For wildlife lovers or anyone keen on a exploring a landscape like no other, the Galapagos Islands need no introduction. This volcanic archipelago off the coast of Ecuador is famed for its diversity of endemic species, azure waters, and inspiration for Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Today, The Galapagos still stand as one of the world’s most memorable travel experiences.

Isolated from the destructive influence of mankind for millennia, The Galapagos Islands’ wildlife – above and below the ocean – was able to flourish in their own unique ecosystem, specially adapting to conditions and even the formation of new volcanic islands over time. The result is one of nature’s true treasure troves, a place of lava tunnels and volcanic craters, endemic species such as Galapagos Penguin and Land Iguana, as well as iconic creatures like the Blue-footed Booby and Giant Galapagos Tortoise.

What’s more, you don’t have to be a budding naturalist to make the most of your trip to The Galapagos. This is a stunning travel destination in its own right, a place of crystalline seas, untouched bays, boutique lodges and luxury cruise vessels, meaning there is more than one way to make the most of your time in Ecuador and The Galapagos.

Here we take a look at some essential travel tips and inside info on when, where and how’s the best way to plan the perfect Galapagos tour.

1. East or West Galapagos

The Galapagos are made up of 13 main islands and 7 smaller ones, with each offering its own particular appeal, wildlife, geology and ecosystem. No matter which route you choose, whether on a Galapagos cruise or island-hopping by land and air, the scenery and wildlife encounters alike are miraculous.

There are, however, differences to take into account when planning your Galapagos tour, though some islands and experiences can feature whether it’s the east or west of the archipelago you visit. One such example is the centrally-located Santa Cruz Island and town of Puerto Ayora, home to the Charles Darwin Research Station and a great place to begin your adventure. The island of Baltra is often the starting point for tours, thanks to its location and international transport links.

The Eastern Galapagos are home to the oldest islands in the archipelago, as well as most of the human habitation. Here, you’ll find the islands of:

Genovesa: Known for its hiking trails and abundance of bird species.

Floreana: Here, visit the famous Post Office Bay, Devil’s Crown and Highlands for great views and landscapes, or go snorkeling in search of corals and marine life.

Española: The Galapagos’ southernmost island and home to countless waved albatrosses and other bird species, marine iguanas and sea lions as well as dramatic Punta Suarez the pristine Gardner Bay.

San Cristobal: The Galapagos’ oldest island has highlights including Punta Pitt for Red-footed Boobies, the San Cristobal Interpretation Center and striking Leon Dormido rock.

Santa Fe: Also among the oldest islands in The Galapagos, Santa Fe is a good spot for land iguanas, sea turtles, manta rays and multiple birds species, as well as native cactus plants and the pretty site of Barrington Bay.

North Seymour: Wildlife abounds on North Seymour Island, known for its seabird and sea lion colonies.

The western Galapagos are more remote than the east and younger in age, offering different geology and species altogether. Here, you’ll find the islands of:

Isabela: Great for hiking and witnessing volcanic craters, Isabela (the largest Galapagos island) is also a must for its marine life and sites such as Elizabeth Bay, Punta Vicente Roca, Urbina Bay, and Tagus Cove

Santiago: Highlights of dark-rocked Santiago Island include James Bay, Sullivan Bay, Chinese Hat, Buccaneer Cove, and the thriving sea lions colonies.

Fernandina: Head to The Galapagos’ youngest island for the amazing lava fields of Punta Espinoza, marine iguana, sea lions and a flightless cormorant nesting area.

Bartolome: The volcanic islet of Bartolome is a must for its iconic views (from Pinnacle Rock) and perspective across the archipelago.

Genovesa Island: Known for an abundance of bird species, snorkeling opportunities and the lookouts of Darwin Bay and the Prince Phillips Steps.

2. When to travel to the Galapagos

Seasons in The Galapagos Islands are consistent with a cool and dry climate between June and November, while it’s warm and wet between December and May.

Temperatures range from 25° C to 32° C on average, with the best time to visit being when the wildlife you want to see is in abundance. Some species, for example, will either be on migratory patterns or breeding/nursing seasons at different times of the year, so their numbers will fluctuate throughout. With this in mind, it’s advisable to research species numbers and patterns in advance to stand the best chance of witnessing the creature you’re keen to see.

August and September tend to have slightly rougher waters due to the cooler climate during those months, though they also experience some of the least rainfall of any months in the year.

3. See The Galapagos by land or cruise

Whether travelling by land/air and island hopping or enjoying a luxury Galapagos cruise, this is a destination that’s as good for families and groups as for couples and solo travelers. How you experience The Galapagos could be based on budget, group size or specialist interest, though other important factors are key to ensuring the perfect trip.

Galapagos cruise plus epoints:
– Unique experience, especially aboard luxury or boutique vessels.
– Travel with like-minded enthusiasts.
– Time-efficient way of exploring the Galapagos, with logistics taken care of for you throughout.
– Multiple wildlife-spotting opportunities daily across different islands and various offshore/onshore tours.

Galapagos cruise considerations:

– Little/no flexibility on travel dates and departure times.
– Can be a more expensive way to experience The Galapagos, depending on your chosen boat.
– Some vessels don’t have the same level of comfort and amenities as you’d expect in a luxury lodge or on-land hotel.
– Travelers need to be comfortable living/sleeping on the sea for days at a time.

Galapagos land tours plus points:
– Flexibility to plan your own itinerary, route and wider trip.
– Wider range of accommodation options, including luxury hotels and lodges with plentiful facilities.
– Can be a more cost-effective way to experience The Galapagos, depending on your hotel choice and length of stay.
– Good for a mix of downtime and wildlife day trips if looking to get a taste of The Galapagos at your own pace.

