When to visit the Galapagos
Best Time to Visit
The Galapagos Islands
One of the most frequently asked questions we get asked is “when is the best month to visit the Galapagos Islands?” The Galapagos is an all-year round destination and the best time to visit depends very much on your interests and what you hope to get out of your stay with us.
Although there are many internet guides offering advice and tips on the best time to visit the Galapagos, the majority of these are written by “Galapagos experts” who have never actually lived all-year round in the Galapagos Islands. Consequently, there is a lot of conflicting (and inaccurate) information out there.
When to visit the Galapagos
The Insider’s Guide
This guide has been put together by the team at Galapagos Safari Camp, led by Stephanie Bonham-Carter and Michael Mesdag who lived in the Galapagos for 8 years. (Read their story here).
If you would like more help in planning your Galapagos vacation, please contact one of our Galapagos travel experts. We specialise in luxury Galapagos vacations, including land-based safaris and island cruises, all fully personalized to meet your needs and interests.
PLAN YOUR SAFARI
Despite sitting on the equator, the Galapagos Islands do not have a tropical climate. This means that it never gets unbearably hot, making it a very pleasant, all-year round destination.
There are two distinct seasons in the Galapagos: the warm & wet season (January to June) and the cool & dry season (June to December). The seasons are mostly determined by the trade winds, which in turn affect the ocean currents, which in turn affect the weather.
Warm - Wet Season
Cool - Dry Season
Air Temperatures (min-max)
71 - 88°F 22 - 31°C
67 - 80°F 19 - 27 °C
Sea Temperatures (approx)
74 - 76°F 23 - 24°C
68 - 74°F 20 - 23°C
2 - 5cm 0.75 - 2in
0.60cm - 1.3cm 0.25 in - 0.50in
Clear Skies (hours)
4 - 7
2 - 4
Approx 10-30 meters
Approx 5-20 meters
January to June
The Warm & Wet Season
- Warmer air temperatures, with higher humidity
- Warmer sea temperatures with good underwater visibility
- Warmer, sunnier days with clear blue skies and intermittent rain showers
- Calmer seas
- Less marine life than cool season
- Lush vegetation. Flowers bloom March-April
- Breeding season for numerous species including sea turtles, land tortoises, sea lions and birds
- Best for: sun seekers
- Nights are cooler than at sea level
- Spectacular sunsets
- Alfresco dining on the verandah
- 12 February: Darwin Day (Darwin’s birthday)
Voices of Galapagos
Our Experts Say
“Heat lovers will more likely enjoy the January to June period. Having said that, the height of heat and humidity tends to be March with the rest of the season being relatively mild, particularly as the camp is 400 meters above sea level so 4 degrees cooler and pleasant at night, while activities involve a lot of water activities so a good way to cool off when needed.
Rain can be expected from February to April, and while there are downpours, it is always refreshing to clear the air and then get fabulous blue skies. Rain tends to be intermittent and dramatic so a clear sky is more the norm. There is plenty of wildlife activity year round so it does not really matter what season ones visits the Galapagos, there is always plenty to see and marvel at.
During the rainy season vegetation is lush and inviting, landscapes are surprisingly green in some areas, contrary to the bare and volcanic landscapes often associated with the Galapagos Islands. Seas are calmer and water is warmer so this its a good season for people who are intolerant to lower water temperatures and sea sickness.”
The Warm Season Explained.
From January (or sometimes earlier, from December), the southern trade winds ease and The Panama Current becomes the dominant ocean current, bringing warm waters to the Galapagos from the northeast.
The sea is at its warmest during this season, at around 74 – 76°F / 23 – 24°C.
Wind speeds are light, ranging from force 1 (light air) to force 4 (moderate breeze). As a result the waters are clearer and calmer, making it very pleasant for snorkelers and divers with good underwater visibility (usually 15-30 meters). However marine life tends to be more abundant in the cooler season (see below).
Families with younger children (or those sensitive to the cold) may find these warmer sea temperatures favorable, particularly if their Safari includes a lot of water-based activities such as snorkeling and surfing. (Note: Galapagos Safari Camp provides wetsuits for all ages)
This is the hottest season with air temperatures in the 70s and 80s (°F) and 20s (°C), making it a popular season with sun-seekers, particularly those in the northern hemisphere craving winter sun.
The layer of mist that dominates the cool & dry season disperses, resulting in longer periods of blue skies and sunshine (roughly 4-7 hours of clear skies per day). To confuse matters the warm season is also referred to as the ‘rainy season’. Although expected daily, rain showers are usually short and sweet.
The warmer weather kick-starts the breeding and nesting season for many species such as marine iguanas, sea turtles, giant tortoises and sea lions. Blue footed boobies begin their courtship dance.
