When is a great time to spot wildlife? Wild animals can be found in ecosystems like deserts, forests, rain forests, plains or grasslands. Often wildlife is hidden and difficult to spot. Here you will find the right time and areas where the chance for a wildlife sighting is much higher.
Galapagos! A once in a lifetime destination. Pristine nature with endemic flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth. Do you need an expensive cruise to experience this intriguing island? No, we did without a cruise and had an amazing time. Of course, there are plenty of boat and cruise options, but traveling independently from island to island works really great. Scroll down to get answers to all of your questions:
- Best time to visit
- How to get to Galapagos
- How much does it cost! Saving money
- How long to stay
- What to do and see on which island
- Where to stay
- Which animals to see
You almost can’t explore the islands on your own only with a naturalist guide. However, most of the islands offer unlimited access to one or two awesome places for locals and visitors alike. We try to give you all the needed information for your Galapagos Adventure from another perspective. It is possible to plan your trip by yourselves if you are not focused to experience a special kind of wildlife or marine life. To be honest, we came here with high expectations and experienced more than we could dream of. Each day got topped by the next day.
Galapagos Weather - Best Time (Seasons)
The islands have a cool microclimate although located in the tropics. The annual rainfall is on average around 500 mm depending on the elevation. The weather is influenced by the Humboldt current, different ocean currents, El Nino in the rainy season, and La Nina in the dry season. El Nino occurs every 5 to 7 years and causes a high amount of precipitation, a warmer ocean temp around 30°C / 86°F and even higher. Many marine mammals, reptiles, and birds die when the real El Nino occurs. The last El Nino happened in 2016. La Nina has a strong effect on the temperature; the air and ocean temps are much colder, it causes a drought. Usually, most precipitation occurs during March.
December through May is the rainy season, however, often sunny and warm expect afternoon showers. The sea is calm with a good visibility and the sea temperature is between 21°C and 26°C / 70°F and 79°F. Due to the warmer ocean temps it's a great time for snorkeling. However, we've seen lots of divers as well. Sea lions mate in the rainy season and you might see the newborn seal pups around March and April. Also turtles and iguanas mate and nest during this time of the year. Due to the higher amount of precipitation the islands are in full bloom from February to April. Continue reading to figure out the best snorkel spots and island tours.
Usually the sky is overcast in the dry season. Colder temperatures on the islands and in the sea occur due to the Humboldt current. The current brings cold water to the islands from June to November. The sea is nutrient rich which attracts a huge variety of fish, therefore sharks as well, seabirds like the albatross, and penguins as well. Wales and dolphins arrive when there is enough fish available. It's mostly cloudy with a higher surf. During August and September, the sea is very rough. The sea temperature varies between 18°C and 24°C / 64°F until 75°CF. From September to November the Galapagos Islands are an outstanding place to enjoy marine-life the reason that divers prefer this season. You are able to find schools of hammerhead at Darwin & Wolf Island. Hammerhead sharks occur throughout the year at Leon Dormido (Kicker Rock). It is easy to get to Leon Dormido by guided boat trour from San Cristobal. More penguines can be spotted on rocks and swimming in the colder season. However, although it is the dry season on lower levels and the coast there are rain drizzles in the highlands. The tortoises migrate to higher elevation for a lush vegetation.
The number of visitors is limited to the Galapagos Islands National Park. The islands are very busy around Easter, from May to early September, and again for Christmas holidays from mid-December until mid-January. Booking far in advance is advisable before coming here not to mess up your trip. Tours are fully booked and the sky is the limit for hotels and guest houses.
Although, it is always said you have to book far in advance for Galapagos it's not true! There is a low season where you get last-minute prices for different offered tours and cruises for diving, snorkeling, and on land. These months are November and mid-January to the end of February. Mid-September and October are also not any longer super busy. You don't need to book accommodations and tours far in advance in these specific months. Fly to one of the main islands; Santa Cruz (airport on Isla Baltra) or San Cristobal. The local people are attentive and appreciate having tourists on their islands. Stay in one of the many guest houses or hotels and book your excursions just one or two days before.
