The Galapagos Islands are one of the most unique, biodiverse areas on the planet. With creatures that you won’t find anywhere else on Earth, volcanic landscapes and waters teeming with life, it’s no wonder that many people have Galapagos Islands on their bucket list. Because it’s so incomparable, it can be hard to figure out what to pack for the Galapagos Islands.
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With this Galapagos packing list guide, you’ll find out what to bring, what to leave at home and other tips. So whether you’re coming to the Enchanted Islands for a land-based tour, a cruise or a do-it-yourself trip, this Galapagos packing guide will help you travel light and travel smart.
When is the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands?
The great thing about being on the equator is that the Galapagos is warm all year. That means there is really no bad time to visit. The islands are not tropical and have two distinct seasons.
From June to December the Humboldt Current brings cooler water temperatures and choppier seas, but with it brings phytoplankton, making it a hot spot for migrating animals. Life is teeming below the surface, so it makes great snorkelling and diving. You might also get more mist in the highlands of the islands.
The hot and rainy season is from January to May. While your trip might be interrupted by afternoon showers, you’ll have a more comfortable temperature and calmer seas. This is also the more popular time for visitors.
I went in late November/ early December and found the weather to be warm, but not too hot and the seas mildly choppy.
What is the climate like in the Galapagos Islands?
The Galapagos Islands are not tropical but instead are desert and arid, with two distinct seasons. June to December is considered the low season because of the Humboldt Current that brings in cooler air, drier weather and rougher seas. Temperatures range from 21 to 27 degrees Celsius. The water is much colder during this time too.
I went at the end of November, early December. Even though it was sunny most of the time, you could tell the land hadn’t seen significant rainfall in a while.
January to May is warm and wet. It’s still sunny often but broken up with brief stretches of rain. Temperatures range from 27 to 32 degrees Celsius. The waters around the islands warm up, but you’ll still want to wear a wetsuit.
Are the Galapagos Islands safe?
After travelling to several countries, I have to say that the Galapagos Islands tops the list of where I felt most safe at all times of the day.
The Islands have a laid back vibe that you won’t find anywhere else. The people were generally helpful and friendly, and even at night, the towns were comfortable. On the other hand, Quito, Ecuador’s capital did not give me the same feeling. If you are travelling from Quito to Galapagos, be aware of your surroundings and on the lookout for fake taxis.
On the islands, the only thing you need to worry about is getting lost, especially if you are travelling in the remote areas of the islands. Stay with your guide and don’t wander off the path.
How to travel to the Galapagos Islands responsibility?
You’ll want to familiarize yourself with the National Park rules. You’ll hear these over and over again, but it’s amazing how many people ignored them.
Important rules include practice “leave no trace” principles, travel only with official guides, maintain a distance of six feet from all wildlife, do not use flash photography, pack out all trash, and do not buy souvenirs made from banned substances like coral, lava rock or animal parts. You can read the whole list here.
That’s why it is so important to know what you are bringing into the islands and what you’re taking away. Use items that have little or no packaging. Be critical about the type of products that you use and where they might end up (i.e., septic safe shampoo and reef-safe sunscreen). And above all remember that the Galapagos Island’s ecosystem is fragile and we are guests here.
What to pack for the Galapagos Islands?
There will be plenty of opportunities for you to swim and snorkel, so you need to think about water essentials when you figure out what to pack for the Galapagos Islands.
Swimsuit: A swimsuit (or two) is a necessity for Galapagos – I mean, you want to swim with sea turtles, am I right?! – But I have two words of advice: one piece. Seriously, getting in and out of a wetsuit with a bikini is a little bit of a game of Risk. Things shift around, and you don’t want to pull too much off when you’re taking off the skin-tight wetsuit if you get my drift. These active swimsuits are perfect for Galapagos. If you go for a fashion swimsuit, at least go for a one piece.
Towel: Again, you’ll be in and out of the water, so you want a quick-drying microfibre towel like this one so you can keep the other stuff in your bag dry.
Wet swimsuit bag: Ah, the wet bathing suit, my worst nightmare. Seriously dry faster why don’t cha?! I used a bag to store my wet bathing suit in if I had to pack up, then I would let it dry at the next place.
Rash guard: First of all you won’t need your own wetsuit, you’ll have the opportunity to rent one in every town (but you will need to wear one because the water can get rather chilly). However, I brought a rash guard as something to wear over my swimsuit in the hot sun. It’s UV resistant, which was great for my pale easy-to-burn skin.
