Galápagos Experience Guide

Formed by a volcanic hotspot millions of years ago, the Galápagos Islands didn’t find their way onto the map until 1535 when the Bishop of Panama accidentally drifted into them on his way to Peru.

After that accidental discovery, the islands became a favorite hideout to pirates; a rest stop for whalers and explorers; and the renowned location of Darwin’s 1830s expedition that resulted in his theory of evolution. And while efforts to establish settlements were thwarted by lack of fresh water and other challenges, the influence of human contact has been profound.

Lucky for us, Ecuador signed a decree in the 1930s to protect the islands, designated as a National Park in 1959, and in the late 1970s, further protection when UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site and biosphere reserve.

Wildlife Guide

With so much diversity, who and what should be on your Galápagos must-see list? The Big 15 includes the most iconic wildlife in the archipelago. And, on our itinerary, there are opportunities to see a whopping 12 of them!


Land Animals

Perhaps the most celebrated archipelago animal is the tortoise, of which there are 14 species. Galápagos comes from the Spanish word “saddle-back,” which was used to describe the shape of the massive tortoises’ shells in the 1500s and for which the islands became named shortly after.

  • Giant tortoises
  • Land iguanas
  • Marine iguanas
  • Lava lizards
  • Hoary bats
  • Geckos


Marine Animals

Urchins, brightly-colored Sally Lightfoot crabs, sparkling bioluminescence, stunning whales…from the smallest to the largest marine creatures, the Galápagos draw an incredible number of marine species to its nutrient-rich waters.

  • Green sea turtles
  • Sperm, pilot, humpback, and Brydes whales
  • Spinner, striped, and bottlenose dolphins
  • Sea lions and fur seals
  • Angelfish, butterflyfish, damselfish
  • White-tipped reef shark
  • Manta, spotted eagle, and golden rays


Of the many bird species native or migratory to the islands, a whopping 45 are endemic, meaning they are found only in the Galápagos. They are separated into three categories: sea birds, land birds, and shore and water birds.

  • Blue-footed and Nazca boobies
  • 13 species of Darwin’s finches
  • Short-eared owl
  • Galápagos hawk
  • Galápagos petral
  • Magnificent and Great frigatebirds
  • Galápagos penguins

Seasonal Variations

The Galápagos Islands are scattered north and south across the equator. Due to this middle-of-the-earth location, temperatures are very consistent month-to-month making this a great destination at any time.

There is some variation in the two seasons experienced in the archipelago. December to June is warmest and when the most rainfall occurs with short, daily showers concentrated in upper elevations. July to November is the Garúa season. Garúa is a mist that forms in the highlands, providing moisture but not much rain.

When to Visit Galapagos

Galápagos Slideshow

What does this famed archipelago look like? Get a glimpse outside of your imagination—from wildlife and the varied landscape, to Quito’s beautiful colonial buildings. Click the slideshow image at left for a look at what’s in store.

What to See & Do on Our Galápagos Land and Sea Adventure


On Board

  • Enjoy unencumbered, spectacular sunset views of these iconic islands from the yacht’s bow
  • Share the day’s wildlife learnings with your fellow shipmates and relax the Natural History Library
  • Enjoy a handmade cocktail and refreshing ocean breeze under the shade of the covered Sky Lounge
  • Hear tales of Darwin’s explorations from your English-speaking guides during onboard presentations
  • Relax at the end of an adventure-filled day with a soak in the on-deck hot tub


In the Water

  • From the glass-bottom boat, watch sea lions, green sea turtles, and colorful fish
  • Ride in the panga investigating towering shoreline cliffs and the birds nesting among them
  • Snorkel from a white sandy beach among bright parrotfish, spotted pufferfish, and damselfish
  • Kayak along volcanic channels and sunken cinder cones abundant with colorful marine life
  • Swim from an idyllic sunbathing beach into a marine menagerie keeping watch for Galápagos penguins


On Land

  • Climb to high overlooks for stunning panoramas and ideal photo ops
  • Stroll through historic Quito’s archaeological sites, museums, and an artist district on a guided walking tour
  • Comb white, red, or green sand beaches observing nesting boobies, frigatebirds, and noisy bachelor sea lions
  • Tour the Charles Darwin Research Center and see giant tortoises in their natural habitat on an upland-forest hike
  • Hike among lava tubes, fields and craters exploring the islands’ volcanic heritage

Galápagos Travel FAQs


Q. Do you have specific arrival and departure guidelines I should follow when making my travel plans?

Yes! View our recommended arrival and departure times by clicking here.

Q. How are the flights being arranged.

International flights to/from your home city are your responsibility to book.

Your flight from Quito (2018 departures) / Guayaquil (2019 departures) to the Galapagos and the return are part of the cruise tour package. For guests traveling in 2018: from Quito, the flight to Galapagos takes about 3 hours and 45 minutes (including a 45 minute stop in Guayaquil for load/unload; Galapagos passengers remain onboard). For guests traveling in 2019: from Guayaquil, the flight to Galapagos takes about 2 hours. If you are booking the Machu Picchu post-cruise extension, airfare between Guayaquil, Ecuador and Lima, Peru is included in the package.


Q. Can I fish in the Islands?

No, sport fishing is prohibited inside the Marine Reserve.


Q. How strong is the sun and what minimum SPF sunscreen should I bring?

Very strong, because of the islands’ equatorial location. Sun protection and sun screen are highly recommended: SPF15 and above.

Q. What’s the best footwear for Galápagos?

You should have good walking shoes/trainers, and a pair of Teva-type sandals for beach walks.

