What to Pack for the Galapagos (And Also A Few Little Warnings)

Another post about the Galapagos! All of the photos today are by our friend, Melissa Hope.

While in the Galapagos, it seemed every traveler there was well equipped with GEARAnd for good reason. Trust me, you will want to be prepared for salt water, terrain, boats, mosquitos, rain, and sun. It’s no joke.

See below for our top recommendations…

Things we recommend:


Nearly every excursion or boat tour will offer snorkeling. We snorkeled probably a dozen different times. Sunscreen will not cut it here! My rash guard was in storage in NYC, so Danny insisted that we buy one on the islands and it was worth every penny of the $40. (Danny pointed out that the sunscreen alone for the trip would have practically have been more than the $40! Not a bad point to consider.) I even went so far as to wear my very thin Uniqlo Heat Tech leggings while snorkeling and they were AWWWESOME! I saw another woman with red hair and pale skin doing the same thing.  


You will be exposed to the equatorial sun on the boats, on the beaches, and during walks on land. You absolutely do not want to be without a hat in that blazing sun. At times it seems to just beat upon you. There can also be wind strong enough on the moving boats that your hats will certainly go FLYING. So, my friends, take a hat with a neck straplike Melissa’s awesome packable hat, from Orvis. Highly recommended! Otherwise, baseball hats could also work well. Mine stayed put.


You shouldn’t drink tap water anywhere in the Galapagos (or in Ecuador). Most hotels and boats will provide filtered water, so it’s nice to have your own bottle to fill up. I recently bought this amazing Japanese glass water bottle by Takeya and I’m loving it. I have this thing with me all day long. I also love the Kleen Kanteens and we just bought a couple to take on the Incan Trail and to Machu Piccu (our next expedition.) 


Hiking around the island and seeing the animals and terrain means you’re in the direct sun for sometimes 1-2 hours at a time. And then at times the mosquitos come out. People were covering as much skin as they could. All the guides and the most savvy travelers had on their expedition long pants and shirts. The Japanese were especially savvy about covering their skin with scarves, knee socks, leggings, hats, arm gloves. One girl we met had this awesome UV top from Uniqlo that also offers coverage on your hands. I’m sold on these and just bought one while in NYC. 


I usually get motion sickness on boats. Even if you don’t, I would recommend bringing something because you just never know what the weather will bring or how rocky the water will get! Ginger (like candied ginger) is also supposed to be helpful. And I would absolutely take some sea bands. I also used these homeopathic tablets, which seemed to help. Except that one time… (my apologies to the boat crew!!!)


Ok, probably obvious. But in case you’ve never done a boat trip before – know that this is not about fashion, but protecting your eyes from the intense glare of the sun & sea. You will be squinting like crazy without them.


If you book a boat tour over several days, you will absolutely have some downtime. They work in several hours a day for just lounging on the boat (siestas, anyone?!) We spent a considerable amount of time reading on the top of our boat. I loved it so much I even skipped one of the snorkeling excursions.


Each time you head from the boat to a new island, you’ll likely want a small backpack for water, camera, sunscreen, snacks, and mosquito repellent. This Burton backpack is still our favorite day pack. 


Mosquitoes most definitely are an issue in the Galapagos. We were so glad to have our spray. I like the all natural herbal spray from Badger.


A must, of course! In case you’re wondering, these remain my two favorites: Mychelle for my face (it protects really well, rubs in well) and COOLA for my body (also rubs in well and performs well.)


Melissa bought a waterproof/underwater case for her iPhone so she could use it underwater. SO AWESOME. If you don’t want to invest permanently in this item, you can buy one on E-Bay and then sell it when you return. 


So many people had these roll-up waterproof bags designed to keep your equipment and phones free of salt water. These were SO handy while hopping on and off boats or dinghies, because it’s possible you will get splashed with water during all the maneuvering. We just bought some for our upcoming hiking trip to Machu Piccu. 


It turns out that a lot of the water we drank in the Galapagos tasted kind of salty. People were adding little packets of flavorings and Danny did the same as the water taste was driving him crazy!