Don’t bring: wet suit, fins and snorkel (unless you really want to). All of these items are available for rent at a decent price from shops or your tour operator. Why waste space in your luggage with these bulky items?
Tours in the Galapagos are usually active, meaning you’re going to be hiking, walking, and in and out of the water. Forgo fancy outfits and don some activewear. You’re going to want quick-drying activewear.
Windbreaker: You’ll want to bring along a windbreaker for night excursions and for when you get on a speedboat. The sun may be warm, but the wind and the spray from the ocean will make it a lot chillier.
Light Sweater: The islands are not tropical. The nights can get a little chilly, so you might want to pack a light sweater that you can throw on top of your outfit.
Active pants (2): Activewear is the best to bring. Bring at least two bottoms, whether its pants or crops.
Shorts (1): It can get hot, and you’re going to want some shorts to keep cool.
Quick dry tops (3): Quick-drying fabrics, like these quick-drying t-shirts, are the best to bring to the Galapagos.
Nice outfit or a Maxi dress (1): Bring something nice to throw on for dinner and evenings.
Undergarments: Comfortable and supportive undergarments like Knix bras and quick drying undies are the best to bring with you!
Socks: Don’t forget to bring comfy, breathable wool socks to keep your feet nice and dry.
PJs: don’t forget to bring your comfiest PJs for sleeping.
Sun hat: The sun in Ecuador is strong. You’re right at the equator. Not only will you use up almost all your sunscreen supply, but you’re also going to want to bring along a sun hat. Especially for the boat rides where the wind will whip your hair around. Just make sure to hang on to your hat, so you don’t lose it.
Sunglasses: Don’t get on a plane to the Galapagos without a pair of sunglasses. Protect your eyes, gosh darn it!
Wearing proper footwear is important to have a good trip. You’ll be doing a lot of walking, so you don’t want to end up with blisters and sore feet. This list is helpful for you to decide what footwear to pack for the Galapagos Islands.
Hiking boots or sturdy running shoes: Since there are not too many cars on each of the islands, you’re going to be walking a lot. That’s why sturdy hiking boots or running shoes will be perfect for the trip.
Waterproof sandals: While hiking boots are great, kicking off your shoes to dance around on the white sand of Tortuga Bay or the black sand of Playa Negra is just about perfect. That’s why bringing sturdy waterproof sandals like these will be your go-to for most activities.
Flip flops for the shower: While it’s not necessary, flip flops can be used in the shower, or for lounging on the beach.
Now you know what clothing to pack for the Galapagos Islands, you’ll need to figure out how you’ll pack it all. The thing is, you’re going to want to pack as light as possible and preferably in a backpack. You’re going to be in and out of boats whether you’re on a land-based tour or cruise. Every time you lift your heavy suitcase from the hold of the boat you’re going to scream “Why didn’t I listen to Olivia?!”
Backpack luggage: You’ll want backpack luggage over a suitcase when visiting the Galapagos Islands. Backpacks will be easier to handle when getting in and out of boats and for travelling through the rougher terrain.
Compression packing cubes: Use travel cubes to keep things organized. I love these compression travel cubes to get even more space out of my luggage
Daypack: You’ll need a daypack to keep your wallet, sunscreen, camera and water bottle in during your day excursions. If you want a packable one, I suggest this one. If you need a camera bag, then take a look at the Pac Safe camera bag. It’s the one I travel with most often.
Dry bag: You’ll also want a dry bag to keep your valuables in before you get on any boat. Whether by waves, rain or it accidentally gets dropped in the water, you know your things will be A-Okay.
RELATED: Visit Galapagos: Floreana Island
Toiletries and health items
Travel light and travel smart. When you’re figuring out what to pack for the Galapagos Islands, you’ll need to think about what kind of products you’re bringing to the archipelago and what you will be taking back with you. That’s why it’s important to pack items with little or no packaging, use products that are septic-safe or reef-safe, and to think about how what you are bringing in will impact the environment in the Galapagos’ fragile ecosystem.
Shampoo, Conditioner, Soap: Don’t forget the essentials, like shampoo, conditioner and soap. I like the Live Clean brand because of its commitment to the environment.
Toothbrush: I am in love with my Toob toothbrush, which is a brush and paste all in one. It’s super easy to pack, taking up very little room. It’s a must for anyone who is trying to pack light.
Makeup: Some simple makeup, like this awesome brand Stowaway, is great for feeling good at dinner. You won’t need much makeup while you’re hiking around the islands anyway.
