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 Maldives are roughly 1.200 islands with 26 Atolls. The islands are one of the best places to see whale sharks and manta rays a well as massive amount of sea life.
The Maldives is a spectacular destination for sightings of manta rays and whale sharks. However, you need to know where and when to spot them. In general, from November until April a higher number of manta rays can be spotted on the western side of the Maldive atolls. From May to October on the eastern side of the atolls, due to the high plankton concentration.
Want to know more? Read our specific atoll tips below (Addu, South Ari, Baa/Hanifaru), where sightings are almost guaranteed. TIP: In case you're not interested in diving or snorkeling these sections are super helpful for every traveler: Weather Details - Island Transfer Tips - Resort and Guest Houses Explained. Now, jump directly to your preferred section:
- Top 3 Atolls for Manta Rays & Whale Sharks
- Climate and Weather in the Maldives
- The Best Inns & Resorts for Whale Sharks & Manta
- Island Transfer Tips (General Tips)
- Swimming with Whale Shark (5 Tips)
- Resorts & Guest Houses Explained (General Tips)
General Tip | Saving Money: Always look for the best guesthouse, inn and resort deals. Our preferred accommodation service for the Maldives is booking.com: Maldives Accommodation Deals, Tips and Reviews (Tip: Bookmark this link as it's really useful). Make sure to book well in advance if possible. During the wet season (see below) prices are significantly lower!
Excursion Types (Diving and Snorkeling)
Usually, you can spot manta rays and whale sharks on diving excursions as well as on a snorkeling / swimming tour. Diving operators in the resorts and guest houses offer both types and take you to the sites with their boats. While the snorkeling tours are often popular and better suited for swimming with whale sharks and seeing them up close, diving is perfect for being close to both sea creatures (an excecption is Hanifura Bay - see below). However, many diving operators (centers) offer mixed tours. That means: The boat takes you to the diving site where divers as well as snorkelers get off the boat. Of course, you will not only see whale sharks and manta rays, also dolphins, sea turtles, schools of tropical fish and other fascinating ocean life.
Manta Rays – Addu Atoll
- Manta Rays: Excellent (year-round)
- Whale Sharks: Not really
- Diving or Snorkeling: Both. However, you need to dive to spot the manta rays (snorkeling only for other fish, turtles, coral reefs)
- Where to Stay: Accommodation Tips
Manta Ray (Maldives) by Ian Griffiths, CC BY
The Addu Atoll (also Addu City) is the southernmost atoll in the Maldives and shaped like a heart. It's an exceptional scuba diving destination. Here, you can spot manta rays year round. In fact, it's manta heaven and not long ago in 2015/16 it was still kind of a hidden gem for seeing manta rays! The Addu Atoll is the only location in the Maldives where mantas rays with over 5 meter of wingspan are known to exist. You can also dive at the Maldives biggest wreck 'British Loyalty'. Besides manta rays, you will encounter eagle rays, sharks, turtles and generally big fish all year around. Please keep in mind that mantas are perfect to spot for divers here, but not if you're snorkeling. Certain aspects like the currents make it difficult. It's possible to spot a manta here while snorkeling, but it's not very likely.
Whale Sharks – South Ari Atoll
- Whale Sharks: Excellent (year-round)
- Manta Rays: Good (October - May)
- Diving or Snorkeling: Both
- Where to Stay: Accommodation Tips
Whale Shark (Maldives) by Tchami, CC BY-SA
South Ari (also Alifu Dhaalu Atoll) is one of the best places for spotting whale sharks. The sightings are excellent year-round with a peak time from August to November. Also, encounters with big pelagic fish are guaranteed most of the time in South Ari Atoll. In terms of water conditions, the best time is from December to May, even better from January - April (see below: Diving). You may also spot manta rays in South Ari during the northeast monsoon from September/October to May (the peak viewing time is February - April). In other months it's really hard to find manta rays here.
Whale Sharks & Manta Rays – Baa Atoll – Hanifaru Bay
- Manta Rays: Excellent (May/June - October/November)
- Whale Sharks: Good (May/June - October/November)
- Diving or Snorkeling: No diving in Hanifaru Bay! Only snorkeling allowed.
- Where to Stay: Accommodation Tips
Manta Ray and Whale Shark in the Maldives
Another outstanding place to spot whale sharks and up to 200 manta rays feeding is the Hanifaru Bay in Baa Atoll. The best time for sightings here is between May and November (some divers even recommend late July to early October): During these months the South West Monsoon causes a massive build-up of plankton, drawing in hundreds of whale sharks and manta rays. Hanifaru is an uninhabited island, and the bay is smaller than a football field. But still, it's the largest known manta feeding station on our planet! In 2009 the area became a marine protected area where fishing and boating is restricted. Diving is not permitted in Hanifaru Bay anymore! And there is a strict control for snorkeling with a limit of 5 boats and 80 visitors which are allowed to spend a maximum of 45 minutes in the Hanifaru Bay. However, diving operators still take you to other diving sites with a great chance of seeing Manta Rays at Baa Atoll of course (just not in Hanifaru Bay).