And, a few warnings…
1. The Darwin Center is not at ALL what we expected. Ha. I always envisioned a modern center of science and education. It was more like an older, simple, outdoor place where you could see tortoises being raised in small, crowded, outdoor enclosures. The work they do is so important, no doubt! They’re trying to replace all the tortoises that once inhabited the islands and were wiped out by humans (this task will take hundreds of years). It’s definitely still worth a visit. But don’t expect a deeply educational experience. If it’s your desire to learn more about evolution or animals on the islands, I would recommend reading up on it beforehand.
2. Many of the tourism experts we encountered were not super helpful. The guide on our boat tour did not impress us or provide very much information about the animals or the islands. I thought maybe it was just a fluke, but then even the hotel concierges offered very little guidance. And yet again, the tour guide companies on the main island gave us bad information and were not very helpful. If anyone plans to visit, I would highly recommend buying books and REALLY knowing your stuff before visiting instead of relying on the tourism professionals there. I certainly wondered if we just had bad luck, but I heard a few other travelers lamenting similarly. (I’d love to hear your experiences, too, if you’ve visited. It really is possible we just kept striking out. I know every person’s experience will be very different!)
3. Seeing wildlife is hit or miss. Wildlife sightings certainly will depend on the day and the season. I think if you go, it’s best to feel lucky if you see some animals, opposed to expecting that you will see them. We DID see an abundance of birds on certain islands. Yes. That really was spectacular. We also saw a few sea lions in the wild and some sharks and dolphins. But the tortoises are harder to come by.  To see the tortoises in a setting outside of the pens at the Darwin Center, you visit a private reserve and follow a path where you can see 3 or so tortoises along the path. It was certainly awesome to see them…but the controlled setting was different than I had envisioned. 
4. Doing an overnight boat tour is more expensive. If we did it again, we would likely stay on land on the main island, Santa Cruz. From there we would take day trips by boats to the various islands of interest. And we would spend 3 full days on Santa Cruz island itself exploring the many things to do on land (Tortuga Bay, Las Grietas swimming canyon, a tortoise reserve, a flamingo lagoon, the Darwin Center, and so many other things.)
OK, now let us know if you head to the Galapagos! We’d LOOOVE to hear about your trip!
P.S. See my other posts about the Galapagos HERE.

Related Posts

Get The About Love Experience


  1. Suzanne August 5, 2015 at 4:32 pm - Reply

    The trip looks and sounds absolutely stunning! Thanks for sharing this recap and all these tips. It's on my "someday" list of travel…

  2. Lauren August 11, 2015 at 6:40 pm - Reply

    This is so random, but do you have a good source for baseball caps, Mara? I love the solid gray one you are wearing in lots of pictures. I've been searching all summer for a simple ball cap that is deep enough to stay on my head well and haven't had any luck!

    • mara August 12, 2015 at 11:45 pm - Reply

      Hi Lauren! So nice to see your name – I feel we're old friends. 🙂 I got that gray hat online at ASOS. It's kind of a wool texture. I've really loved it. I did check once for the link to the hat and I didn't see it (it's about 7 months old.) But they may have others like it. I find ASOS is a good (and fairly inexpensive) source for hats. XOXO

    • Lauren August 25, 2015 at 7:46 pm - Reply

      AH thank you Mara!! That gives me something to go on and I looked around on ASOS a bit and found a similar style that I think I'll try. I really need to be better about commenting here- I've been so excited that you are posting again and always have something to say, but don't always comment if I'm reading on my phone 🙂

  3. Natalia Gutierrez August 12, 2015 at 9:41 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the tips and warnings! I'd love to visit the Galapagos!

    Natalia | Lindifique

  4. Abby C August 15, 2015 at 12:10 am - Reply

    Just to chime in… We did an 8 day trip to the Galapagos (stayed on a boat) with our kids and it was THE MOST AMAZING TRIP ever. We felt like we were bombarded with animals everywhere we explored (both the land and sea kind). Interesting to have such a different experience. Good guides are always helpful and sorry to hear some of yours didn't work out. It's always a bummer to realize your guide isn't quite as knowledgeable as you hoped and they can really make or break an experience. It's a trip we can't stop talking or thinking about and we were there 4 years ago. We are all dying to go back.

  5. Pam Hawley January 7, 2016 at 2:14 am - Reply

    We stayed for 8 days on Santa Cruz Island and took day tours, boat tours, to other islands. The greatest tour was to Isabella (2 hr boat ride). We saw flamingos, the Tortuga raising center, pelicans, blue footed boobies, great iguanas, sharks, sea lions all in one day. What a wonderful trip. We put together all of our own tours. You can go anywhere on Santa Cruz in a taxi for $1.00. We too were not too impressed with the Darwin Center, thinking it would be much more than it was, but it was worth the time to see the tortugas and iguanas they had. It was a beautiful walk. There is lots to see and some wonderful restaurants with wifi. Such an enjoyable trip. Can't wait for our friends and relatives to come down to visit us in Ecuador and we will show them the ropes in the Galapagos. The Hostel Espana we stayed at was fabulous and inexpensive. Good Luck to you.

Leave A Comment