Last Updated on October 26, 2022 by Nellie Huang

The Galapagos is one of the best wildlife destinations in the world. Here’s a detailed guide on how to visit Galapagos Islands.

The Galapagos Islands are one of the most beautiful and unique places I’ve ever been. Having been isolated from the world for thousands of years, they are home to unique animal species found nowhere else on Earth. Blue-footed boobies, sea lions, and marine lizards roam freely on this archipelago.
 
A Galapagos Islands trip might come with a hefty price tag, thanks to the $100 entry tariff and pricey island cruises. But don’t let that stop you. It’s one of the best wildlife destinations in the world for good reason. Any Galapagos trip will be sure to make you feel privileged and humbled. For those are planning to visit Galapagos Islands, here’s my Galapagos Islands travel blog and comprehensive guide.
 
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Table of Contents

Galapagos Islands Travel Guide

How to Visit the ​Galapagos Islands

The ​Galapagos Island​ archipelago is a collection of 13 major islands, seven smaller islands and about 125 islets and rocks. They lie about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean and are some of the world’s most secluded islands

Historically the Galapagos Islands were uninhabited and only served as bases for everything from scientific research to English pirates raiding Spanish treasure ships. They remained relatively undeveloped until Ecuador claimed them not long after gaining independence from Spain.​ 

How to Visit the Galapagos IsIands: Travel Guide 2019


What Make the Galapagos Islands Special

The plants and animals that live on the Galapagos Islands today are descended from animals that arrived by sea or air. Because the islands are so remote and far from one another, the animals evolved and adapted to conditions unique to their new homes. That’s why wildlife here are so special and cannot be found elsewhere on Earth.

Because of how isolated the Galapagos Islands are, Galapagos wildlife never developed a fear of humans. Don’t be surprised to find sea lions lying by the streets and giant lizards swimming around your boat in the Galapagos. They are not the least bit afraid of us.

Today, over 97 % of the land is national park, and Ecuador limits who may live there and how many tourists may visit. The Galapagos Islands are some of the most unspoiled places on Earth thanks to protection laws and conservations efforts. 


A Brief History of the ​Galapagos Islands

During Charles Darwin’s nearly five-year circumnavigation of the globe aboard HMS Beagle, he spent only five weeks on the Galapagos Islands. His discoveries on the islands were paramount to the development of his Theory of Evolution. His book “The Origin of the Species: also put the Galapagos Islands on the world map.

Santa Cruz Island is now home to the Charles Darwin Research Station, which serves as the front line for long-term preservation programs protecting the unique Galapagos animals and plants for future generations. 

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When to Visit ​Galapagos Islands

One of the perks of the islands’ location along the equator is that the weather is going to warm and sunny all year round. Regardless of when you visit the Galapagos Islands, prepare for high temperatures. 

There are two main seasons in the Galapagos: January to May is the hot season, giving calmer seas and warmer ocean temperatures. July to December is the dry season which sees cooler temperatures, making it great for hiking inland.

In general, the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands is from January to May for the best conditions to go snorkeling or scuba diving and cruising around the islands. The Galapagos Islands offer some of the best scuba diving in the world.

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How to Visit the Galapagos Islands 

All tourists must pay an entry tax to visit Galapagos Islands. The amount of this entrance fee depends on the age and nationality of the tourist.

Most foreign tourists over the age of 12 pay $100, while children pay $50. Visitors from the Andean Community and Mercosur nations over the age of 12 pay $50, and children pay $25. 

This entry tax may seem a bit high, but it is important to keep in mind that these fees are helping to protect the fragile environment here. Funds from the entry tax are said to finance the conservation of biodiversity of flora and fauna, and benefit the local community.

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How to Get to the ​Galapagos Islands

The only way to get to the Galapagos Islands is to fly from Ecuador. Flights to the Galapagos Islands depart from only two cities in Ecuador: Quito and Guayaquil.  Guayaquil is the main agteway city to the Galapagos, check out this list of things to do in Guayaquil.

