I had an offline question this week about cruising the Galapagos Islands, which cruise loop is the best and when is the best time to travel there?
It's going to sound like I'm wriggling my way out of giving a straight answer, but there's so much variation it really is up to you, the traveler, and what you'd prefer to see and do.
When is the best time to visit
I'll touch on the when first, as it ties in with the loop selection.
The Galapagos Islands is a year-round destination, there is plenty of migratory wildlife but many of the main attractions live there full time. When it comes to "best", it's perhaps more a personal preference, unless you're a bird watcher or maybe if you've got particular snorkeling preferences!
We could split the weather into two seasons, the dry and the warm. Not entirely intuitive, sure!
From about June through December the islands tend to be drier, while the December through May period is viewed as both warmer and with more frequent showers. This shouldn't be vacation deal-breaker rain though, think island weather. The water temperatures tend to reflect those on land, my dear snorkelers. You can definitely get in the sea at any time, it'll just be warmer during the warm season.
The when is more about what kind of wildlife you might like to see. There are plenty of seabirds doing their thing throughout the year, but a distinct seasonality exists for many other birds and the exotic wildlife which resides on or visits the islands.
For example, flamingoes have a more intensive nesting season commencing in February. Or some of the giant tortoises begin their migration from higher elevations down to their regular nesting areas in March.
The waved albatross does its grand performances, breeding and nesting from May.
Sea lion pups start appearing in August. They emerge a little larger but more curious in about November, when you might see more sea turtles.
December starts seeing more dolphins, particularly in the south...
Which leads to the next point, the where or which loop?
What are the loops and which one is best
The government of Ecuador determines everything about visitation to the islands, including cruises. They maintain a requirement that visitation isn't repeating the same landfall day in, day out where there isn't a purpose built structure.
Across many of the islands, landing craft are used to take you from ship and ride up the surf onto a beach or prominent feature where guests may alite. Although not many people visit the islands when compared to Venice or Dubrovnik or Key West, the results would nevertheless be catastrophic for the local environment if all ships were to disembark their passengers at the same spots all day, every day.
So, cruise lines and tour operators tend to break up their landing spots and alternate their visit dates (or weeks). Allowing footfall to be more spread out across the various islands people like to visit.
Most itineraries feature Puerto Ayora and the cultural & historical highlights, such as the Darwin Research Station (tortoises!!!). An outer loop might feature Espanola Island, for example, where you're most likely to see various species of albatross and blue-footed boobies.
But it gets complicated, you might be more likely to see whales around Kicker Rock on an inner loop but only between April and December...
I've also seen northern and southern marketed, the idea of a loop is such an easy way to break down what is truly a complicated set of tiny islands out in the Pacific! There's so much variety across such a small geographic area, it in fact helped inspire Darwin to come up with his theories. But in the end they're just branded itineraries.
If you ask me, the best bet is to ask a few questions of yourself - what made you most want to visit the Galapagos Islands? If you can nail down those one or two inspiring moments you thought, "I need to see that for myself!", then you can start planning the best trip for you and your companions.
Then come back here and ask me the best way to see them!!!