Updated August 10, 2020.
One of our most memorable trips was also one of the most challenging to plan: the Galapagos! I got so overwhelmed trying to plan our week-long trip, I actually gave in and did the best thing ever: I went through a Galapagos tour company. My husband and I never go with tour groups because we like to do our own thing, but this was so different. It’s “trip of a lifetime” material because it’s so unique and so difficult to get to, and you definitely want to do it right the first time! So here’s my guide for you all about the things to know before you go!
More here: The Secret to Happy Couple Travels
There are strict rules about visiting the islands because many of the animals are endangered, the ecosystem is delicate, and the entire archipelago is protected as the Galapagos National Park. The most important rules are:
- Do not touch the animals.
- Do not get too close to the animals.
- Do not feed the animals.
- No flash photography.
- Travel only with tour operators and certified guides.
- Do not take anything from the islands.
For the complete rules, please visit the Galapagos National Park Rules Page.
The local language is Spanish, but most everyone speaks English as well, so as long as you speak one of those two languages, you’ll be just fine! There are a few terms to know in advance so you’re not surprised, though:
- Dry Landing: You’ll be taking a lot of boats in the Galapagos, and when you hear the term “dry landing,” you know you’ll be landing at a dock. You won’t need to get wet. You will find dry landings mostly on the populated islands.
- Wet Landing: You will have to walk through water or swim from your boat to your destination. You will find wet landings on the unpopulated islands.
More here: 10 Things to Do in the Galapagos
Must Have a Certified Guide
No matter what, whether you go with a tour group or not, you can only visit certain places with certified tour guides. This is why we chose to go with the tour company Galapagos Alternative. They took care of absolutely everything, including scheduling our tours and providing tour guides. The cost of our 8-day tour was around $2500 total for the two of us, and only one element of our trip was with a larger group; otherwise, it was just the two of us and a private guide! Our costs was actually more than usual because we chose to fly to and from Isabela Island instead of taking a 4-hour ferry, which would have been less expensive.
- Inter-island flights
- Inter-island ferry trips
- All tour guides
- All accommodations
- Nineteen out of twenty-two meals
- Admission costs within Galapagos National Park
Costs Not Included:
- Admission to Galapagos National Park (required for entry to the islands; $100 USD per person to be paid upon arrival)
- Three meals on our own
- Tips for tour guides ($10 for a half-day tour; $20-25 for a full-day tour)
- Flights from Ecuador to the Galapagos and back
More here: 10 Reasons to Visit the Galapagos
I can’t say enough kind things about Galapagos Alternative. This is not sponsored, and I am not getting paid to say this, but it was the best thing we possibly could have done to make sure we had the best trip possible. All their guides are native to the Galapagos, are fluent in English, and are certified. Everyone we worked with to plan our trip and all employees we encountered on our trip were kind, knowledgeable, and helpful! We got to choose which islands we wanted to visit and what we wanted to see and do. They made sure we got to do the things that were most important to us. You will not regret going with Galapagos Alternative!
Land-based or Sea-based?
We visited in 2015, and land-based tours were a newer way to experience the islands. That’s what we chose because we were told that the waters in August, when we went, can be rough. It all comes down to whether or not you tend to get seasick and your personal preferences. Here is the difference:
- Land-based: You’ll be staying in local hotels or bed and breakfast-type accommodations and take day trips from there. We stayed four nights on Santa Cruz, one night on Floreana, and two nights on Isabela. This allowed us to support more locals and experience “living” on the islands by eating at local restaurants.
- Sea-based: These tours allow you to stay on a yacht and visit the different islands without changing accommodations. Most, if not all, your meals will be on the boat. This is often considered more eco-friendly.
Need help deciding which islands to visit? Check out this helpful Galapagos Islands Website!
- There are four islands you can stay on overnight: Floreana, Isabela, San Cristobal, and Santa Cruz.
- The official currency of Ecuador, including the Galapagos, is U.S. Dollars. (Check out Where You Can Use the U.S. Dollar Abroad.)
- You can only visit Floreana Island via ferry; the trip is 2.5-4 hours one-way (depending on the weather) from Santa Cruz to Floreana.
- The only way to get to the Galapagos Islands is to fly from Quito or Guayaquil, both in Ecuador.
Keep reading: What to Expect Flying in a Tiny Plane
Essentials to Pack
You can choose what you need, but there are a few things you may not think of until it’s too late. Here are the items I highly recommend ordering, along with Amazon affiliate links that you can click to shop with me! This helps support my small business at no additional cost to you. Just click to shop on Amazon.
This is perfect for protecting your phone, wallet, guide book, etc. on those wet landings or during sudden rain showers. It keeps everything dry, and it even floats in the water with you when necessary!
Reef Safe Sunscreen
The delicate ecosystem both on- and offshore needs to be protected. Reef safe sunscreens are essential for your health and the islands’ health. You can find many varieties today, but I prefer solid because you can carry it on for the flight without taking up space in your liquids bag!
Again with not taking up space in your liquids bag, you’ll be thankful you brought solid bug repellent.
Between wet landings, broken shells and coral along the beaches, and rough volcanic rock, you’ll be so thankful you brought water shoes! These come in both men’s and women’s sizes, plus a variety of colors.
Refillable Water Bottle and Water Tablets
You cannot drink the water on most of the Galapagos islands. The exceptions are Floreana and Isabela, but I had some tummy issues on both islands, so I advise taking measures to be sure you’re only drinking purified water. This is my favorite brand and style. The large spout allows you to fill it with ice, and the small spout keeps me from spilling it all over myself!
Just in case you have a sensitive tummy, I recommend bringing Pepto-bismol with you, and possibly taking a probiotic before and during your trip.
Essential Info: How to Pack the Perfect Carry-on
Need more Galapagos info? You’ll find everything you need on my Ecuador Page!
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