Overview

Introduction

Remote, spectacular and utterly unique, the Galápagos Islands are a ‘once in a lifetime’ destination for anyone interested in the natural world. The wonderfully diverse wildlife and dramatic volcanic landscapes exceed expectations, exciting even the most well-travelled visitors. The total lack of fear displayed by the birds and reptiles enables visitors to the Galápagos to see and study nature close up in this unique environment.

In the 16th Century, Spanish seafarers named the islands, “Las Encantadas”; the ‘enchanted or bewitched islands’, as frequent mists seemed to make the islands appear and disappear! Now, the islands are officially named the “Archipielago de Colon”, though more famously known as the Galápagos (Spanish for tortoises). This name was given by a Flemish cartographer, Abraham Ortelius who was inspired by the resident giant tortoises.

However, Charles Darwin is undoubtedly the most famous visitor to Galápagos, and though his stay was brief, just five weeks, his discoveries here inspired his revolutionary theory on the evolution of species. In 1859, Darwin’s ‘The Origin of the Species’ caused major controversy, though earned him the recognition as the man who provided a foundation for the entire structure of modern biology and changed the way man viewed himself and the Natural World.

Today, the Galápagos is a UNESCO World Heritage site and 97% of the area is protected as a National Park. Located in the Pacific Ocean, approx 970km (600 miles) off the West coast of Ecuador, there are 19 islands and 107 small islets and rocks which lie astride the Equator and cover an area of approx 8000 square kilometres.

The islands are volcanic and have never been connected with the continent; when first discovered in 1535 they were uninhabited by man and to this day, the wildlife have little fear of man, giving a wonderful and unique experience to the visitor.

At a Glance

  • 19 volcanic islands of varying sizes, located along the equator, 600 miles from the coast of Ecuador
  • UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Unique, fearless and sometimes bizarre wildlife including giant tortoises, blue and red- footed boobys, marine iguanas, colonies of sea lions and frigate birds
  • Boat cruises of 3, 4 or 7 nights available. Also hotels on some islands
  • For a holiday to Galapagos it is advisable to book at least 9-12 months ahead
  • The Galápagos Islands tend to be hot with intermittent rain between December and May, cooler and more overcast June to November
  • Walking tours available. Call our Latin America team for details.

 

Read more

Getting There

There are no direct flights from the UK to Ecuador. The European airlines flying to Quito and Guayaquil are Iberia from London Heathrow (via Madrid) and KLM from London Heathrow and regional airports (via Amsterdam). Other options from London airports include LATAM Airlines and Air Europa via Madrid to Guayaquil; and Avianca to Quito and Guayaquil via Bogota. Also there are flights from London Heathrow to Quito and Guayaquil via Miami on American Airlines.  Any flights via the US require an ESTA application. Regional departures include Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle and Birmingham. 

Flights to the Galapagos Islands only operate from Quito and Guayaquil.  Please note there is a 1 hour time difference between the Ecuador mainland and Galapagos.

Combinations

  • It is recommended to stay at least 2 nights in Quito or Guayaquil, Ecuador prior to flying to Galápagos, particularly when taking a cruise.
  • Ecuador has so much variety to offer; the cloud forests, the Amazon, the Andes and colonial cities: Mainland Ecuador and Galápagos is an interesting combination.
  • A Galápagos holiday also combines well with Peru

A Few Wildlife Facts

  • There are five families of reptiles on the islands: iguanas, lava lizards, geckos, snakes and the giant tortoises. The Galápagos and the Seychelles are the only two island groups in the world which are inhabited by giant tortoises. Of the 27 species of reptiles on the islands, 17 are endemic.
  • Half of the resident population of birds is endemic to the Galápagos, but only 5 of the 19 species of sea birds found on the Galápagos are unique to the islands. These are: the Galápagos penguin, the flightless cormorant, the lava gull, the swallowtail gull and the waved albatross. There are 29 species of land birds on the islands, 22 of which are endemic.
  • The number of native mammals is limited to two species of bats, a few species of rats and, of course, sea lions and seals.
  • The Galápagos are washed by three currents which provide the islands with a rich and diverse underwater fauna. The number of species of fish has been estimated at 306, 17% of which are endemic. 16 species of whales and 7 species of dolphins are also in evidence around the islands.

