Guide to Galapagos: Travel Tips
Pura Aventura's brief guide to the practicalities of travelling to and around the Galapagos Islands. We've included practical tips on money, health and vaccinations and safety to help you plan your holiday to the Galapagos.
Although wildlife viewing is excellent all year round, weather and sea conditions do vary somewhat through the year.
In general there are two main seasons. December - April is the hot, rainy season, when you should expect occasional short but heavy showers.
May - November is the 'garua' or misty cooler season, with September being the coolest and choppiest-sea month.
From October onwards the weather begins to warm up and the waters calm down until the hottest, calmest-sea month of February.
Average temperatures throughout the year range from 21-27°c (70-80f).
What to pack
The dress code is very informal on the boat, and during the day most people tend to wear t-shirts and shorts.
Some like to be a little smarter in the evenings, but this is by no means essential, especially on the smaller boats.
Days are generally warm and sunny with the occasional rain shower, so light, loose clothes are ideal for land excursions.
As you are on the Equator the sun is very strong, so you should take adequate precautions to protect yourself from burning. Light, long-sleeved tops and a sunhat are essential.
Shorts and t-shirts are perfectly acceptable and can help keep you cool, although make sure you are wearing adequate sun protection (at least SPF20).
A light waterproof and a warmer jumper are useful for rain showers and when you are out on deck.
Walking shoes : comfortable with a sturdy sole and good ankle support.
Sports sandals : good for 'wet' shore landings and beaches.
Waterproof jacket : sufficient to withstand showers.
Sun protection : the sun is very strong throughout the day in Galapagos. You will need a broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses and minimum factor 20 sun protection.
Light, long-sleeved shirt : loose enough to keep you cool but protect arms and back from the sun.
Shorts or light trousers :* for land excursions and on the boat during the day.
Camera : don't forget plenty of spare memory, batteries and/or chargers. Please take all used batteries home with you off the islands after the cruise.
Swimming costume : for snorkeling or swimming off the beach.
Seasickness medication : useful as a precaution even if you don't need to use it.
Water bottle : you are given one plastic bottle at the beginning of the week to re-use, but you may like to bring your own sturdier version.
Daypack : for shore landings, though you are only generally on shore for a couple of hours at a time so not essential.
Snorkeling gear : most boats do provide enough for everyone on board, but you can bring your own if you wish. You can find reasonably priced sets for around £20 in places larger department stores.
Binoculars : for wildlife watching.
Tipping and taxes
There is a National Park entrance fee of US$100 to pay in cash when you land in the islands.
Please note that US$100 dollar bills are not legal tender.
Depending on your boat, it is sometimes possible to pre-pay the park entrance.
On cruises there is usually a 'general tip' box for the crew and staff on board, guides are tipped directly.
The following is a guideline based on the average of what has been left in the past for the crew and guide, if they have performed to your expectation and their service has been excellent: US$100 per person per week for the whole crew (to be divided between the crew members), and US$40 per person per week for the guide. Therefore the total tip would be US$140 per person.
Please understand that this is a suggestion: tipping and gratuities are a very personal matter.
For up to date, journey specific health advice, consult your GP. You might also like to visit www.FitForTravel.nhs.uk
For many people, it won't be an issue. In almost all cases your body should adjust within two or three days to the new moving environment and you will be the proud owner of new sea legs.
Once you're on the ship and feeling your cheeks turning green, it's a bit late. You should take anti-seasick measures before you step on board. If you board in a fit, rested and healthy condition, your chances of experiencing seasickness are also less.
Various precautionary medicines and devices are available these days to fight seasickness. Some work well for some people and not so well for others. If it's your first trip it might be a bit of a ""hit and miss"" situation, but one of these should do the trick:
Diet - to start off with, eat ""safe"" foods for about a day before boarding (nothing acidic, spicy or fatty) and don't over indulge (food/alcohol). Eating a light ""safe"" meal before you board will also help reduce the risk and/or effects of seasickness.
The motion sickness patch is probably the most popular these days - to be placed behind your ear 4 hours before boarding and changed if necessary after 72 hours. This is quite an effective way to prevent seasickness but causes things like a dry mouth and blurry vision.
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist for a recommendation for medication. These will generally need to be taken 1-2 hours before boarding and tend to cause drowsiness.
Homeopathic medicines work for many, ask at your local homeopathic shop. Remember that anything with ginger will be helpful - even chewing on some crystallised ginger can work for some. There is even an audiotape called 'travelwell' endorsed by none other than Ellen MacArthur.
Acupressure bracelets - a drug-free product causing no side effects - the motion sickness band is worn one on each wrist for the duration of your trip. Some contain small magnets, others just a stud, which should be aligned with a pressure point on your wrist and pressure applied periodically. This won't work very well if you miss the pressure point.
The electronic, drug-free motion sickness ReliefBand® is worn on the wrist, a kind of motion sickness watch. It emits low-level electrical pulses to avoid and treat motion sickness by calming the stomach.
Have a look at www.purpleturtle.co.uk and click on travel sickness link on the left hand side of the screen. It seems to have a good selection of all levels of remedy.
Should you have forgotten to swallow, stick, rub or sniff your chosen anti-sea sickness remedy and the seas are rough so you start to feel ill...
- Look out of the window (or better yet, go onto the deck and to the centre of the ship, facing forward) at a distant, stable object, like the horizon. The centre of the ship, close to the waterline, is the most stable part of the ship.
- Use a fan or listen to some music as this will get your mind off things.
- Eat some salty snacks with regular intervals to help dry up your stomach.
- Relax if you can - lying down and closing your eyes might help.
- Ginger is a natural remedy to general nausea and sea sickness. Drink ginger beer or tea, or eat fresh ginger, a cookie or suck on a ginger sweet.
