Planning tips

How to plan a Galapagos Vacation


General Information about the Galapagos Islands



Illustrated map of the Galapagos Islands

In our guide to planning a Galapagos vacation, we answer some of your most frequently asked questions. We recommend you use the table of contents (desktop only) to navigate the content.


Geography and Ownership

Where are 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.

Who owns the Galapagos Islands?

The Galapagos Islands belong to the Republic of Ecuador in South America.

How many Galapagos Islands are there?

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. See: Our Guide To The Galapagos Islands


Visiting and Travel Requirements

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 content 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

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).

Propeller planes operate within the Galapagos and connect the islands of Baltra, Isabela, and San Cristobal. If your itinerary involves an island-hopping flight please note that the maximum allowance is 11kg.

For Isabela Island extensions, our rate includes up to 23kg (50Ib) 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.

Please check the documentation you receive from your Safari Designer for the latest advice.


Environment and Conservation

How much of the Galapagos is National Park?

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.

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.

Why are the Galapagos Islands so special?

“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, in his documentary series, 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.

See: When is the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands and An Introduction to the Galapagos Islands.


Local Information

What time zone are the Galapagos Islands in?

The Galápagos Islands are in the Galapagos Time Zone (GALT), which is UTC-6. Note: the Galapagos Islands are one hour behind mainland Ecuador.

No Daylight Saving Time: Unlike many parts of the United States, the Galapagos Islands do not observe Daylight Saving Time. They remain on GALT (UTC-6) throughout the year.

Comparison with U.S. Time Zones:

  • When the U.S. is on Daylight Saving Time (second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November), the Galapagos Islands are one hour behind the Central Daylight Time (CDT).
  • When the U.S. is on Standard Time (rest of the year), the time in the Galapagos Islands aligns exactly with Central Standard Time (CST).

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.

What currency is accepted in the Galapagos?

The monetary unit of Ecuador is the US Dollar.

Are ATMs available?

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.


Health and Safety

What kind of travel insurance do I need?

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.

What vaccinations/immunizations do I need for Ecuador?

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.

How safe are the Galapagos Islands for tourists?

The Galapagos Islands are historically a very safe tourist destination. In case of regional unrest, we advise you to contact your own government travel advisory sites for the latest information.

How safe is it to drink tap water in the Galapagos?

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.

Where is the nearest hospital/medical facility in the Galapagos?

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.

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

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.

Planning Your Trip

Travel Planning

Planning a Galapagos trip

When is the best time of year 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. See: When is the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands

How do you get to the Galapagos Islands?

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 Galapagos Safari 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, together with any accommodation and travel on the mainland.

How long is the flight to the Galapagos Islands?

Approximately a 1.5 hour flight from Guayaquil, and a 2-hour flight from Quito.

How far is the Galapagos from the mainland?

600 miles / 1000 km.


Planning Your Galapagos Experience

Which is more suitable for my Galapagos visit, a land-based tour or a cruise?

Depends on your personal goals and priorities; each offers a different experience. We highlight the key differences here: What are land-based tours?

What is a land-based tour?

On a land-based tour you stay in one location, taking day trips to explore surrounding areas. For more details see: What are land-based tours?

Which experience offers more comfort, a hotel or a 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 long should I go to the Galapagos for?

We recommend a minimum stay of at least 4 or 5 nights, ideally 8.

What can I do in the Galapagos Islands?

Most people visit the Galapagos to see its wildlife. While the islands do 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 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 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.

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 when we plan your itinerary. Explore the Uninhabited Islands We Visit on Safari

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 may be your best option. However, you won’t necessarily see more wildlife.

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.

What is an “island-hopping tour”?

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

The itineraries of island hopping tours generally 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 towns.

97% of the Galapagos archipelago is protected National Park which is uninhabited by humans and brimming with wildlife. The 25k human residents in the Galapagos are packed into just 3% of the land area, the vast majority residing in these port towns.

If you are visiting the Galapagos Islands to explore its wildlife, look for an itinerary that explores the National Park, such as the Safaris we offer at Galapagos Safari Camp.

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.

The same applies to cruising. Unfortunately many cruise ships and boats in the islands 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.

Our footprint

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.

The Camp is committed to reducing its water and energy consumption with a cutting-edge water treatment system, solar panel installations, a deliberately small swimming pool, reforestation projects and more.  See: Sustainable hospitality in the Galapagos Islands


Packing and Preparations

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

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 for the Galapagos and Galapagos books for kids (also contains recommended podcasts and documentaries)

What camera equipment should I bring to the Galapagos?

Due to the close proximity that 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, keen photographers might want to bring 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, i.e. 97% of the area.

Can I use my cell phone in the Galapagos?

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.

Are towels provided for day trips?

