At least once a day, International Expeditions’ travel planners field the question “When is the best time for a Galapagos cruise?” So, our favorite naturalist Greg Greer sat down to tackle this popular question. Check out part 1 here.
In addition to air and sea water temperatures, there are several nesting events that you may want to consider when deciding what time of year to travel to the Galapagos Islands.
One of the iconic and endemic species is the waved albatross that nests on Espaňola Island. These are the only albatross to nest equatorially and are amazingly large glorious birds. If you are a birder and want to see albatross, travel between March and November. From March to April, albatross will be courting and there should be dueling and head bobbing taking place. By late April and May, eggs are in the nest and the first chicks hatch in July and August. The huge downy young are in the nest for quite some time but they are round little butter balls as they are fed regurgitated oil that is extremely high in fat content. Fledging usually takes place from September to November; occasionally into December. So, depending upon what stage of waved albatross nesting you want to see, your Galapagos cruise should be decided on the general dates of nesting and chick raising occurrence for these wonderful birds.
Most of the other sea birds are opportunistic nesters, nesting when food is abundant. So, timing for many species is not as important as it is with the waved albatross. During most trips, there will be nesting frigates, boobies, gulls and Darwin finches on various islands and at various sites.
Another timing event that people greatly appreciate is the sea lion pupping season. This season actually varies from one island to the next, but a fairly good time is from July to December. Watching newborn sea lions nurse is a wonderful, moving experience. The young sea lions are usually quite inquisitive and often approach visitors to sniff their shoes or clothes. Additionally, it’s not all that uncommon to witness the actual birth of a sea lion. Of course, this needs to be from a distance in order to not stress the female during this time. Once birth occurs, it is amazing how quickly Galapagos hawks, mocking birds and lava gulls find the afterbirth and it is fed upon with great relish. Also, during the times when young seas lions have entered the watery realm, snorkeling can be a joyous event as young sea lions are very playful and love showing off right in front of the mask of snorkelers. I had one young sea lion grab and remove my flipper. This turned into a game where the pup would drop my flipper. I would swim down to retrieve it only to have him streak past me and grab before I could reach it and the game went on for about 15 minutes! Yet one more of the wonderful experiences recorded in my journal. I often have said, my office as a naturalist is the most wonderful office in the world.
For reptiles, the hottest months are when mating usually occurs with marine iguanas — January through March. During this time males may be quite colorful as they try to impress the ladies. This is especially true of the marine iguanas on Espaňola, where the males are adorned in beautiful red skin tones.
There is something happening in the Galapagos Archipelago every month of the year. The above statements are designed more for the people that really want to increase their chances of observing a special natural history event. Please, please, please remember that many things can change due to so many outside influences on wildlife so don’t be disappointed if a particular event is not observed. The glory of the islands is such: that no matter what, you will observe great numbers of spectacular wildlife, many up very close and I have never known anyone to come home disappointed. The islands truly are magical!
Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history, photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.