Galapagos Calendar

When to go...

January - The hot / rainy season becomes established. Air and water temperatures rise. ‘Spring’ arrives with the rain and green shoots appear even in arid areas. Land birds nest, land (Isabela)and marine (Espanola) iguana mating season starts. Green turtles start arriving to lay eggs.

February - Flamingos start nesting on Floreana, marine iguanas nest on Santa Cruz and Bahama pintail ducks start breeding. Sperm whales and occasionally blue whales may be seen off the west coasts of Isabela and Fernandina.

March - Hot and humid. Marine iguanas nest on Fernandina. Frigate bird mating season starts. Late in the month Waved Albatross arrive on Espanola.

April - Large numbers of Waved Albatross arrive on Espanola and start their noisy courtship ritual. Green turtle and land iguana eggs start to hatch. The last giant tortoises hatch.

May - Waved Albatross on Espanola start laying their eggs. Sea turtles hatching on Espanola, Floreana and Santiago, and marine iguanas hatching on Santa Cruz. Galápagos penguins active around Bartholome. The sea lion and fur seals mating season starts, running from May to December. As there is a 12 month gestation newborn pups also arrive during this period.

June - The garua season starts. The air and sea temperatures start to cool, south-east trade winds return and currents become a bit stronger. The nesting season of the giant tortoises starts. Humpback whales may be seen, as may migrant birds flying north.

July - Breeding season for blue footed boobies on Espanola as albatross fledglings start to be born. Flightless cormorants start courtship rituals on Fernandina. Whales and dolphins may be observed of the west coast of Isabela.

August - Oceans can be choppy. Migrant shore birds start to arrive. Mating season for Galápagos Hawks on Espanola and Santiago.

September - Air and sea temperatures at their lowest. Galápagos Penguins breeding especially around Bartholome although can occur all year. Manta Rays seen off east coast of Isabela. Height of the sea lion mating season, with rival males fighting for control of harems.

October - Weather can be mixed. Giant tortoises continue to lay eggs. Blue footed boobie chicks can be seen on Espanola and Isabela.

November - Water and air temperature begins to rise and the winds decrease. Can be some jellyfish. Good visibility for snorkelling – can be especially fun with sea lion pups.

December - Hot / rainy season begins. Air and sea temperatures continue to rise. The mist clears. Islands begin to green over as the rain falls. Green sea turtles start to mate. Giant tortoise eggs begin to hatch.

December - May (hot/wet season)
June - November (overcast/stiff breeze season)

Island Information

In order to conserve and protect the wildlife and environment of the Galápagos Islands, the number of visitors is controlled by the Galápagos National Park Authority. Here's a selection of some of the islands and what you might expect to see

Santa Cruz

The most populated island, the main town of Puerto Ayora is the busiest hub in the Galapagos. A charming and well-resourced port in its own right with a number of hotels and restaurants, it has spectacular crescent beaches and excellent opportunities for snorkelling, kayaking and scubadiving. It is the base for further cruises and walking tours. The Charles Darwin Research Station is committed to preserving the unique environment and is a centre for the breeding of turtles.

Española
The oldest of the islands (3.4 million years) Espanola has no fresh water source and is uninhabitable by humans – but it’s a haven for sea birds. There is a large waved albatross community at Punta Suarez, and at Port Gardner you will encounter blue and maskedfooted boobies and bright red marine iguanas. Sea lion colonies can be seen, along with finches, swallowtailed gulls and the Galápagos hawk.

San Cristobal
The sleepy town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is home to the Interpretation Centre that provides an excellent history and explanation of the islands. At Punta Pitt you will find red, blue and masked-footed boobies, and at La Galapaguera both wild tortoises and others in a Reserve - necessary to protect them from wild goats and rats (introduced unfortunately by earlier travellers). The second main airport is on this island, and is another starting point for cruises.

Santa Fé
A tiny island 25 km from Santa Cruz, Santa Fé has one of the most beautiful bays in the Galapagos. The water is crystal clear and ideal for snorkelling, and is a wonderful place to swim with sea-lions. The Santa Fe iguana is unique to the island, and can be seen among the Prickly Pear cactus that sometimes grow to a height of 10m.

