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4 Steps to Planning Your Trip to the Galapagos

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Traveler photographing an iguana on the beach at Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos, Ecuador

Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos, Ecuador

Our steps for planning your perfect Galapagos trip can unveil Ecuador’s vibrant wonders, where diverse ecosystems and captivating cultures converge. With architectural treasures featuring Spanish colonial centers, white-sand beaches edging crystal-clear waters, and fascinating wildlife from sea turtles to tropical birds, visiting Ecuador reveals adventure and discovery.

From trekking volcanic slopes and wandering the Amazon rainforest to the ultimate exploration of the Galapagos Islands, you will find untouched splendor on your trip. Ecuador’s allure is not just limited to the Galapagos Islands and instead captures the diversity of the country’s scenery.

With remarkable volcanoes high in the Andes and a position set along the equator, Ecuador is a year-round destination, with elegant beaches to snowcapped mountains. No matter how you wish to explore, with our Ecuador travel tips, you can find a rich culture and the importance of the local ecology as the landscapes shift between regions.

  1. 1. Choose the Right Time to Visit
  2. 2. Determine How to Explore the Galapagos
  3. 3. Consider Exploring the Mainland of Ecuador
  4. 4. Connect with an Expert Travel Specialist

1. Choose the Right Time to Visit

School of hammerhead sharks in the Galapagos

Hammerhead sharks in the Galapagos, Ecuador

With so many different regions to visit, you can find the right time to visit Ecuador no matter the time of year. When visiting the Galapagos, the weather can make a big difference if you choose to discover the islands by land versus by sea. December to May is the peak season for visiting the famous islands for two reasons: not only are these the warmest months, but they provide you with the calmest seas. During the warmer months, you will find rain across the archipelago, but it only enhances wildlife activity.

For a more active exploration of the Galapagos, you can explore the waters and the islands from June to September to find the best months in which to snorkel or scuba dive. The water is far choppier, but once you dive beneath the surface, you can discover the tropical conditions that support hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, and some 400 species of fish. By being aware of the kinds of activities you want to experience and whether you or someone you are traveling with is prone to seasickness, you can find the right time to visit.

Galapagos Islands trip planning can help you understand how the different seasons in the region offer various conditions that could affect your travel goals. Our information on the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands provides ideas that can help you discover the right time of year for your best trip.

Learn more: How to Plan a Trip to Galapagos Islands: Frequently Asked Questions

2. Determine How to Explore the Galapagos

Bartolome Island, Galapagos

Bartolome Island in the Galapagos archipelago

The Galapagos is made up of 127 islands, only four of which are inhabited. With no international airport and a population of only 30,000 people, there are two main ways to explore: by land and sea.

By Sea

“The best way is an exclusive yacht,” says Zicasso travel specialist Juan, but it is not the only way to discover the renowned natural beauty and active wildlife around the islands.

“You can see more wildlife with the cruise option,” Juan says. Rather than feeling confined to a single island or only being able to reach neighboring islets, a cruise around the Galapagos allows you to travel farther and faster to find the rare, wild, and wondrous wilderness for which the islands are known. From searching for sea turtles to scouting blue-footed boobies, the immersive view can give you an entirely new perspective on the wonders of the natural world.

There are several different kinds of cruises on which you could explore the Galapagos. A small boat may provide access to up to 20 people, while a medium-sized ship could have approximately 50 passengers onboard.

“Medium vessels might have more opportunities as you have more guides,” says Pilar, another Zicasso travel expert for the region. “A smaller yacht will limit you to the scheduled plan.”

You may also have the option of a first-class cruise that can host up to 100 people, which can give you access to new experiences like scuba diving excursions.

By Land

“The advantage of staying on an island,” Juan says, “is you can craft the itinerary your own way, not having to stick to the cruise itinerary.” Instead of following the itinerary of a pre-planned cruise, you can travel between islands at your leisure, hopping between destinations reachable by speedboat. The unique contours of the land and wildlife will take center stage as you watch the interactions between penguins or swim with manta rays in the crystal-clear waters of the Pacific.

On land, you can settle into the comforts of welcoming, luxury accommodations. While doing so can limit the number of islands you see, you can travel on your schedule and still bask in the thriving ecosystem. A safari camp on Santa Cruz can take you into the highlands with a luxury glamping experience and offer a scuba-diving extension. “The Galapagos is completely different every time,” says Pilar. No matter how you choose to discover the islands, your experience will be unforgettable.

