Choosing what to bring with you on a trip is as personal as choosing a travelling companion, and by no means do we dare propose a comprehensive packing list that works for everyone.
But here are some essentials and suggestions.
For the daytime in the Galapagos, you will most likely want to be in shorts and a loose comfortable t-shirt or tank top. A wide-brimmed or long-billed hat and a pair of sunglasses are essentials for protecting face, eyes, ears and neck from the bright and scorching equatorial sun. For the evenings on some boats, particularly cruise ships, dinner can be a bit more formal, so a dress shirt or a simple sun dress might be a good idea. Most boats do not have any sort of dress code, and your daytime clothes will be fine. Consider bringing only one or two pairs of light pants to the Galapagos. They will be too warm usually, but you might want them for the plane and perhaps at night to enjoy the ocean nights. Also, bring a light sweater or sweatshirt so you won't miss magnificent nightly star-gazing.
You must pass through Quito, which is also on the Equator, but high in the mountains with a cool climate. Arriving at the airport dressed for cold weather is wise, so pack a jacket, preferrably a waterproof one that can double as a raincoat in the islands.
Without a doubt, Teva-style sandals are the most useful footwear you can bring to the island. They can be worn during dry or wet landing on the islands, protect your feet from the hot, harsh volcanic landscape and keep them cool. You might want the protection and support of tennis shoes or sneakers, but we would recommend that you bring your older broken-in pair than a new pair that will suffer the damage of saltwater, volcanic rock, and sand.
A swimsuit or two is perfect for the water --the sun will dry them quickly and they are great for lounging around on the decks. If you have your own snorkeling equipment and you feel like bringing it with you, do so by all means. Often it is better to have your own equipment with which you are comfortable and certain of it fitting than renting from the boat or a shop. However, if you do not have your own, if your boat does not supply it, or you don't want to bring yours down, it is quite possible to rent from a shop in Quito. For those that like to spend hours snorkeling and diving deep, you might consider a shorty wet suit for the deeper 18-23 degree C waters.
Of course you will bring your camera! The Galapagos is one large photo opportunity after another, and you will return with many photos that can never be repeated. For this reason, we suggest that you think about how many photos you will want to take and then bring and extra memory card. Frames will quickly fill with all the rarities, wildlife and oceanscapes you can dream of. But if you run out of memory space, getting more can be expensive or difficult. For those that have quality digital cameras, bringing a wide-angle/macro lens and a 70-210mm zoom lens is advisable. The zoom lens will let you frame animals at any variety of distances, and reduce the amount of camera equipment you lug with you to the islands. A polarizing filter helps to reduce the glare of the sunlight on the water and make the dolphins more visible as well as helping with sunset shots. And if you do not have an underwater camera (as most of us don't), Kodak, Konica, and Fujifilm all make disposible ones -- they work surprisingly well and let you take photos of the sea lion you befriend or the sharks that make you look twice. In case you want to bring video equipment, while adding more bulk, weight and worry, also means that you will be able to capture amazing moments and images. If you bring a tripod, make it a lightweight non-bulky one as you'll have to hike with it.
We list sunscreen as its own section because its so important. The sun hits the equator hard and can burn you before you know it. We recommend SPF 45 waterproof sunscreen, and everywhere --don't forget the tops of your feet! Strong sunburn can be a debilitating condition-- especially for those with lighter skin.
Some other items that you might consider bringing are binoculars (7x25 are recommended), and extra camera batteries.
The official currency on mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos is the US Dollar. It would be wise to already bring some Dollars in cash with you. You will want to have some cash on you while you are on board and in port to buy a t-shirt, a refreshing cola on deck, etc. The airports in Quito and Guayaquil, as well as the mayor hotels have money exchange facilities. There is a bank in Puerto Ayora (a typical stop on your itinerary) that can change your traveler's checks, give cash advances on most credit cards, and ATM cardholders may be able to take out money. Carry your money, credit cards and the like in a money pouch (held close to your body).
First Aid kits are provided on all boats, but may not be complete or provide for those with special needs. Always travel with all prescription medicines that you may need. Special medicines you should consider bringing along are motion sickness medication (if your sea legs don't develop quickly), and aloe-vera gel (in case you forget our advice about sunscreen), Quito is at 9,500 feet, (3,000m) and some people experience symptoms of altitude sickness which in most cases can be remedied by drinking lots of water, getting lots of rest (which can be difficult when travelling), taking aspirin, or if you experience symptoms of mild headaches, DIAMOX, a drug that increases oxygen profussion is readily available in Quito pharmacies. If you experience severe headaches or respiratory problems, consult a doctor immediately.
you would consider bringing on board a boat trip of equatorial islands for a week. Remember that you are on an isolated boat in isolated islands 600 miles from the nearest continent. So if there is something you can't do without and don't know if you can find it there, bring it.
For more information on preparing your Galapagos trip, visit our Trip Checklist.