An expedition to the Galapagos is without a doubt the trip of a lifetime. But as departure day draws near and your excitement grows, it’s important to pay attention to your packing.
Being properly prepared matters, not just because of the terrain you’ll be visiting but because you’ve only got one chance to get your packing right. Most of the islands in the Galapagos are uninhabited and located miles from civilization—needless to say, there are no stores in these pristine spots.
It’s smart to plan carefully in advance and pack with care, which is all part of the fun! Here’s our essential Galapagos packing list.
Lightweight Walking Shoes
You’ll be scrambling over spiky lava and along rocky trails in the Galapagos, therefore flip-flops should stay at home. It’s too hot for heavy-duty mountaineering boots and in any case, you can’t leave the marked trails so they’re not necessary. Opt for sturdy, lightweight hiking shoes and add some thin, wicking hiking socks in there, too.
Often, you’ll be ferried ashore by a panga or Zodiac boat that pulls up on remote Galapagos beaches for a “wet landing,” which means sliding off the side into sometimes knee-deep water and wading ashore while carrying your belongings aloft.
A pair of lightweight water shoes is a helpful addition to your packing; you can also use these for walks on some of the gentler hikes. Again, don’t bank on stepping off the Zodiac in flip-flops. Chances are, they’ll get washed away or you’ll topple gently into the shallows.
The scenery and the wildlife are the star attractions in the Galapagos and it helps to blend in; think safari chic rather than brilliantly colored beachwear. Vibrant shades and complex patterns, particularly anything with flowers, could attract the unwelcome attention of insects.
If you can, dress in plain khakis and beiges and save your more creative dressing for evenings. Avoid anything white for daywear, too, as there’s a lot of dust from the volcanic rocks and soil. Don’t pack too much black as you may overheat under the intense sun.
Choose lightweight hiking pants and shorts or pants with zip-off legs. The Galapagos is on the equator so it’s always warm and often hot and humid. On hikes, you’ll most likely be more comfortable in shorts, but for activities like a sunset Zodiac ride through the mangroves, long pants will protect you against mosquitoes. They’re useful during the cool early mornings, too, especially at altitude.
Tops With Sleeves
It’s easy to forget when you’re out on the water or absorbed by the wildlife that the sun is at its strongest near the equator. A T-shirt or lightweight shirt that covers your shoulders offers better protection than a tank top. Cover kids as much as you can, too, as nobody wants to be dealing with sunburns when they should be out enjoying the adventure.
While it does rain in the Galapagos, it’s almost always warm; temperatures range from around 75F to a balmy 86F. January through June are the wetter months, particularly March and April, so pack something light and waterproof to keep yourself dry on hikes, especially if you’re visiting the highlands of Santa Cruz Island, where a cool mist can hang in the air. Just a simple rain poncho will do or a light jacket that folds down small.
If you’ve got space, pack more than one swimsuit. You could be in the water in the morning and again in the afternoon and it’s always nice not to have to pull on soggy swimwear as you prepare for the afternoon activity.
Evenings in the Galapagos are ultra-casual. Of course, it’s nice to change out of your daywear and make some effort, but there’s no need to plan a complex wardrobe when you’re deciding what to pack for the Galapagos.
A few pairs of dressier shorts or pants and a smarter top or polo shirt for men are all you’ll need. Remember that you can only take one piece of checked luggage per person on the flight from Quito to Baltra, so keep it minimalist.
Insects aren’t a problem in the Galapagos. Mosquitoes are rare in a marine desert environment like this and even rarer when you’re at sea. If you’re concerned, though, or if you plan to travel further on mainland South America, pack a small roll-on of bug repellant.
You’ll need a strong sunblock for the equatorial sun, even on cloudy days. Consider a mineral-based, ocean-friendly brand and never assume that sunscreen is 100% waterproof. Should you be prone to burning, aloe vera gel is a wonderful, natural after-sun remedy, while pure lavender essential oil is great for a particularly sore sunburn.
Rash Vests & Sun Suits
A rash guard or a full sunsuit is perfect for swimming and snorkeling, especially if you’re visiting the Galapagos with kids. On longer snorkel trips, you’ll be provided with a wetsuit, which means you can stay in the cooler, deeper water for longer.
