Sun in the Fun or Under the Sea
While some will argue that the best time to visit the Galapagos is anytime, two distinct seasons coincide with the tides and currents blowing through. Both have their advantages depending on what your interests are: The warm season starts in December and goes through May and the dry season goes from May to December.
For a breakdown of what each season has to offer, keep reading our seasonal guide to the Galapagos. (For those who are wondering, there is no slow season!
Galapagos Travel: Best Time to Get a Good Deal
For visitors, the best news coming out of the Galapagos Islands lately is this: there has never been a better time to go! Due to the economy, prices are lower in Galapagos than previously and boats run many promotions. Furthermore, the high summer tourist season is over, which means fewer Americans and Europeans are currently visiting Galapagos.
The islands are the same, of course, if not better than before. In 2007 the archipelago was put on UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in Danger list due to the high level of human activity and invasive animal species brought to the islands. However, just a year ago UNESCO removed Galapagos from the List of Sites in Danger: the ageless Galapagos continues to offer a pristine, unique environment for visitors to enjoy!
This begs the question: When is the best time to book and take a Galapagos trip?
In terms of booking your trip, your best bet is either very early or very late. If you can plan your Galapagos vacation several months ahead of time, it is best to do so, as you’ll have your choice of yachts and hotels.
If you can’t book early, book late. Last-minute deals can offer huge discounts on cruises. If you are already in Quito, Guayaquil, or even Galapagos, you can probably contact an agency and get a great deal on a cruise for the next day.
The advantage of a last-minute trip is the price, which can be ridiculously low. But be cautioned that your options will be limited and you risk coming out empty-handed.
Time of year is also important. The Galapagos Islands, like any other major visitor attraction, tends to attract guests in predictable patterns. From end of May through August, many families travel with their children who are on break for school.
These months are the busiest in Galapagos and it is tough to find a special deal. If you must book during this time, pick May or June, as many American families will be enjoying the nice weather before making any trips.
Spaces on boats also tend to fill up in the second half of December and first two weeks of January. During Holy Week (the week before Easter) South Americans have vacation and the ships fill up fast.
So if you’re looking to save some money, book your trip between September and November or between January and May (except for Holy Week). Or, if you must travel in these “high” months, make sure you book 6-12 months in advance.
As for the islands themselves, there is no “wrong” time to visit: during different times of the year, there are different things to see and do.
The birds, tortoises and dazzling marine life are always there, waiting to have their photos taken. Check our wildlife calendar for information about what to expect when on the islands.
Most naturalist guides will tell you in confidence that the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands is in May, for many reasons: the temperature is warm but not too hot, the albatrosses are on Española Island, and there are relatively few tourists.
Galapagos can be expensive, but with these tips, you’ll save enough to be able to have the vacation you’ve always dreamed of!
The Dry Season
The dry season sees its fair share of cloudy skies but there are still sunny days. Expect daily showers so bring a rain jacket. Despite this’s the best time to visit the Galapagos if diving is your passion.
The Humboldt Current traveling north brings cooler waters and a myriad of marine life. Sharks, dolphins, whales, and an incredible bevy of fish gather en mass underneath the turquoise waters. Grab some fins and goggles or hop aboard a decked out dive boat for an experience of a lifetime.
The diversity of the islands and the terrain give each island a unique part in the animals that live underneath the waters off their shore. In the same way that the tortoise population differs from island to island and the trip to see each is worthwhile, exploring the different sites underneath each island’s waters proves to be an education in the diversity of its creatures.
Liveaboard cruises visit sites only accessible by boat and that is closed to foot traffic. They offer the most for the avid diver, providing expert knowledge and top of the line equipment.
Land-based options abound on all the big islands, most offer two dives a day and a few offer Island Hopping packages; worth checking into if you want to explore the land and the sea at the same time.
The depth that the Galapagos Islands have to offer is stunning, as are its creatures and underwater grottos. If you’re interested in exploring the cool waters and the incredible creatures that dot the landscape, take a minute and talk to one of our travel experts.
If you think the Galapagos Islands must have a typical tropical climate because they are on the Equator then think again. If you don’t like the heat at all then consider coming in August the ‘coldest’ month of the dry season in the Galapagos when temperatures can dip down to remind you of a North American Spring climate.
If you like it hot then the Galapagos Islands climate can cater to all tastes and you’ll find it more tropical between January and May during the Warm Season.
These then, are the two distinct seasons that exist due to the waxing and waning of the heavily influential Humboldt Current. Yes, the Galapagos dry season exists because of this powerful ocean current.
Understanding what the Humboldt Current is and how it works and influences the Galapagos climate is like revealing the mechanics behind an impressive magic trick. Suddenly it all makes a lot more sense and you see the big picture.
The Humboldt Current is one of the most influential currents in the world and starts just offshore from the land of fire or Tierra del Fuego. This is the southernmost point of South America where stray icebergs are not an uncommon site. With icebergs floating around you can imagine this water is c-o-l-d! Mixed with nutrient-full Antarctic waters the Humboldt flows northward like a great river hugging the coasts of Chile and Peru.
It’s not easy to understand that parts of the ocean are very different from each other. We understand that there are more animals in Africa than say, Canada, but usually, we don’t imagine the oceans can be like this.
But we start to get an idea when we know that 20% of the entire world’s ocean catch is pulled out of the seas crossed by the Humboldt Current. Just this one little fact can explain why just about anywhere touched by this current will be changed. And the Galapagos Islands are no exception.
After reaching Northern Peru and Southern Ecuador the current mixes with the warm Equatorial Current. The mixing causes the warm water to sink and the colder waters of the Humboldt rise bringing nutrients to the surface.
During the six months of the Galapagos dry season, while the southeasterly trade winds drive the Humboldt Current westwards, the Galapagos Islands are bathed by this cold nutrient-rich current and that has a powerful effect on the island’s climate and ecology. These nutrients are what attract so many marine animals to the Galapagos.
Wait! Isn’t this supposed to be the Galapagos dry season? Here’s the thing. At the lower altitudes, there is virtually no rainfall, leading to arid conditions and visitors scratching their heads at the semi-desert landscapes they see because they expect to see lush tropical islands but on the coast and at lower elevations this IS the driest time of the year in what is a dry climate anyway.
Temperatures fall and darker rain clouds start to scud across the skies to gather over volcanoes. Either drizzle falls or the Garua mists hang over the higher points of the islands.
The dry season, by the way, is a great time to come scuba diving. Waters are cooler at 17-20°C with less visibility but this would be a great time to dive alongside the migratory Whale Sharks which would be an unforgettable experience for most divers. June through November are the peak months for the Whale Sharks.
In August flamingos begin mating rituals, the boobies and frigate birds are still hatching eggs and the Giant Tortoises on Santa Cruz migrate back to the highlands. Also, Galapagos Sea Lions begin to give birth, and it’s common to see the pups.
Many want to see the famous blue-footed booby courtship dance and this can happen anytime between May and September as they are opportunistic breeders meaning when food supply such as their favored anchovies are abundant then they are encouraged to breed.
In September the Galapagos Penguins begin mating on the central islands and the sea lion breeding season is now in full swing. Here’s when you can catch huge bulls fighting on land and in water to defend their harems.
In October you can spot Blue-footed Booby chicks at many sites, Lava Herons start nesting and the Galapagos Fur Sea Lion mating season begins.
In November the Brown Noddy are breeding, Storm Petrels nest for a second time, Nazca Booby chicks are common and this is a great time to see sea lion pups inshore nurseries.
By December the trade winds have died down so the Humboldt Current is not flowing with such force from the continent to the Galapagos but the waters are still cold and nutrient-rich in this, the last month of the Galapagos dry season. Rainfall is still low but daily average land temperatures have just bumped up a notch to 24°C.
A lot is happening in December as Waved Albatross chicks try to take to the skies for the first time, Giant Tortoise eggs begin to hatch and Green Sea Turtles can often be seen mating in shallow waters. The marine iguana’s mating season begins but before that happens the males try to establish dominance by butting heads.
And then by late December, almost as suddenly as it began, Mother Nature turns the Humboldt Current ‘tap’ to the almost-off setting and the ‘Galapagos Dry Season show’ is over for another year as warmer, less nutrient-rich waters start to bathe the islands ushering in the warm season.
The Warm Season
The warm season is when the weather is great; the sun shines daily, the sky is blue and the wind is calm. For those looking for fun in the sun exploring the extraordinary landscape, the islands await. Land tours and cruises drift through pristine waters, up the volcanoes that formed the islands and underwater, where whales, sharks, and schools of fish collide into bursts of color and movement.
