The Galapagos Islands are a small archipelago of islands belonging to Ecuador in the western Pacific Ocean. The islands are quite remote and isolated, lying some 1000 km (620 miles) west of the South American continent. The Galapagos archipelago consists of 13 main islands and 6 smaller isles, which together embrace some 50,000 sq km (19,500 sq miles) of ocean.
The Galápagos archipelago is world-renowned for its unique and fearless wildlife- much of which was inspiration for Charles Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection. The islands are therefore very popular amongst natural historians, both professional and amateur. Giant tortoises, sea lions, penguins, marine iguanas and different bird species can all be seen and approached. The landscape of the islands is relatively barren and volcanic, but beautiful nonetheless. The highest mountain amongst the islands is Volcán Wolf on Isla Isabela, 1707 m (5600ft) high.
The Galápagos were claimed by newly-independent Ecuador in 1832, a mere three years before Darwin's visit on the Beagle. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the islands were inhabited by very few settlers and were used as a penal colony, the last closing in 1959 when the islands were declared a national park. The Galapagos were subsequently listed as a World Heritage Site in 1978.
Strict controls on tourist access are maintained in an effort to protect the natural habitats and all visitors must be accompanied by a national park-certified naturalist tour guide. The islands currently receive an average of 60,000 visitors per year. Sadly most visitors simply take a boat tour and then depart, allowing very little money to flow to local inhabitants. By extending a stay in Puerto Ayora or elsewhere, it helps add money to the local economy and demonstrates to locals the value of the park and the need to end illegal fishing and polluting. There are a few travel options however that support "Fair Trade" and give back to the local economy.
The Galapagos Islands have a highly variable climate, as does Ecuador's mainland. June to November sees the Garua season when the islands can be misty. January to March is the rainy season. Each month brings unique climate variations and wildlife viewing opportunities. Generally speaking, the best months to visit are April, May and November.
- Baltra & Seymour
- Darwin & Wolf
- Isabela - the largest island
- San Cristobal
- Santa Cruz - the main island and population centre
- Santa Fe
- South Plaza
Visiting the Galapagos is not cheap, owing to travel restrictions and the remote nature of the archipelago.
Flights to the Galapagos are relatively easy to arrange and depart from Quito and Guayaquil on a daily basis for the Isla Baltra airport, about two hours by public transport from Puerto Ayora, the main settlement of the Galapagos, on the central island of Santa Cruz. There are also daily flights to San Cristóbal. The airport is a 20 minute walk from the center of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
Best is to depart from Guayaquil City due to the fact that each flight is making a stop of about 1 hour where you have to remain on the plane. Also prices are cheaper.
Both Aerogal and Tame have flights to the Galapagos. The price is the same for both companies, for foreigners around $405 from Quito and much cheaper (around 360$) from Guayaquil. Eucadorians pay half the price and there is a 15% discount on TAME flights and a 20% discount on Aerogal flights if you have an ISIC studentcard. The price is usually ~$50 cheaper during the low season (May and September).
It's not possible to buy a one way ticket without proof of transportation from the islands. It's easy however to change the date of your return ticket or to switch your departure to another island.
It is possible to travel to the islands by boat from Guayaquil, but in general this option is a major hassle that won't save money.
A lot of people don't know it, but the Galapagos can be done independently. There are small boats every day between the 3 bigger islands of San Cristóbal, Santa Cruz and Isla Isabela. They cost $40 one-way, but some people have got them for $35 when they ordered a return-ticket with an open return date. From these island you can do organized daytrips, but there are also a lot of things you can do on your own.
There are hotels and hostels on most of the islands ranging from $35-$500+ which often do not need to be booked in advance. Many hotels and hostels arrange day tours. However, most tour agencies operate on Santa Cruz Island around the waterfront where day trips of all kind are offered.
Seeing the sites and wildlife of the Galapagos is best done by boat. Most people book their place well in advance (as the boats are usually full during the high season). Booking a boat tour with a company in your home country is usually the most convenient, but is often considerably more expensive.
