Bartolome Island, Galapagos

Galapagos Islands Travel Tips: How to Prepare for a Trip to Darwin’s Paradise

Bartolome Island, Galapagos

Exploring the rugged volcanic landscapes of the Galapagos Islands is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that’s utterly unlike anything else on the planet. This archipelago of 18 major islands located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador boasts a fascinating history, dynamic scenic vistas, and an array of wildlife that includes incredible endemic species such as the Galapagos tortoise and the flightless cormorant.

Sea lions playing in front of Evolution

Small-ship cruises such as International Expeditions' Galapagos Voyage aboard the 32-guest Evolution are arguably the best way to experience the remote islands. Here are a few helpful Galapagos Islands travel tips that can help you prepare for your time in Darwin’s paradise:

Galapagos cruise guests on excursion
Do Your Research

The Galapagos Islands have a rough ‘n’ tumble history. They were discovered by accident by Spanish Bishop Tomás de Berlanga’s ship in 1525. Pirates and whalers exploited their abundant natural resources in the 17th and 18th centuries. And of course Charles Darwin concocted his Theory of Evolution based on the groundbreaking scientific discoveries he made there after the famed voyage of the Beagle.

Any well-organized trip to the Galapagos Islands should be filled with information from naturalist guides about the diverse flora and fauna you’ll find there. But, in our experience, the adventure can only be enhanced by doing a little research on this dramatic history before you go.

Start with books such as Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle, Jonathan Weiner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Beak of the Finch, and Paul D. Stewart’s Galápagos: The Islands That Changed the World. Movie buffs will enjoy the Tilda Swinton-narrated BBC documentary based on Stewart’s book and the PBS special Voyage to the Galapagos. And don’t miss the 2014 film The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden, a gripping documentary about an early 20th century murder mystery that remains unsolved!

Galapagos cruise ship and guests
Get Sun-Safe

The Galapagos Islands straddle the Equator, and IE’s Galapagos cruises typically cross the imaginary line dividing the Northern and Southern Hemispheres twice.

As a result of their location, temperatures in the Galapagos are usually high all year round, with little difference between Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. During the season known as garúa (“drizzle”), which lasts from June through November, average daytime highs run around 79º. In the dry season, from December through May, temps rise to highs of 81º to 88º. But the sun at the Equator feels much more intense than you’re used to.

In short, do everything you can to protect your skin from the sun. Wear a hat to shield your face. And invest in a high-SPF sunscreen– preferably an eco-friendly brand that’s biodegradable, since you’ll be snorkeling almost every day.

Galapagos cruise guests
Pack Lighter (and Smarter!)

While the M/V Evolution boasts spacious cabins, you’ll still have somewhat limited closet space on board. And with airlines increasingly charging for (and losing) checked luggage, packing light is both ecologically and financially savvy.

By day you’ll want to wear light, breathable clothing, preferably with moisture-wicking properties in case of rain or sweat. We washed ours in the shower every few days and hung them overnight to dry. A good pair of water shoes will help protect your feet from rocks and coral when you’re snorkeling, and you’ll want a good pair of trail-friendly sneakers or boots for hiking on the jagged lava.

It can get cool at night, particularly during the wet season. So you’ll also want to bring a sweater or hoody you can layer, as well as a light rain jacket in case you’re caught out in the garúa.

Zodiac ride in Galapagos
Prepare for Seasickness

Seasickness is not fun, and often seems interminable when you’re the one suffering from it. But it can strike even the most seasoned traveler, particularly when you’re crossing the Equator. I’ve cruised the Galapagos twice, and have battled the affliction both times.

Fortunately, there are many seasickness remedies that can help prevent that topsy-turvy feeling from ruining your adventure. If you’ve never tried them before, it’s a good idea to stock up on several before your Galapagos trip… just in case!

Some of the most popular remedies are more about lifestyle choices, such as not drinking alcohol, eating well (but not overeating), getting fresh air, and keeping an eye on the horizon. But you can also purchase natural remedies such as Motion Eaze, wristbands that stimulate acupressure points, Dramamine/Bonine pills, or ask your doctor to prescribe the Scopolamine patch.

Photographing Galapagos sea lion
Upgrade Your Camera & Photography Skills

I’ve traveled to six continents, over 40 countries, and hundreds of destinations in the 20+ years I’ve been a professional writer/photographer. Very few can measure up to the Galapagos Islands in terms of the sheer wealth of amazing photo possibilities.

If you’ve ever thought upgrading your camera gear, a trip to the Galapagos is the perfect time to do so. Cell phone cameras are fine, but an entry-level DSLR camera is much better. Ideally you’ll want a good wide-angle lens for capturing close-ups of Galapagos Islands animals as well as the stunning volcanic landscapes. I’d also recommend a 200-300mm long-range lens for getting shots of marine iguanas, Galapagos penguins and sea lions during your Zodiac tours.

Most importantly, you’ll want to spend some time honing your photography skills before your trip. Memories of your time exploring the Galapagos Islands will last a lifetime. But having some incredible pictures to illustrate your adventures really helps bring your stories to life for friends and family back home!

Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 23 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal Constitution and American Airlines to National Geographic and Yahoo Travel. Along with his wife, photographer/videographer Mary Gabbett, he is the co-founder of ecotourism/conservation website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.