You can fly direct to Quito from Miami, and return flights cost around US$400. Check for flights from USA to Ecuador. From Europe, most flights go from Amsterdam or Madrid to Quito for around US$700 return. 

Flights from Quito/Guayaquil to Galapagos Islands cost around US$300 to $400 return. All flights are with either TAME or LATAM, which are both reputable and reliable South American airlines. You can get good deals on flights if you book at least six months in advance.

The 2 airports on the Galapagos Islands are:

  1. Baltra Airport (GPS): Baltra is the airport closest to Santa Cruz Island. To get to Santa Cruz island, take a ferry for $5 and another $5 bus to Puerto Ayora, the main town on Santa Cruz. Or book a fuss-free airport transfer here.
  2. San Cristobal Airport (SCY): This airport is less than 5 minutes drive from the center of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. It costs only $2-$4 per taxi (not per person). Most flights to San Cristobal will make a stopover on Baltra.

*TIP: I recommend flying into Baltra and out of San Cristobal if you’d like to see both islands. It’s the same price as flying return to either island. You can get Galapagos flight deals for as cheap as US$275. 

Book Your Flights to Galapagos Islands


Getting Around the ​Galapagos Islands

Traveling to the Galapagos Islands requires some planning (and saving!) as it isn’t the cheapest or easiest place to get around. It’s easy enough to do it yourself so you don’t have to book a Galapagos tour. There are three possible ways to explore the Galapagos Islands and hop from one island to the next:

1. Go on a Galapagos Cruise

The most popular way is going on a luxury Galapagos cruise, which brings you to several islands within a short time. You sail at night and arrive to a different island every morning. Cruise packages typically include all accommodation and meals, visits to the islands with a certified naturalist, and access to snorkeling gear and kayaks.

A 1-week Galapagos cruise can set you back around US$2,500 for budget standards or $3500 for luxury cruises. This includes all expenses, food and snorkeling equipment. You can save some money by showing up on the Galapagos Islands and shopping around for last-minute deals.

On our first Galapagos Islands trip, we had a tight budget as we were traveling for four months around South America. So we traveled the Galapagos Islands independently on day trips and had a blast without spending too much money. 

Next year though, we are going on a Galapagos cruise with Andando Tours, a leading operator in the Galapagos specializing in small 10-15 people intimate cruises. I’m extremely excited about sailing on Mary Anne, a traditional schooner that has been converted into a first-class boat.

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2. Do Day Tours on the Galapagos Islands

Budget travelers can opt to go island-hopping round Galapagos Islands independently, which was what we did on our first Galapagos Islands trip. We based ourselves on Santa Cruz and did day tours to other islands from there. There are plenty of local operators offering Galapagos tours online or at certain locations on the islands. Most Galapagos Islands day tours cost around $200-300 depending on where you’re visiting.

There are four islands that you can stay on without being on any tour:

  • Santa Cruz: This island has the biggest tourist town and has most sights
  • San Cristobal: It has a quieter town with iconic attractions
  • Isla Isabela: Smallest town with few options but great for wildlife
  • Isla Floreana: Only 1 hotel and no scheduled speedboats to other islands

Here are the most popular Galapagos Islands tours:

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3. Take the Inter-Island Shuttles

Besides day tours, there are also several speedboat companies that offer an inter-island shuttling service. You need to plan really well as there are limited departures each day and journeys can be long! For instance, the shuttle from Santa Cruz to Isabela takes around three hours. 

The public ferries cost between $25-35US per person each way. It’s best to check with a couple of ticket sellers in town before buying your tickets.  Or book these ferry transfers that include hotel pickups!

Public ferries only run these routes (back and forth):

  • Santa Cruz (Puerto Ayora) – Isabela (Puerto Villamil)
  • Santa Cruz (Puerto Ayora) – San Cristobal (Puerto Baquerizo Moreno) 

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Where to Stay on the Galapagos Islands

I’ve listed my hotel recommendations for the three most popular towns to stay at. If you’re wondering where to stay on the Galapagos Islands, these are the biggest towns.