Q. Should we wear wetsuits?

We recommend using the supplied ‘shorty’ wetsuits from May to December. When the waters in Galápagos are cooler, a ‘shorty’ wetsuit makes it more comfortable for snorkelers to remain in the water longer and they also provide additional sun protection. For guests wanting added sun protection, we recommend wearing a long sleeve shirt and full length leg tights under the wetsuit (Lycra material or similar).

Q. Is the snorkeling equipment complimentary?

Yes, all snorkeling equipment is included: shorty wetsuit (2 mm), mask, snorkel and fins.

More gear suggestions are on our packing list.


Q. How much luggage can I bring with me?

Galápagos & Peru flights and flights for land packages follow international luggage restrictions: checked luggage is restricted to 1 bag, with a total weight of no more than 50 lbs (23 kg). Carry-on is restricted to 1 piece of hand luggage, weighing no more than 17lbs (8kg), with size restrictions of: 22 in long x 17 in wide x 10 in deep (56 cm long, 45 cm wide and 25 cm deep).

Note Peru Extension: Machu Picchu Train – Luggage Restrictions

Luggage on the train is restricted to 1 piece per person, weighing no more than 11lbs (5kg). Couples may combine items into 1 bag, total weight no more than 22lbs (10kg). We recommend bringing a small duffel bag (nylon or similar) for items only needed during overnight and at Machu Picchu. Luggage not taken on the Machu Picchu overnight will be transferred to your Cusco hotel, and safely stored until retrieved the following day.


Q. Will guests be supplied bottled water on island excursions?

In the interest of waste reduction and conservation, we provide all guests with refillable water bottles onboard. There are water stations on the ship that guests can access 24hrs a day to refill bottles with drinking water. In Quito, there will be bottled water in guest rooms upon arrival to Casa Gangotena, and available at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Q. Will I need a special converter or adapter for the electricity?

No, both the hotel and the ship have USA style 110-volt (2 prong) outlets. Both hotel and ship also have hair dryers in each room/cabin.


Q. What immunizations do I need before travel to tropical destinations?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all visitors of Ecuador (including the Galápagos Islands) are up-to-date on vaccinations. Get specific recommendations on the CDC website.

* The CDC also provides updated recommendations concerning the Zika virus in destinations around the world.


Q. Should we expect to encounter rough seas on our cruise?

No, Galápagos cruises operate primarily within protected waters from the outer islands. In the event that we do cross an open passage or expect unfavorable weather, the captain will give notice so that guests can prepare accordingly. Note - the seas tend to be a bit rougher from approximately mid-August through October, if you are prone to motion sickness, try to avoid these months if possible and/or plan accordingly.

Seasickness: The advantage of La Pinta over the vast majority of smaller vessels is size and stability. At 209ft, the La Pinta is large enough and heavy enough to be quite stable in most sea conditions. If you are prone to motion sickness, please bring what method of comfort works for you (Dramamine, prescription motion sickness, etc…). Seasickness medication (Dramamine) is available on board, but is NOT recommended for children.


Q. What’s all the fuss about Galápagos?

Endemism = many species are found here and nowhere else; it is estimated that 26 endemic species of birds and other unique creatures that have made their homes in the Galápagos, including the Giant Tortoises, Marine Iguanas, Darwin’s Finches and Boobies. The islands are virtually unchanged, pristine natural environments. They are the inspiration for modern thinking: the islands’ biota inspired Charles Darwin to form his theories of modern evolutionary thinking.

Q. Are all of the Galápagos Islands a national park?

97% of the archipelago’s islands is designated a national park. Human settlements are concentrated on the remaining 3%. There are strict rules about visiting the areas on islands that have been designated as visitor sites by the national park authorities. The Galápagos is also part of a huge Marine Reserve, which ranks among the largest in the world.

Q: Are there any special guidelines or rules I should follow while visiting the park?

Yes – the Galápagos National Park and Marine Reserve, like all special wilderness areas, needs help and cooperation by all visitors to preserve its pristine state. Like all wild places we visit, at UnCruise, we are careful to leave this fragile ecosystem exactly as we found it. The park and reserve are protected by Ecuadorian law, which includes specific rules for visiting protected areas. Ecuador’s Ministry of the Environment states:

Any wrongdoing, inadequate behavior, or threat to protected habitats, as well as to their geological, biological, and/or cultural components, will be strictly observed by both Park Wardens and Naturalist Guides. Any confirmed and reported unlawful actions could lead to sanctions which may result in the interruption of original travel plans, questioning, detention, fines, or even legal action temporarily suspending the local tour operator while a proper investigation takes place. The best way to avoid difficulties with local environmental enforcement authorities is to simply follow the Galapagos National Park visitation rules.

Q: So, what are the Galápagos National Park rules?

Below are the official rules of the park. These rules will be posted on La Pinta for your reference while traveling, and any of your guides can provide additional information if questions come up while you travel. One important note: visitors cannot legally go anywhere in the Park without a licensed guide escort. Rules are enforced by naturalist guides and park officials:

1. Do not disturb or remove any native plant, rock or animal on land or in the water.
2. Be careful not to transport any live material or sand to the islands.
3. Do not take any food or drink except water to the uninhabited islands.
4. Do not touch, pet or feed the animals. Approaching them too closely or taking flash photography will disturb them.
5. Do not startle or chase any animal from its nesting place.
6. Do not leave any trash on the islands or throw any litter overboard.
7. Follow marked trails at all times and do not walk out of their limits.
8. Stay with your naturalist guide who must accompany all groups on trails.
9. Do not buy souvenirs of objects made from native Galápagos products (except for wood) especially black coral, sea lion teeth and shells of the Galápagos tortoises.
10. Do not smoke on the islands.

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