The Galápagos on Your Bucket List? What You Need to Know to Go

A female frigit gets a bit frisky!

The Galapagos Islands have long been on our bucket list. Finally tuition-free when our youngest graduated from college, we treated ourselves to the adventure of a lifetime.

Here’s what we learned about being of “a certain age” and visiting the giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies and friendly sea lions of The Galapagos.

A sea lion hitched a ride on Yolita in the Galapagos
This sea lion decides to take a quick break on the swim platform on the back of our boat for the week, the Yolita II.

Don’t book the wrong trip!

You must book passage on a Park Service-approved boat to tour the islands. You can’t just show up and start looking around. For the protection of the animals and the ecosystems of the islands, the boats are scheduled so very few people are allowed on any one island at a time.

Choosing the proper boat with the proper group is imperative! Our boat carried sixteen passengers, and most vessels touring The Galapagos are that intimate. We didn’t want to end up on a party boat and we felt it was necessary to be with a group of people with similar activity levels.

After much research, we booked passage with Road Scholar, a non-profit organization that focuses on lifelong learning. We weren’t kept up by all-night revellers with more energy than we had, didn’t feel like we were holding up the pace on hikes and felt completely comfortable in our bathing suits in front of everyone.

Galápagos Giant Tortoise on Isabela's Urbina Bay

Packing properly

The flights into The Galapagos have a 44-pound weight limit for luggage and cabin space on the boats is tight. It’s best to take less clothing and to plan on hand washing if the need arises. Extra heavy duty clothes pins were provided on our boat for hang-drying clothes and swimwear.

Tame Air Ecuador

Bring comfortable, well worn, rubber soled shoes! The terrain varies greatly on each island. From sand to lava flows to hiking up to a volcano — you’ll need shoes with support that won’t give you blisters. Throw in a pair of swim shoes and some non-slip sandals for the boat and you’re set.

The tropical sun on the black basalt flow takes a toll on Veronica.

See more about the landscape of The Galapagos

Yikes! The sun is STRONG at the equator. Bring LOTS of sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses and a t-shirt for snorkeling. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to the back of your neck! Better yet, cover it up.

Bring an extra pair of eyeglasses and don’t forget prescriptions. Just in case. If you are prone to sea sickness, talk to your doctor about remedies.

Keep a supply of large zip-type sandwich bags with you. These help keep moisture and sand out of your belongings and camera equipment.

Blue Footed Boobie in the Galapagos

Have a supply of pre-moistened lens cleaning wipes for eyeglasses. Works wonders on camera lenses as well. Salt air is sticky!

Pack a battery powered or wind-up alarm clock. We had a bit of confusion the first morning — the time didn’t update on anyone’s cell phones so far out to sea, so using the wake-up function was a lost cause.

Learn about how we pack and our always-adhered-to “One Trip Rule”!

Sea lion in the Galapagos

Visiting the islands

Zodiacs boats are fun! But we’re not going to lie, they are intimidating at first. But it wasn’t long before we got the hang of getting in and out and perching on the sides like champs. There were always at least two crew members assisting with entrances and exits. We experienced both wet and dry landings and were helped along every step of the way.

Zodiac ride along the cliffs of Genovesa, Galapagos Islands

The animals are incredibly unafraid of humans. Visitors must stay at least six feet away from the animals at all times. It’s surprisingly easy to break this rule as the animals have little fear of humans — if an animal approaches and comes within the six foot barrier, the HUMAN is obligated to step back.

A Nazca Boobie blocks our path

Click here for our entire live-blog of our week in The Galapagos

Half the fun is in the water

Gearing up for snorkeling on Genovesa Island in the Galapagos

The sea creatures are just as unafraid of humans as their counterparts on land. You will get up close.

You will be provided with snorkel gear and a wet suit. Wear your wetsuit. In addition to keeping you warm, wetsuits add extra buoyancy and offers greater sun protection. There’s no shame in adding a life vest to the equation either — snorkeling is WAY more fun when the struggle to stay afloat is eliminated.

Green Sea Turtles in Galapagos Island, Ecuador

See more about what’s going on underwater in The Galapagos!

While snorkeling, a guide will always be with you. We always had a guide in the water, leading us to, and pointing out the amazing sea creatures of The Galapagos. In addition, Zodiac boat teams stay close by to assist, watch over and provide a resting spot, if needed.

Many times, the captain of the Zodiac can spot a sea lion, turtle, penguin or marine iguana with his above-the-waterline advantage. If you decide to opt out of snorkeling you may ride along in the Zodiac.

If you’ve never snorkeled before, learn ahead of timeYou don’t want to miss out on this:

Or this:

David & Veronica,

Click here for our entire live-blog of our adventure in The Galapagos

Delve deeper:
See the incredible work done at Giant Tortoise Breeding Center
Check out the lsg
Cavort with Sea Lions!
The Birds of The Galapagos – wild!
The Underwater World of The Galapagos
People live in the Galapagos?

YOUR TURN: Are The Galapagos Islands on YOUR bucket list? Have we inspired you to go? 

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32 thoughts on “The Galápagos on Your Bucket List? What You Need to Know to Go”

  1. Nice adventure! You captured great shots in your trips. You me a lot to create my bucket list. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. What an amazing trip-to get up close to all the animals like that must have been quite an experience. You captured some great shots and re-emphasized that we need to make plans sooner rather than later to get there!

  3. The Galapagos Islands are so amazing! But it’s been a few years since we visited – we’d love to to go again. But we hear it’s getting more and more developed each year. Your Road Scholar boat cruise sounds ideal – we went on a much larger boat.

  4. So excited to see you went to the Galápagos Islands, this is on my bucket list too. Out of 5 daughters between my husband and I we still have 2 in university. This will be our “tuitions over” celebration with Ecuador and Peru. All our girls worked through school, some more willingly than others We retired a couple of years ago and have been doing some rving in our camper (mostly west and Alaska) and a trip to Costa Rica. Still trying to decide what to do long term. We are still young like you guys and looking forward to some adventures! Congratulations on your son, really enjoy your blog!

  5. This post really whetted my appetite for a Galapagos trip. It’s up there with the Northern Lights on my travel bucket list. Road Scholar sounds like just about the right speed and excitement level for Mr. and Mrs. Excitement. Most valuable tip: the alarm clock. Who woulda thought?

  6. Excellent suggestions for making the most of a trip to the Galapagos, and Road Scholar sounds great. Never would have thought about the alarm clocks!

  7. The Road Scholar tour sounds like a terrific way to get up close and personal with all the amazing animals in the Galapagos. We love exploring nature sounds like we need to check out that tour.

  8. All excellent advice. My sister and I went to The Galapagos 7 or 8 years ago and it was a fantastic experience. We especially loved the twice daily opportunities to snorkel and experience sea lions swimming towards us really fast and then turning away when they got a couple inches from our face masks. It was alarming at first and then a thrill we hoped for every time!

  9. The Galapagos Islands have long held a fascination for me though I am yet to visit. Thanks for the many hints you have offered for when that day finally comes. It really does sound like a wonderful trip!

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