Boat tours can also be arranged from Guayaquil, Quito, and even from Puerto Ayora. While it is possible to get a last-minute deal, be aware that many budget tours may spend extra time in Puerto Ayora, might not have the best boats, and may only visit the inner islands.
In either case, when looking for a tour consider the following:
- Number of passengers. Many of the sites in the islands are limited in how many people may visit at any given time, so it is generally best to travel on a boat with fewer passengers (between ten and twenty passengers is ideal).
- Itinerary. Fernandina, Isabela, and Genovesa islands are three of the most interesting islands in the archipelago, but many tours skip these islands and visit only the inner islands.
- Availability. Most of the best cruises are booked up months in advance, so best to book early.
- Level of Activity. Landings are only permitted during the twelve hours of daylight, so try to find a trip that takes advantage of daylight hours. In addition, the aquatic life is the highlight of the trip for many visitors, so be sure to find a tour that includes at least one daily snorkel.
- Additional costs. Many tours do not include the $100 park entry fee or the cost of a flight from the mainland to the islands (apx. $400 from Quito).
There are a few companies that offer island hopping inclusive packages to the Galapagos. This has been described as a more sustainable economic and ecological model for tourism in the islands.
- ROW Adventures  Awarded "Tours of a Lifetime" by National Geographic, this company offers the only vacation of it's kind to the Galapagos Islands and allows two nights camping on the islands as part of the journey. This trip gets you off the typical cruise ship-based Galapagos tour and allows you to see the diverse wildlife and scenery of these islands from behind a paddle. Snorkeling, hiking, and kayaking activities too.
- SharkSky Ecoadventures Galapagos  offers regular Island Hopping, but also Multisport, Adventure, Camping tailor made tours. Flexibility and assistance. They also offer dive tours.
- Nature Galapagos & Ecuador .Offers 8 day island hopping and 8 days cruises.
- Galapagos Cruises  Awarded a "World's Best Tour Operators & Safari Outfitters" by Travel+Leisure since 1999, Galapagos.com offers luxury cruises and adventures to the Galapagos Islands.
- Dreamkapture Travel . Offers 4 and 5 day island hopping tours. Book a tour with them and get a free night in Guayaquil.
- Volcanika Adventures . Offers luxury and standard island hopping tours in the archipelago. They are a bilingual, locally owned family business and they strive to promote sustainable eco-tourism and conservation in the islands. Custom or 4,5 and 8 day trips are available.
- Ole! Travel . Ole! Travel offers a 6 day island hopping tour in the islands.
- Reserva Ecologica Pachijal . Local tour operator offers various Island Hopping programs with the aim to promote a real advantage from tourism for residents.
- Red Mangrove Galapagos Lodges . "Darwin's Triangle" programs through their own Lodges on Santa Cruz, Floreana and Isabela. Camping options on Santa Cruz and Isabela and single day or land-based Galapagos diving programs. 3 Lodges, 3 Islands, 1 Red Mangrove standard of quality.
- Latin Trails. Latin Trails offers 4, 5, and 8 day cruises in the islands with prices starting at $130 per day.
- Galasam Cruises. Galasam owns 3 Galapagos cruises, Millennium, Estrella de Mar I and II, with 4 to 8 days itinerary in Galapagos islands with prices starting at $150 per day.
- Carpedm Adventures & Ecuador www.carpedm.travel A Canadian Ecuadorian company who's personalized service stands out from the rest of the pack. Based in the heart of Colonial Quito, Carpedm Adventures provides 8/5 and 4 day cruises to the Galapagos Islands. Each Galapagos tour comes with a free complimentary carbon-offset, which shows their committement to doing their part for the environment. For more information visit: http://www.carpedm.travel -Phone 00 593 22 954 713.
- Nature Galapagos & Ecuador MY Friendship small boat for 16 passenjers. Cheap Prices-Phone 00 593 22 908 725.