Vegetation is green and lush, particularly in the highlands where Galapagos Safari Camp is based.
June to December
The Cool & Dry Season
- Cooler air temperatures, with reduced humidity
- Cooler sea temperatures with reduced underwater visibility
- Misty skies and less sunshine (the garua season)
- Less rain
- Migratory birds and humpback whales
- Abundant, spectacular marine life (great for snorkelers and divers)
- Sea lion pups are born (as it’s when most food is available for nursing females)
- Lowlands become dry and barren. Highlands retain much of their lush vegetation
- The open ocean can get a little choppy
- September & October: Darwin visited Galapagos
- September 15, 1835 – arrival of the Beagle(& Darwin) in the Galapagos Islands.
- September 17-22: Darwin visits San Cristóbal
- September 24-27: Darwin visits Floreana
- September 29-October 2: Darwin visits Isabela
- October 8-17: Darwin visits Santiago
VOICES OF GALAPAGOS
Our Experts Say
“For those who are less tolerant of the heat, this is a better period to visit. It is never too cold but you will need a few more layers and you can expect a slight chill at night.
I particularly love the air quality during this season as it is less humid so views are sharper when it’s clear. Due to the garua (see below), the weather is more temperamental and the “enchanted isles” effect become tangible, with islands appearing and disappearing on the horizon. During these months I find these luminous landscapes hauntingly beautiful and, much like the Romantic paintings of Turner and Whistler, evocative of a bygone era.
Given the cold currents, this is a good time for diving, albeit with more challenging conditions. The open seas are rougher and the water is a lot colder so this is a better time for more adventurous souls.
Wildlife is always interesting but there is a more “grown up” quality to this time of the year without the effervescence of the mating or nesting moments. The general atmosphere is more serene but equally as delightful.”
The Cool Season Explained.
During the dry season, the southern trade winds push the cold, nutrient-rich Humboldt Current up the coast of South America from the Antarctic to the Galapagos Islands.
Also known as the Pacific Equatorial Undercurrent, the Cromwell Current is a much deeper current that runs in the opposite direction from the Humboldt (from west to east along the equator). When it reaches the archipelago, the cold deep waters are deflected to the surface, carrying nutrients from decaying matter on the ocean floor (an oceanographic process known as ‘upwelling’). These nutrients sustain the phytoplankton at the water’s surface, and the increase in plankton growth attracts an abundance of fish and seabirds, making the waters especially exciting for divers and snorkeling enthusiasts.
The islands in the south, such as Isla Floreana and Isla Española, are the most affected by the cold waters of the Humboldt Current. The islands to the west such as Ferandina and Isabella are most affected by the Cromwell Current. (Galapagos Safari Camp is located on Isla Santa Cruz in the middle of the archipelago and so is relatively less affected by these currents).
During warmer years when this bottom layer of the food chain is not sustained, the consequences can be dire. For example, during El Niño of 1982 – 1983, the lack of food at the bottom of the food chain resulted in the death of many sea lions at the top of the chain.
In addition to feeding microscopic plant and animal life, this cold, nutrient-rich water is responsible for creating the mist (or garua) that is prevalent during this season by cooling the air directly above its surface. Higher up, at around 1000-2000ft / 300-600m, where the warmer air sits on top of the cooled air, an ‘inversion layer’ is formed, containing evaporated moisture from the ocean. This builds a layer of mist which keeps the highlands (and our home) lush and green in comparison to the lowland areas which become very dry and barren during this season.
The cooler ocean currents also bring cooler weather with air temperatures ranging from 67 – 80°F / 19 – 27 °C, particularly at night.
During the cooler season, sea temperatures drop to 68 – 74°F / 20 – 23°C. To put it into context, 70-78°F is the range where most people feel ‘comfortable’ swimming without wetsuits, although this is down to preference. (Galapagos Safari Camp provides wetsuits for all ages).
Although described as ‘cooler’ it’s worth noting that these water temperatures are more or less the same as those in Cape Town, Africa in January (19°C), the Algarve, Portugal in July (20°C), the Costa del Sol, Spain in August (23°C), Jacksonville, Florida in May (°23C) and Malibu, California in August (19°C)
Wind speeds pick up during the cooler season and range from force 4 (moderate breeze) to force 7 (high wind, moderate/near gale). The ocean can therefore get a little choppy during these months, and those who prone to sea-sickness may favor a land-based safari over a cruise (see our planning guide for tips on Land-Based Tours vs Cruises)
Underwater visibility is reduced to around 5-20 meters, however due to the nutrient-rich currents marine life is at its most abundant during this season.
The cooler season sees the arrival of sea lion pups as this is when the oceans contain the most food for nursing females. Marine life is at its best. Vegetation is not as lush as the warm/rainy season, with more subtle colours bathing the island.
THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS