Things to Do in Galapagos - Travel Guide to Darwin’s Paradise
The beautiful archipelago of Galapagos Islands has been attracting visitors for decades for very good reason. Known worldwide for its magnificent array of wildlife, most people come here to see the many endemic species which only exist in Galapagos Islands. As only about 1% of the islands are permanently inhabited, you can also discover some of the most pristine and untouched landscapes here, such as white sandy beaches, turquoise sea, impressive mountains and volcanic plains. And as it has a perfect climate with sunshine all year round and mild to hot temperatures, it does not matter when you want to take your holiday to Galapagos Islands – any time of year is a great time to visit.
It may seem like the only thing to do in Galapagos Islands is wildlife watching and this is certainly one of the main reasons to make a trip there, but there are so many other things to do in Galapagos Islands to enjoy. Here at TripsPoint we have put together this list so you can see what exactly there is on offer when you take that dream trip.
Things to Do in Galapagos Islands
This is the main reason why people head to Galapagos Islands; to take to the waters and explore what these fantastic islands have to offer. If you are imagining a large passenger cruise liner, think again; the cruise boats in Galapagos Islands are some of the smallest in the world. The reason for this is simple: as the protection of the environment and the wildlife that lives within it is of the utmost importance, regulations state that vessels must not exceed 100 passengers. There are around 65 passenger vessels in Galapagos Islands and the majority of them are able to hold no more than 20 people.
Another way in which cruises in Galapagos Islands differ from traditional passenger cruises is that most of your time is not spent on board. Obviously, you go to Galapagos Islands to experience the amazing wildlife the area has to offer, so why would you spend your holiday sitting on a boat? You should keep this in mind when deciding which cruise vessel you would like to choose.
There are two main types of vessel which offer cruises in Galapagos Islands, small yachts and large ships. Small yachts are ideal for those who are looking for a more intimate Galapagos experience, with fewer people and a more personalised service from your on-board guide. These smaller vessels are also seen as having less of an impact on the surrounding environment as well as being more flexible in terms of where they can anchor; if you happen to be passing groups of marine life such as dolphins and whales, a smaller yacht can change its course to give you better access to them. The larger cruise vessels are good for those who prefer to have more space and wish to have more amenities and facilities at their disposal. They also have the advantages of being able to offer a variety of languages as well as offering a much wider range of activities.
If you prefer to do your own Galapagos cruise on a private vessel, this is also available but it needs to be booked well in advance, and then arrival preparations have to be conducted under the representation of a local agent. Because of the complications that can arise from this, it is much easier – and more enjoyable – to join an organised tour.
When booking your Galapagos Islands cruise, you should do your research and make sure the tour company you wish to travel with is a reputable company, has been running cruises for a number of years, and has plenty of good reviews from other passengers. Another point to remember is to book your Galapagos Islands cruise as far in advance as possible. Due to restrictions on the islands, only a certain amount of visitors are permitted to land on the islands each day, which means that tours can get booked up really quickly. While it may be possible to nab a late deal due to other passengers cancelling their trips, it is better not to rely on this.
Galapagos Islands are world renowned for their spectacular wildlife and it is easy to imagine spending weeks, and even months, just observing the numerous species the islands have to offer. There are so many noteworthy species to see it would be impossible to list them all here, but here is a list of some which await you on your trip to Galapagos Islands:
- Blue-footed booby
- Marine iguana
- Galapagos fur seal
- Bottlenose dolphin
- Galapagos tortoise
- Galapagos sea lion
- Darwin’s finch
- Hammerhead shark
- Whale shark
- Green sea turtle
- All these creatures are must see planning your things to do in Galapagos
The most amazing thing about the wildlife on Galapagos Islands is theirs complete tameness. They have no fear of humans whatsoever and it is really common for the animals to walk across your path, sit unmoving as you pass by, or even come up to you to say hello. To explore wildlife of Galapagos it's highly recommended to place on your list of things to do in Galapagos and book the Galapagos Wildlife Experience Day Tour as much as possible in advance.
North Seymour Island
This little island is one of some of the most important fishing spots for Sea Birds. This particular place is the reason for many travellers and ornithologists to observe the spectacular and unique number of birds of the Galapagos. You can visit the thin spectacular island taking the North Seymour Island Day Tour by boat from Santa Cruz.
