The Galapagos Islands are a year-round destination with mild weather patterns and very few migratory species. The best time to go to the Galapagos depends on what you want to see and do while there. Though the archipelago is located along the equator, its climate does not match that of typical tropical destinations. There are essentially two seasons, hot and dry, which we’ll talk about in this blog, in addition to detailing different activities you can enjoy when visiting the Enchanted Isles!
Galapagos Weather and Climate
Apart from special offers, promotions, and package availability, when considering the best time to visit the Galapagos, it is important to look at the following factors:
- Weather and Climate
- Wildlife Observation
- Activities (and their Optimal Conditions)
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Galapagos Island Seasons
Being that the archipelago is located right along the equator, the Galapagos Islands are often mistakenly thought of as a tropical destination. Yes, the year-round temperatures are quite warm, however, the weather is not typical of the tropics. Understanding that there are two distinct seasons in the Galapagos is probably the best way to understand its climate. The Galapagos Islands’ two seasons are hot and dry. Here are some key features of each:
- Higher precipitation and warmer temperatures
- Daily, intermittent, and refreshing rainfall
- Lush vegetation extends into often arid highlands
- Bright sunlight, vibrant colors, sultry heat
- Humboldt Current strengthens and combines with other currents
- Nutrient-rich waters; increased marine activity
- Silver skies and very comfortable weather conditions
- Vegetation is not as lush and there is better visibility on land
There are also two transitional periods that occur as seasons overlap. These are November through January and May through July. These are very popular times to visit the Galapagos, especially in the latter period, moving from the hot season into the dry, as is evident by the greater number of visitors. Each season signals shifts in sea currents and vegetation that frame important moments in the lives of marine and land animals, well worth observing up close and in person.
Please note: The information in the following diagram is an overview of what many guides have typically seen at different times throughout the year; since species are opportunistic breeders and conditions vary from year to year, it is not possible to guarantee that you will see each of these species at specific times when traveling in the Galapagos.
On Land, any time of year is great for viewing wildlife. You may feel more comfortable hiking in the dry season, and visibility is certainly a little better because of changes in vegetation. However, hot season is also very exciting and, for folks traveling to escape from wintery conditions, the warmth and sun may be just what they’re looking for! Also, during the hot season, marine and land iguanas at their most colorful. If you’re lucky, you may even see Galapagos giant tortoise eggs hatching at any of several breeding centers (on Santa Cruz and San Cristobal Islands).
Some things to keep in mind during the hot season:
- An abundance of flourishing plants thanks to warmer temperatures and more humidity
- Increased food supply on land inspires more terrestrial activity
At Sea, the dry season brings with it a significant increase in marine activity. Waters tend to be cooler but, whether snorkeling or diving, wetsuits allow you more time underwater (these are readily available aboard our expedition vessels). Birds tend to enjoy this time of year, too, as species like the American flamingo can be seen initiating elegant mating rituals.
It is good to note some reasons for this exciting time at sea:
- Upwellings (sudden, submarine countercurrents) push deep water nutrients to the surface and make for cooler water temperatures.
- Increased food supply just under the surface of the water means much more marine activity.
Metropolitan Touring guarantees you the opportunity to see, on average, more than half of the BIG15 Galapagos iconic species when you hop aboard any one of our expedition-based cruises. You can find out more about those species by checking out our Galapagos BIG15 page.
Enjoying the beauty of the archipelago while relaxing on the beach is a given and exploring the islands by taking part in various activities is key. So, let’s have a look at the best time for some of the most enjoyable activities in the Galapagos!
Hiking is a must in the Galapagos. There is so much to explore and no matter which island you visit, walking along the coast or up into the highlands puts you in the middle of everything. The end of the hot season (April and May) sees an increase in the number of visitors to the Galapagos. Vegetation becomes lush and temperatures cool slightly. Meanwhile, dry season months like September and October mean fewer tourists, more breeze, and very comfortable hiking conditions.
Birdwatching, (or birding), is more exciting than you can imagine, whether on land or at sea. One thing to consider is that some of the Big15 iconic species of the Galapagos can only be found on specific islands of the archipelago. Exploring the Galapagos aboard an expedition vessel, such as the Santa Cruz II, Yacht Isabela II, or Yacht La Pinta, is an ideal way to reach some of the most remote spots. While stronger currents and a persistent ocean breeze during the dry season may signal choppier seas, the northern itineraries for each of our vessels explore islands that are more closely situated to one another, therefore avoiding the choppier seas you might encounter on slightly longer voyages to some of the more remote islands. In contrast, the currents are not so strong during the hot season, signaling calmer seas.
Snorkeling offers you a view of life just beneath the surface of the ocean. December, January, and February are ideal for spending more time in the water and there is plenty to see. That said, if you don’t mind the slightly cooler temperatures, July and August are your windows for viewing a frenzy of marine activity. Speaking of windows, each of the vessels mentioned above boasts a glass-bottom boat as an alternative way to view marine activity, without getting wet.
Activities like, swimming, paddleboarding, and kayaking give you the chance to cover a lot of ground or coastline that might otherwise take you a little longer to explore. These enjoyable activities are offered year-round and are widely available aboard each of our vessels and at our Finch Bay Hotel. An additional activity to consider if you’re planning to enjoy a land-based experience is mountain biking.
A fair number of travelers organize their own trips to the Galapagos. They book flights, lodging, and activities on their own, but often end up spending a hefty sum and seeing much less than they had expected. Visitors who decide to change plans last minute often find out the hard way that deposits paid for excursions and activities are often non-refundable. This can turn an otherwise fun vacation into a nightmare full of stressful arguments, unreturned phone calls, and lost time and money.
Lodging, like the modestly sized but very popular Finch Bay Hotel on Santa Cruz Island, tends to vary in availability, so booking a room well ahead of time is key. There are peak months of the year like June, July, and December when the crowds of tourists tend to be larger. If you want to visit during less busy months, May and October may be just what you’re looking for and may offer you greater availability. When booking your stay at Finch Bay, planning activities at the same time and through the same agent is a great way to guarantee and reserve your spot for different excursions. Additionally, there may be special promotions available when you bundle accommodations and activities.
Booking a cruise aboard the Santa Cruz II, Isabela II, and La Pinta—replete with luxury accommodations, healthy and delicious dining options, and expert naturalist guides, plus the peace of mind knowing that there is an onboard medical officer—offers you the chance to see and do everything on your wish list and more. The investment in your own peace and mind, knowing that every detail is taken care of for you, from flights to accommodations, from meals to itineraries, is undoubtedly the best value for your experience.
Ultimately, deciding on the best time to visit the Galapagos really depends on, what you’d like to see, and what activities you’d like to pursue. And, the best way to plan your trip is to do it well in advance, budget the right amount, and work with a reputable tour operator with decades of experience and know-how with respect to this wholly unique destination. Trust us: your experience will be all the richer for it.
Interested in learning more about this fascinating destination? Click here for more Galapagos Information.
My friend was on a boat with a mall group of people. What boat takes out small groups?
Hi Cynthia! Thanks for commenting! The majority of vessels in the Galapagos are small, 16-passenger, single-guided boats. Keep in mind, however, that there are nearly 70 different vessels allowed to navigate Galapagos waters for tours, so pinpointing which boat it was that your friend took, exactly, is quite the challenge! We ourselves own three, multi-guided boats: Yacht La Pinta (max. 48 guests), Yacht Isabela II (max. 40 guests), and the Santa Cruz II (max. 90 guests) – all of which have small excursion groups that average around 11 guests per guide. For more information on how to choose the best Galapagos cruise for your tastes.