Planning tips

How to plan a Galapagos Vacation

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Planning a Trip to The Galapagos Islands: Pre-Reservation

What are the current travel policies relating to the pandemic?

Please refer to our COVID Travel Information FAQ.

 

Should I take a land-based tour or a cruise in the Galapagos?

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.
Read more: What are land-based tours

 

What is an “island-hopping” tour?

An island-hopping tour shuttles visitors between the port towns of inhabited islands via public inter-island ferries. Although our Safaris are land-based, it is important not to confuse them with island-hopping tours. The latter offers an entirely different kind of experience.

For many, the idea of staying on multiple islands in various hotels is an attractive option. Staying on more islands means you’re going to see more, right? Well, not exactly.

If you look at the itineraries of island hopping tours, you’ll notice they all include hotels in a combination of the Galapagos’ populated towns: Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island (population 15k), Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island (population 8k), Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island (population 2.5k), and Puerto Velasco Ibarra on Floreana Island (population 150). The excursions on these island hopping itineraries generally take place in the vicinity of these populated towns.

The Galapagos Archipelago is 97% protected National Park that is uninhabited by humans and brimming with wildlife. Thus, the 25k human residents in the Galapagos are packed into just 3% of the land area noted above in the three towns. The majority of visitors come to the Galapagos to explore the National Park, not the populated towns.

Other points to consider on island-hopping tours:

  • You will have to pack and unpack as you hop from hotel to hotel
  • You may experience inconsistent quality or a revolving staff.
  • Guided tours will be in large groups.

 

Will I see more islands on a Galapagos cruise?

If your goal is to see as many islands as possible, including some of the remote landscapes on the outermost edges of the archipelago, then a cruise is your best option. A 7-night / 8-day cruise itinerary will typically visit five or six islands. E.g. San Cristobal, Isabela (Inhabited), North Seymour, Fernandina, Rabida (Uninhabited). Note, you will likely need longer than five days to reach the outer islands.

By comparison, with Galapagos Safari Camp a 7-night / 8-day Safari (a combination of our Classic Safari and Isabela) typically visits four to five islands, i.e. the inhabited islands of Santa Cruz and Isabela, plus 2 to 3 uininhabited islands; or, 2 uninhabited islands and 1 Fishing Adventure (if combining our Family Safari and Isabela).

Our Safaris allow more time to explore the hidden corners of Santa Cruz Island, which a cruise does not have the time to include, as well as more time for immersive experiences such as bicycling to lesser-known beaches on the island, kayaking in secluded lagoons or surfing alongside marine iguanas.

It’s worth noting that while you may see more islands on a cruise, you won’t necessarily see more wildlife. (See Rich in Wildlife).

*NB: the airport island of Baltra is often included in cruise itineraries. However, it serves more as a landing strip for planes and an entry point than it does as a visiting site.

More Resources: Islands to Visit in the Galapagos

 

What islands should I visit in the Galapagos?

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: Best Islands to Visit in the Galapagos

 

What can I do in the Galapagos Islands?

Most people visit the Galapagos to see its wildlife. While the islands do, of course, offer other experiences, visitors should be aware that the National Park is highly regulated. What you can do in other National Parks around the world may not apply in the Galapagos. For example, most visitor sites can be only accessed with an official guide, and visitors must stick to marked trails.

At Galapagos Safari Camp, we understand that our guests want to see the wildlife, but also have specific special interests that they’d like woven into their itineraries. As all our Safaris are tailormade, we can personalise itineraries to accommodate the needs and interests of our guests. Some of the activities and experiences, for example, we can weave into our wildlife tours include snorkeling, surfing, fishing, kayaking, hiking, picnicking, bicycling, exploring lava fields and lava tunnels, painting and art classes, chocolate tasting.

Read more: What are land-based tours

 

How long should I go to the Galapagos for?

We recommend a stay of at least 4 or 5 nights. If you have a little longer you can combine a Classic Safari or a Family Safari with our Isabela Extension Safari and/or Scuba-Diving tours.

If you are taking a cruise, you can extend your adventure with a relaxing or active Pre/Post Cruise Safari.

