One of the most common questions I’m asked about the Galapagos is “When is the best time to visit?” You’re in luck! Located on the Equator, the islands’ climate has only mild seasonal variations and they always teem with fascinating wildlife. Over the course of my visits, I’ve experienced the beauty of each season and learned that during any given month you’ll find some species arriving, others leaving, some mating, others giving birth.
My first visit was during December — the start of the so-called warm, wet season which lasts through May. With more of a tropical feel, the air and water are at their warmest. But even at the peak of the season, in March, the temps are rarely higher than in the 80s. During our outings I often appreciated the rain showers, which are more prevalent this time of year. And, in a nice twist, the clouds usually clear to reveal the bluest of skies. Luckily outings to the islands are during early morning and late afternoon so during the height of the sun you’re having lunch, relaxing on board in the shade or curled up with one of the many books about the Galapagos.
This season is breeding time for most land birds and you can catch some fascinating and even hilarious mating rituals. Equally entertaining are the puffed up male sea lions fighting for mates.
I still remember watching one December day newly hatched giant tortoises scrambling around propelled by the drive of new life and hoping that they might live as long as some ambling along much more slowly who were over 150 years old. Hard to get your head around “baby” and “giant” in the same moment! I was also fortunate to visit “Lonesome George” in his bachelor pad, but, alas, this last of his tortoise subspecies passed away in 2012.
Due to the rains, the islands are the greenest this time of year and most abundant in colorful flowers.Speaking of colors, the male marine iguanas on Española Island turn vibrant hues during mating season, earning them the Christmas iguana nickname. In March shots of red flying through the air are puffed up throats of male frigate birds displayed to attract a mate. This is also when the magnificent waved albatross starts arriving on Espanola Island.
An early June visit was right at the beginning of the cool, dry season when the Humboldt Current brings cooler air and water temps, but rewards in more marine life, making it an ideal time for snorkeling and scuba diving. But any time of year, the waters around the Galapagos are as full of life, amazing and fun as adventures on land. During that June trip, I also had the pleasure of witnessing the mesmerizing mating rituals of blue-footed boobies and the elegant albatross — performances that seemed exquisitely choreographed!
Come August you’ll see newborn sea lion pups and hatchling frigate birds, and perhaps a migrating whale shark or humpback whale. Some clients have encountered choppier waters in September and October, but those prone to seasickness generally report no problems with the help of a patch.
The best advice I can give is to carve out some time and just go! Not only did I have amazing vacations cruising, swimming and exploring each unique island, bit I saw first-hand the variety and specialization of species that inspired Darwin’s revolutionary theory of evolution.
The real “high” season is holiday time when there is more demand and, since the government wisely caps the number of visitors allowed on the islands, availability fills up quickly, particularly over Christmas and spring break. If that is the only time your family can get away, plan and book well in advance.