, and a layer of high atmosphere mist pervades island skies. Due to the Humboldt Current, this is an ideal time for diving and spotting the big fish. Temperatures range from 20°C to 27°C (68°F to 80°F)
Sea temperatures range from 74-76°F / 23-24°C in the warm season and 68-74°F / 20-23°C in the cool season
Planning a Trip to The Galapagos Islands: Pre-Reservation
The first decision you will need to make when visiting the Galapagos is whether you want to have a cruise experience, a land-based experience, or a blend of both. The answer will depend on your preferences and priorities.
If your ultimate goal is to see as many islands as possible then cruising is the best option. The advantages are that you will cover more ground (and sea!) and you may see a couple more species than on a land-based safari. The disadvantages are that you will be limited by set departures and itineraries, you will be in close proximity of other guests for a week, and nights are not usually as restful due to engine noise and boat movement. Sea sickness can be an issue depending on the vessel.
With a land-based program you will not visit as many islands, but you will be exposed to lots of wildlife and you will see a large percentage of the flagship Galapagos species. Itineraries are more flexible and easier to customize, the experience is more tailor-made and private. Nights are more restful, and there is room for exploring the Camp’s grounds after the day’s activities. This is undoubtedly the better choice for families. Sea-sickness will be minimized as boat trips cover shorter distances.
A blend of both is also an option.
Every island offers something a little different and none of them will disappoint. As with any wildlife destination, a sighting of a specific wild animal can never be guaranteed but if you do have a particular creature in mind that you are longing to see, we can certainly advise you on which islands are best to visit during the booking process. Itineraries are subjected to National Park Authority permits and availability of boats.
Read more: Our Guide To The Galapagos Islands.
All outdoors activities within the National Park are strictly regulated. Most visitor sites can be only accessed with a guide, who is responsible for enforcing said regulations, in order to ensure the pristine state of conservation of the Archipelago’s protected areas. There are many incredible experiences and adventures to be had in the Galapagos Islands, both on land and water, as well as in our camp. These include:
- Hiking up a volcano
- Exploring lava fields and lava tunnels
- Painting and art classes
- Chocolate tasting
View all our Safaris
This will depend on your itinerary and which sites you visit. Many islands can only be accessed by a small dinghy boat, from which you will be expected to step in and out of, sometimes via a beach landing. Most of the visiting sites will require walking on uneven ground or on sand. Trails can range from around 1 to 15 km in length and from flat to steep. As all our Safari tours are fully customizable, we can take your physical fitness levels into account and create an itinerary that is going to be comfortable for you.
If you are prone to seasickness, we would recommend a land-based tour. You can still visit other islands on day boat trips, but should you feel nauseous you can draw comfort from returning to dry land at the end of the day. There are also numerous wildlife experiences to be had on Santa Cruz itself, many of which can still include water-based activities such as snorkeling, but without having to venture across rough seas. As with all our safaris, we can create a bespoke itinerary that is suitable for you and your needs.
There are two different fees:
- Immigration Control Card: At the airport in Quito or Guayaquil guests must visit the Galapagos Immigration Control desk, show their IDs, and pay $20 per person to purchase their card. Please note that to avoid a double charge the card must be presented upon arrival in Galapagos and kept until departure.
- Entrance fee: Once in Galapagos, there is a Park Entry fee which at present is $100 per adult and $50 for children.
Let us know during the booking process if you would like us to take care of these for you.
Planning a Trip to The Galapagos Islands: Post Reservation
Visa requirements vary by nationality and sometimes change. If you are planning on visiting Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands we advise you to check with your own government travel advisory center for the latest information.
At the time that this article was published, these were the requirements for US, UK and many European citizens:
You are required to be guided by a Naturalist Guide whose job is to impart information and to enforce all Galapagos National Park regulations. No person can set foot in the visitor sites of the Galapagos National Park unless accompanied by a certified naturalist guide. There are steep penalties for breaking the rules and regulations of the Park. Do follow and obey your guide’s discretion.