Puerto Ayora, the main town on Santa Cruz island, is a lively town with a good range of midrange hotels and affordable guesthouses. Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the town on San Cristobal island, is smaller but its accommodation options are more affordable. Puerto Villamil on Isabela island is the smallest but accommodations are cheapest.

Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz

Luxury: Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel — Undoubtedly the best hotel on Santa Cruz, this stylish hotel is slick and unpretentious. It’s got a beautiful swimming pool and beachfront location, with even its own pier and private yacht. Excellent place if money isn’t an issue! Check the rates.

Midrange: Hotel La Isla — A beautiful boutique hotel with stylish designs that blend naturally with the surroundings, and its small scale provides an intimate atmosphere. It’s within walking distance from Tortuga Bay and the town centre of Puerto Ayora. Check the rates. 

Midrange: El Descanso del Guia — This new midrange hotel offers panoramic views over the coast from its rooftop. It also has a nice swimming pool, and clean and spacious rooms. Check the rates.

Budget: Hostal Gardner Galapagos — We stayed at this place located in the heart of town and minutes from the pier. Rooms are cheap and spacious, and relatively well maintained. Great value! Check the rates.

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Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal

Midrange: Eco Hotel Katarma — The best hotel on the island is an eclectic and colorful eco lodge with an indoor swimming pool. Katarma is inspired entirely by art; it mixes different architectural, design, painting and sculptural influences to create a space where peace and life take the upmost importance. Check the rates.

Midrange: La Zayapa — Located right on the dock, La Zayapa is the heart of the town, offering room with views of the pier. We absolutely loved staying here. Good prices for such excellent location. Check the rates.

Budget: Hotel Cactus & Cactus — With a minimalistic design, this artistic hostel features clean lines and very simple but beautiful decor. Rooms are well-priced for what it is, highly recommend it! Check the rates.

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Puerto Villamil, Isabela 

Luxury: Flip Flop House — With capacity for four people, this beautiful, modern house has 2 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms and a hot tub. The property was built in 2016, and makes a comfortable home away from home. I highly recommend this if you are traveling with family or friends. Check the rates.

Midrange: Drake Inn — Located right on the beach, this simple but comfortable guesthouse offers well-priced rooms just three minutes from town. Its rooftop has excellent ocean views and makes a great spot to chill in the evenings. Check the rates.

Budget: Hotel La Jungla — This budget place offers great value for money, and a rustic jungle setting despite being just a few feet from the sea. All of its rooms have wide windows that look out to the ocean. Check the rates.

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What to Eat on the ​Galapagos Islands

Food, especially seafood, is a huge part of island culture here and the restaurants to ​not disappoint. There are full spreads fit for kings as well as authentic, local eateries that boast fresh and cheap grub. 

Here are four places I highly recommend checking out:

Los Kioskos — Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz

This row of street food was our favorite spot to eat at night! Los Kioskos is basically a street lined with small, local stalls selling freshly caught seafood. You’ll hear sizzling from the charcoal parillas and smell smoky, grilled fish long before you stumble across this little alley. Food here is reasonably priced and oh so bueno! 

Galapagos Deli — ​Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz
This deli is famous for its brick-oven pizza ranging in price from $6.50 to $9.75 USD and high-quality deli sandwiches from $4.70 to $8.75. Of course, it wouldn’t be a seaport deli without fish and chips, as well as piping hot espresso and delicious frozen gelato. Read reviews here.

Booby Trap —​ Puerto Villamil, Isabela Island
Booby Trap is the best place to grab a slice of pizza, but it’s their fish tacos that I loved. The lobster also comes highly recommended at a very reasonable rate. The restaurant is owned by a greagarious retired American man and his Ecuadorian wife.  Read reviews here.

Muyu Galapagos — Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal

If you’re looking to splurge, definitely book a table at Muyu Galapagos, one of the best restaurants in the whole archipelago. They serve up modern fusion food, focusing on fresh seafood with a contemporary twist. Read reviews here.