Hotel Tips & Tours
Besides others, we chose the Mainao Hotel on Santa Cruz as our home base. If that one is not available, use bookig.com (they have a price guarantee!) to look for a nice one on Santa Cruz: Santa Cruz Hotel Deals - Galapagos (Tip: Bookmark this link to save time and money).The staff was super friendly. The rooms are spacious; also family rooms are available. We appreciated huge windows could be opened to let fresh air in during the night. Tea and coffee are available 24/7. The Mainao is utterly quietly located within walking distance to the Malecon. There isn't an elevator, but we loved to walk the stairs up watching the impressive architecture a bit like Gaudi. Next to the hotel is an affordable laundry. We were traveling for quite a long time, and we were glad about it. Also one of the must-see fish-markets is located close to the Mainao. If you arrive via San Cristobal, browse the hotels with the best reviews here (via booking.com): San Cristobal Hotels. We have more accommodation tips in the main text below for the other Galapagos islands. Make sure to check these! You'll also find many great money saving tips in the main text below, if you'd like to visit Galapagos on a budget! If money is no issue, just check these amazing organized tours via Viator - TripAdvisor Experience: Galapagos Tours
The best time for Christmas island is depending on the moon calendar. In last phase of the moon shrinking in winter the red crab migration is taking place. You can spot millions of crabs moving around the island.
Ranomafana (the Malagasy words for “hot water”) is without a doubt the most spectacular places in Madagascar. Its name is derived from the hot springs which pour out warm water into the valley. Because it is easily accessible and provides immense biodiversity, it became one of the most visited areas on Madagascar. The rainforest stretches over a mountainous terrain of over 410 km² and is Madagaskars 3rd largest park. Besides 12 different lemur species, it is home of the golden bamboo lemur. A species discovered in 1986 and the reason why this park exists. The tarred roads crossing the park made it accessible all year. Only during the rainy season, the travel may take longer than usual.
Weather and Crowds
Madagascar's overall climate is subtropical, with a hot and rainy season between November until end of March, and a cooler and drier season from May to October. Each of the five regions of the island is subject to its climate and precipitation varies widely between the regions. During the wet season and times of high rainfall, travel can become difficult, if not impossible. Based on the different geographical areas huge temperature variations can occur.
The Ranomafana Park is located on a high elevation between 800m and 1200m, and the densely forested hills are covered by primary and secondary forest. The climate is warm and humid often with a relative moisture of 90-97%. The average temperature seldom increases over 25°C and drops not under 14°C. During the night it can cool down significantly. The temperature highs and lows may vary depending on the occurrence of a tropical cyclone.
Best month to visit are from May to November although the dry season usually extends from April to December. Precipitation during the wet season is highest in January with 430 mm and the driest month is August. Because annual rainfall is in the range from ~1,600 to 4,017mm rain can occur every day and it's highly recommended to come with waterproof shoes, rain jacket, and umbrella. More weather details: Ranomafana Weather Statistics
It is essential to spend enough time in the park and hike to the primary forest at higher elevations. If you only plan to hike the short tracks, it can become very crowded during the peak season (July to September).
The best time for traveling to the east of South Africa is the dry and mild winter from May to September. During December to February, thunderstorms and heavy precipitation can occur.
The best time for hippo and wildlife spotting is in southern winter from May to September. In winter the day temperature is pleasant and not too hot. The reason hippos feed at daytime as well and not only at night as they are doing during summer. Also, the game is more active because of the pleasant temps at this time of the year.
Guided tours are offered for Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles during summer in the night from November to March and hatchlings emerge after roughly 70 days between January to March. More information and booking
Crowds and Weather by Season
Southern Winter (May to September) - Dry Season
Is the best time for wildlife spotting, and it's likewise the low season with fewer tourists, except for school holidays. Dry season: Days are sunny, above 20°C with low humidity and nights are cold around 15°C. Fewer mosquitos occur. It's a pleasant time to travel through the east of South Africa. Our favorite month is September: still dry, even more game to spot and temps rise.