Makeup remover: You’ll also want to bring a makeup eraser, like this reusable one.
Moisturizer: Whether you’re in the sun for too long, the salt water is drying out your skin, or you’ve gotten windburn from the speed boats, moisturizer is a necessary addition for any trip. Bring along a small container, perfect for carry-on travel.
Sunscreen: I’m not joking when I say the sun in the Galapagos is stronger. You’re at the equator and closer to the sun than anywhere else on earth. Not only is sunscreen in Ecuador hard to find, but when you do find it, it’s expensive AF. Bring your own. And more importantly, bring reef-friendly sunscreen. The Galapagos Islands’ ecosystem is fragile, so enjoy it responsibly.
Seasickness medication: Seasickness sucks, mostly because the feeling stays with you even after you’re on dry land. Whether you’re on a land-based tour or a cruise, you’ll be crossing seas that can get pretty rough. Seasickness medication can help with that.
Upset stomach medication: If you’ve eaten something that doesn’t agree with you, or you ingest non-drinkable water, the runs are not something you want to deal with while in the picturesque Galapagos Islands. Pick up some Imodium or talk to your doctor for more preventative options.
Reusable water bottle: The water on the islands is not safe to drink, so you’ll either want to fill up at a safe-to-drink location or use a water filter bottle like this one.
Of all the Galapagos Islands travel tips you’ve received, the most important is to bring your camera! You’ll want to immortalize your trip in amazing photos. So get your gear ready; it’s time for the Galapagos!
DSLR camera: While today’s smartphones are incredibly powerful, it’s just not going to cut it. DSLR cameras are going to give you much better photos in the end. Just make sure you practice and know how to use your camera BEFORE you leave on vacation. I suggest the Canon 80D, I have its predecessor and have been waiting to upgrade to this camera. It’s super powerful and just an all-around great camera. If you’re looking for a more beginner level DSLR, then the Canon Rebel t7i is perfect.
Back up battery: Same with the extra battery. You’ll be able to charge up at night, but just in case, you’re going to want to bring along an extra battery or two for your camera.
Action underwater camera: Lastly, you’ll want to bring along a decent underwater camera to capture all the amazing marine life that lives below the surface. I have a Sony ActionCam with a waterproof casing, but I also recommend a GoPro Hero7.
Smartphone: Even if you don’t plan on using it for phone calls, your smartphone (I love my Google Pixel 2) is a great tool to have while travelling. Load your favourite apps, for example, download the Spanish translation dictionary from Google Translate.
Power bank: You’re going to be taking photos constantly, and that can eat up your battery. Bring along a power bank to charge up on the go. This one is my fave.
Adapter: Coming from the US or Canada? You won’t need an adapter for your devices. However, if you’re coming from Europe, Asia or Oceania, then yes an adaptor is necessary. Double check to make sure your devices are dual voltage. If they’re not, then you’ll need a converter, not an adapter.
Travel documents may be first of mind when you’re thinking of what to pack for the Galapagos Islands. But it may be surprising what you need to have with you during your stay.
Passport: Obviously you’ll need your passport to board the plane. You should already have your Ecuadorian visa stamped in there when you landed in Quito or Guayaquil. Most countries do not need a visa to enter Ecuador; in fact, it’s one of the most lenient countries in the world with only 13 countries needing a visa.
Confirmation documents: It’s important to have all your documentation printed with you for entry, especially if you are not doing a land-based tour or cruise. You will also need your return ticket to be allowed into the Galapagos Islands.
Copy of your vaccines: I had to get updated vaccines for my trip to Ecuador, I kept a copy of my vaccines on my phone just in case I was asked. This is good practice for ANY trip abroad.
Cash: Cash is king in the Galapagos. The islands are remote, and there are not too many opportunities to take out money. Ecuador uses US dollars for currency. You’ll need $120 USD in cash to pay for your transit control card and the National Park fee.
Travel insurance: You are required to have travel insurance. Keep that in mind when you prepare for travelling to the Galapagos Islands
Guide book: I don’t like to go anywhere without researching it fully through Lonely Planet’s guide books. You can find one on Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands here.
Travel document holder: Keep all your travel documents tidy with this travel document holder. I have taken mine on every single trip since I purchased it three years ago.
Whether you’re headed to the Galapagos Islands for a land-based tour, cruise or a DIY trip, find out what to bring, what to leave at home, when the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands, and other tips in this Galapagos packing list.
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