Yes, towels are provided for day trips.

Galapagos Safari Camp

About the Camp

The main lodge at Galapagos Safari Camp

Who owns Galapagos Safari Camp, and when was it founded?

Galapagos Safari Camp is owned by Stephanie Bonham-Carter and Michael Mesdag. They bought the land in 2003 and officially opened the camp in 2007. Read the founders’ story.

Where is Galapagos Safari Camp located?

Galapagos Safari Camp is located in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island. See: Our Location and Google Earth.

How do you get to Galapagos Safari Camp?

Our nearest airport is Seymour Baltra Galapagos Airport (GPS) on Baltra Island.

Baltra is a tiny island which only accommodates the landing strip and airport terminal. Your guide will meet you in the VIP longe. You will be driven in a private vehicle to the island’s pier, where you will board a small passenger ferry to cross the narrow channel separating Baltra Island from Santa Cruz.

Once across, a car and driver will transfer you, together with your guide, to the camp. This drive usually takes around 30 minutes, however most of our Safaris start the moment you get off the plane. So, depending on your itinerary, you may stop at some visiting sites along the way.

Is Galapagos Safari Camp a luxury hotel?

Galapagos Safari Camp promotes Appropriate Luxury, focusing on harmonizing with nature to offer transformative experiences of joy and wellness through direct engagement with the natural world.

What is the terrain like at Galapagos Safari Camp?

We have a network of gravel paths around camp, and some 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.

What wildlife can I see at the camp itself?

Giant tortoises, Galapagos finches, Galapagos mockingbirds, Galapagos doves, flycatchers, yellow warblers, rails, and barn owls are some of the many creatures we share our home with. See: Wildlife


Facilities and Services

What laundry facilities does the camp provide?

Laundry services are available at an extra charge.

Is there WiFi at Camp?

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.

What is the dress code at camp?

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 feel a little fresh in the highlands where Galapagos Safari Camp is located, so it’s a good idea to bring a jumper as well.

How does the camp cater to special dietary needs?

We can cater to vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians, gluten-free, allergies, preferences, or religious regulations.

How kid-friendly is Galapagos Safari Camp?

We consider ourselves a very child-friendly camp! See: Family-Friendly.


Activities and Experience

Planning galapagos activities


What activities are available at Galapagos Safari Camp?

Snorkeling, surfing, fishing, kayaking, hiking, picnicking, bicycling, exploring lava fields and tunnels, painting and art classes, chocolate tasting.

How do Galapagos Safari Camp’s daily tours operate?

Fully customizable. Full day exploring Santa Cruz is flexible, and boat excursions usually leave early morning and return late afternoon.

Galapagos Safaris

Planning Your Safari

Planning Galapagos trip


How do I plan my Galapagos Safari Camp experience?

Visit Our Safaris and then contact us. Our Safari Planners will be happy to help you plan your best Galapagos experience!

When can I take a Galapagos Safari?

Galapagos Safari Camp offers tours all year round, and with no fixed departure dates. Our Safaris are flexible and customized. See Our Safaris.

How do the daily tours operate on a Galapagos Safari Camp Safari?

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.

What wildlife will I see on my Safari?

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.

To discover some of the wildlife we see each month, visit our monthly when to visit series.

Do the guides speak English?

All the guides speak English. Upon request, and at an extra cost, we can assign guides who are fluent in other languages.


Will I get seasick in the Galapagos?

If prone to seasickness, a land-based tour might be preferable. 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.

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

Activities require moderate fitness, but itineraries can be customized based on fitness levels.

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 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.

Are there any dangerous animals at camp?

We have nothing dangerous or life threatening in the Galapagos Islands. During excursions expect a few mosquitoes and horseflies, but even this is seasonal.

What can guests expect regarding the bug situation at camp?

At the Camp there are very few mosquitoes, spiders are commonly seen, and there are a few centipedes but they are shy and hard to see.


Equipment and Amenities

Do you provide wetsuits and snorkeling equipment?

Yes. We will ask you for your wetsuit and fin sizes at the time of booking.

What are the tipping guidelines for staff and services?

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.


Additional Services and Policies

Do you have a smoking policy at camp?

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.

Can special dietary needs be accommodated?

Yes, with advance notice. 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. See Dining.

Are towels provided for day trips, or should guests bring their own?

We provide towels for day excursions.

Do you have a non-discrimination policy?

Yes. Non-discrimination policy.

Mainland Ecuador

Can you help me with arrangements on mainland Ecuador?

We can oversee all your domestic flights, accommodation and transport on mainland Ecuador prior to your arrival in the Galapagos, and post departure.

If time permits, we encourage you to explore the beauty of mainland Ecuador, with Mainland Safari Extensions to


Additional Questions

Have more questions? Contact us!