WHAT'S THE BEST TIME TO VISIT THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS?
The islands won’t disappoint you whenever you decide to go but if you are a backpacker or someone with a lot of freedom there are two periods of the year we recommend:
- End of April going into May/July
- October/November going into the start of December
Why these months? These periods are known as “shoulder seasons” and indicate a transition from one season to another, giving you the advantages of both the hot and dry seasons – nice warm days with less rain.
During these months, the wildlife is especially abundant and active; the weather is pleasant; trees and vegetation are in bloom and it also coincides with the low season for tourism meaning you can capitalise on lower prices.
GALAPAGOS ISLAND SEASONS - WARM VS DRY: WHICH SEASON IS BETTER?
For large parts of South America, especially countries close to the equator such as Ecuador, you get two types of season. The Galapagos Islands can mistakenly be thought of as a tropical destination. This isn’t the case but we won’t get into the science behind why equatorial countries aren’t scorching.
The two seasons in the Galápagos are warm and dry. The warm season (also known as the wet season) lasts from December to June.
During these months you are likely to have daily rain and some cloudy skies, however, the land and sea are both warmer. Don’t let the term rainy reason put you off though – the daily showers tend to be more of a drizzle and don’t last long meaning you can still get in some sunbathing without the weather ruining your day.
Aside from this, the rains revitalise the plant life on the island and you will see lush vegetation extending into the highlands The abundance of flourishing plants also leads to increased food supply and increased animal activity as a result.
The other season is the dry season (also known as the cool season) which spans from July to November.
The dry season is best for those who want to make the most out of the weather as you will experience blue skies and almost no wind, however, the land and sea become cooler due to the Humboldt current crossing the North of the Galápagos. This affects the behaviour of the animals on the island and most significantly the behaviour of marine wildlife and birds.
If you prefer to get out into the unique landscapes of the islands, then these months lend themselves more to hiking along the coast and through the highlands.
WHEN IS THE CHEAPEST TIME TO VISIT THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS?
When is the cheapest time to visit the islands? Most backpackers know that the Galápagos islands are a budget travellers’ nightmare and tend to avoid them. The cost of food, accommodation and tours are all inflated due to the remoteness and popularity of the islands.
However, being savvy (by reading our guide on how to do it without a tour) and visiting in certain months means you should include these magical islands on your itinerary.
The European and North American summer months of June through August, along with the Easter holidays at the beginning of April are peak months in the Galápagos for tourism. Try to avoid these if you can as prices for tours will increase with higher demand.
The low seasons are during the springtime (May to June) and autumn (September and November).
During these periods, tourism declines substantially, and many cruises and tour companies drop their prices with amazing deals on offer to attract more passengers to fill empty seats. So as previously mentioned, if you can visit during the low tourist seasons, along with catching the shoulder seasons for the weather then you are getting the best of both worlds!
We visited at the start of October and had warm weather with cloudy skies and managed to save a decent bit of money on tours due to the lack of other tourists around.
ANIMAL SEASONS AND BREEDING SEASONS: WILL I MISS OUT ON ANY ANIMALS?
Having worked out a good month to visit, you may be asking; is there a best time to see wildlife in the Galápagos? Again, the answer to this is, not really. The islands have few migratory species so you will be able to see animals all year round.
However, as expected there will be behavioural changes throughout the year. If you are dying to see the strange mating dance of the blue-footed booby or a whale shark whilst diving, here is some useful information to help you plan.
Blue-footed boobies and Frigate birds
The courtship and mating season of these birds is a must-see for animal lovers. The birds will be around in massive numbers, and you’ll be forced off paths to walk around them as they perform their mating rituals without a care for the people watching.
The boobies will be hopping from left to right, with their beaks pointed to the sky in a strange and amusing dance whilst the frigate birds inflate the huge red sac on their neck whilst making a deep and powerful noise.
The exact time of these courtships varies from island to island but the mating season for both ranges from April to June. One of the best islands to see both together is North Seymour.
The Galápagos Islands official website has details of the best time to see birds.
There are four species of sea turtles which can be found waters around the Galápagos. The most commonly seen is the Green turtle which lays eggs between December and June with the best time to see them at the start of the new year. Their eggs hatch around two months after being laid.
For more free activities on each of the islands, check out our post:
Whilst you can see adults all year round, plan a trip from December to March to see baby giant tortoises hatching in nature reserves such as the Darwin Centre.
The Galápagos penguin is the only species of penguin to be found north of the equator and the only species of penguin that resides on the Galápagos Islands. You can see these guys all year round, but nesting will take place between May and January giving you the best chance to see them.
You can see Blue and Humpbacks in the surrounding ocean from June to December when they migrate to the area to feed. However, due to the cost of tours and a lower probability of seeing them, we suggest whale watching in one of the multitudes of other spots along the South American coastline.
You won’t struggle to spot sea lions on the Galápagos Islands. They are pretty much on every beach and rocky shoreline you come across. If you want to see some baby ones, then aim for August when they are born. If you want to snorkel or dive with the babies, then head a few months later in November time when they’ve grown a bit and become playful.
DIVING: DO YOU WANT TO SEE WHALE SHARKS OR MANTA RAYS?
Before diving anywhere, you should do your research to find out what animals will be there and when, as well as knowing the conditions – specifically visibility and temperature.
Again, there is no right or wrong month to visit the Galápagos Islands for diving but the conditions vary quite significantly which impacts marine life differently. Check out our guide here for the best dive sites in the Galapagos.
The diving seasons are split into two halves, the warmer period, December to May where sea temperatures range from 24 to 25 degrees Celsius (75-79 Fahrenheit). This is the best time to see Giant Manta Rays and schools of Hammerhead sharks.
Due to the warmer period, the seas are somewhat calmer making for a more pleasant experience on the seas which can be very rough at times. You will also have better visibility during this period due to fewer nutrients in the waters.
The second period, June to November is colder with sea temperatures around 21 degrees Celsius (70 Fahrenheit). This is the best time to see whale sharks at the northern islands of Wolf and Darwin and their will be larger numbers of bigger marine animals such as sharks due to the change in currents.
However, during this period you have decreased visibility and the waters are colder meaning you will need a thicker wetsuit. We dived whilst there in October and the water was cold, the coldest we’ve ever been in. We used 3mm wetsuits, gloves and hoods. Visibility was mediocre at 15 meters but we saw lots of life including hammerhead sharks, sea lions and turtles.