The Galápagos Islands are an absolute dream destination for, well, everyone.
Despite being such a hot topic, these islands don’t usually feature on your average backpacking itinerary (they’re not cheap) and so it can be hard to get good, up to date information about what you need to do to prepare before you go!
- There’s an entry fee
First and most importantly: factor in extra cash for the entry fee. Unless you’re going with an organised tour that covers it in the total cost, you will be asked to pay a $100 per person upon arrival at the airport. This needs to be paid in cash to the customs official who checks your passport. If you have already paid it, ask for a receipt or some sort of proof from your travel agency. This goes towards conservation of the islands and offsetting the impacts of tourism and, no, there’s not a way around it.
- The controls for food are strict
You can not bring any non-processed foods at all. No nuts, no seeds, no fruit, no granola bars, nada. Basically nothing that could potentially start growing if it fell on the ground – try to leave anything like fruit, vegetables, legumes, coffee etc. somewhere in Quito or Guayaquil if you don’t want to end up chucking them away at the airport! Which leads me to…
- Down-size your luggage
Don’t take too much stuff. It’s hot, so try to leave winter kit in a hostel or at a travel agency back in one of the bigger cities. There are also luggage restrictions on the flights to and from the Galápagos – so check and double check what it is at the time you’re flying!
- You’re going to get active
This is not a chill beach holiday. If your budget allows it, get out and do as many tours as you possibly can. If your budget really can’t stretch to this, then you may want to rethink coming at a time when you can spend more freely.
- You’ll do a lot of organised tours
DIY tours aren’t really an option. We’re pretty much allergic to any kind of organised fun/herding of tourists around for a hefty price – especially when it involves a lunch or strictly timed activities. But in the Galápagos, you just have to go with the flow and see where the herding takes you – the majority of places you’ll really want to see, you won’t be able to visit alone – this is a protected national park, after all. From our experience, tours are well organised and pretty great! You’ll be accompanied by a nature guide who stops every few metres to fill you in on the wildlife and its habitat, and the food is pretty good – just be sure to check out the reviews of a company before booking through them.
Stock up on suncream and bug spray before you go – island prices are never pretty, and the Galápagos is no exception.
- Sea Lions are not Labradors
They really are everywhere. Everywhere. From benches and sunny stretches of pavement to just lolling on the floor all over the fish market, you’ll soon cease to be shocked by the sight of a huge sea lion occupying typically ‘human’ spaces. It was one of my favourite aspects of Puerto Ayora (the main settlement of Santa Cruz island). On the whole, the sea lions are incredibly good natured and will suffer tourists sitting on the next bench to take a picture with them during their afternoon nap – although I’m sure they find it weird. But it’s important to remember that these are wild animals. There’s a suggested minimum distance of 2 metres, and we strongly advise you stick to that. Sea lion bites do not make for great souvenirs.
- You will get seasick
Even if you’re not typically a person that suffers from motion sickness. A lot of tours are boat based, with some involving a couple of hours of sailing time across choppy seas. Sea sickness tablets are a godsend. You don’t want to spend $150 on a tour and not be able to enjoy it because you’re busy trying not to throw up!!
- Prepare to be amazed!
The wildlife, vegetation, marine life and whole phenomenon that is the Galápagos and its way of life is completely unlike any thing else on Earth. Aside from the incredible animals you’ll see and interactions you’ll have with them, learning about the way of life and locals’ approach to nature on the islands is completely fascinating. You’ll spend a lot, yes. But the number of times your jaw drops will more than justify the spends – so enjoy!