The best tours in Galapagos are a boat-based cruise although it is also possible to make day tours from hotels on land. The islands are managed by the Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS) which requires that all tours be accompanied by a qualified guide. The Park Service has designated more than 60 visitor sites for Galapagos tours, enabling tours to visit all the best wildlife; the rest of the National Park is out of bounds to tours. In addition to the land sites, Galapagos tours offer excellent diving.
Galapagos tours visitors' sites
At each visitors' site during Galapagos tours a marked trail provides excellent views of the Galapagos wildlife, vegetation and landscape of Galapagos. Most Galapagos trails are less than a mile long but some can be difficult underfoot, leading over rough lava or uneven boulders. There are also one or two longer hikes in the Galapagos highlands. The different Galapagos tours sites are amazingly varied in their scenery and vegetation, and the many good Galapagos snorkelling spots offer the chance to see the varied underwater life of Galapagos. Certain animals are common at nearly every Galapagos tours visitors' site. These include Galapagos sea lions, marine iguanas, lava lizards and a variety of coastal birds such as herons, tattlers, plovers, turnstones and whimbrels. The common land birds include yellow warblers, Galapagos doves, mocking-birds, flycatchers, and several species of Darwin's finch. However, most Galapagos tours sites also have their own particular tours highlights.
Galapagos tours by boat
A great variety of live-aboard vessels are available for Galapagos tours, ranging from simple, converted fishing boats to the luxurious Galapagos tours ships and fast launches. All rely upon engine power although some also have sails. Which Galapagos tour boat you choose depends on your budget but also upon the style of Galapagos tours you prefer. The smaller Galapagos vessels can provide a more exclusive and adventurous Galapagos tour experience while the larger boats may have more facilities. The large, comfortable Galapagos tour ships offer private bathrooms, bars and sun-decks and carry up to 100 passengers. The smaller Galapagos tour boats vary greatly from fairly simple 6 passenger vessels to comfortable, modern yachts and launches carrying 12 to 16 passengers. As Galapagos tour standards vary, the smaller boats are now classified to indicate the facilities they offer. Most crew members are Ecuadorian, and meals are usually excellent and include plenty of fresh food. Please note, however, that tour boats are not permitted to fish in Galapagos as part of the management of the islands.
Galapagos tour guides
Each Galapagos cruise or day tours is accompanied by a Galapagos tour guide who is licensed by the GNPS, and no tours are allowed on land in the park without one. There are several categories of Galapagos tour guides who vary in their language skills and knowledge of the Galapagos islands. A good tour guide who knows Galapagos well can make a big difference to your tours. The tour guide is responsible for ensuring that all tours respect the National Park rules, which stipulate among others things that all tours must stay on the set trails and that no Galapagos animal may be touched.
Time of year for taking tours to the Galapagos Islands
There is always something interesting happening in Galapagos, whatever the time of year your tour, and there is no off-season for Galapagos tours. From about June to November is the 'garua' season when the weather is relatively cool and dry, considering the equatorial position, with sunny or overcast skies and occasional drizzle or garua. August is the coolest month with average daily temperatures ranging from a minimum of 19 to a maximum of 24 degrees centigrade. The Galapagos sea is cool and can be rather rough. During this period most of the animals which rely upon the sea for their food will be breeding. These include sea and shore birds, marine iguanas, sea lions and fur seals. Between about January and April is the warm season, with higher temperatures and occasional heavy rains. The hottest month for Galapagos tours is March with an average maximum temperature of 30 degrees. The Galapagos islands turn green as the arid lowlands bloom, and all the land birds and reptiles start to breed. The Galapagos sea is also warmer and calmer. During El Nino years, these seasons can vary considerably and the animals' breeding seasons and behaviour are often affected greatly.
Organised Galapagos tours
A complete Galapagos tour package with a tour operator, usually includes hotels and transfers on the mainland, flights out to Galapagos, and the complete cruise in the islands. Insurance, tips and the entrance fee to the Galapagos National Park are usually excluded. We will always be able to advise you of the tour boats and itineraries available, or of the options for land-based tours. Most packages will fly you form Quito, the capital of Ecuador, on to either Baltra or San Cristobal airport in Galapagos where you embark immediately onto your Galapagos tour boat.