Seasonal Planning for Travel to the Galápagos Islands
The Galápagos Islands are a year-round destination, always offering warm weather and fantastic wildlife, but each season has its own unique attributes. Winter brings warm and humid weather and the start of the rainy season, with unique sightings of the male marine iguana showing off its colors. In spring, the rainy season continues with continuous hot weather, while wildlife sightings abound as land birds, sea lions, turtles, and tortoises start breeding and nesting.
Summer draws the most people in, as the dry season is at its peak. Colder waters bring extraordinary marine life, and underwater activities are a great option. Moving into fall, the islands become quieter, with some of the best sunrises of the entire year.
Winter (December through February) - Rainy Season with Holiday Crowds
Winter on the Galápagos Islands is one of the two peak travel seasons and brings hot and humid weather and rain to the islands. However, the rain isn't constant (especially early in the season), so there are still nice opportunities to relax on the beach and enjoy water-based activities such as snorkeling, diving, and swimming. A particularly exciting natural spectacle happens in December and January, with the male marine iguana changing its colors to attract females during the winter mating season.
There are not as many tourists as during the summer, and you have a good chance of finding some quiet, relaxing time, despite the peak season. Christmas and New Year's tend to get busier, while February also brings people to the islands as Carnival takes place throughout Ecuador. You can expect temperatures around 75-85 °F (24-29 °C) with water temperatures around 80°F (27°C), starting with the "lowest" temperatures in December and increasing each winter month.
Boat tours are a popular option, and you can spend several days aboard a small cruise admiring wildlife on land and snorkeling in the sea. You'll likely see marine iguanas, the colorful greater flamingoes, penguins, giant tortoise babies, and land iguanas as you travel from island to island.
In February, Carnival takes place, and the best way to experience it is on Tortuga Bay on Santa Cruz Island. Tortuga Bay is also home to the largest and most diverse tortoise communities and is known to have one of the most beautiful beaches on the Galápagos Islands. Isla Isabela and Isla Española have some of the best animal life during winter, with a great chance to see the baby tortoise, colored iguana, and the waved albatross.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Spring (March through May) - Rainy Season Brings Abundant Marine Life
Spring in the Galápagos Islands brings heat and humidity, with colder waters perfect for snorkeling and diving. The season starts with warm weather and rainfall, with temperatures around 80-88°F (27-31°C) in March and lower temperatures around 72-75 °F (22-24 °C) toward May. You can expect more rain during the first half of spring due to the peak of the rainy season, which slowly disappears as summer starts approaching. However, rain showers are only occasional, followed by bright blue skies. If you want to avoid the height of the rainy season, plan your trip closer to the end of spring.
During this time of year, you will see a lot of animals and birds nesting, such as penguins, greater flamingos, and flightless cormorants. There is also a dramatic event that takes place between the hawks and the giant tortoises. As the tortoise eggs start to hatch, the hawks try to steal the hatchlings away, and there is a good chance for you to witness this natural spectacle.
The waved albatross returns to the islands, particularly Isla Española, and on Isabela and Fernandina Islands, you will find an abundance of penguin families. Visit Punta Vicente Roca Isabela, which holds amazing sights during this time, and take the opportunity to snap great photos as the skies become bright blue after the rain. Spring is also the time to see baby land iguanas and green sea turtles as they emerge along the shores.
The superb underwater visibility during the spring allows you to observe the sea life below. Many island cruises are available, with snorkeling included, as well as scuba diving opportunities for advanced divers. It is also a perfect time to enjoy the beach. On North Seymour Island, there is a colony of the rare blue-footed boobies, which have their unique courtship dance during this time.
You will likely come across mating sea lions and new pups greeting the world. In the port of Puerto Ayora, Galápagos sea lions take their afternoon siestas on a bench rather than the beach. As summer approaches, the rains decline, and temperatures slightly drop, you can enjoy full-day land-based activities and adventures. It is an ideal time to enjoy hiking, mountain biking, and follow Charles Darwin's footsteps on a guided tour.
Summer (June through August) - Peak Travel Season
As the waters turn colder and currents bring in rich nutrients, summer attracts a lot of marine life, which is why this season is arguably the best time to enjoy snorkeling. You will spot an abundance of dolphins and whales, with Fernandina Island being one of the best places to spot incredible marine life, including whale sharks. Make sure to head to Seymour Island as well to witness the red throat pouches of male frigatebirds.
Other great activities during the summer include paddleboarding, mountain biking, hiking, and kayaking, giving you a chance to cover a lot of coastline and ground. You can expect temperatures around 70-76°F (21-24°C) with water temperatures around 76°F (24°C)—pleasant enough to swim and enjoy the marine life. The dry season on the Galápagos Islands starts in June, although it is also the beginning of the Garúa season, which means less water clarity and cloudier skies, with some mist during the day.
The summer is the busiest time across the islands, and it is wise to book your trip well in advance. There is a higher demand for boat tours, so book these well beforehand. Bird-watching is one of the summer's highlights, with friendly blue-footed boobies doing their rituals.
The lava lizards begin their courtship in July, and you can see them in abundance on all islands except for Genovesa, Darwin, and Wolf Island. Isla Santa Cruz will let you witness a large number of giant tortoises, while baby sea lions will charm you on Isla San Cristobal.
Fall (September through November) - Fur Seal and Sea Lion Season
In the fall, the weather is in transition as temperatures start to rise and the rainy season approaches. Fall is perfect for enjoying some quiet time on the Galápagos Islands and snorkeling with penguins along Bartolóme Island. The Galápagos fur seals also arrive at the islands, and you will be sure to experience them on Isabela Island, where they take up space on the beach and in the city on the pavements and benches.
Each fall month brings something exciting. In September, the Galápagos penguin is more active than usual, and October is the prime time to catch beautiful sunrises and dramatic sunsets. November is when the fur seal and sea lion pups begin to enter the waters for the first time. You will likely see them as you swim and snorkel in the seas surrounding the Galápagos. They are playful and curious about humans, which makes the whole experience even more fun.
The fall is a great time to find great deals on hotels, flights, and tours. Except for the North American Thanksgiving season and All Soul's Day, it tends to be quiet around the islands and cheaper than usual to travel. Temperatures are around 70 °F (21 °C) at the beginning of fall, with water temperatures approximately the same, and both get warmer as it gets closer to winter.
Fall is an ideal time to enjoy bird-watching since seabirds are active in October. The most commonly seen species include blue-and red-footed boobies, penguins, greater flamingoes, frigate birds, and flightless cormorants. Also, make sure to hike to Pinnacle Rock on Bartolomé Island to enjoy fantastic sea views. Galápagos green sea turtles are particularly active during this time and can be seen while snorkeling offshore and sometimes on the beaches as well.
Snorkeling and swimming are particularly nice in the fall because of the weather, active marine life, and the cold Humboldt Current moving away from the islands. Head to Isla Fernandina to swim among penguins, marine iguanas and spot some dolphins. Visit the Devil's Crown—a volcanic crater almost completely submerged in the ocean—and head to Sullivan Bay on the coast of Isla Santiago.