Galapagos Islands: GMT-6
Quito, Guayaquil, and mainland Ecuador: GMT -5 (The Galapagos Islands are one hour behind mainland Ecuador).
Ecuador’s official language is Spanish, but English is widely spoken by guides and staff at Galapagos Safari Camp.
In the Andes on the mainland various dialects of Quechua are spoken and in the Amazon several indigenous languages are spoken.
All our guides are proficient in English. Upon request and at an extra cost we can assign guides who are fluent in other languages. Contact us for more detailed information.
The monetary unit of Ecuador is the US Dollar. There are ATMs throughout Ecuador and on Santa Cruz Island. Though many places accept major credit cards, it is advisable to carry enough cash on hand for general expenses.
IMPORTANT: Please have $20 USD in cash when you check in for your flight to the Galapagos, which will cover the INGALA transit control card. When you land at Baltra airport in the Galapagos, have $100 USD to cover the Galapagos National Park entry fee, which is mandatory and must be paid in cash upon arrival.
Let us know during the booking process if you want us to take care of these for you.
Cell signal is weak across the Galapagos Islands, and the ability to make or receive calls will depend on your mobile carrier. There is signal for GSM, CDMA, and G3 carriers on Santa Cruz Island. There is a land-line at GSC for emergency use.
Due to the close proximity visitors have with the animals of the Galapagos you do not necessarily need long lens and expensive camera equipment to take great photos.
However, visitors must respect the Park’s rules of keeping at distance of at least 6 feet / 2 meters from the animals.
As the wildlife is as equally impressive below the water as it is above it, photographers will benefit from having a waterproof camera, such as a GoPro.
If you intend to take professional pictures for commercial purposes you need to obtain a permit from the National Park authority prior to your trip. Let us know during your booking process.
Drones are not permitted in the Galapagos National Park, which covers 97% of the islands.
For your daily activities you will need comfortable, light- and sun-protective clothing. Good walking shoes are highly recommended, as a lot of the terrain is volcanic. You will most likely spend time on boats, swimming and snorkeling in the ocean, so protective swimwear is important. We provide wetsuits and snorkeling equipment for excursions. During the day, many people wear shorts and t-shirts, though trousers and long sleeves are advisable.
At Galapagos Safari Camp the dress code is casual. In the evening, guests often wear long pants and loose fitting long sleeved shirts, as it can be chilly in the highlands where GSC is located.
Here are some suggestions, in addition to your normal clothes:
- Warm fleece and/or windbreaker that is sufficient for any temperature fluctuations
- Light waterproof jacket or water poncho
- Sun Hat
- Plenty of sunscreen
- Light trousers as well as shorts.
- Good walking shoes (hiking boots not needed – best footwear is a pair of teva or chaco type sports sandals, and also closed sports shoes for you highland visits in Santa Cruz islands )
- A small bottle of insect repellent (horse flies can be an issue at some landing sites in the Galapagos)
- A small flashlight or headlamp is great for walking between the tents at GSC
- Motion sickness tablets if you are prone to sea sickness
- Swim suits*
- Rash guards
*Wetsuits and snorkeling gear are provided, no need to bring your own.
There are luggage restrictions for flights to Galapagos: a maximum of 23kg and one piece of luggage per person, plus cabin baggage. 64kg is permitted in Business Class (the only airline that offers Business Class is Avianca).
Within the Galapagos are propeller planes that connect Baltra, Isabela, and San Cristobal. If your itinerary involves a local flight please note that the maximum allowance is 11kg and there are no storage facilities at the airport.
For Isabela Island extensions, our rate includes up to 50lb free of charge. If you happen to have more baggage with you, you will have to pay the extra fee.
There are storage facilities at Baltra airport, and you can also leave it with us at the camp for an extra fee. Please check with us during the booking process
Due to the fragile ecosystem there are border controls. Expect your plane to be fumigated, your shoes to be cleaned between islands, and do not bring food into the Galapagos. If you have special requirements contact us for advice.
Galapagos with Kids
See our blog post, Can you be too young for the Galapagos Islands?