- Galanet. A tour operator handling a lot of tours for correct prices. They own a hotel on Puerto Ayora. Phone 00 593 42 340 315.
- Galapagos Cruise Tours. A company offering standard yacht tours as well as trips aboard the 110 passenger Galapagos Legend.
- Cultural & Natural Heritage Tours. A company whose specialty is a 13 day active trip that includes 8 days cruising the islands, a full day on land in Puerto Ayora, and two days in Quito. This trip offers much more activity than the standard Galapagos trip including more landings, more snorkeling, kayaking, and even a midnight snorkel. Costs begin at $2,575, including airfare to/from the islands and 5 nights hotel in Quito and Galapagos.
- General Tours/Canodros. General Tours with Canodros offers 3, 4, and 7 night Galapagos cruises with optional additonal tours to the Amazon, Machu Pichhu, and others. The cruise ship is an all-suite ship and features 55 crew and 6 naturalists on board for small group outings (the ship holds approx. 100 pax, ground expeditions are approx. 20 pax or less). Costs begin at $2679 and includes park fee and air from Guayaquil.
- Enchanted Expeditions. Enchanted Expeditions (formerly Angermeyer’s Enchanted Expeditions) is in its fourth decade of operating tours in Galapagos and mainland Ecuador. Enchanted Expeditions is the exclusive representative of their own yachts Beluga (Superior First Class) and Cachalote I (First Class).
- Ecuador Galapagos Travels. Ecuador Galapagos Travels, the travel agency for your Ecuador travel and Galapagos cruises, tours into the Amazon jungle and to the beaches of Ecuador, adventure tours in the Andes, Hotels in Ecuador and Galapagos, Spanish classes in Quito
- INCA - International Nature & Cultural Adventures. INCA is an American company with unique itineraries on the luxury, 16-passenger small yachts M/V Integrity and M/V Reina Silvia. All INCA Galapagos adventures feature 7-night cruises including outlying islands, and most include stays at the Royal Palm Resort on Santa Cruz. Private trips available on either yacht. Options for Amazon, Otavalo and Machu Picchu. Costs begin at $3995, not including park fee and airfare.
- Audley Travel. Audley Travel are a tailor made travel specialist, offering itineraries and cruises in the Galapagos Islands. All tours are thoroughly planned by an expert with in-depth knowledge of the region.
- Klein Tours. Kleintours is one of the largest tour operators in Ecuador and a deluxe cruise line in the Galapagos islands, owner of M/V Galapagos Legend, M/Y Coral I and II (for 100, 36 and 20 passengers).
- Metropolitan Touring. Metropolitan Touring was one of first companies to start Galapagos Islands Cruises. They have some of the finest Galapagos Cruises, with itineraries of 4, 5 and 8 days, check direct availabilities and prices with cruise owner.
- Galapagos Travel. An American company that specializes in 11 and 14 day trips around the islands. This company caters to photographers and provides service in luxury-class yachts with extensive itineraries. Costs begin at $3850 (does not include park entry fee or airfare to Baltra).
- Cheeseman's Ecology Safaris. Another American company that specializes in high-quality trips. Cheeseman trips will always include at least one naturalist in addition the to park guide, and are geared towards photographers and nature lovers. All Cheeseman trips are non-smoking, and most Galapagos trips are 15 days. Costs begin at $5900 and do not include park entry fee or airfare to Baltra.
- AdventureSmith Galapagos Cruises. A California based tour operator specializing in expedition cruises and wilderness adventures. AdventureSmith cruises feature only certified level III naturalist guides. Trips are geared toward active travelers and nature enthusiasts. Trips include 7 nights cruising, 3 nights accommodation, transfers and a tour of Quito, Ecuador and flights to/from the Galapagos Islands. Costs begin at $2055 not including park entry fee.
