So you’ve decided to go the Galapagos Islands. Now what?

On the heels of AdventureSmith founder Todd Smith’s conservation-minded post on 6 Ways to Do the Galapagos Right, we asked our team for additional insights on traveling to the Galapagos Islands. Collectively, our crew of experts has been to the archipelago more than 20 times to travel with our partner small ships and island lodges.

This on-the-ground and on-the-water experience, combined with insight from booking Galapagos travelers year-round, equates into some serious insider tips and tricks. Each time we’ve traveled to the Galapagos Islands, we have learned. Each time our travelers return with feedback, we share it. And it’s true; heading to the Galapagos is no off-handed adventure. It’s a trip that needs to be well thought-out, properly planned and enjoyed to the fullest. If your course is set for the Galapagos, read on to learn what our crew recommends doing before and during your trip:

A black marine iguana is looking at a sign that says stop

Before You Go – Our Best Pre-Trip Galapagos Advice

Yes, there is always the sage packing advice to pack your bags, then take half out. But what other must-dos come before you set sail?

Read about the Galapagos Islands

Why not prolong your trip by building excitement and knowledge before you go? You will learn a lot while on your trip, but by reading ahead you will be able to ask deeper questions.

Galapagos penguins swimming in the ocean

Choose your trip wisely

Our team has a lot to say about this. And much of it is catered to individual traveler needs. For instance, Andrew recommends going by ship to cover more ground efficiently, while Nick argues that some travelers should consider staying at lodges for more flexibility (for example, on his recent trip he was able to surf and eat meals at local restaurants). There are also factors to consider like ship size and your cabin configuration, especially important for families who might look for triple- or quadruple-occupancy options. To read more about this essential first step of choosing how to travel in the Galapagos, read our comprehensive How to Choose Your Galapagos Cruise primer.

Know the rules and local conservation issues

As we like to say, arrive an informed traveler; leave a steward with tools for action. Jenna suggests getting started with understanding the 14 core Galapagos National Park Rules. Then learn about local conservation organizations, efforts and needs, and donate time or money to your favorite.

Know the layout of the islands

A man standing on the stern of a Galapagos small ship looking at the turquoise water and a nearby island

Learn the names and geography of this interesting landscape.

The Galapagos is made up 13 major islands and each has at least two names: one in English and one in Spanish. Leslie suggests learning the names and geography of this interesting landscape. Each AdventureSmith trip has a map on its itinerary tab; check it out. It’s fun to visualize where you are going!

Learn about the wildlife you will see

An up close shot of a red and orange Sally Lightfoot crab

Do you know why the red crabs in the Galapagos are called Sally lightfoots? Do you know the difference between a seal and sea lion? Tortoise and turtle? Familiarize yourself with the diverse and interesting wildlife. Purchase a Galapagos wildlife guide to bring with you so you know what you are seeing and can learn even more from the guide, offers Mary.

Make the most of being in Ecuador

Justin recommends spending some time in mainland Ecuador pre/post cruise as it’s a special destination all around—jungles and volcanoes! Meghan agrees, definitely plan an overnight before your cruise so you are rested and ready for the adventure to come. On her recent trip, she traveled for approximately 16 hours from California, arriving to Quito late and exhausted. The next day, a half-day guided Quito city tour introduced her to the history and people of Ecuador and then she had the rest of the day to rest and relax.

When You Go – Galapagos Must-Dos

You’ve read, you’ve packed, you’re ready. Hit the ground running with these on-ship and on-trail tips from our experts who have been there.

Stick with the guide

A group of Galapagos travelers riding on an inflatable skiff with a guide

Believe us: get in the guide’s panga. Stick with them when snorkeling.

Believe us: get in the guide’s panga. You don’t want to be 20-30 feet away from the guide when he or she is pointing out a specific Galapagos starfish or how a specific island was formed. Andrew adds, when snorkeling I get easily distracted and it is always a temptation for me to swim where I please as I follow sea turtles and tropical fish swimming beneath me, but I would encourage travelers to do their best to stay near the guide because they are as invaluable in spotting marine life as they are with terrestrial wildlife. He had one of his best days in the water after following his guide around the sea.

Snorkel

A young girl snorkeling in the Galapagos

Often we think of the Galapagos for its land- and sky-based wildlife: the finches, iguanas, blue-footed boobies… however, the Galapagos has extensive sea life, especially when it comes to megafauna like sea lions, sea turtles and reef sharks. Not to mention experiences in the water swimming near penguins and prehistoric-looking marine iguanas. Our entire crew offers the resounding advice to snorkel. It’s sure to be a highlight of your trip. Lis advises having a bit of snorkeling experience before you go so you can deep-water snorkel (access snorkeling sites from the panga) right away. Meghan, a first-time snorkeler on her trip, was able to practice how to breathe with a mask and snorkel in knee-deep in water by the beach with her ship’s guide right there. Spotting colorful fish and hearing ocean sounds instantly makes it easy to dive right in! This intro entry helped her feel comfortable in the underwater world to then go on deep-water snorkels later in the trip.