 

How physically fit do I need to be to visit the Galapagos?

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.
Contact one of our Safari Designers for advice.

 

Will I get seasick in the Galapagos?

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.

Contact one of our Safari Designers for advice.

 

What are the park’s fees?

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 $200 per adult and $100 for children.

Let us know during the booking process if you would like us to take care of these for you.

 

Are land-based tours sustainable?

This will, of course, very much depend on the type of land-based tour you choose and the accommodation you stay in.

While it’s true that the main towns in the Galapagos — Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristóbal Island, Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island and Puerto Velazco Ibarra on Floreana Island — have grown significantly over the last decade, Galapagos Safari Camp has always, since its inception, concentrated on generating the least impact possible on the environment and focusing on the positive transformative power of the islands.

97% National Park

We are confident the authorities will direct development in the towns towards a more sustainable future, with more alternative energy, greater control of migration, and restrictions on expansion. It’s worth noting that only 3% of the archipelago’s land is outside the Galapagos National Park’s jurisdiction.

Carbon Footprint

In terms of carbon footprint in the islands, Galapagos Safari Camp is committed to reducing its water and energy consumption with its cutting-edge water treatment systems, solar panel installations and responsible use of electricity (our tents do not require air-conditioning due to their elevated positions which take advantage of the cooler, highland air currents).

Fuel efficiency

Many cruise ships and boats in the islands unfortunately still use bunker fuel which is shipped to the islands aboard cargo ships that, in turn, burn bunker fuel. If you are keen on exploring the Galapagos on a cruise, it’s worth enquiring about the age of the engines and their fuel efficiency: the newer the engine, the more efficient it will be.

 

Which experience offers more comfort, a hotel or cruise?

Historically, tourism in the Galapagos developed aboard ships that began navigating its waters commercially in the 1970s. Over the years, the standards of these ships improved, to the extent that there are now several Ecuadorian- and internationally-owned luxury vessels plying their waters.

Hotel infrastructure at the luxury level has been slower to develop, but is today very much at the same level as ship-based experiences, particularly on Santa Cruz Island.

 

How far is the nearest medical facility?

On Santa Cruz, where Galapagos Safari Camp is based, there is a hospital in Puerto Ayora and a local clinic for minor ailments. The local pharmacies in Puerto Ayora are also well stocked.

Unless there’s a doctor on-board your cruise vessel, you can be a long way from the nearest medical treatment.

 

Planning a Trip to The Galapagos Islands: Post Reservation

Do I need a travel visa for Ecuador and the Galapagos?

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:

Tourist Visa Required: No, for stays less than 90 days, in any 12-month period.
Blank Passport Pages: 1 page per stamp
Passport Validity: 6 months
Vaccinations: None
US UK

 

Does the Galapagos National Park have any rules?

Yes, many! No person can set foot in the visitor sites of the Galapagos National Park unless accompanied by a certified naturalist guide. Their job is to enforce all Galapagos National Park regulations and there are steep penalties for breaking the rules and regulations of the Park. Do follow and obey your guide’s discretion.

 

What time zone is the Galapagos in?

Galapagos Islands: GMT-6
Quito, Guayaquil, and mainland Ecuador: GMT -5 (The Galapagos Islands are one hour behind mainland Ecuador).

 

What languages are spoken in the Galapagos Islands and on Ecuador mainland?

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.

 

What currency is accepted in the Galapagos? Should I bring cash, credit card or Travelers Checks? Are ATMs available?

The monetary unit of Ecuador is the US Dollar. There are ATMs throughout Ecuador and on Santa Cruz Island in Puerto Ayora. Though many places accept major credit cards, it is advisable to carry enough cash on hand for general expenses and tips. Your Safari Designer can advise you on what you may need cash for.

 

Can I use my cell phone?

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.

 

What camera equipment should I bring to the Galapagos?

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.

 

Are drones allowed in the Galapagos?

Drones are not permitted in the Galapagos National Park, which covers 97% of the islands.

What should I pack for the Galapagos?

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.

See our Recommended Packing List

 

What books should I read for the Galapagos?

See our recommended reading list.

 

Are there baggage allowances or restrictions?

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.