Southern Summer (November to March) - Rainy Season
It's the peak season; December and January are typically the worst months of the year. Accommodations should be booked in advance and prices are on a top level. November and March are less crowded. The rain starts end of October. The scenery gets lush and green, but during summer it’s also hot and humid temps are on average around 30°C and heavy rainfall can occur. Cape Vidal is incredibly popular the reason that vehicle access is limited to 120 vehicles per day. Either you enter the gate early in the day, or you already made a booking for an overnight stay. Evenings are tranquil, and beaches are peaceful when the daytrippers left the park.
- April-September: mostly 6 a.m. until 6 p.m.
- October-March: mostly 5 or 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. depending on the park
- Check the opening hours for each "park" first
Where animal sightings happen, depends on habitat preferences, weather and seasonal cycles of movement. Still, it's often a matter of luck but you can increase your chances by following our monthly guide. Read our full guide below and find out which animal can be seen in which months and season (spring - summer - autumn - winter). And if you want to make the most out of your wildlife visit, consider this incredible private tour: Private Yellowstone Wildlife Tour (With extremely knowledgeable, friendly, and professional tour guides.)
April - Early June (Spring)
Most animals can be spotted in or near the valleys. It's the time for baby bison, baby moose, baby bear, baby elk and many more. Also a good time to spot wolves and grizzly bears. Grizzly sightings occur mostly at night, dawn and dusk. A great grizzly bear spot in spring is the shores of Yellowstone Lake. Gray wolves are often seen in Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley.
Mid-June - July - August (Summer)
Bears and other animals leave the valleys and head for higher areas in June/July. But still, visitors often report bear sightings throughout June. Later in July and August the chances to spot grizzlies or black bears in the valleys are very low. However, bison are still there, starting to rut in early August. Warm, great weather but also peak tourist months.
September - October (Autumn)
Animals return to the valleys. Elk rut throughout September. The fascinating rut can be witnessed up-close in Mammoth Hot Springs, near the northern entrance. Together with amazing fall colors it’s one of the best time to view or photograph almost every animal including elk, moose, bighorn as well as wolves and grizzly. Visitor wise it gets slightly less busy in September after Labor Day weekend. However especially weekends are still busy. In late September/early October the crowds start to dissipate.
November December- January - February - March (Winter)
Winter, a magical time and least crowded. Most animals are in or near the valleys. Some can be spotted near the steaming geyser basins. Winter is the best time to view wolves. You can also observe bison, elk, bighorn and others. Another great time for photographers, since animals are easier to spot against the snow. Grizzly bears can't be spotted, since they hibernate in winter until mid-March. The list with open facilities during winter and the overview with the warming huts are extremely useful. One thing you should always consider doing when visiting in the winter, is a snowmobile tour. That's an amazing experience! Find more useful winter tips on the official NPS website: NPS - Visiting Yellowstone in Winter and check out this great video on YouTube: Yellowstone - Winter in the Park
Must-Know Yellowstone Winter Facts and Tips
- Solitude: Winter is a silent time in Yellowstone. No tourist crowds and no packed areas. It’s not even busy at the popular spots. Example? Watching the geyser eruptions at Old Faithful in winter means standing there with only a handful of others. In the summer there are hundreds of visitors at the same time.
- Wildlife: Winter is by far the best time for wildlife viewing: You can spot bison, wolves, elk, and bighorn in the valleys (Lamar Valley), near the road, or some even at the geysers at Old Faithful. The higher areas are just too cold for the Yellowstone mammals in winter. Viewing wolves? You’re lucky to spot one in the summer months. In the winter, it’s not unlikely to spot a pack of wolves!
- Entrance and Roads: The only open entrance to private vehicles in winter is the North entrance in Gardiner (read our entrances descriptions). From Gardiner you have 2 choices: A) Drive the only accessible winter road to the Northeast Entrance (Cooke City) through Lamar Valley and spot amazing wildlife or B) Drive to Mammoth Hot Springs, which is like the base for winter activities. From there, you can book a snowmobile or snowcoach which drives you to Old Faithful (the only other place with open lodging in winter inside the park). You’ll spot plenty of wildlife during this ride. The alternative in the South: A guided tour from Jackson. With guided tours, you get into Yellowstone almost anywhere in winter. We recommend these excellent guys: Full Day Snowmobile Tour from Jackson Hole. The best lodging in Jackson: Inn on The Creek (via booking.com with price guarantee).