Yes. At Galapagos Safari Camp we have a small kids club, operational during the major school holidays at Christmas through New Year, Easter and summer holiday (July and August). The activities are held during the afternoons, after the day’s activities. Please note that it is NOT a babysitting service. If you need babysitter, let us know during the booking process so we can advise you on the available options.
There are lots of things for children to do in the Galapagos. You can read about a few of our favourite things here.
Unlike an African Safari where you may be exposed to lions and elephants, the animals you encounter on a Galapagos Safari are not a threat to humans, providing you keep a respectable distance.
We recommend snorkeling only for children who know how to swim and feel comfortable in the water. If your children haven’t snorkeled before it helps to give them some snorkeling lessons first in a swimming pool prior to their visit.
Children from 10 years old with an Open Water license can go diving accompanied by an adult family member but with a private Dive Master. As currents can be very strong in the Galapagos, diving is generally recommended for Advanced Divers. Please contact us for more information.
We have lots of ideas in our Ultimate Guide to the Galapagos With Kids.
Health & Safety
The Galapagos Islands are generally very safe for tourists. In case of regional unrest, we advise you to contact your own government travel advisory sites for the latest information.
We don’t recommend drinking water from the tap in the Galapagos Islands. At Galapagos Safari Camp,we provide our guests with drinking water, together with water flasks to take on excursions.
Galapagos Safari Camp is equipped with an excellent first aid kit, and local pharmacies are well stocked. There is a local clinic for minor ailments, and for emergencies there is a hospital in Puerto Ayora. If your insurance covers an air ambulance evacuation please note that the evacuation can only be done within the operating hours of the airports in the Galapagos. We strongly recommend checking your policy, and what it covers in the Galapagos, with your travel insurance company.
Not required for entry to the Galapagos Islands, but check if you are travelling in mainland Ecuador or other South American countries. As government legislations change, we always recommend checking with your doctor for the latest information.
All passengers should have full medical insurance and trip-cancellation insurance. Be mindful that the Galapagos is a remote location with very basic medical facilities at hand. Emergency medical evacuation can cost upwards of tens of thousands of dollars. Your insurance company should be able to assist you with the best options for your trip.
Galapagos Safari Camp
The nearest airport to our camp is Seymour Baltra Galapagos Airport (GPS), on Baltra Island. Baltra is a tiny island which only accommodates the airport and landing strip. The whole trip form Baltra airport to the camp takes about 45 minutes once you have cleared Galapagos customs and Park Authority entry process. You will be met by your guide at the VIP lounge at the airport. Together you board a private vehicle that drives you down to the pier, where you take a ferry which will cross the narrow channel separating Baltra Island from Santa Cruz. Once across you will transfer into a private vehicle to drive you to the camp – approximately 20 minutes. Door-to-door, the journey from the airport to the Camp takes approximately 1 hour.
All our tents include fully equipped bathrooms with hot water showers powered by solar energy.
We have gravel paths and steps leading from the main lodge to the tents. You will need enough mobility to be comfortable both at the camp and for your excursions.
Giant tortoises are often spotted roaming in the property. There is plenty of birdlife, including various finches, Galapagos doves, flycatchers, warblers, rails and barn owls.
Read more: Wildlife in the Galapagos Islands
Yes we do, at an extra charge. We do assist with drying wet clothes & shoe cleaning free of charge.
Yes – the electricity at the lodge and in all tents is 110 volt, 50 hertz, 2 flat-pronged US plugs (same as in the USA).
Whether on sea or land, WiFi is considered weak, slow and unpredictable in the Galapagos Islands (e.g. strong enough for social media but not for streaming video). At Galapapos Safari Camp, WiFI is free and available in the main lodge.
At Galapagos Safari Camp the dress code is casual. In the evening, guests often wear long pants and loose fitting long sleeved shirts. In the cooler season, it can be a little chilly in the highlands where GSC is located, so it’s a good idea to bring a jumper as well.