- SunWind Travel. An Ecuadorian company with offices in Galapagos, Quito and Florida. SWT charter the finest yachts and arrange high quality cruises. Owners are +20 year-experienced level III naturalist guides. Costs begin at $3165 and include 7-night cruising, 3-night accommodation in Quito, a la carte welcome and farewell dinner, all-day tour of Quito, private transfers. Not included park entry fee and flight to/from Galapagos.
- Galapagos Travel. Ecuador based tour operator offering 3, 4 and 7 night cruises on board the luxurious catamaran M/C Anahi, cruises feature a Galapagos Park guide, cruise director and 11 crew members to pamper 16 guests throughout a natural history tour visiting the less visited excursion sites in the archipelago.
- Eco Voyager. An American tour operator with offices in Ecuador. This company offers Ecuador land and Galapagos packages on various vessels that meet their strict quality and safety standards. Trips range from 7 to 15 days in length. Because they are a local operation, they seem to always find availability during tough travel months.
- Journeys International. Offers naturalist-guided small ship cruises with 7 nights cruising and 3 nights accommodation. Choose from a variety of ships and cabins. Also operates family cruises.
- Southern Explorations. Southern Explorations offer 2 broad categories of Galapagos Islands experience. Select from either land based Galapagos Island Eco-Tours or from 4 categories of Galapagos Island Cruises. Which isn't to say that those taking the land based options never get a chance to go out on the water nor does it mean that cruise based passengers never get to come ashore. All Galapagos offerings are specifically designed to bring you the most fulfilling Galapagos Island experience. Also offers Galapagos Island Combo Tours which allow you to combine your Galapagos Islands adventures with more adventure on mainland South America.
On each island, the number of visitors are limited and there are only a small number of official landing and visitor sites. You must follow the instructions of your guide to protect the wildlife and you are not allowed off the marked paths. This is not a problem as the animals are so tame they will sit right on the path or cross it without caring about mere tourists.
The Charles Darwin foundation Charles Darwin Foundation administers several research stations throughout the islands, including a large station in Puerto Ayora that is worth visiting for its animal and natural history exhibits.
- Climb the hill on Bartolome for the classic Galapagos view
- Visit the Giant Tortoise breeding centre at the Charles Darwin Research Centre on Santa Cruz.
- See the red neck sacks of the Magnificent Frigatebird on Seymour.
- Visit unique species like the Galapagos penguin and Galapagos flamingo on Isabela or Floreana.
- Go snorkeling as often as possible.
Snorkeling & Scuba Diving
Snorkeling and diving are very popular activities as the sea life is so rich and colourful.
Snorkeling equipment should be available from your tour operator (but check first) if you don't have your own. You may also want to bring a waterproof camera. Remember to wear at least a T-shirt and suntan lotion if you are snorkeling, as it's all too easy to get sunburnt in the strong sun.
Diving in the Galapagos is incredible as noted by Rodale's Scuba Diving Magazine. Ranked as the best dive destination in the world for several years in the categories of Healthiest Marine Environment, Best Big Animal Dive and Best Advanced Diving.
Scuba Diving Cruises/ Liveaboards
Due to current park regulations there are only four boats authorized to provide Diving Cruises/Liveabords in the Galapagos Islands. All of these cruises are for advanced divers only. Their itineraries are specifically for divers and feature locations where it is not possible to go ashore. Live aboard cruises are the only way to dive at Wolf and Darwin.
- Lammer Law trimaran. 
- Sky Dancer  marketed directly by Peter Hughes Diving.
- Galapagos Aggressor I and II. 
The other option for people interested in diving is a land based daily dive program where you sleep on one of the islands and go on dive excursions during the day.
There are hotels and other accommodation in the towns of Puerto Ayora, Puerto Villamil and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, however if you really want to see lots of good wildlife, you will need to combine your stay on these islands with daily boat tours to other islands.
- HostelTrail Ecuador  A free website which offers advice on budget accommodation and backpacking tours on the Galapagos Islands.