Isabela
The largest island made up of 6 fused volcanoes, Isabela is shaped like a sea-horse and is one of the youngest islands, which gives it a distinctive ecosystem. There are more wild tortoises here than anywhere else, because the Alceda tortoises like to wallow in the mud of the volcanic craters to protect them from mosquitoes and tics. Around Elizabeth Bay, penguins, turtles, Darwin’s finches and reef sharks abound, and between June and September Isabela is the best place to see passing whales.

Santiago

Long a favourite spot for pirates and whalers, and more recently given over to an attempt at salt-mining, Santiago is now uninhabited. Fascinating for its lava formations at Sullivan Bay, Santiago is a home for pink flamingos, fur seals and sea-lions, marine iguanas and Sally Lightfoot crabs.

Bartholomé

Despite being desolate with few plants, Bartolomé is probably the most photographed of all the islands. The wondrous lava formations with shades of red, orange, green and glistening black are a stunning sight, as is the view from the look-out summit at Pinnacle Rock (114 m). If you snorkel, Galapagos penguins are regular companions.

Floreana

Devil’s Crown is an almost completely submerged volcano that has become a haven for exotic birds and offers the most spectacular diving and snorkeling opportunities. Here you can swim among turtles, sea-lions, white-tipped sharks, amberjacks and king angel fish whilst seeing the most vibrantly-coloured coral. And don’t leave without following in the footsteps of pirates and buccaneers and deposit a letter in the wooden post barrel!

For more information and inspiration on the Galapagos
, read our blog.

Important

Please note, when booking a Galápagos cruise a deposit for the cruise will be required in addition to our standard deposit. Upon entry to the Galápagos Islands, there is a National Park Fee of $100 per person and Transit Fee $20 per person; in most instances this can be pre-paid in Sterling at the time of booking. Subject to change.

Foreign Office advice

We’ve partnered with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Travel Aware campaign to help provide top tips and advice for planning for your trip abroad. It’s important to do some research before you travel to learn about any necessary visas and vaccinations required for entry to your destination, understand any unusual laws and customs and to be aware of the latest travel advice for the region. Click on the link below for more information on what to prepare for your trip overseas. You can also sign up for email alerts and follow @FCOtravel on Twitter for alerts whilst you are away.

Visit gov.uk/travelaware for more information

Useful information

Talk to one of our experts

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Get in touch

Besides the weird and wonderful wildlife in the Galapagos which is obviously the # 1 attraction, the islands have a tremendous amount of variety and unusual landscapes due to previous volcanic activity. Marvel at the courtship displays of the blue-footed booby and frigatebird. There’s also so much to see underwater, snorkel with penguins and sea lions.

Stephen Bray
Stephen Bray
Best time to go
  • JAN
  • FEB
  • MAR
  • APR
  • MAY
  • JUN
  • JUL
  • AUG
  • SEP
  • OCT
  • NOV
  • DEC
Time Difference

GMT - 7 hours

Currency

US Dollar

Language

Spanish

Average flight times

17 hours 30 minutes (London to Quito via Amsterdam - 14 hours 45min. Quito to Galapagos 2 hours 45min)

  • Average temperature

    Average rainfall

Talk to our Galapagos Islands expert

Stephen Bray
Stephen Bray

Besides the weird and wonderful wildlife in the Galapagos which is obviously the # 1 attraction, the islands have a tremendous amount of variety and unusual landscapes due to previous volcanic activity. Marvel at the courtship displays of the blue-footed booby and frigatebird. There’s also so much to see underwater, snorkel with penguins and sea lions.

Call one of our experts to discuss your next holiday with Sunvil on

020 8758 4774

We're open tomorrow at 9:00 AM

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We promise that a member of our specialist reservation teams will reply personally to your holiday enquiry before 5.30pm if received before 12.00pm (Monday to Friday). Enquiries received after 12.00pm will be replied to within 24-hours (excluding Sundays).

If your enquiry is of an urgent nature, please telephone our dedicated reservation teams on the numbers listed below.

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