Weather in the Maldives is determined by a tropical climate. That means it's warm and humid. However, the high humidity is bearable because of the gentle and steady sea breeze. Regardless of the two monsoon seasons and the distance between north and south (about 800 km), the temperatures are quite stable. Throughout the year and the whole region, the highs reach 31°C (89°F), and the lows hover around 25°C (77°F). That means, temperatures can vary slightly depending on the season, but it's safe to say that they remain consistent year-round between 26°C (79°F) and 29°C (84°F). More interesting is the rainfall:
Of course, in the wet season it looks like there might be a lot of rain. However, rain showers are often brief and the sun is back within 1-2 hours. While 2 days of rain in a row can happen, it is unlikely that it will rain for a full week. Usually your trip won't be spoiled in the wet season! Read our season overview below for more details about the rain during the monsoons. Rainy days are also slightly different in terms of the region: In the dry season, the southern part (Addu Atoll) receives as twice as much rain than the northern and central part (Malé). For example 10 rainy days instead of 5 in February. But this only applies to the months between January and March/April. In other months it's pretty much the same for most regions. Also keep in mind, that these are usually brief rain showers. Another important aspect is the water temperature: It remains stable between 28°C and 30°C (82 - 86°F) during the whole year. Although water temperature, as well as the general temperature, don't vary a lot, the two monsoons bring different weather conditions in terms of rain and wind:
- Dry Season (North East Monsoon / Winter): The dry season starts in November/December and lasts until April. It is influenced by the winter monsoon. At the beginning and at the end of the dry season expect a little more rain. The driest months are January, February, and March, but brief showers can occur. The northern and the central region experience the 'full dry season' while the southern part of the Maldives gets a little more rain during these months. The dry season also brings calm seas and either clear skies slightly clouded with beautiful formations. There is also significantly less wind, and the sea is often extremely flat.
- Wet Season (South West Monsoon / Summer): The rainy season usually starts in May (sometimes in late April) and lasts until September/October. It's influenced by the summer monsoon. In October it's getting slightly better, and November is often more or less safe. Weather can change quickly in the wet season and without the slightest signs of warning. Darker, rainy and very windy periods can be very short, but heavy rain, storm and a rough sea for a couple of days in a row are possible. However, even with more cloudy days and more rainfall in the wet season, the sun shines on average for 7 hours each day. The wet season is the best time for surfing and really impressive sunsets.
Sea Conditions for Diving/Snorkeling
The best months for diving and snorkeling are in the dry season from December/January to April/May during the Northeast Monsoon: The sea is calm, and the visibility is good. During the wet season, you could experience a rough sea, rain and less visibility due to the plankton. However, some divers visit in the wet season because: a) It's less busy and there is also more underwater life going on. b) Rain can be heavy at times but is often brief. On some days the visibility is as good as in dry season. c) In certain areas (see above: Hanifaru Bay) the best time to spot whale sharks and manta rays is during the wet season. In the end, it's a matter of personal preference. Many would only go in the dry season, and others prefer the rainy season with lower rates and less traffic. There are some interesting reports and opinions in this TripAdvisor topic: Maldives Diving - Low Season vs High Season
Peak Season | Dry Season
Mid-December to March and in August (school holiday) the prices are at their highest.
April except for Easter and the first half of December after the low season. In December the rates also start to climb.
Low Season | Wet Season
May until July and September until November with lower prices and attractive offers. Several resorts are closed from May to September.
We spent a couple of days in Exmouth to succeed in swimming with a whale shark on a sunny day.
Ningaloo Reef is famous for swimming with whale sharks, manta rays and humpback whales. Therefore, it's a great destination from late March until October. April and July are the busiest months because of Australian holidays. April until July are the best months for snorkeling with whale sharks. Continue reading to figure out your best time for your visit in Exmouth.
- Whale Sharks arrive around mid-March depending on the full moon and stay for feeding until July and some until August. There are even sightings in September and October but it's not any longer guaranteed. The highest chance for interaction and swimming with them is from April to July. The whale sharks are annually close to the reef at this time of the year. 2019 was different; very few sightings already in August. A week after the full moon in March millions of corals release eggs and sperm. Masses of krill are swarming to feed on the spawn that provides a feast for the whale sharks.
- Manta Rays are always present at the reef but abundant from May to September.
- Humpback Whales tours are being offered from August to October. One of the largest population migrates along the coast each year. Safety is always first, but if it is possible, you may experience a truly unique interaction with the whales.
Usually, the very best month of the year is August where you may spot whale sharks and humpbacks as well. But climate change arrived at Ningaloo as well. In August 2019 there were just two sightings in the last three weeks of this month.
It's quiet in March and again in May and June. Try to avoid April, especially if you don't like masses of tourists everywhere. It gets busy again in July and becomes quieter at the end of July. If you plan to visit in April or July book the tours and accommodation far in advance. Tours are usually fully booked for weeks. There are limited hotels and prices are at the highest. Weekends are more crowded.
The region has a tropical-hot-desert climate. In autumn and winter from April to September with pleasant temperatures around 25° C which cause an average water temp of about 22°C. It's hot during summer with an average daily temp of 35°C and water temperature around 26°C. It doesn't rain much here; less than 30 days of precipitation with the highest chance for thunderstorms from January to April. Fewer clouds from August to December. Cyclones can occur and are more likely to happen from January to March. In March 2015 Exmouth was hit by one, and at the end of April 2014, record-breaking heavy rainfall caused flash floods.