Your Galapagos travel checklist: What to know before you go

written by Elizabeth Zahur October 17, 2017
A hiker looks out over the Galapagos Islands

There’s never a bad time to visit the Galapagos Islands. Its location near the equator means it experiences year-round warm temperatures, and, unlike other wildlife destinations, extraordinary animals can be seen any time of the year.

Visitors can see tiny penguins migrating from Bartolome Island to Isabela and Fernandina in February, blue-footed boobies dancing a mating jig in May, or sea lion pups being born in October.

So now that you can stop worrying about when to go, concentrate on what you need to do before you leave to make sure your trip goes smoothly. Follow our to-do list and you’ll be set for the trip of a lifetime.

Two blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos

Image by Jenna Christensen

Confirm visa requirements & check your passport

Most travellers do not need a visa to visit the Galapagos Islands. If you have an Australian, New Zealand, Canadian or American passport you can spend up to 90 days exploring the islands visa-free. This applies to most European nationals as well, though check with your embassy if you are from an African or Asian nation, as Ecuador requires a visa for some of these countries. There’s nothing worse than realising your passport is about to expire the week before a vacation. Check that it’s up-to-date at least a couple of months before your trip. It should be valid for at least six months past your travel plans and have a few blank pages for stamps.


Get US dollars

Cash is king in the Galapagos – American cash, that is – as credit cards are not widely accepted, ATMs have a reputation for being unreliable, and many international cards are not accepted (particularly those from the UK and Australia). How much you bring depends on your style of travel, but regardless, make sure to have plenty of small bills. Many places won’t accept anything larger than a $50, taxis rarely cost most than $5 and you’ll want plenty of $1 bills for tips. Common sense dictates to never keep all your cash in one place. Carry what you need for one day somewhere discreet and store the rest in a safe place (or several safe places).

A cactus grows out of red rocks in the Galapagos

Buy a good reusable water bottle

Tap water isn’t safe to drink in the Galapagos Islands. As contaminated water can cause an upset stomach and traveller’s diarrhea (and, in some cases, more serious conditions like cholera and hepatitis A), drink only purified, filtered water. This also means avoiding drinks with ice, fruit that can’t be peeled, and sadly, freshly made juices and shakes (unless you’re sure they were made with purified water). Bring a good reusable canteen with at least a 1.5 litre capacity. While many hotels and boats provide filtered water, it’s a good idea to pack some purification tablets, just in case.


Get jabbed

In addition to making sure you’re up-to-date with your routine vaccinations, most doctors recommend you get a hepatitis A and typhoid vaccine as well. Water quality is quite poor across Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, and both of these illnesses can be contracted through contaminated food or water. If you’re coupling your Galapagos vacation with some time in mainland Ecuador (especially the eastern half), you may also need a yellow fever vaccination. Regardless of your destination, talk to your doctor about travel plans before you go.

A sea lion sits on a beach in the Galapagos Islands

Image by V Ki Cheong

Call your mobile phone provider

A Galapagos trip practically demands that you unplug from the outside world. Nothing on your Instagram feed rivals prehistoric-looking iguanas inquisitively peering at you as they sunbathe, or a playful sea lions blowing bubbles as you snorkel (geographic isolation and lack of predators will do that). Though if you need to stay connected, many larger boats in the Galapagos offer Wi-Fi on board, while the inhabited islands (Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela, Floreana and Baltra) all have mobile phone reception. Just make sure to call your service provider before leaving home to activate global roaming. Keep in mind, most providers charge a hefty fee for international calls and texts. If you have an unlocked quad-band GSM phone, it’s often cheaper to buy a pre-paid SIM card in Ecuador instead.


Purchase travel insurance

Accidents can happen to even the most cautious traveller. A trip to the Galapagos will likely involve plenty of boat rides, snorkelling, scuba diving and trekking – relatively safe activities, but not completely without risk. Your appendix can decide to burst right in the middle of a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station. You just never know. Rather than risk an exorbitant hospital bill, always purchase travel insurance.

Ready to go? Jump aboard an Intrepid Galapagos adventure today

Feature image by Mirae Campbell. 

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