When Charles Darwin visited the Galápagos Islands back in the 19th century, he researched for and wrote what later turned into On the Origin of Species. What he didn’t know at the time was that evolution on the island went far beyond the native species. Flash forward to today, and you can see how quickly adventure tourism has evolved, making the Galápagos a modern bucket list destination. With ceviche in hand and several giant tortoises in sight, there’s no doubt you’ll want to check this one off too.
Weather in the Galápagos Islands
(All temperatures quoted are in Fahrenheit.)
The start of spring season is not only the best time to catch dolphins and whales flipping and frolicking around but also to lock in promotions on hotels and cruises. (Hello, shoulder season!) By October, the misty phenomena known as garúa starts to weaken, resulting in less morning fog and more incredible sunrises (over volcanic calderas, we might add). While temperatures start to rise into the mid- to high 70s, November remains relatively dry and cool for this tropical climate.
Beginning in December, the climate shifts from cool and dry to warm and wet. No need to fret, though, as there are still plenty of sunny hours in the day. As the air temperature rises to the mid-80s in February, water temperatures also increase to an average of 79 degrees, which essentially makes for lukewarm bathwater with a side of snorkeling!
As fall rolls around, the rainy season tapers off, and island greenery begins to flourish. Between the lush vegetation and blossoming wild flowers, it's no surprise March, April and May are regarded as some of the best months to visit. Not to mention there aren’t nearly as many tourists this time of year!
Winter in the Galápagos Islands commences with an average high of 79 and low of 66, dropping to an average of 75 toward the end of August. While temperatures are comfortably warm, you still might want to pack a light jacket for evenings out on the cruise ship deck.
Backroads Pro Tip
Want to get up close and personal with stunning wildlife? Then the Galápagos Islands is where you want to be! From white-tipped reef sharks to sea lions to marine iguanas to giant tortoises, these island inhabitants are just as inquisitive of you as you are of them. Due to minimal exposure of civilization, many of these animals haven't learned to fear humans.
While the arrival of the Humboldt Current isn’t a celebrated festival or event in the Galápagos, it sure is a party under the sea! Due to a cold ocean current that runs north from the Arctic, nutrient-rich water is brought in during the latter half of the year. This helps sustain the Galápagos as a biodiversity hot spot. (That’s a fancy way of saying the islands have some of the highest levels of native species in the world!)
In addition to the annual arrival of the Humboldt Current, El Niño coincides with the upwelling every three to seven years. The climate event brings a force of its own, including extremely warm ocean temperatures. (We’re talking bathwater.) With the Galápagos located in the heart of the warming waters, nutrients, as well as the marine life that relies on this food source, are significantly reduced. This affects some of the most well-known species, including Galápagos penguins, fur seals and marine iguanas. Fortunately, El Niño’s counterpart, La Niña, follows, which helps to restore balance under the sea.
Blue-Footed Booby Mating Season (June–August)
Tourists and animal enthusiasts pour in from all over the world to see these distinctive birds take part in their mating ritual. Blue-footed boobies dance awkwardly each winter to attract their lifelong mating partners. The brighter the male's feet, the more attracted a female is. It’s what we like to call “survival of the brightest.”
While there aren't any official holidays or festivals native to the Galápagos Islands, seasonal events are celebrated:
La Batalla de Pichincha (May)
At 3,500 meters above sea level on the Andean volcano Pichincha, this fight in the Spanish American wars granted Ecuador its independence. Although this battle took place right outside Ecuador’s capital, Quito, local schoolchildren in the Galápagos celebrate their pride and patriotism with a small parade down the main street, Calle Baltra, and daylong festivities.
Carnival (February / March)
Fat Tuesday. Mardi Gras. Pancake Day. Carnival. No matter what you call it, Ecuadorians highly regard and recognize this celebration. You won't find much going on in the islands for Carnival, but if you take a short plane ride to Quito (about a one-hour flight), then you can participate in the traditional mask parade, dance through las calles and indulge in light and fluffy crepes and waffles.
Throughout the year, the Galápagos typically sees about 150,000 visitors. This is six times more than the number of permanent residents. While that might seem like a lot of people for only 3,000 square miles, more than half those travel in and reside on live-aboard cruises. Peak times on the islands are primarily during northern hemisphere holidays (December through mid-January and June through August). Even during the highest-trafficked times, though, there's still little need to worry about crowds on your adventure.
Hop into the crystal-clear waters, and float, swim or drift past eels, sharks, rays and more. Marine life is more active from June through December due to slightly cooler water temperatures, but with plenty of opportunities to secure a light wet suit on the islands or through your guide, you can comfortably take a plunge year-round. Remember, you don’t need to be an expert at this activity. The shallow, warm waters make the Galápagos an ideal destination for beginners. Looking for a challenge? Explore the depths of Kicker Rock or Devil's Crown!
Hiking and Walking
With 97 percent of the islands protected as a national park, it's no surprise you'll be doing a fair amount of walking when on land. Scale the Sierra Negra Volcano on Isabela Island, rummage your way through the Scalesia forests, or venture past the famed blue-footed booby colonies on Seymour Island. You can set your itinerary for a land adventure any time of year; it truly depends on what flora and fauna you want to see on your trip. Don't forget your permit, though. Rangers require you obtain this to ensure group safety and to minimize overall environmental impact.
Wildlife Cruises and Tours
Calling all wildlife photographers, ecology enthusiasts and animal lovers for the endless nature cruises and tours offered on and around the Galápagos Islands! Before you book, though, decide what you want to see. From December through June, count on sea lion pups and wild flowers. Visiting July through November? You'll see your fair share of iguanas and whale sharks. Consider ditching the pocket guides for a day and riding along with an expert naturalist!
Looking for a happy medium between a wildlife cruise and snorkeling or any other type of in-water exploration? Then kayaking is for you! No matter the time of year you venture out on your eco-friendly sea vessel, you'll see seals at play, dolphins crisscrossing beneath you and more birds than you can name.
Travel to the Galápagos with Backroads
Backroads offers numerous ways to experience the very best of Ecuador and the Galápagos on our award-winning active travel adventures. Explore this region in the best and most genuine way possible—away from the crowds, buses and tourist hot spots. We hope you'll join us! Check out our full list of Ecuador adventures here.
Want to learn more about the Galápagos, including its history, travel tips, highlights and insider info?
Check out our full Galápagos Travel Guide!