When to visit the Galapagos: A wildlife calendar

Travel Advice
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The Galapagos is a fantastic destination to visit all year round. Very few of the species that live here are migratory, so the majority of the archipelago's iconic wildlife can be seen at any time of the year.

Nevertheless, the behaviour and appearance of the animals does vary, with certain spectacles such as mating rituals or breeding seasons limited to certain months. The climate also has an influence on what you'll see: the archipelago is warmer and wetter between December and June, turning many of the islands green, while June to November is cooler and drier, with cold ocean currents bringing an abundance of nutrients to the surface and attracting more marine life.

In truth there is no such thing the 'best time to visit the Galapagos', since it depends on what you want to see and which islands you plan to visit. To help you decide, we've put together a month-by-month guide to the wildlife you can expect to encounter…

January

January is the start of the rainy season in the Galapagos, when the islands begin their transformation from barren rocks to something more like the verdant archipelago you would expect at these equatorial latitudes. Don't be too put off by the prospect of rain though, as showers are intermittent rather than constant, and can be quite refreshing as the temperature rises. This is the time of year when adult marine iguanas are at their most colourful, their skin flushing red and green, and green sea turtles begin arriving on the beaches to lay their eggs.

Christmas iguana in the Galapagos

February

In February greater flamingos start nesting on the southern island of Floreana, while marine iguanas nest on Santa Cruz. Air and sea temperatures continue to rise, which means that you'll see very few Galapagos penguins around Bartolomé island, as they follow the cooler, nutrient-rich waters towards the west.

Flamingos in a lagoon on Floreana island, Galapagos

March

Precipitation reaches its peak in March, though it still doesn't rain every day. Humidity is high, with temperatures of up to 30°C, and the sea is lovely and warm for snorkelling around the western islands. Towards the end of the month the first waved albatross begin arriving on Española island, and this is also the mating season for frigate birds on San Cristóbal and Genovesa.

Frigate birds on Genovesa island, Galapagos

April

April is when the waved albatross arrive in huge numbers on Española, and it's also when green sea turtle eggs start hatching. On the western island of Isabela, land iguana eggs also begin to hatch. By the end of April the rains have subsided but the islands remain very green, making this a great time to visit.

Yellow headed waved albatross in the Galapagos

May

Baby sea turtles continue to hatch in May, and marine iguanas start hatching on Santa Cruz. At the same time, the waved albatross start laying their eggs on Española. If your itinerary includes North Seymour island you have a great chance of witnessing the mating rituals of the blue-footed booby, when the males show off their feet to prospective mates. The bluer their feet, the more chance they have of attracting a mate!

Blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos

June

In June the Humboldt current brings cooler conditions to the islands, and the beginning of the garúa season, when skies are often overcast and accompanied by a fine drizzle or mist. The Humboldt also brings plankton and nutrients to the surface of the waters around the Galapagos, and groups of migrating humpback whales can sometimes be spotted from June through to September. You may even see whale sharks in the far north of the archipelago. June is also when the giant tortoises of Santa Cruz begin their migration from the highlands to the lowlands for the beginning of the nesting season.

Galapagos giant tortoise

July

July is the height of the breeding season for many sea birds, including blue-footed boobies on Española and flightless cormorants on Fernandina. This is also the beginning of the mating season for short-eared owls and lava lizards. July is one of the best months for spotting whales and dolphins, especially off the west coast of Isabela.

Short-eared owl on Genovesa island, Galapagos

August

By August ocean temperatures have dropped to around 18°C, and this is when the sea lion pupping season starts. You can also see Galapagos hawks courting on Española and Santiago, and Nazca boobies and swallow-tailed gulls nesting on Genovesa. After laying their eggs, the giant tortoises return to the highlands on Santa Cruz.

Galapagos hawk

September

September is the peak of the cooler garúa season, with air temperatures down to around 19°C, making this the quietest month to visit the Galapagos. Nevertheless, there is still plenty to see. Galapagos penguins become very active around Bartolomé island as their courtship intensifies, providing a great spectacle for snorkellers, and sea lions are also very active as the males fight to establish their dominance.

Galapagos penguin

October

In October the garúa mists still linger in the mornings, though the temperature is slowly rising. Lava herons begin nesting, Galapagos fur seals begin mating, and you have a good chance of seeing blue-footed boobies raising their chicks on Española and Isabela. Giant tortoises are also still laying their eggs in some locations.

Blue-footed booby with chick on Floreana, Galapagos

November

By November the seas are calmer and visibility improves for snorkelling, which coincides with the best time to swim amongst playful and inquisitive sea lion pups. This is also the breeding season for brown noddies, and jellyfish can sometimes be seen in the waters around the Galapagos. The weather is in a state of transition between the archipelago's two main seasons, making this a good time to visit.

Sea lion pup in the Galapagos

December

In December the giant tortoise eggs begin to hatch, and this continues right the way through until April. In the shallow waters around the islands you have a good chance of seeing green sea turtles mating, and the first young waved albatross begin to fledge. By December or January the albatross are ready to fly, and once they've departed they won't return to Española until April.

Sea turtle in the Galapagos

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Our Galapagos guide contains everything you need to know about these wonderful islands, including when to visit, how to get there and where to spot the archipelago's most iconic wildlife.

Tom O'Hara
Meet the author

Marketing Manager at Mundy Adventures

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