Visiting the Galapagos Islands – when is the best time to travel?
The Galapagos Islands rank high on many people’s travel “bucket list” – and for good reasons. Renowned as the “cradle of evolution”, these magnificent and remote islands were the inspiration behind Charles Darwin’s ideas on the origin of species. To this day, the Galapagos continue to surprise scientists – recent studies have shown evidence of Galapagos wildlife changing into new species even now!
Declared a protected National and Marine Park in 1959 and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, the islands are heavily protected, and visitor numbers and their impact strictly controlled. It’s this combination of unique wildlife and habitats and limited availability that makes Galapagos such a wished-for and exclusive destination.
See more by sea
Luckily for modern travellers, the most environmentally sensitive way to experience these remarkable islands is also the best way – by sea. From a humble start offering hardy backpackers trips on old fishing boats, the Galapagos cruise fleet has developed into a modern, luxurious, and green tourism experience. The number of operator licences is strictly controlled, and owners have to submit pre-planned itineraries for approval, minimising the impact on the unique animals and plants of the archipelago.
With over 70 ships, yachts and catamarans now offering the ultimate way to visit the Galapagos, the choice can be a little overwhelming. Luckily, independent Galapagos cruise experts Galapatours.com have developed the first online portal, allowing would-be travellers to find the perfect Galapagos cruise to suit their travel plans, budget and what they want to see while they visit this natural wonder 600 miles from the coast of Ecuador.
We asked Benno Schmidt, Director of Galapatours and a frequent visitor to the islands, to let us have his top tips about the best time to visit.
What is the Galapagos climate like?
Benno: The Galapagos Islands lie directly on the Equator, but they also sit directly where 3 different Pacific Ocean currents merge, which gives them an unusual tropical but semi-arid climate. While they don’t experience seasons as such, there are two main climatic periods.
From December to May the weather is more usually tropical, with warm temperatures (80 to 90F – 27 to 32C) and occasional showers. The sea is at its warmest and calmest at this time.
From June to November the average temperatures drop a little (usually 70 to 80F – 21 to 27C) and the sea temperatures lower. This is sometimes called the “dry season”.
Whenever you visit, the equatorial sun is merciless – so always bring full sunblock and a hat, and consider keeping your skin covered with cool clothing to avoid nasty sunburn!
Is there a high and low season for Galapagos cruises?
Benno: Not really. Because of the climate, the islands are a true year-round destination with no “best time” to visit for travelers. Wildlife is always active, and different creatures breed and raise young throughout the whole year. This means you will see fascinating courtship, nesting and feeding behaviours whenever you visit. If your plans are flexible, then you can search for all the available cruises within a given date range on the Galapatours portal.
Although this means there isn’t a “low season” for the Galapagos cruise fleet, there are more popular times for visitors to arrive in the islands. Cruises tend to sell out early for the period around Christmas and New Year, at Easter time, and in July and August. This coincides with Northern Hemisphere school holidays, so if you want the best choice of cruises during these times, I suggest you book early. If you’re not traveling with children, then you may have more choice for your available dates.
Are there any “last minute” Galapagos deals?
Benno: Sometimes! We do list some last minute Galapagos deals, but in all honesty, I can’t really recommend this approach for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, while you can pick up savings of up to 30%, the choice of ships, class, and itinerary will be minimal. The Galapagos is such a fantastic destination I really recommend you search out the perfect ship for you to get the best experience. However, if you are very flexible, can travel in the next few days, and just want to tick off the Galapagos as a destination then this can be a good option.
Secondly, there’s no guarantee that there will be any last minute deals available. You may be left with your bags packed, but nowhere to go! Availability changes hourly, but given the Galapagos’ remote location the information can be delayed. If you’re determined to go this route, I really recommend you give one of our travel advisers a call. Because we deal directly with boat owners and operators, we can not only get you up-to-the-minute availability, but also give you our advice based on our own and our customers’ previous experiences.
Whatever you do, don’t fly to the islands without a cruise booked and go to the docks. Although some backpacking sites recommend this approach, I certainly don’t! I’ve heard too many sad stories of people being stranded with no cruise and no accommodation or ending up on a second-rate itinerary which ruined the experience for them.
Is there a best time to travel to Galapagos for families?
Benno: Regarding what you can see, the weather, and the experience – no, the Galapagos is a great year-round destination for families. Having said that, we don’t really recommend traveling with children younger than 8 or 9 for a few reasons. One is that the days are long and very active, with lots of hiking, swimming and snorkeling – it may be too much for youngsters. Another reason is that while adults enjoy the relaxed downtime onboard a small luxury yacht, smaller kids can become bored quickly. However, if you feel your children can handle all that, then most cruise operators will gladly welcome children on board. We have a list of all the family-friendly cruises that offer multiple-occupancy cabins, and/or discount rates for children.
As I mentioned before, the North American and European school holidays coincide with the greatest numbers of visitor arrivals to the islands. Because traveling with children usually means you’re not as flexible with your dates I highly recommend booking as far in advance as possible. You can secure a place on a Galapagos cruise with a little as a 20% deposit, and it’s well worth booking now to ensure that you secure your places onboard your perfect ship.