The visit site is located beside the nesting area of Frigate Birds, both Magnificent and Common, which base on the plants along the entire year. Witnessing the lovemaking dance of the Blue Footed Boobies is additionally among one of the highlights of the adventure. There is additionally a Palo Santo forest that spreads on the south coast of Seymour exactly where birds nesting, and offer a spectacular sight of the channel shown up in between Bartolome and Seymour islands.
Although Bartolome Island is pretty small, especially in comparison with its close neighbour San Salvador, it is the location of the most photographed view in the whole of Galapagos Islands – that of Pinnacle Rock. A visit to the island is worth it just to be able to get a shot of Pinnacle Rock with the distant islands in the background. However, Bartolome Island also has its fair share of flora and fauna; as a relatively young island, pioneer species have been able to thrive here. You can book the Bartolome Island Adventure Day Trip from Santa Cruz and Puerto Ayora with a reputable company through TripsPoint – check out our website for more details.
Visit the Charles Darwin Research Station
There is probably no one on Earth who does not associate Galapagos Islands with the naturalist Charles Darwin. It was on these islands that Darwin formulated his theory of natural selection; he was so influential that an island in Galapagos is named after him, as well as some of the species that live on the islands.
Another thing that takes Darwin’s name is the Charles Darwin Research Station, a facility dedicated to the conservation of Galapagos Islands. The station is a breeding centre and rehabilitation facility for animals and is essential to provide knowledge and advice on how to protect the islands. Located in Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz, parts of the facility that are open to the public include native gardens, an exhibition hall and public library, as well as the chance to see a number of rare species.
Snorkelling and Scuba Diving
Two of the most popular things to do in Galapagos Islands, snorkelling and scuba diving give you the chance to swim alongside the rich and diverse marine life the area has to offer. Two of the premier dive spots – both in Galapagos Islands and in the world – are Darwin Island and Wolf Island; these islands have regularly been voted highly in dive awards, receiving accolades such as best big animal dive and best advanced diving. At both of these sites, it is possible to swim amongst an abundance of marine life, such as sea turtles, sea lions, hammerhead sharks and a myriad of species of rays and fish. Like the land animals, the marine wildlife are accustomed to being around humans and will happily come up close to you while you are in the water.
There are two ways you can dive in Galapagos Islands: by live-aboard boat or land-based daily dives. The land-based drives leave from Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and Isabela, but dives to the most popular sites are usually live-aboard.
It is worth noting that most dive sites in Galapagos Islands are more suited to advanced divers because of the strong currents, low visibility and colder water. However, this is not to say that there are no options for beginners or those looking to gain their diving qualification. The sites around the central islands are perfect for those with no or little experience; in fact, learning to dive here is possibly one of the best things to do in Galapagos Islands.
If you do not have your PADI qualification, lots of tour operators offer snorkelling trips. It is a good idea that if you are snorkelling around the islands to the far west to wear a wetsuit as the waters tend to be cooler here. It is highly recommended that you bring an underwater camera with you to catch all that wonderful wildlife in picture form so you can reminisce when you get home.
Fishing might not seem like one of the obvious things to do in Galapagos Islands, but it is possible to fish in the reserve; catches include tuna, marlin and wahoo. When booking a fishing tour in Galapagos Islands, you should make sure that the operator has the Artisanal Vivencial Fishing licence which is required by the National Park’s regulations. The National Park keeps a list of these licence-holders but be aware that it is not updated that often, so it is better to double check.
It is possible to keep some of your catch so you can eat it later, but any marlin caught has to be released back into the water unharmed. Sport fishing is against the law and should not be attempted.
Mountain biking could easily be considered as one of the most exciting things to do in Galapagos Islands. You can rent bikes at various places on the islands of Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and Isabela and go at your own pace. However, you should really consider taking a bike tour of the islands. With levels ranging from intermediate to advanced, you will speed from the islands’ highest points to sea level while also getting the chance to learn about the multitudes of flora and fauna on the islands and Galapagos way of life along the way.
