Galapagos Islands Frequently Asked Questions
The Galapagos Islands belong to the country of Ecuador. After the nations of South America achieved independence from Spain, the Republic of Ecuador claimed the islands in 1832. Travelers will pass through Ecuadorian customs and migration in the city of their first arrival to Ecuador, generally the capital city of Quito or the coastal city of Guayaquil.
If you need a visa to visit Ecuador, you will need a visa to visit Galapagos. Currently, visitors from the USA and UK do not need visas to travel to Ecuador.
The Galapagos Islands are located about 600 miles (966 kilometers) west of South America in the Pacific Ocean. A flight from Guayaquil or Quito takes about an hour and a half or two hours respectively. All visitors to the islands must fly there, as there are no passenger ships from the mainland to the islands.
There are people whose families have been there for generations, since settlement efforts began in earnest in the nineteenth century, but there are no people who are indigenous to the islands. The Galapagos islands were first discovered by accident by a Spanish ship carrying Bishop of Panama Tomás de Berlanga in 1535: there is no evidence that any people visited the islands before that. The first person thought to have lived in the Galapagos Islands full-time was Irishman Patrick Watkins, marooned on Floreana Island from 1807 to 1809. The Ecuadorian government established the first colony, also on Floreana Island, in 1832.
Weather in Galapagos is complex, varying from island to island and from season to season. The highlands of islands like Santa Cruz and Isabela can be quite cool at certain times of the year, while a walk across the lava fields of Fernandina in March can be absolutely scorching. In general, the weather is warm without being unbearably hot: average temperatures year-round tend to be between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit (21°-30° Celsius). The hottest months are February to April, and the coolest ones are from August to October. Also, from June to November is the garúa, or misty, season: this brings overcast skies and drizzle.
In the three major towns on the islands, yes. It’s sometimes a bit slow, but any halfway decent hotel should have working internet with wifi connection. On the ships, it’s a little harder. Establishing and maintaining an internet connection while sailing is very difficult and expensive. Many ships will offer internet through satellite connections to their guests for a fee, which can be assessed per minute or per cruise. These can be somewhat expensive and inconsistent. Each ship has a different policy and if you need internet on your Galapagos trip, it’s worth checking their policies before you book.
There are several flights a day (airlines TAME, Avianca and LAN/LATAM) from the Ecuadorian cities of Quito and Guayaquil to Galapagos and back. There are two major airports in Galapagos, on Baltra and San Cristóbal islands. From Baltra, it’s a short trip to Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the Islands. Generally, if you book a cruise, your tour operator will help co-ordinate your flights. The flight takes about two hours from Quito or an hour and a half from Guayaquil. Currently, there is no way to reach Galapagos by sea unless you go on a private yacht.
The three towns are Puerto Villamil (Isabela Island), Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (San Cristobal Island) and Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz Island). Each of these towns and islands have things to see and do: all of them have nice beaches nearby and good day trips to see nearby visitor sites and excellent snorkeling spots. The Charles Darwin Research Station is in Puerto Ayora and that’s worth a visit, too. If you’re booking a cruise, bird lovers will not want to miss Genovesa Island, as there are many bird species nesting there. If you want to see land iguanas, make sure to go to North Seymour Island. Penguins can be seen near the western islands of Isabela and Fernandina as well as near Pinnacle Rock on Bartolomé Island. Each island has its charms: it all depends on what you want to see.
In Ecuador in 2016, there were only a handful (fewer than 100) of confirmed cases of the Zika virus, some of which were in the Galapagos. Zika is not considered a real danger in Galapagos, as mosquitoes do not thrive in the extreme conditions on most of the islands.