- Lodging and Facilities: In the winter months most hotels and lodges are closed. Within the park, you can stay at two places: Mammoth Hot Springs and the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. Otherwise, we suggest to stay in Gardiner and drive to Cooke city through Lamar Valley as described above. Both towns have excellent lodging and facilities, even in winter. Check the lodging links in our ‘Entrance Section’
Time of Day
The best time of day for wildlife viewing is either dawn or dusk: Animals usually feed during the early morning and in the evening. That's why they're often more visible at these times as they're up and moving around. In general dawn is even superior: Be at the valleys just before at sunrise and stay until 9 AM. It's also less crowded. However, dusk is also great, particularly for elk viewing in Sept. Sunrise - Sunset Yellowstone
Avoiding Tourist Crowds
Yellowstone National Parks gets heavily crowded in the peak summer months. If you plan a summer visit, book your hotel well in advance.
The most crowded months are June, July and August: Congested roads, overflown parking lots and the popular places are packed: Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Mammoth Hot Springs. The month of May is still moderate visitor wise. However, it gets very busy on Memorial Day. Later in September visitation starts to drop off after Labor Day weekend. However, it's still busy, even more so on weekends. In late September the crowds start to thin out. In October it's getting a lot quieter again.
How to avoid the crowds during peak months? Arrive early! The rush hour in YNP starts between 9 and 10 AM. Get up as early as possible! Another way is to dodge the crowds is by staying late: The main attractions are packed between 10 AM and 4 PM. Get there later, as it doesn't get dark before 9 PM anyway. Another big advantage when arriving early or staying late: You'll get to see more wildlife at dawn or dusk (see above). Extra tip: Check the official NPS Webcams a few days before you arrive during certain daytimes.
There is one word which is true for Yellowstone's weather: Unpredictable! Temperature drops and rain can happen almost any time in spring, summer and fall. Thunderstorms in summer are common in the afternoons. Bring layer of clothes and always rain gear.
If you'd like to avoid snow completely, then don't visit before May/June. It still can snow in June at some places but it will melt very quickly. By late May the valley floor is usually snow free. In higher elevations you may still see some snow in late May and June. That's important to know if you go hiking. After the summer you can expect the first real snow in October. As a local expert says: 'You can count on snow on the ground in Yellowstone by Halloween!'. However, never let the snow stop you from coming. October is an excellent month: Quiet and still so much wildlife to spot! In spring late April and May are our preferred months, regardless of the snow. Just keep in mind that until late April it still can feel like winter!
The Grey-headed flying foxes (also called fruit bats) stay in the Yarra Bend Park close to Melbourne year around as a permanent colony. The Colony numbers fluctuate with the seasons, and there are usually more flying-foxes in summer (December until April) and fewer in winter. During summer the colony grows immense up to 30.000 to 50.000 bats. Continue reading to figure out the best time of the day and what else to do in Yarra Bend.
Time of Day
During daytime, they roost upside down in the trees nearby the water. They are vulnerable to overheating; therefore, they choose this area because of the higher humidity and the colder air. Another reason, they need to drink water on hot days, so they stay close to a water source such as the Yarra River.
Close to the Bellbird Picnic Area, you can find a viewing platform. The bat colony walking trail and interpretive signage provides details about the flying‐foxes. You can observe them from different stops along the Bat Colony Trail. Although some of them are very close to the path, you should either take a binocular or a good zoom camera with you. The young flying-foxes often roost high up in the trees; the elder flying foxes are more experienced using the shadow of the trees at lower places.
Flying-foxes are nocturnal and at sunset, they will fly-out to consume nectar, fruit, and pollen from a wide range of plant species. Typically they start flying out together if it becomes dark, which is a spectacular scenery. Preferably a day with a blue sky during daytime and nice sundown will allow the perfect experience. You may have to wait sometime after sunset before they start to fly out and taking photos will become more difficult due to low light.