Ecuador is perhaps one of the smallest countries of the Americas but it still is the most impressive place to visit for the different biodiversity offered in its four well marked regions, Coast or lowlands, Sierra or highlands, Oriente or Amazon Rain Forest and the unique Galapagos Islands.
 
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San Cristobal

The Galápagos Islands (official name: Archipiélago de Colón; other Spanish names: Islas de Colón or Islas Galápagos) are an archipelago of volcanic islands distributed around the equator in the Pacific Ocean, 972 km west of continental Ecuador. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site: wildlife is its most notable feature.

The Galápagos Islands form the Galápagos Province of Ecuador and are part of the country's national park system. The principal language on the islands is Spanish. The islands have a population of around 40,000, which is a 40-fold expansion in 50 years.

The islands are geologically young and famed for their vast number of endemic species, which were studied by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle. His observations and collections contributed to the inception of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.

The first crude navigation chart of the islands was done by the buccaneer Ambrose Cowley in 1684. He named the individual islands after some of his fellow pirates or after the English noblemen who helped the privateer's cause. More recently, the Ecuadorian government gave most of the islands Spanish names. While the Spanish names are official, many users (especially ecological researchers) continue to use the older English names, particularly as those were the names used when Charles Darwin visited.

Climate

The weather in the Galapagos Islands is largely determined by the ocean currents. Normally from June to December, there is a cold current rising from the south which creates a cool misty fog called a garua, making the climate rather cool and dry. In December, the wind has less force, the ocean is calm and the currents change, surrounding the islands in the warm Panama current from the north. These currents create a definable weather pattern of hot sunny mornings followed by clouds and occasional showers in the afternoons. Needless to say, this is usually the favorite time to visit. Based on all of this information, it would be safe to say: from June to December it's cool, cloudy and dry. From December to June it's warm, sunny and rainy.

When to Go

Although directly on the equator and with tropical weather year round, there are still better times than others to visit the Galapagos Islands. The months of June, July and August (and into September) tend to be characterized by cool garua (mist) and temperatures averaging 24ºC (72ºF). This time of the year the sea is at its roughest (but still relatively tame), the highlands tend to be dry, and the palo santo trees leafless.

If possible, it is better to visit the islands between January and May, when the climate is classically tropical: hot air temperatures, wide stretches of blue sky and occasional - but brief - downpours. The rain brings wet richness to the highlands, making them velvety green and flowery.

Tourist traffic is at its peaks during summer and holiday months. These months can get so crowded that even finding a berth on a boat may prove difficult. Prices are also higher and flights need to be booked in advance. March, April and May, with few tourists and great weather are the ideal months to visit the islands.
Average Temperature in Galapagos Islands (Fahrenheit)

Air Temperature

Water Temperature

January

60 - 80

71 - 74

Febrary

60 - 85

72 - 75

March

65 - 90

71 - 74

April

60 - 85

70 - 75

May

60 - 80

69 - 74

June

60 - 75

65 - 73

July

60 - 75

63 - 70

August

60 - 70

62 - 66

September

60 - 75

59 - 67

October

60 - 75

62 - 70

November

60 - 75

65 - 71

Decenber

60 - 80

66 - 72

What are the Galapagos like?

When Charles Darwin arrived to the islands in 1835, he admitted being a bit horrified by the thousands of iguanas that he encountered.

"One doesn't get used to their hideous appearance, one is never entirely free of a sense of unease. Some say they look like guardians of Hell or condemned spirits or dragon spawn." - Charles Darwin

The inhabitants of the Galapagos are survivors of a unsettled landscape, an volcanic archipelago 900 miles away from the rest of the world. And because of their isolation from humans, both land and sea animals remain more or less fearless and unaffected by visitors. As a visitor to the Galapagos, you will be amazed at how close you are able to get to the creatures of these enchanted islands. On land you will find yourself watching your step, amongst all of Darwin's hideous beasts (iguanas), as well as nesting blue-footed boobies, sea lions and who knows what else.

These islands are uniquely positioned in-between 3 ocean currents, creating a climate unlike any other in the world. This is why, about one fourth of the animals on the Galapagos are only found on these islands.

Orginizations Protecting the Islands

There are a few organizations designed to support the preservation of the archipelago. The main one is the Charles Darwin Foundation who also manages the Charles Darwin Research Station, which is the operative branch of the foundation. Other organizations include Galapagos Conservation Trust, a UK based charity and Galapagos Coalition, a group of scientists and lawyers with expertise in environmental law, whom are interested in the understanding of the relationship between the conservation of Galapagos and human activities.

What to Expect on a Cruise

On most cruises you sleep on board, traveling between the islands at night and visiting the islands during the day.
Boats are organized into three classes - Economic, Tourist and Luxury. The reality however is that a good economic boat will be better than a poorly run but more expensive luxury boat, so these distinctions can mean very little. It is really important to get accurate information about the choices available.
Tours vary in length from eight days, seven nights to as short as four days, three nights. Because two of these days are spent getting to and from the islands an eight day trip will give you six full days in the islands whereas a four day trip will give you only two.
Usually not included in the tours are the park entrance fee of $100, the air ticket to the islands (378usd*), life and accident insurance, gratuities to the crew ($15-$30) per cabin, any alcoholic beverages or soft drinks.
*Air fares and taxes are subject to change without notice.

Diving

Some of the best diving in the world is available here to experienced divers. The minimum of Open Water Diver certification is required and your log book showing that you have made some dives within the previous 12 months. In addition you must bring a medical certificate showing that you are fit to dive. Sea conditions can include strong currents and open, cold waters.