Because of the mountainous terrain on some of the islands, hiking is an incredibly popular activity in Galapagos Islands. Often included as a part of many tours and cruises, although hiking does not offer the same animal spotting opportunities as other things to do in Galapagos Islands, it does give you the chance to learn and understand more about the varying terrains and flora as well as how the islands were formed. As much of the land across the islands is protected by its National Park status, not every part of it can be explored on foot but there are some great hikes to be done, such as Sierra Negra, the second largest caldera in the world, the Wall of Tears on Isabela and Cerro Tijeras on San Cristobal.
It may come as a bit of a surprise but surfing is one of the most authentic things to do in Galapagos Islands. Many of the locals surf every day and there are lots of spots with great waves. Most of the beaches which allow surfing can be found on the islands of Santa Cruz and San Cristobal, although Isabela also has excellent surfing conditions.
As with all surf spots across the world, it is important to check the beach’s regulations before hiring or buying a board. Also worth remembering is that the land underfoot once you get into the water can be quite rocky, so make sure you are wearing good water shoes.
Although the cruises and boat trips around Galapagos National Park are absolutely amazing, sea kayaking has a massive advantage over them. Due to its size, a kayak is more capable of navigating the waters around the islands, meaning you can discover places that the larger boats cannot reach, such as secluded beaches, secret coves and bays, and mangrove estuaries. As you paddle along, you will get the chance to see native species like Galapagos penguin.
You need special permission to go kayaking in Galapagos Islands so make sure that you apply for the required permit before heading out on the water.
If you prefer to get around on the back of a noble steed, Galapagos Islands offer great opportunities for horse riding. Most of these opportunities are on the island of Santa Cruz, where you will roam across the hillsides taking in the spectacular scenery and magnificent wildlife, but a horse trek to the Sierra Negra volcano on the island of Isabela should also be high on your list of things to do in Galapagos Islands.
With the amount of wildlife watching and other activities you will be doing on a visit to Galapagos Islands, it is safe to say that, enjoyable that it obviously is, it can all get a bit tiring. So what better way to relax and unwind than make the most of the beautiful beaches Galapagos Islands have to offer? With their pure white sand and sparkling blue waters, it is hard to think of a more picturesque place to enjoy a bit of sunbathing and swimming. Best of all, you will still be able to observe the impressive wildlife Galapagos Islands have to offer; it is not unusual to be surrounded by sea lions and sea turtles while you are lounging on the beach!
Volunteering is possibly one of the most rewarding things to do in Galapagos Islands. It is the perfect way of experiencing the best of what the islands have to offer while being able to give something back to the ecosystem and the community. Volunteers have a plethora of options when it comes to volunteering projects. You could find yourself helping to take care of giant tortoises, monitoring turtle nests, becoming an ecotourism intern in the national park or learning about sustainable agriculture. Other volunteer projects include removing alien plants and replanting indigenous vegetation, assisting with beach clean ups, and helping control alien species which threaten the lives of the native ones. But although all of these activities are absolutely worthwhile, it is not all work and no play when you are on a volunteer project in Galapagos Islands. You will get to have free time, giving you the chance to participate in everything the islands have to offer.
Volunteer packages are often extremely comprehensive, including all your accommodation, airport transfers, meals and travel insurance, as well as having 24-hour support and emergency assistance. A lot of volunteer projects also organise a number of social events and community activities with other volunteers and interns so you can get to know your fellow workers and have fun with them.
Like with Galapagos cruises, it is important that you do your research when it comes to choosing the volunteer organisation you want to do your project with. You need to make sure that they are a reputable company and that they are reliable, especially when it comes to the support they give you. Check the testimonials of previous volunteers on internet forums and websites to see what they have to say regarding their experiences to help you make up your mind.
There are a whole host of things to do in Galapagos Islands, all of which give you the chance to get up-close and personal with the amazing wildlife that the islands have to offer – which is, of course, the main reason why people travel to Galapagos Islands. Whether you want to experience a thrilling holiday of mountain biking, surfing and horse riding, or whether you would prefer a more sedate trip enjoying the wildlife from a luxury cruise, you can be sure that your trip to Galapagos Islands will be the ultimate once-in-a-lifetime experience.