Galapagos is the most outstanding destination for diving, snorkeling, birding, and wildlife watching on our planet. The uninhabited islands were declared a National Park in 1959 and as the first Wo
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 gannets may remain together for several years. The mating rituals are spectacular to observe. The incubation of the egg lasts more than 40 days.
Birds Island is a year-round destination with a size of three hectares. Most interesting is the mating ritual between April and August. Breeding season from August/September until March.
The opening hours are depending on summer and winter time. Opening at 7 a.m. closing in summer at 7 p.m. and winter at 5 p.m.
Southern Summer: Penguin season is from October to March. There are no boat trips available during other seasons.
Antarctica: Stunning and dramatic landscapes, as well as superb wildlife-viewing opportunities are like no other place on earth.
Expedition cruises to Antarctica are only possible during the southern summer between late October/November and March. This is the time when the ice break ups, which allows cruise ships to pass. Depending on the month, there are slight variations in what you’ll see and which antarctic animals you may spot:
November (Icebergs, Seals)
Best time to see the ice breaking into large icebergs and amazing sculptures. Wildflowers are in bloom, and it’s a great time to spot breeding elephant seals. However, it’s still very cold. Temperatures are way below freezing.
December (Warmer, Seals, First Penguins)
Days are long, with 20 hours of sunshine. Still a great month to spot seals and already some active penguins. It’s also getting warmer with temperatures around freezing.
January (Warmest Month, Penguins)
The perfect month for wildlife viewing, with plenty of penguins active, as well as seabirds and a few whales. Days are still long. It’s also the ‘warmest’ month with temperatures slightly above freezing.
February - March (Whales)
The best time for whale watching such as humpback, sperm, and orca. You can also spot fledgling penguin chicks, especially in February. It’s getting a lot colder again in March.
April - September (Winter)
Winter in Antarctica. The temperatures are freezing (up to -30°C). No possible way to visit, as the polar ice blocks the ship traffic.
In 1983 the first pair of African penguins established this colony. Nowadays there are about 2000 around the area of Boulders.
Boulders Penguin Colony is a stunning year-round destination, not only during the feeding/breeding season. Nowhere else in the world you get closer to African Penguins in the wild. However, it's often crowded.
Photo by Kym Ellis on Unsplash
Avoiding Tourist Crowds
The busy months are November until March/April. However, it can be crowded in the shoulder and off-season as well, especially on the weekends. To beat the crowds and increase the chance of a parking lot, be there very early in the morning as soon as they open. Another idea is to go late: About 1 hour before they close. You'll see more penguins compared to mornings.
The breeding season is from February until August: It peaks from March to May. It's fascinating because all the penguins are at the beach feeding the small ones. The babies get fed for about two months in the late afternoon. Therefore you have to decide between fewer crowds but also fewer penguins in the morning and more crowds but also more penguins in the afternoon. Or go late before they close (see above Tourist crowds). In general, you'll spot more penguins in the breeding season than at other times.
Boulder Beach in the afternoon
- Winter: April - September 08:00 - 17:00
- Summer: December - January 07:00 - 19:30
- February - March 08:00 - 18:30
- October - November 08:00 - 18:30
- January: Juveniles are moulting, adults feeding up for the breeding season.
- February - August: Breeding season with most penguins at the beach.
- September - October: Penguins at sea, feeding up for moulting. Fewer penguins at the beach.
- November - December: Moulting season.
Best weather with least rain is from October until March. The chance of increasing rainfall starts in May and lasts until September. Simons Town Weather Averages
It is a marvelous experience; to see penguins arriving on the beach and walking up the hill to their burrows.
Every evening guided tours are offered at Low Head. You spot a higher number of Penguins during the main breeding season from November to February: At this time of the year, you may see 100-200 penguins at high tide and on the new moon. The little blue penguins have to walk smaller distances to their nests at high tide. From March to October considerably less than 100 penguins come ashore.
More visitors during summer from December to February. The people get separated in smaller groups on the tours. Fewer tourists in winter and spring but fewer penguins to spot.