In general, crime is not a problem in the Galapagos. Petty crime may occur in the towns, and occasionally fisherman will stage strikes or demonstrations that affect tourists, but for the most part there is little to be concerned about. It should be noted, however, that some items that have been reported missing have been found in the crews` quarters! As most boats do not have lockable cabins, it might be advisable to keep your items locked away in bags in your cabins.
The animal life in the islands is mostly docile with the exception of the large bull sea lions. These animals will vigorously protect their harems, and can inflict dangerous and potentially deadly bites. Do not snorkel close to sea lion colonies. If a bull sea lion approaches you, swim away from the nearest colony. Note that it is only the bulls that are dangerous; swimming with juvenile sea lions can be one of the most exciting parts of a trip.
In addition to sea lions, there is a minimal danger from sharks. In general sharks will not attack unless provoked, although attacks can sometimes occur in murky water when sharks mistake humans for other animals. However, by exercising simple common sense experiences will be almost always be positive.
The park is strictly regulated. Outside of the towns visitors must be accompanied by guides, and visitors are only allowed on land from sunrise until sunset. Itineraries must be registered with the park prior to embarking on a trip, and animals should never be disturbed; while the wildlife in the Galapagos will usually ignore your presence, a general rule of thumb is that if an animal notices your presence then you are too close. Two meters is generally given as a minimum distance to keep away from animals; you will find that if you are calm and respectful that many animals will walk right up to investigate you.
One of the greatest dangers to the islands is introduced species. The park service is trying to eliminate goats, rats, cats, dogs, and introduced plant species on many of the islands, but it is a difficult battle; after evolving for thousands of years without predators, the Galapagos wildlife is not adapted to handle these new species. When traveling to the islands, do not bring any plant or animal life with you, and be sure to always clean your footwear when traveling between islands to avoid accidentally transferring seeds.
Illegal fishing is another threat to the park. Although park officials will deny it, illegal fishing for sharks and sea cucumbers occurs on a massive scale. The number of fishermen has increased rapidly over the last few years, while the number of fish have plunged. Unfortunately the National Parks hardly take any action against it.
Another big threat to the park is the growing population. Although new rules make it impossible for people arriving of the mainland to live and work on the islands, the rules are hardly enforced. Still lots of people come from the mainland to make quick money on the island.
According to local fishermen, corruption at the national park service is the main reason why nothing is undertaking to the treaths. Salaries of park guards are huge even for Galápagos standards. For visitors, park rules are enforced to make a well-organized impression. Shiny buildings and visitors centers and guards in uniforms helps to keep up this impression. Meanwhile almost nothing is undertaken against illegal immigration, illegal fishing and the heaps of garbage on the beaches outside the visitor areas. The occasional news report about a fishing boat filled with shark fins and photos of heavy polluted beaches is better for the National Park bank account than really solving these problems.
The codified park rules are:
- No plant, animal, or remains of such (including shells, bones, and pieces of wood), or other natural objects should be removed or disturbed.
- Be careful not to transport any live material to the islands, or from one island to another.
- Do not take any food to the uninhabited islands, for the same reason.
- Do not touch or handle the animals.
- Do not feed the animals. It can be dangerous to you, and in the long run would destroy the animals' social structure and breeding habits.
- Do not startle or chase any animal from its resting or nesting spot.
- Stay within the areas designated as visitor sites.
- Do not leave any litter on the islands, or throw any off your boat.
- Do not deface the rocks.
- Do not buy souvenirs or objects made of plants or animals from the islands.
- Do not visit the islands unless accompanied by a licensed National Park Guide.
- Restrict your visits to officially approved areas.
- Show your conservationist attitude.
- Fishing on board tourist ships is not permitted.
- Fire or smoking is not permitted.
- Camping at authorized sites requires a permit.
- Professional filming requires special authorization from the Park Director.
This page was last edited at 21:29, on 28 March 2009 by Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel. Based on work by Luis Campuzano, Ian Sergeant, Ryan Holliday, Brad Moss and renato gregorini, Wikitravel user(s) Edmontonenthusiast and Shaund, Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel and others.