A trip to the Galapagos Islands is one of the world's great travel adventures. However, knowing what to bring and what to expect on the trip is often completely unknown. To save you some of the stress of this planning process we've chatted with travel expert Brendan van Son. These are his answers to the frequently asked questions.
What shoes should I bring?
Basically, all you need are comfortable sneakers and a pair of sandals. The hikes you do on the islands are more like walks, so hiking boots aren't at all necessary. In fact, if you are comfortable in hiking sandals you could get by with just those.
How many people will be in my group?
The law in the Galapagos is that one naturalist guide can not lead more than 16 people, thus you'll never be in a group larger than that. The boat most often used by Gecko's Adventures has a maximum of 16 passengers although some other boats travel around with as many as 100 passengers. You'll get a much more personal experience as a part of a smaller group.
How close will I get to the wildlife?
The wildlife is everywhere, and is not easily scared by humans. Be prepared to step over iguanas, have sea lions walk up to you on the beach and be within metres of booby nests. The rule in the Galapagos is that you must be at least 2 metres away, but there are times when the sheer abundance of wildlife will mean that you are closer.
What is the boat like that we go on?
The regular boat used by Gecko's is called the Yate Darwin and it is a 16 passenger boat crewed by six people. The boat has a living area, a bar, dining space, an open lounge deck and eight comfortable rooms with bunkbeds. To check out some photos of the boat check out my post about the HW Darwin.
Do I need seasickness tablets?
If you get motion sick easily then pack them. You can also buy them in Quito or Guayaquil if you forget. The patch type seasickness pills are said to work wonders. Personally, I don't get seasick, but some passengers along with me struggled without tablets.
Is there internet aboard the boat?
No, and that's a good thing. Your time will be so consumed with excursions you won't even think about the internet. Disconnect for a week and enjoy the internet free world!
What electrical plugs do they use?
On board the boats the plug-ins are American style in shape. However, they have less juice than usual at only 110 volts so electronics can take a little longer to charge.
Are the boats safe?
Absolutely. All boats go through safety standard checks regularly and are all set up for emergencies.
What extras might we want to buy before going?
On board you can buy soft drinks and alcoholic beverages. They regularly serve snacks for guests, so you really don't need to buy anything before hand. If you want you can pack a bottle of alcohol on board and some snacks like chocolate bars might come in handy if you suffer from constant chocolate cravings.
How much time will we spend snorkelling?
You will go into the water basically every day. It's not a requirement that you dive in, but it is well worth it. A typical snorkel lasts about 30 minutes to an hour and the amount of life you'll see is fascinating. You may play with sea lions, spot manta rays and sharks, and you'll definitely see your fair share of other fish.
Do I need snorkelling experience?
No. It is fairly basic and the guides will help you along if you need help. If you have a little bit of experience you'll certainly have a bit of an advantage though.
Do I need to bring my own snorkelling gear?
Not at all. You can rent everything from the snorkel gear, to the wetsuit, to an underwater camera on board the boats.
How much cash do I need to bring on board?
That really depends on what you plan on buying. Beyond the US$100 you'll need to get onto the islands you will also have the chance to buy souvenirs, alcohol on board and rent snorkeling equipment. You may also wish to tip the boat crew and your naturalist guide. I think a realistic number is to bring about US$20 a day extra cash. You will also have a chance to use bank machines if your particular trip makes a stop in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, which most do.
Did you say tip? How much do we need to give?
The beauty of tipping is that it's up to you. You can give what you think the staff deserves. That being said, the crew makes a significant portion of their income through tips. A respectable amount would be about US$5 a day per person for the entire boat crew and US$3 a day per person for the guide. But give as you see fit, or as your budget allows.