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Things to Do on the Galapagos Islands: Tours and Activities

With over 21 islands spread out over a large area, the Galapagos Islands really do have a lot to offer for active travelers who like to get out and about. Here’s a round-up of the BEST things to do on the Galapagos Islands and the best Galapagos tours to book. I will indicate below how to visit each site below.

1. Santa Cruz Island

See Lizards and Sea Lions at Tortuga Bay

A 45 minute hike leads you to Santa Cruz’s most beautiful beach and bay. There are plenty of marine iguanas and sea lions lounging on the beach when we were there. It’s also a great spot for snorkeling with white tip reef sharks, and occasionally tiger sharks. It was the first spot we visited and we were blown away!

How to: Visit independently by walking or taking a taxi from Puerto Ayora.

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Snorkel in Las Grietas

Las Grietas is a beautiful naturally formed freshwater pool formed in a crack between two volcanic cliff faces. During midday when the sun is high, the pool is a bright, clear blue. There isn’t a lot of wildlife here, but the crystal clear waters make it just a fun swimming spot. Plus it’s free to visit the site! No guide or tour needed. We absolutely loved it here and could have spent a day here if not for our fomo!

How to: Visit independently by walking or taking a taxi from Puerto Ayora.

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Visit the Charles Darwin Research Center

The Charles Darwin Research Center is a breeding centre and rehabilitation facility for animals from local islands. The research facility may seem a bit basic at first glance, but keep in mind that it’s an education centre and not a zoo. It’s a great spot to visit if you are traveling with kids. The Galapagos entry tariff actually covers entrance to this place, so it’s basically free.

How to: Visit independently by walking or taking a taxi from Puerto Ayora.

See Giant Tortoises at Reserva El Chato

Just a short drive from Puerto Ayora, Reserva El Chato is the best place in the Galapagos to see the rare Galapagos Giant Tortoises. You’ll see their ancient animals roaming around in their natural habitat, with no cages, fences, or walls to obstruct the view – and all for just $3. Book your entrance tickets here.

How to: Visit independently by walking or taking a taxi from Puerto Ayora.

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2. San Cristobal Island

Swim with Sea Lions at La Loberia

San Cristobal is the best island to go for sea lions. Here at La Loberia, not only can you snorkel with tons of sea lions, but you will also see marine iguanas, lava lizards, frigate birds, and more. We had SO much fun swimming with the sea lions! Those animals can be really cheeky. It’s free to enter, just rent snorkeling equipment beforehand.

How to: Visit independently by walking 30 minutes or taking a taxi ($3 ride) from Puerto Baquerizo.

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Snorkel or Scuba Dive at Kicker Rock 

Around 3 miles north of San Cristobal island is this volcanic cone that rises from the sea. Kicker Rock, known locally as León Dormmido, is home to a smattering of blue-footed boobies and fregate birds, but it is really its below-water inhabitants that has visitors in awe.

The natural erosion of the cone has created a channel between the rocks that serves as the ideal place to view sharks and rays. If you come at the right time, you can see hundreds of Galapagos sharks (and come into touching distance of them if you choose to snorkel through the canyon). You might have the chance to see schools of spotted eagle rays, turtles, jellyfish, and sea lions.

How to: Only by cruise or on a day tour to Kicker Rock from Puerto Baquerizo.

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Hike around Punta Pitt 

Punta Pitt is one of the best places to see a huge variety of wildlife on the Galapagos. Both the blue-footed and red-footed boobies, and various species of frigates live in the area. They have chosen this site because its rugged geography prevents species that would be a threat to these birds from accessing here. Another species commonly found here are the iguanas, also due to its complex geography. 

How to: Visit independently or a day tour from Puerto Baquerizo.