We have nothing dangerous or life threatening in Galapagos. During excursions expect a few mosquitoes and horseflies, but this is seasonal. At the camp there are very few mosquitoes, again seasonal, spiders are commonly seen, and there are a few centipedes but they are shy and hard to see.
There are no dangerous or life threatening animals in our camp, or in the Galapagos at large.
Smokers can smoke in a small zone outside our office at the main lodge. When it’s cold we can provide a heater. We discourage smoking in all other areas of the camp.
Yes, we can cater to vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians, gluten-free, allergies, preferences or religious regulations – just let us know and we can adapt our menu to meet your needs.
Yes, we provide biodegradable soap, shampoo and conditioner in reusable dispensers.
We provide towels for day trips.
Yes. We will ask you for your wetsuit and fin sizes at the time of booking.
It is customary to tip guides, drivers, and boat crew. If service is satisfactory, an added bonus for staff members at the camp is welcome. It is difficult for us to make suggestions, as we believe tipping should reflect satisfaction and should not be expected—but we are always asked for guidelines. We suggest $10 per person per day for guides, crew-members on boat trips, and GSC staff members. That would be $30 per person per day.
This depends on your selected itinerary. Your full day exploring Santa Cruz is fairly flexible, and you will sit down with your host the day before and go through all the options in order to create a day tailored to your preferences. This means you can choose when your day starts and ends and what activities you would like to incorporate (i.e. biking, trekking, kayaking, swimming) as well as which visitor sites in Santa Cruz. Lunch is usually planned at local restaurants or picnics are arranged.
In terms of boat excursions, usually you leave the lodge between 7am and 8.30am and return between 4pm and 6pm. The drive to the embarkation point (either Itabaca Channel or Puerto Ayora) takes around 30 minutes. Navigation time depends on sea conditions and destination, and is from 45 minutes to 2.5 hours. It is important to note that you will be visiting Galapagos National Park territory, which is highly regulated. The Park allocates fixed schedules for visiting sites, and hours for each boat. Walking paths are set, and naturalist guides are obligatory.
When visiting the uninhabited islands you follow trails with your guide, the tempo is slow so as to observe wildlife, you are very close to the animals, which may be mating, nesting, feeding, or fighting, and it is essential to respect distances and follow your guide’s advice. Lunch is served on-board. After the morning visit there is an opportunity to snorkel or swim in designated areas.
From pick up at the airport, your private guide will be with your during your stay.
On a basic, shared safari, your guide will join you at the airport and take you to discover the highlands of Santa Cruz Island as detailed on your personalized itinerary. He/she will also lead you in your tailor-made exploration of Santa Cruz island during your full-day, and will see you off at the airport on your departure day. If your Safari includes a fishing day (Family Safari) or you choose to upgrade your Classic Safari with a fishing day, your guide will be there with you as well, ready to help you catch dinner!
During your boat day tours there are three different levels of personalization that you can choose from during the booking process:
Shared Guide: Day tour boats are certified by the National Park Authority and can only visit particular destinations on particular days. All of them seat up to 20 people including a certified guide. We usually use only a handful of those, the ones who have consistently offered the best service and best guides along the years. If you choose the “shared safari” this is the only instance in which you will be sharing the guide as well as the boat with other passengers.
Semi-Private: If you prefer to keep your guide with you for a more personalized experience, we can also book him/her on your boat day tour at an extra cost.
Fully Private: We can also charter a boat for you and your group for day tours, and of course, your guide/guides will sail with you.
All guides are Galapagos National Park certified guides, and they act as honorary park rangers, committed to reinforce National Park regulations. This said, during our over ten years of operation we have developed our networked of preferred partners that have been working with us in creating unforgettable experiences for our guests.
During the booking process we will ask you about your preferences, hobbies, interests and expectations, in order to be able to match your group with the most appropriate guide.
All the guides speak English. Upon request, and at an extra cost, we can assign guides who are fluent in other languages. Contact us for more detailed information.
Like any wildlife destination, we cannot guarantee sightings of specific wild animals but you will most likely see many of the flagship species on all of our Safaris.
Read more: Flagship Species in the Galapagos