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How to Plan Your Trip to the Galapagos

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Sea lion swimming underwater in tidal lagoon, Galapagos islands, Ecuador

Sea lion swimming in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

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, Ecuador radiates adventure and discovery. From trekking volcanic slopes to 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 enfolded into a country smaller than the state of Nevada. With remarkable volcanoes high in the Andes and a position set along the equator, Ecuador is a year-round destination with an exceptional range from elegant beaches to the snow topped mountaintops. No matter how you wish to explore, you can find a rich culture and the importance of the local ecology as the landscapes shift between regions.

Choose the Right Time to Visit

Tortoise in the Ga

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 significant reasons. Not only are these the warmest months, but these months also provide you with the calmest seas. During the warmer months, you will generally find rain across the archipelago, but it may only enhance the activity of the wildlife.

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 you can 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 are prone to seasickness, you can find the right time to visit for your trip.

Related: Best Time to Visit - Galapagos

Determine How to Explore the Galapagos

Bartolome Island, Galapagos

Bartolome Island in the Galapagos archipelago

The Galapagos is made up of 127 different islands, only four of which are inhabited. With no international airport and a small total population of only 30,000 people, there are two main ways to explore, by land and by sea. “The best way is an exclusive yacht,” says Juan, a Zicasso travel specialist for Ecuador and the Galapagos, but it is not the only way to discover the renowned natural beauty and active wildlife around the islands.

Sailing around the archipelago is an enchanting way to experience the Galapagos. “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.

The other option is to explore from a land-based property. “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 tropical island penguins or swim with the manta rays in the crystal-clear waters of the Pacific.

Visiting the Galapagos on land can settle you into the comforts of welcoming luxury accommodations. While staying on land can severely limit the reach of which 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, another Zicasso travel specialist for Ecuador and the Galapagos. No matter how you choose to discover the islands, your experience will be unforgettable.

Related: Best Ways to Get Around the Galapagos

Choose your Cruise Option

Large luxury cruise ship in the Port of Guayaquil, Ecuador

Large luxury cruise ship in the Port of Guayaquil, Ecuador

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,” Pilar says. “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.

No matter how you choose to experience the Galapagos Islands, an Ecuador travel specialist can help comb through the details that would make any excursion perfect for the type of trip you wish to have. “A cruise is best to see the most wildlife,” Juan says. “But island hopping can work.” No matter how you choose to discover the islands and wilderness, you will have an exceptional experience based on your needs, goals, and preferences.

Discover the Four Worlds of Ecuador

Quilotoa Lake  and caldera in the Ecuadorian Andes

Quilotoa Lake and caldera in the Ecuadorian Andes

Discover the Four Worlds of Ecuador

Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. The diversity of the ecosystems parallels the distinctive cultures found from the Pacific to the Andes, the Amazon to the Galapagos, with a contemporary vibrancy to preserved ancient customs. 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 in each specific region.

Galapagos

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 active rays, uncover coral, or witness the broad wingspan of the albatrosses. 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.

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 of an eco-friendly city.

The Andes

The Andes Mountains have forged the remarkable microclimates of Ecuador coupled with the inviting texture of the passing clouds. 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.

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.

From enjoying charming haciendas in the mountains where you can horseback ride and hike to finding a chocolate haven where you can taste and tour cacao farms, 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 to an almost-mythological ambiance that always lives up to its reputation.

Related: Must-See Places in Ecuador and the Galapagos

How to Get your Trip Plans Started

Blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Ecuador can immerse you in fantastical adventure and relaxing luxury, touches of cultural history and the endless charms of the wilderness. The scenery reaches sublime proportions with cloud forests and sunsets verging on perfection. “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.”

For more ideas as you consider your plans, find inspiration with our Galapagos Islands and Ecuador Travel Guide. If you are read to plan your trip, you can also speak with a Galapagos Island and Ecuador travel specialist by filling out a Trip Request or by calling our team at 1-888-265-9707.

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