With dramatic volcanic landscapes and lying directly on the Equator, the geologically recent Galapagos Islands rate as one of the most unusual wildlife locations in the world. Above water there are plants and semi-tame animals whose geographical isolation and adaptation to the harsh conditions have led to the evolution of many unique natural histories, including marine iguanas, giant tortoises and the famous Darwin finches. Underwater, cool currents have introduced otherwise coldwater species to these tropical seas: penguins, orcas and fur seals happily rub along with parrot fish, turtles and manta rays.
Of the 29 species of land birds on the islands, 22 are endemic including 13 species of Darwin’s finches. Nineteen species of seabird include waved albatross, flightless cormorant, Galapagos penguin, two species of frigatebird and three species of booby.
Mammals include the Galapagos sea lion, fur seal and cetaceans such as sperm, humpback and pilot whales, dolphins and orca. Ray and shark species include the Galapagos shark, scalloped hammerhead and whale shark.
Among the resident reptiles are a large nesting population of the Pacific green turtle, two species of land iguana, marine iguana, seven species of lava lizard, nine species of gecko (of which five are endemic) and three endemic snakes. Noteworthy is the giant tortoise (Geochelone elephantopus), now sadly restricted to a mere handful of sites around the islands and most likely seen in the Centro de Crianza Fausto Llerena at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island, and other breeding centres.
There are in the region of 85 ships cruising the Galapagos Islands, ranging from 12 – 90+ passenger capacity. The best option to cover a wide variety of islands is a seven night cruise (or longer), though some ships offer shorter cruises as well.
For those wishing to sleep on dry land every night it is possible to have a land-based Galapagos program, staying in a hotel on Santa Cruz Island for a few days. These programs include day trips by boat to some of the nearby islands such as Bartolome, North Seymour and Santa Fe.
Some companies also offer ‘island hopping’ programs, visiting three or four islands (Santa Cruz, Isabela, San Cristobal and Floreana), staying in a comfortable hotel each night.
The Galapagos Islands are a year round destination, but there are some variations in weather and sea temperature throughout the year.
From about June until November it is the cooler, dry, foggy season in the Galapagos Islands, with average daily temperatures in the region of 26 degrees centigrade, and average water temperatures around 21 degrees centigrade. November is the transition month into the hotter, wetter season (most rain occurs in the higher elevations) with average day time temperatures up to 30 degrees centigrade in March and April, and an average water temperature of 25 degrees centigrade.
Underwater visibility is at its best in April and May, whilst the choppiest seas are in August and September.
Wildlife activity varies throughout the year, and there are some islands where specific species can be seen. For example, waved albatross can only be seen on Española Island between April and December, flightless cormorants can only be found on Isabela and Fernandina Islands, red-footed boobies on Genovesa Island (and a smaller colony on San Cristobal Island), and the majority of the population of Galapagos penguins are on Isabela and Fernandina Islands (though smaller populations can be seen on some of the other islands, such as Bartolome) as well.
We work with a variety of Galapagos ships, a selection of which can be seen here. Please contact us for further details about any of these, or any other, ships that are of interest, or a land-based or island-hopping program if preferred.
The sample itinerary below (from the Cachalote Explorer “Tower” itinerary) offers a glimpse of what you can experience on a wonderful Galapagos cruise.