The Galapagos is a diverse ecosystem that can accommodate any kind of traveler. The best ways to get around the Galapagos Islands offers new ideas on how you can explore and discover the islands in safe, exciting, and revealing ways.

3. Consider Exploring the Mainland of Ecuador

Quilotoa Lake  and caldera in the Ecuadorian Andes

Quilotoa Lake and caldera in the Ecuadorian Andes

Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. The diversity of the ecosystems parallels the distinctive cultures and ancient customs found from the Pacific to the Andes, the Amazon to the Galapagos. It is a country filled with the extraordinary, where islands can feel like entirely different planets, colonial towns feel undisturbed, and you can canoe down the Amazon searching for squirrel monkeys and sloths.

“Ecuador is one country with four worlds, the Galapagos, the coast, the Andes, and the Amazon,” says Juan. “All of them are totally different.” The Galapagos Islands are often considered the jewels crowning Ecuador’s treasures, but the country has an enticing natural grandeur to explore.

The Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos are a microcosm of Ecuador’s incredible natural diversity. Whether visiting for the wildlife, the scenery, or the weather, you can explore the equatorial archipelago to find a rich sense of authenticity. Find active volcanoes, search for playful dolphins, snorkel with rays, uncover coral, or witness the broad wingspan of the albatross. Across the islands, you can observe how the wildlife helped shape the landscape and how the landscape helped shape the wildlife to create an essential symbiotic relationship unlike anywhere in the world.

Learn more: 14 Day Galapagos Adventure

The Coast

Ecuador’s coastline is a collection of enticing colors and tropical beaches, giving you an escape from life back home and a stunning introduction to the marvelous marine life, coastal heritage, and delectable cuisine. The sloping corners of the Andes Mountains affect the greater ecosystem of the shoreline, giving rise to fantastic surf, a petrified forest, regenerated waterfronts, and colorful artisan markets. The beauty of the Pacific coast can offer you a serene, romantic, resort getaway or an exciting discovery in an eco-friendly city.

Learn more: Luxury Coastal Cruise in Ecuador

The Andes

The Andes Mountains have forged the remarkable microclimates of Ecuador. The vast scenery spreads across volcanic lagoons, soaring peaks, shimmering lakes, thermal waters, and even forests hosting colorful birds and vibrant orchids. With charming colonial towns and traditional Andean culture, the Andes reflect the tangible strengths of Ecuadorian heritage, from lively cities to expansive national parks.

Learn more: Discover Ecuador's Diversity: Quito, Galápagos Islands, and Chocó Cloud Forest in 10 Days

The Amazon

“There are many wonderful destinations within two hours of Quito,” Juan says. “The advantage of Ecuador is that the Amazon is close to a major city.” Whether looking for hummingbirds and kingfishers, or eager to glide down the river in search of piranha and caiman, the Amazon can immerse you in the wonders of the natural world or introduce you to the authentic traditions of local villages.

Learn more: 14-Day Adventure in the Ecuador Amazon Rainforest & Across the Galápagos Islands

From enjoying charming haciendas in the mountains, where you can horseback ride and hike to find a chocolate haven on a cacao farm tour, visit authentic indigenous communities in the Amazon, or cycle the foothills of active volcanoes, Ecuador offers endless possibilities to add to your Galapagos adventure. Pilar says, “The average person does five or six days in the Galapagos and five or six more in the rest of Ecuador, visiting the Andes, volcanoes, Quito, and the Amazon.” Each moment builds an almost-mythological ambiance that always lives up to its reputation.

There are more things to see around Ecuador and the Galapagos that can make your trip meaningful and memorable. Our best places to visit in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands provide details on the most popular and unique places to visit for a glimpse of their history, beauty, and unforgettable spirit.

4. Connect with an Expert Travel Specialist

Blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

The right Zicasso travel specialist can unveil Ecuador's fantastical adventures and relaxing luxuries, the touches of cultural history and the endless charms of the wilderness. By focusing on how you wish to travel and the types of experiences you wish to have, an Ecuador travel specialist will customize each day of your trip to ensure each moment becomes a highlight of your vacation. “Ecuador is such a small country,” Juan says. “You can visit all four worlds in one day. You can have breakfast in the Amazon, lunch in the Andes, dinner on the coast, and pick up a ship to the Galapagos.”

Whether enjoying how the scenery reaches sublime proportions, with cloud forests and sunsets verging on perfection, or indulging in the grand colonial architecture of a bustling city, you can find more ideas as you consider your plans with inspiration from our Galapagos Islands and Ecuador travel guide, and our featured Galapagos Islands vacations and Ecuador tours.

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