Located approximately 1,369 kilometers from the South American mainland, the Galápagos Islands stand as an ecological wonder of the world. Thousands of nature lovers and adventure seekers alike flock to the “Enchanted Isles” every year. As you’d likely imagine, a trip to the Galápagos is not your typical island vacation. In this article, I will share my most surprising and valuable tips for visiting the Galápagos Islands. Preparing your expectations, itineraries, and suitcases for this once-in-a-lifetime trip has never been easier!

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Tips for Visiting the Galápagos Islands

Expect Unexpected Amenities

The Galápagos Islands are not only occupied by animals. During my trip, I was surprised to be able to wander around small cities, go shopping, visit churches, eat at restaurants, and dance at clubs. Some islands, however, are less populated and offer only basic amenities. Make sure to pack everything you may need, just in case.  

Picture of a church in one of the towns of the Galapagos Islands.

You Will Need a Guide

Visitors are welcome to freely roam the towns and cities of the Galápagos Islands, but most nature areas cannot be toured without a guide. This rule protects both you and the wildlife.

If you are cruising to the islands, excursions can easily be booked through your cruise line. I traveled through a travel agency, so all of my guided tours were built into my itinerary. Viator offers some great tours for those traveling without an organized group, many of which include transportation.

There Will be Bugs

Although malaria is not currently a major risk on the Galápagos Islands, there are mosquitos, so you should take the necessary precautions. Visitors should wear long, loose-fitting, permethrin-treated clothing. Spray repellents are not allowed; picaridin lotion worked out great for me. 

Other creepy crawlies also roam the islands. Centipedes, roaches, and giant flying insects are just some of the bugs you’ll likely encounter. I found a few in my hotel room; unfortunately, this is to be expected regardless of how much you spend on your accommodations. On the Galápagos Islands, nature is the name of the game.

Do Not Approach the Animals

While you may wish to visit the Galápagos Islands to get an up-close look at some of the world’s most unique animals, you cannot get too close. By law, you must maintain a distance of at least 6 feet (2 meters) away from the animals at all times. Animals may approach you, but this rule still applies; take a few steps back to maintain the required distance.

One of my most important tips for visiting the Galápagos Islands is that you must always have a guide when visiting nature areas. This is a picture of my guide next to a tortoise.

Pack as Lightly as Possible

It is important to pack as lightly as possible, especially if you plan on staying in a hotel on the islands. Because you will likely only spend a few days in each location, you will be doing a lot of packing and unpacking. Save yourself the headache and only bring what you absolutely need.

The Sun is Stronger Than You’d Expect

Being that the Galápagos Islands straddle the equator, I knew the sun would be strong. However, it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I am quite pale and do not generally even come close to getting a tan, but that was not the case at all under the Galápagos sun. Don’t get too excited, as it wasn’t a healthy tan; I had “future skin cancer” written all over me. You probably already had sunscreen on your packing list, but make sure it is an effective SPF level (and reef-safe, of course!).

It is a Physically Demanding Trip

My trip to the Galápagos Islands truly tested my physical limits. Snorkeling for nearly the entire day and hiking on uneven terrain takes a lot out of you (as evidenced by the picture below of my sprained knee), especially when done under the heat of the equatorial sun. I do not necessarily recommend this trip for those with debilitating health conditions or mobility issues; however, make sure to closely review your options, as some tours may be able to accommodate.

Knowing that this is a physically demanding trip is one of the most important tips for visiting the Galápagos Islands. Here is a picture of me with a sprained knee I got from hitting it on a rock while snorkeling.

Plan Transportation in Advance

Transportation, especially when island hopping, can be nearly impossible to come by if it is not planned in advance. Depending on your destination, you will likely have to reserve a speed boat or plane ticket prior to arrival. Cruising is a popular option for this reason; however, some guided tour packages may include transportation from island to island. 

Intra-island travel within the populated areas is a bit easier, however, as taxis are usually available. 

Picture of my tour group in front of the airplane we took to the Galapagos islands.

“Take Only Memories, Leave Only Footprints”

You may have heard the phrase: “Take only memories, leave only footprints.” While it was first spoken by a Native American chief, it could not possibly be more relevant to your visit to the Galápagos Islands. Strict environmental regulations prohibit you from taking plants, animals, and shells as souvenirs. Trash should be disposed of responsibly to protect wildlife and preserve the natural beauty of the islands. Long story short, enjoy the islands, but leave them as you found them.

Be Mindful of What You Eat

The tap water is not safe to drink in Ecuador; drink only bottled water, and do not eat anything that may have been washed in tap water, such as salad. Additionally, many foods may not be cooked the way we are used to. During my visit to the Galápagos Islands, I picked up a parasite from my food, which still haunts my stomach 5 years later. I am not trying to scare you into canceling your trip but rather to be mindful of what you are eating and drinking!

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Which tip did you find most interesting? Do you have your own tips for visiting the Galápagos Islands? Contact me or let me know in the comments below!

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