The islands themselves are a walk through history; Darwin’s playground is full of tall tales of pirates, murders, and maiden voyages. Discover the sea lions on the beaches, the flocks of blue-footed boobies along the rocks, and the marks left by those who visited before in the hidden coves and lonely outposts.
Floreana Island has a unique story of its own, being on the route that whalers took to and from home. While stopping for supplies on the way out to sea, sailors would leave messages for those back home, which were picked up and delivered by other ships making the return trip.
Today the tradition continues; visitors to the ramshackle collection of barrels, boxes, and signs leave postcards for others to be delivered by those returning to nearby destinations, often in person!
With the passing of the New Year, the animals of the Galapagos start to nest, lay eggs, and perform their mating rituals. Use our guide of the natural calendar in the islands over the winter holidays to see the animals of the archipelago during their prime.
Giant Tortoises & Green Sea Turtles
Galapagos Tortoises start to lay their eggs in December, retreating to lowland havens that can’t easily be accessed and are often off-limits to those visiting the mainland. The eggs keep hatching until April and the breeding centers on different islands are full of excitement as the young hatchlings find their legs.
Green Sea Turtles start their mating rituals in January and bury their eggs on the beaches and bays of the islands. The turtles travel far between their feeding and nesting grounds, making as many as eight trips each way throughout the breeding season.
Mockingbird and finch mating rituals start in the New Year and provide an amusing and interesting look at the bird’s life and reproductive cycles. Birds seen on rocky shores and plush highlands of the Galapagos start to nest in December and their eggs hatch in January. Others enact their fascinating mating rituals until the end of the season in May.
The Galapagos penguin tends to stay put but migrates to the cooler waters off of Isabela and Fernandina Island during January and February. The penguins of the Galapagos don’t have a specific mating season and can reproduce a few times each year.
During January, marine and land iguanas start their mating season. On Española IslandM Marine iguanas turn bright red, green, and black. Land iguanas start to breed on Isabela Island and can be seen along the beaches and outcrops of the shore.
The warm season brings hammerhead sharks, mantas, and a marked increase of the different species of fish just below the surface.
Starting in December and continuing until the beginning of the dry season in May, the warm season is a natural celebration of renewed beginnings for the creatures of the Galapagos. Every day is a new dawn with newborn giants finding their legs and dozens of eggs hatching in the breeding centers and along the beaches, coves and shores that dot the map of the region.
Galapagos Adventure over the Winter Break
A visit to the Galapagos over the holidays during the warm season is an experience to be talked about for years to come. December and January mark the beginning of the Warm season throughout the archipelago. Sunny skies and calm waters are interrupted by afternoon showers that liven up the landscape and bring new tides and wildlife to the turquoise waters.
Families, couples, and students arrive for winter break yearly. All poised to take in the majestic landscape and stunning animals that roam free on and underneath the shores of Darwin’s playground. Here are a few ideas when planning a trip during the high season that is worth the time to discover.
Snorkeling and Diving
Gardner Bay on Española is a crescent-shaped cove with calm waters to snorkel, a sea lion colony to enjoy on the beach, and is a nesting ground for sea turtles when the night falls. The blue waters are alive with parrotfish, stingrays, and a kaleidoscope of activity and color.
The influx of the warmer tides and winds bring a greater chance of seeing Hammerhead Sharks and imposing Manta Rays. Kicker Rock off of San Cristobal is a favorite spot to snorkel around the landmark’s deep walls, alive with vibrant schools of fish and brightly colored coral.
Check Out the Wildlife
The warm season is also a special time for many of the creatures of the Galapagos Islands. It marks the arrival of nesting and breeding season for many birds, including the blue-footed booby’s elaborate mating ritual in March and April.
These two months are the start of hatching season, with sea turtles, iguanas, giant tortoises, and flamingos welcoming new members in the brood. Each species has its habitat to raise their young, with giant tortoises seen at lower elevations after coming down from the highlands to lay their eggs.
Hop on a Boat
Daytrips and Galapagos cruises take you far out of the familiar and into the extraordinary world of the Galapagos Islands. Pirate coves, natural landmarks and incredible scenery clutter the landscape and present breathtaking moments around every turn.
Taking a cruise over the holiday season is an exercise in the best that the islands have to offer. However you like to travel, there are options for short or long cruises, diving or sightseeing trips following a handful of routes through different sections of the islands.
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