Seek out the sea lions underwater

A swimming sea lion underwater

They’ve been compared to puppies, and it’s certainly true regarding their curiosity and playfulness. Keeping in mind the rules of not approaching wildlife, be sure to watch if a sea lion swims your way. Taylor experienced her most magical moment in the Galapagos by doing so. A curious sea lion kept appearing around her, swimming in circles, making U-turns and coming back in a playful game of chicken. Read more in Taylor’s Expert Review of her time aboard the 100-guest Legend.

Wear a wetsuit to maximize your time in the water

A woman in a wetsuit in front of a Galapagos small ship smiling after snorkeling

Lis says that when she traveled in May, the water was not exactly cold, but she was happy to have the protection and added flotation a shortie wetsuit provided. When you are in the water for longer stretches of time, sometimes up to 45 minutes snorkeling, you will be happy to have any added warmth.

When you are in the water for longer stretches, you will be happy to have the added warmth of a wetsuit.

The water is warmest from February to April, reaching up to 77 degrees F. Learn more about the Galapagos climate and take a look at Galapagos by Month: When to Go & Why. Many small ships offer wetsuits at no charge; others have suits available to rent.

Relax

A lounging sea lion on the beach with a Galapagos small ship in the background

Remember, you don’t have be active between activities, says Nick. You have the option to relax too! Downtime can make the activities more enjoyable by feeling refreshed, invigorated and recharged. He recommends taking a few minutes to yourself each day to soak it all in.

Pick up a postcard to hand-deliver

A young woman smiling and holding postcards in the Galapagos

If your itinerary includes Post Office Bay on Floreana Island, Lis says you must pick up a postcard to continue the tradition started by whalers. The historic site has a makeshift post office in a barrel, and visitors get to continue the tradition by picking postcards left by former travelers to then hand-deliver. Lis was a little ambitious and picked up four cards that she then hand-delivered to addresses in Reno, Sacramento, Bishop and Roseville, California. Mail your own and see when it shows up. You might make a new well-traveled friend in the process.

Enjoy the international vibe

Bree reminds us that people come from all over the world for the uniqueness of the Galapagos Islands. Have fun with it. Learn and connect to people you might never have met. Meghan adds that on her recent visit aboard the 16-passenger Alya, sailing with her were four people from Alaska, two from Germany, two from London, two from Indiana (who were medical students studying abroad from India) and a family of four from South Africa. There is enough downtime on the boat to enjoy learning about what other people do and what it’s like where they are from.

Support your fellow travelers’ Galapagos dreams and share your own

A small group of Galapagos travelers standing at an overlook holding an AdventureSmith flag

On Andrew’s small ship cruise aboard the 16-guest Beluga, the first night his group shared what everyone wanted to see while in the Galapagos. Then throughout the trip everyone was on the lookout for each specific animal that was brought up by fellow shipmates. By the end, even the elusive vermillion flycatcher bird was spotted and celebrated within the group.

Watch your step

A red, brown and white Galapagos iguana laying right next to people walking on a trail

Literally. Wildlife is everywhere, and it’s fearless.

Literally. Wildlife is everywhere, says Lis, and it’s fearless. Land iguanas hold their ground on paths, blue-footed boobies dance without concern of your camera’s zoom. Keep your eye on the trail to avoid stepping on anything. It’s also a good idea to be aware of your terrain as trails are varied, ranging from smooth, flat dirt paths to challenging boulders, steep steps and sharp lava flows.

Feel good about your footprint

Todd always encourages travelers to reduce the greenhouse gases they emit while traveling with a carbon buy-back program. If you travel with AdventureSmith Explorations your cruise is automatically offset with our carbon-free cruising program at no additional cost. Go above and beyond by offsetting the emissions for your flights too.

Galapagos land tortoise eating leaves.

Take fewer photos

Meghan notes, I took so many amazing photos. I also made sure to put my camera away at some point during each activity to make sure I was present and creating real memories on this once-in-a-lifetime trip. Whale watching can be a great example of missing the moment by trying to capture it in a photo… sometimes before you can click, the fluke has submerged!

Meet your captain

A Galapagos ship captain at the helm of a small ship

Stand at the helm. Not all ships have an open bridge policy, but do as Meghan did and ask the captain for a tour to get the captain’s eye view of the islands. Learn insight from the captain about a ship-based life. Hear his/her experience of the islands. Check to see if your ship has an open-bridge policy.

Learn More

To read more of our crew’s travels from around the world, see all of AdventureSmith’s Trip Reviews.

Baby sea lion relaxing its head on a rock on a Galapagos island beach.


Have you been to the Galapagos Islands? What made it special? Please share your travel tips and advice in the comments below.