Galapagos Islands Overview

The Facts

  • Official Name: Archipiélago de Colón
  • Capital: Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (San Cristóbal Island)
  • Government: The Galapagos Islands are a province of Ecuador
  • Population: 40,000
  • Total Area: 7,880 square km (3,042 sq. miles) of land spread over 45,000 square km (28,000 miles) of ocean, made up of 13 main islands, 6 smaller islands, and 107 rocks and islets (5 inhabited)
  • Official Language: Spanish
  • Time Difference: GMT/UTC -6 hours
  • Conservation: 97% protected as Galapagos National Park in 1959, 3% inhabited. Listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site 1978, UNESCO Biosphere Reserve 1985, UNESCO included the 70,000 square kilometres (43,496 sq mi.) of marine Reserve into the Galapagos world heritage site in 2001

About the Galapagos Islands

galapagos blue footed boobieThe Galapagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands distributed around the equator, 972 km west of continental Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. 97% of the land area of the islands are designated as a national park and visits can only be made to specific landing sites with certified naturalist guides. The Galapagos National Park coordinates visits to these sites, scrutinises ship itineraries and monitors ecological conditions.

The Galapagos Islands are a must-visit destination for anyone looking for the wildlife adventure of a lifetime as they are famous for the number of bird and animal species which are unique to the islands. Different islands are known for specific scenery, vegetation, and wildlife. However, many species, such as sea lions, marine iguanas, lava lizards, and a variety of coastal birds such as herons, tattlers, plovers, turnstones, and whimbrels, are common at most locations.

Charles Darwin visited the islands on the HMS Beagle. Based on his studies of the wildlife in the 'Enchanted Isles', Darwin wrote the Origin of Species, otherwise known as theory of evolution by natural selection, in 1859. In his book he noted that each island had its own species of tortoises, reptiles, finches, and other birds.

Each of these species has adapted themselves to suit their unique island environments, passing their successful adaptations on to new generations. Today there are 13 unique species of finches found on the various islands, while marine iguanas and land iguanas are also descended from a common ancestry but have adapted to very different environments. Some species, such as blue-footed boobies, are found nowhere else in the world.

Why visit the Galapagos Islands?

The Galapagos Islands are a photographer's delight. The animals are fearless, roaming free and unafraid, allowing you to capture amazing images without the aid of a long, heavy zoom lens.

During your cruise you can swim with the only penguins found north of the equator, walk alongside the endangered giant tortoises that gave the Galapagos Islands their name and visit brightly-coloured blue-footed boobies, scarlet throated frigate birds and many other diverse and fascinating species.

Along the way you can snorkel in waters inhabited by many varieties of fish, sharks, rays and marine iguanas, hike across varied volcanic landscapes, from barren lava rocks to lush green vistas and learn about the species that entranced Charles Darwin from knowledgeable guides and naturalists.

Best time to to visit the Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos is a year-round destination, with different wildlife activity happening throughout the year. Expedition Cruises are available throughout the year, so you have the option of seeing the Galapagos in different seasons for a very different experience of the islands.

The climate in the Galapagos Islands is subtropical, and regulated by the warm El Niño current and the cold Humboldt Current. The weather on the islands varies according to their size, location in relation to other islands, and the altitude. At higher altitudes, the temperature is cooler while there is also more rain due to the condensation of moisture in clouds on the slopes. Lower coastal areas tend to be warmer and drier.

High Season / Low Season

galapagos islands wildlife sealDuring the high season, which is generally around mid June to early September and mid December to mid January, many expedition vessels are booked far in advance, so it's best to make reservations months before you plan to travel. If you are making last minute reservations, you may not be able to take your first choice of ship.

For many cruise operators, the low season months are generally around April / May and September / October. Check individual tour pages for specific low and high season departure dates. During these months tourism in the Galapagos decreases and some operators lower their prices to attract more passengers on board.

While the Galapagos National Park limits the number of visitors to each island and coordinates each ship's itinerary, it is likely that you notice more people around during the summer months.

June to November - dry season

The dry season of June to November is a great time to see marine life in the Galapagos on Tucan Travel Expedition CruisesDuring the dry season of June to November period the southern trade winds bring the colder Humbolt Current north to the Galapagos, bringing colder water and cooler land temperatures. The meeting of this current with warm air can cause mists over the islands, known as 'garuas', with overcast skies but little rainfall. Daily temperatures range from 19°C to 28°C

The sea temperature drops to between 19°C and 23°C. The water is surprisingly cold for snorkelling and seas can be rough at times so those suffering from severe sea sickness may like to consider coming at an alternative time of year.

Clouds of moisture support the thick vegetation in the higher altitude areas of the islands. These areas will be lush and green, while lower areas will not receive much rain and will appear drier and browner. Only plants that can survive long periods of time without water, such as lichens and cacti, thrive in coastal areas.

The Humbolt Current brings nutrient-rich water that attracts plankton and whales, fish and sea birds. Albatrosses arrive on Española Island and penguins are easier to encounter. This is the mating season for the blue-footed boobies and it's a great chance to observe birds' dramatic courtship displays. This is also a great time of year for diving, though the strong currents in the Galapagos can be tricky so diving is for for experienced divers only.

December to May - wet season

The wet season of December to May is the best time to see sea turtles nesting in the Galapagos Islands with Tucan Travel. The warmest, wettest part of the wet season happens during the period from January to April. Average daily temperatures range from 22°C to 35°C and there can be occasional heavy showers or thunderstorms, especially in the afternoon. For the rest of the season, light rain falls for a short period of time each day, but the remainder of the day tends to be very sunny. The wet season usually means warm air, calm seas, clear skies and warm water. March is usually the hottest month of the year. This is a great time of year for swimming and snorkelling, due to the warmer sea temperature and calmer waters which offer very good underwater visability (particularly in January to March).

On the islands, heavy rains at higher altitudes send streams of water down the slopes to even the lowest elevations, resulting in a green and lush landscape. Flowers come into bloom and vegetation is more colourful. This is a very good time to observe land animals as they are very active during this period with plenty of food available to them. This is a good time to observe birds mating and this is also the time when sea turtles nest on the beaches.

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