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See the Views at Mirador Cerro Tijeretas 

The Cerro Tijeretas lookout point offers a panoramic view of Shipwreck Bay and Kicker Rock. It’s definitely a spectacular spot and well worth the two-mile hike there from the visitor center. You’ll be hiking through a dry forest area full of cacti, acacia trees and lava lizards. The trail also leads to a calm, protected inlet along the shore which is a great spot for snorkeling.

How to: Visit independently by taking a taxi to the visitor center and walking from Puerto Baquerizo.

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3. Isabela Island

Hike and Snorkel around Los Tuneles

Los Tuneles or lava tunnels is a hugely popular site to visit. We hired a guide and came here on a day tour. A boat first takes you along the coast to a landscape characterized by bizarre lava formations and tunnels that provide shelter for an abundance of sea life.  You’ll then need to hike for a bit before getting the chance to snorkel with sea lions, turtles, sharks, rays, sea horses among innumerable fish species.  

How to: The only way to get here is on a cruise or day tour from Puerto Villamil.

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Snorkel at Las Tintoreras

Las Tintoreras is an islet just off the main dock of Isabela Island. It’s often called mini Galapagos since almost all the Galapagos marine wildlife are found here. There is actually more wildlife here than on the main island.

It’s one of the few places to see the Galapagos penguins, the second smallest penguins in the world. It was incredibly getting to swim with them and see them in the water! You can snorkel in the area without a guide.

How to: Take a half-day tour from Puerto Villamill.

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See Flamingos at the Wall of Tears

The Wall of Tears, or El Muro de Las Lagrimas, is one of the most famous hikes on the Galapagos Islands. It’s the only place to see the Galapagos Flamingos and you can do it without a guide. The name comes from the wall at the end of the hike. The Wall of Tears was built in the 1950’s by 300 prisoners, toiling away under the hot sun to cut and haul heavy black volcanic rock in order to build their own prison. 

How to: Visit independently by walking from Puerto Villamil.

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4. North Seymour Island

Our favorite spot, North Seymour, is a small uninhabited island that is hugely popular with all kinds of birds that live in the Galapagos. It’s a fascinating place with open nesting grounds of blue-footed boobies and the archipelago’s largest colonies of fregate birds. If you’re lucky, you might even see blue-footed boobies perform their courtship dance in the more open areas. 

How to: The only way to get there is on a cruise or a day tour from Santa Cruz island.

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5. Bartolome Island

Bartolome Island is the most scenic island in terms of landscapes. Be sure to climb up to the top of the viewpoint for a 360 degree panorama. There are black volcanic formations, which contrast sharply with the red, orange and green of the rest of the island. Also don’t miss the Pinnacle Rock, home to a colony of Galapagos penguins.

How to: The only way to visit is on a cruise or a day tour from Santa Cruz island.

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6. Floreana Island

Another island I really enjoyed visiting was Floreana, where Charles Darwin visited and collected the Floreana Mockingbird. On the island, you can find beaches of different color and a fresh water lagoon where flamingos can be observed during the hot season.

Devil’s Crown is an old eroded, semi- submerged, volcanic cone where you can spot penguins, sea lions, sea turtles, dolphins and colorful fish. It’s one of the best snorkeling sites in the Galapagos Islands because of the coral reef in the middle which is a perfect attraction for marine life. 

How to: Visit on a cruise, public ferry (no fix schedule) or day tour from Santa Cruz island.

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7. Española Island

One of the oldest islands of them all, Española Island is about 4.5 million years old and located on the southern east corner of the archipelago. This island is home of the Española Mockingbird, the only carnivorous one. Here there is also the only Marine Iguana population that remains red and green throughout the year. About 1500 tortoises live there today. 

This is the only nesting site for the Galapagos Waved Albatross, thanks to the cold waters from the Humboldt current. This endemic animal nests on the flat grounds of this island. They breed from the month of April to December.

How to: You can only visit by cruise or on a day tour from San Cristobal island.