Galapagos land tours considerations:
– Harder to reach remote areas that would otherwise be visited by skiff/boat.
– Travel time between islands and excursions can be a factor if waiting on ferries or domestic flights.
– Some limitations exist on exactly where day trips and tours can be booked from.
– More planning is required to ensure you see a full range of biodiversity and landscapes in the time you have.

4. Top 5 Galapagos cruises and properties

There’s an abundance of great lodges and Galapagos cruise vessels that all have their own appeal. Here’s a snapshot of 5 Atelier favorites to get your ideas going:

Pikaia Lodge

Pikaia Lodge is a boutique property rising from a leafy plateau on the island of Santa Cruz, in the heart of the Galapagos archipelago. It’s the perfect place to make your home-from-home in this natural wonderland, particularly if you’re one for sticking to dry land, rather than opting for a cruise.

Surrounded by forests and overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Pikaia Lodge is a striking architectural marvel crafted from glass and volcanic rock. It has been designed to be eco-friendly, collecting rainwater, harnessing solar and wind energy, and using recycled furnishings.

You’ll get to stay in the lap of luxury here, with an infinity pool, spa, upscale restaurant and other impressive amenities at your fingertips. But you’ll be immersed in the wild too, as naturalist guides are ready to take you on daily excursions and introduce you to the mind-boggling nature and wildlife of this magnetic archipelago.

Galapagos Safari Camp

Set on the edge of an extinct volcanic cone, within the untamed highlands of Santa Cruz Island, the Galapagos Safari Camp is an ode to nature. Teetering high up to overlook the tree canopy and the ocean, this authentic retreat enjoys views of the sunrise and sunset thanks to its clever design.

You’ll stay in one of the African-inspired safari tents, hidden away in the forest. Listen to the sound of finches and mockingbirds as you sit out on your terrace, or on the camp’s viewing deck where drinks and fine Ecuadorian meals are served. This is a family-friendly lodge, and both kids and adults alike will be in awe at the endless wonders of the Galapagos Islands.

There are just a handful of luxury tents that make up the accommodation at the Galapagos Safari Camp. Each one is propped up on stilts and surrounded by greenery. They come with a private balcony with hammock, electrical sockets, hot showers (powered by solar energy), and double, twin, or triple beds.

Finch Bay

Rising from the edge of Punta Estrada beach on Santa Cruz island, Finch Bay is a charming eco-friendly boutique hotel. This is your perfect base to explore the natural wonders of the Galapagos, with endless flora and fauna to discover and adventures to be had. Set sail on one of the hotel’s yachts to marvel at the marine world. Or head off on a land-based adventure to soak up the gems of the island.

When you’re not out exploring, you could be relishing delicious meals at Finch Bay’s restaurant, or relaxing by the outdoor pool. You could enjoy a spot of yoga, treat yourself to a massage, or simply unwind in your hammock while gazing at the view from your balcony.

Drenched in light, the rooms and suites are decorated in crisp white, with nods to nature found through artworks and cushions adorned with wildlife. The spaces are simple, but equipped with everything you could need here.

Aqua Mare

Aboard the Aqua Mare, an Italian-style super yacht in the Galápagos, embark on an exclusive and luxurious exploration of the enchanting archipelago. This latest addition to the Aqua Expeditions fleet promises an unparalleled experience with expert naturalist guides, ensuring a deep understanding of the Galápagos’ unique wildlife. Pampering guests from start to finish, Aqua Mare offers mouth-watering cuisine, bubbling Jacuzzis with Pacific Ocean vistas, and unbeatable service. Choose from 7 or 14-night itineraries, with four distinct options. The contemporary suites, designed by top Italian yacht experts, feature elegant prints, soft carpets, and high-quality fabrics. The Aqua Mare accommodates only 16 guests, ensuring a highly personal and indulgent cruise experience with all-inclusive upscale cuisine, naturalist lectures, and panoramic views from open-air dining spaces to a top-deck solarium with a barbecue, Jacuzzi, workout zone, and 360-degree views

Santa Cruz II

For a luxury Galapagos cruise that’s eco-friendly, comfortable and can access’s exclusive waterways between islands, the Santa Cruz II vessel is a top choice. This medium-size boat offers everything you need for an unforgettable Galapagos voyage, as well as aiming for sustainability with its efficient engines, onboard water desalination and treatment plants, carbon offsetting and other conservation efforts being hallmarks of the ship. You then have aplenty to keep you busy while aboard with a gym and hot tubs, lounge and entertainment rooms, observation decks, a library and dining areas among the amenities on offer.

The are 50 cabins aboard the Santa Cruz II, split into 4 categories that differ mainly in size and bed layout. All are decorated in the same neutral colors that help with light, wooden furnishings and essential in-room amenities, showers in the bathrooms, and seating areas in the larger options.

5. What to pack Galapagos packing list

Due to the mix of outdoor activities, beach, snorkeling, and downtime on any tour, it’s always important check your essential Galapagos packing items to get the most out of your trip, including:

• Long tops and trousers
• Hiking socks
• Sturdy shoes or hiking boots
• Hat
• Bug spray
• Binoculars
• Lightweight jacket
• Dry bags
• Sun screen
• Sunglasses
• Swimwear
• Seasickness medication
• Water shoes/sandals
• Lightweight/breathable clothing
• Day pack

No matter what your travel style, level of luxury or adventure, The Galapagos Islands have their place as one of the ultimate travel destinations.

Speak to Atelier’s Ecuador and Galapagos travel specialists and they will craft the perfect tour just for you.

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