The Galapagos Archipelago is an isolated and marvelously unique corner of this ever-shrinking world, renowned for the unique wildlife it holds, as well as its on-going geological processes, rich marine ecosystem and the role it has had in the formation of evolutionary thought. In fact, it was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978 for these very reasons. From sunbathing to hiking, lava caves to sink holes and blue-footed boobies to giant tortoises, this ‘living museum and showcase of evolution’ holds a diverse range of wonders for all visitors. However, stretching over a total area of 28,000 sq. miles, with each island different from the next, it is important to properly plan out your Galapagos trip to make the most of your time in the islands.
What to bring to your Galapagos trip
Whether you will be biking, swimming or sunbathing no your Galapagos trip, it is important to bring the right clothing to ensure your comfort and safety. As the islands are located directly along the equator, the sunrays are extremely strong and the climate is typically warm and humid. You will want to bring comfortable shorts and t-shirts to stay cool during the day, as well as a hat and sunglasses to protect yourself from the hot sun. Strong sunscreen is recommended for all skin types, as you will likely be spending a lot of time outside. It is also a good idea to bring a swimsuit to enjoy the beautiful, crystal-clear waters. From April to December, sea temperatures may drop to 18°C, and in extreme years known as La Niña, even lower. Those months, a wet suit may come handy for snorkelling outings. Yachts Santa Cruz II and Isabela II, have 2mm shorty’s for rental (complimentary on yacht La Pinta). If you prefer full suit, perhaps you should bring your own.
You will most likely be doing a fair amount of walking during your Galapagos trip and possibly over rough volcanic rock, so it is important to have appropriate footwear. However, keep in mind that wet landings are common. It is advisable to bring sandals or aqua-socks / shoes. In addition to your walking shoes (“trainers” or “sneakers” come very handy).
The US Dollar is the official currency in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands; however, ATM machines are not always reliable, and the majority of stores and restaurants in the islands either do not accept cards or have manual credit card machines (which can be a hassle). It is a good idea to have cash on hand if you want to buy any tourist items or visit restaurants. If you travel on board yachts Santa Cruz II, Isabela II, La Pinta or Hotel Finch Bay, you can pay with all major credit cards. Upon arrival you will be instructed on the processes to make shipboard and/ or hotel accounts easier to pay with credit cards.
Do your research about your Galapagos trip
Visitors often arrive to the islands anxious to see clown-like blue-footed birds and the birthplace of modern day evolutionary thought, but they do not always fully grasp the extent of the islands and life they hold. The archipelago consists of 13 major islands and 6 smaller ones, and each one is different from the next, ranging from rich, green pampas to barren deserts. You will want to do some research before visiting the Galapagos Islands in order to determine where you want to focus your Galapagos trip and what you want to see. Look for the Island’s top animals, and check the itinerary that best covers your interests you.
There are a variety of ecosystems in the Galapagos archipelago, which vary according to the altitude, isolation and size of each island, along with the ocean current that passes by that particular area. Thus, life not only varies between islands, but within the islands themselves. It is because of this that they are able to support such a range of species, from penguins to cacti. The geological formations that decorate the islands only further diversify each one, with age-old lava flows, giant sink holes, the Galapagos blow hole, an ocean uplift, underwater caves and Pinnacle Rock, to name a few. Even the beaches vary, with red, white, black and even green crystalline sand.
Once you have a good idea of the general attractions the islands contain, take some time to choose which areas you would like to visit, taking into account the geography, landscape, history and the species that inhabit the specific visitor sites. Animals like the sea lion, marine iguana and the famed blue-footed boobies can be found on almost any island, but other species have much more restricted habitats. Below are a few examples.
The Galapagos Penguin
Most of the Galapagos penguins live on the western islands of Fernandina and Isabela, where oceanic upwellings bring rich bottom nutrients to the surface, and smaller populations are scattered among some central islands, where branches of the upwellings occur.
The Galapagos Flamingo
The habitat of the Galapagos flamingo is restricted to islands that have briny lagoons where the birds can feed. These include Santiago, Santa Cruz, Bainbridge and Floreana islands.
Galapagos Tortoises may be observed in their natural habitat on Santa Cruz and Isabela, as well as at breeding centers in Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz and Cerro Colorado on San Cristobal Island.