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8. Genovesa Island

Also known as the “Bird Island“, Genovesa Island most certainly lives up to its name in a spectacular way. It’s common to spot these birdlife on the island: puffball chicks, crowned and lava herons, red footed boobies, Nazca boobies and also the swallow–tailed gulls, the only nocturnal gulls in the world that will be nesting at the cliff’s edge.

Be sure to visit Prince Philip’s Steps, an 81-foot stairway that leads to a narrow stretch of land which opens out onto the plateau surrounding Darwin Bay on the north side of the island.

How to: The only way to visit this island is on a Galapagos cruise.

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9. Fernandina Island

Fernandina Island is often referred to as a “land without time” as it is a volcanic island without any introduced species. The island is 300 thousand years old and it is still active. 

There are an estimate of around 100,000 black and gray iguanas on Fernandina Island. As you look out the lava rocks they may look like they are moving – they are covered in these reptiles basking in the sunshine. Their dark coloration is an adaptation that allows them to hold onto heat so that they can stay under the water and search for food.

How to: The only way to visit this island is on a Galapagos cruise.

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10. Santiago Island

  at Puerto Egas are    

How to: The only way to visit this island is on a Galapagos cruise.

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How Much Time to Visit ​Galapagos Islands

I would recommend at least one week in the Galapagos Islands as it takes awhile to get from one island to the next, and you’ll want to have enough time to see as much as you can when you’re here.

Most liveaboard cruises are one-week long, so I recommend tagging a few extra days before or after your cruise in case of flight delays or cancellations. It’s a good way to prepare for the cruise and get to know the main towns.

You’ll probably want to combine another week or so on mainland Ecuador to make the most of your trip. On our first Galapagos Islands trip, we spent a total of three weeks in Ecuador, including jaunts to the Amazon Rainforest, learning about Ecuadorian history in Quito, visiting friends in Guayaquil and surfing on the beach of Montañita.

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Cost of Travel on the Galapagos Islands

Let’s face it: the Galapagos is quite an expensive destination mainly due to the tourist tariff and the flight to get there. First you’ll be spending around US$500 for your flight and entry tariff. Day tours are around US$200-300 each, and a week-long cruise can set you back at $2500.

Galapagos Islands travel is not cheap as the archipelago is so remote, almost everything needs to be imported. Accommodation on the islands are more expensive than on mainland Ecuador but you can still find decent guesthouses at $40/night for a double room and luxury hotels for $200/night.

Food is quite affordable especially at the local eateries. Expect to spend around US$8-10 on a local meal, and $20-30 in a hotel restaurant. There are also supermarkets in towns and you can cook on your own to save money.

All in all, you’ll have to budget for the kind of adventure you want. Just remember, the Galapagos Islands are a truly unique place in the world and they are definitely worth saving up for! 

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Rules of the ​Galapagos Islands National Park

80% of the Galapagos Islands is actually protected as a national park and there are rules in place to protect the fragile ecosystem in the park. 

  • Some protected areas can only be visited with a licensed guide, so make sure you research before venturing out on your own.
  • When you encounter wildlife, remember to stay back and not get too close as you might cause them stress. Don’t feed them or use flash photography.
  • If you are traveling to the Galapagos Islands with kids, make sure they stay close to you and remind them not to go near or touch the animals as they’ll be interfering with the natural environment.
  • Any professional photography or filming recorded for commercial purposes must be authorized by the GNPD.
  • Camping is only allowed in a few authorized spots. To get permission, you need to request authorization from the Galapagos National Park’s offices at least 48 hours in advance.
  • The Galapagos Islands take the practice of “leave-no-trace” very seriously. Since fire poses a serious risk to the flora and fauna, smoking of any kind, as well as campfires, are strictly prohibited.
  • When shopping for souvenirs, do​ not​ take or buy any products made from banned substances like black coral, lava rock, native woods, and animal parts.

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What to Pack for the Galapagos Islands

Any Galapagos Islands travel involve lots of time in the water and under the sun. Be sure to prepare yourself for the weather and pack sunscreen, sun-proof swimming gear and snorkeling gear. We didn’t bring our own snorkel