Any ginger product is most effective if taken before boarding.
- Some motion sickness medicine (e.g. Dramamine patches) may help to reduce the nausea at this stage.
- Bitters, mint, citrus, apricot juice, carrot juice, unroasted pumpkin or squash seeds, parsley and peppermint tea are also said to help combat sea sickness but there doesn't seem to be much proof out there.
- Read or watch telly once the sea sickness has kicked in, it will make you feel worse.
- Drink big gulps of water. Tiny sips at intervals are better.
- Face backwards.
Each boat has a standard Galapagos National Park approved itinerary but time spent at each site will depend on environmental variables such as wildlife and weather.
Any adjustments will be decided upon by your captain.
All itineraries are subject to change by the authorities of the Galapagos National Park or acts of providence.
Yachts anchor offshore at two sites per day. You are ferried to the landing sites in ""pangas"" (local expression for dinghy). These landings are either ""wet"" or ""dry"". At the dry landings you step directly onto rock. At wet landings you will step from the panga into water and wade to shore. The guide and sailor are there to assist you at all landings.
Once on shore, you will follow marked trails set up by the National Park. Your guide will lead these excursions, interpreting and explaining the natural history as you walk along.
The shore visits are done at a leisurely pace, allowing plenty of time to enjoy and photograph the amazing wildlife and scenery. You will spend two to four hours at each site. There is often an opportunity to swim and snorkel after most morning visits and/or before or after the afternoon visit.
Your guide gives a briefing each evening after dinner. They will describe in detail the activities of the following day, talk about the animals and plants to be seen, etc.
Once aboard, the guide will host a welcome briefing, which includes instructions related to your security while on the yacht. Please be sure to check exactly where the life vests are located in your cabin. Memorise your way to the deck in case an emergency should arise.
Life jackets are provided for you to use while riding the pangas to/from the islands and the yacht. Please wear them at all times for your safety.
Hold on firmly to the guide or crewmember's hand while embarking or disembarking because the boat ladder as the dinghy and rocks on shore can be wet and slippery.
Please be careful while walking on deck while the boat is moving.
The islands are basically explored on foot and by water - usually out of the water but you can also swim and snorkel a fair amount.
Conditions underfoot can be fairly rough as the islands are largely volcanic. The following information applies to some boats but not all - if you are interested in the information below, please call Pura Aventura to discuss which facilities apply to your particular boat.
The islands are fantastic for snorkeling and you will usually have at least one opportunity every day to indulge.
There is an incredible amount of marine life to be found, even just snorkeling off the beach, although you will also get chance to snorkel in open water too.
Most of the smaller boats provide adequate numbers of masks, snorkels and flippers for everyone on board.
When snorkeling you should be aware of the following:
- Obey the guide's instructions.
- Always stay with the group, look up every few minutes to check on the whereabouts of the others. Be aware that you can drift with the current.
- Stay aware of the location of the dinghy.
- When getting on and off the dinghy, stay away from the outboard motor, which is located on the stern. Never approach the dinghy from the stern.
- Put on all your equipment before entering the water.
- Do not take your equipment off - except for fins - before re-boarding the dinghy.
- If you decide to dive under, be sure to look up when resurfacing because the dinghy may be above you.
- If you feel more comfortable in the water with a life vest, wear one.
- Never go on your own.
Scuba diving regulations in the Galapagos are now very strict. There are four main dedicated dive boats operating in the islands, which are only recommended for experienced divers (50 dives +) due to currents, surges and cold water. These boats usually have 2-4 daily immersions and limited or no land-based excursions.
It is possible to book a day's diving on some of the regular cruises, which normally takes place offshore from Santa Cruz Island and replaces the visit to the Highlands and the Charles Darwin Research Centre.
Although these dives are not in open water, you should
have at least 20+ dives under your belt if you want to take part.
There are sometimes minimum numbers needed for these excursions and an additional cost to pay.
Scuba divers must adhere to the following rules at all times:
- You are required to fill out the liability and medical form prior to diving.
- Do not dive under the influence of alcohol.
- Follow the advice of your dive guide at all times.
- Follow local diving regulations.
- Use well-maintained equipment; inspect for correct functioning prior to each dive.
- Adhere to the buddy system on every dive.
- If diving conditions at a certain site are not to your level of experience, respect the guide's decision that you may not take part in that particularly dive.
On some boats you will find sea kayaks. Usually these are 'sit on top' style although on a couple of our favourite boats there are proper, stable sit-in kayaks. These are available at no extra charge.
There are limitations as to the places where you can kayak so please speak to your guide once on board. You will be required to wear a life jacket.
Life on Board
For anyone not used to live aboard boats, there are a few things to bear in mind ahead of time in order to make your Galapagos holiday go well.
On most boats, space in cabins is restricted - this is particularly true of motor sail-boats.
If you are used to normal cruise ships then you are likely to find Galapagos cruise boats/ships relatively basic.
Having generators going at night keeps you nice and cool but does mean that you should expect some noise.
Cabins near the engine rooms/propeller shafts will suffer most from noise. Do bring earplugs just in case.
Smoking is forbidden inside the boats. There are designated smoking areas on deck. The crew will give you an ashtray.
There are water-makers aboard each yacht which provide sufficient fresh water for daily use.
Nevertheless, please try to save as much water as possible. When taking a shower, please turn off the tap while soaping and shampooing. The water from the water-makers is drinkable, however it is advisable to stick to the drinking water provided.
In your cabins you will find a gallon of drinking water, which is replaced as often as you need. Most boats will supply you with a bottle of water at the start of the trip, which you are expected to refill from the containers in your cabin or the communal areas.
Fresh bottles are available should you lose or damage yours, but to avoid waste do try to keep the same bottle with you for as long as possible.