But for splashing in the shallows or kayaking, a rash guard is the perfect accessory; lightweight, quick-drying, and offering more protection against UV rays than the thickest sunscreen. As any parent will confirm, not having to keep slathering sunblock on fidgety kids is a relief.
Prescription Mask or Goggles
Quality snorkel gear is provided on Galapagos vacations, so there’s no need to bring your own. But if you normally wear contacts and are worried about putting your face in the water, or if you use glasses and have a strong prescription, consider investing in a prescription mask.
It’ll change your whole perspective as you watch sea turtles glide beneath you and shimmering angelfish flit around in their natural environment.
A Sturdy Sunhat
Sun protection for your head is essential on the equator. The Galapagos can get pretty windy and if you’re riding around on a Zodiac, there will always be a breeze. Therefore, choose a hat that won’t blow away. A wide brim or visor will help protect your face against the sun and children need decent sun hats, too. If your neck is prone to burning, add a bandana to your luggage.
You’ll certainly need sunglasses in the bright light of the islands. If you’re buying a new pair, go for polarized glass as it’s easier to spot sea turtles and rays in the water that way. Invest in a neoprene strap to hold on to your glasses; it’s all too easy to lose them when you’re jumping off a Zodiac or not paying attention during a hike.
Think of ways you might want to record this journey of a lifetime. Photographically, yes, but keeping a written journal is a wonderful way to create vacation memories—all the more so if you’re talented enough to add pencil sketches. Encourage kids to do the same and for small children, see if you can acquire a Galapagos animals coloring book to get them excited about the trip.
It’s fun to pack your own wildlife guide and make notes in it. Keep a record of species you’ve spotted and allow all of your family members to contribute.
Galapagos guides usually carry binoculars, but you might want to bring your own, particularly if they’re light travel binoculars. You won’t need them for looking at sea lions and iguanas, which are everywhere, but binoculars are especially useful for bird-watching as there are more than 150 species of birds in the islands to look out for.
You’ll be ashore for hikes most days, therefore a small day pack in which to stash your camera, sunscreen, and water bottle will come in handy. On some of the more challenging hikes, a backpack will be more useful than a shoulder bag as you’ll want your hands free.
A roll-top dry bag is a genuinely worthwhile investment on your Galapagos packing list. It’s fantastic for Zodiac tours, wet landings, kayaking, and beach time. Everything fits—camera, water bottle, phone—and is protected when you jump off the Zodiac and wade ashore. Keep the bag closed and it’ll protect your items against sand, too. Some models come with backpack straps that can double up as a day pack for hikes.
Laptop With Movies
If you’re traveling with kids or teens, everybody is going to want some downtime. Galapagos itineraries can be pretty intense with early starts, a morning activity, and almost always, an afternoon hike or snorkel as well. You’ll welcome that siesta after lunch.
Don’t rely on the WiFi capability or the local signal, which is extremely sparse when you’re away from the inhabited islands and in most cases is never strong enough for streaming. If you want to keep the kids out of the sun for a couple of hours, download movies onto a laptop. Or pack some games to play during some downtime.
Spare Drive or Memory Card
You’ll need extra storage capacity for images and video. You’ll always take more photographs than you expected to and nobody wants to run out of storage space in the middle of an epic trip.
Camera and GoPro
Perhaps the single most important item to bring to the Galapagos is your camera. Nowhere else in the world has such incredible opportunities for photographing wildlife that is completely unafraid of you and will pose obligingly, if unwittingly, for photos.
A zoom lens can make pictures all the more dazzling. A GoPro, too, is great for snorkeling in the Galapagos or action shots like zooming along in a Zodiac or recording sea lions frolicking in the water. Kids love playing around with GoPros, too, and it never hurts to develop early videographer skills. If you don’t have a camera and intend to use your cellphone, invest in a waterproof cover. And if your children have cameras, a wrist strap or camera float is always a good extra to pack in your suitcase.
Don’t forget lens cleaner as it can get pretty dusty in the Galapagos. And you’ll want to pack a charger for each item plus, depending on where you’re coming from, a plug adaptor. Bring a spare battery pack if you’re concerned about running out of power.
Something Warmer For Quito
Most Galapagos vacations start in Quito, the Ecuadorian capital, where you’ll most likely want to spend a few days exploring the city. At an altitude of 9,350ft, Quito is considerably cooler than the islands so pack a lightweight jacket or fleece.
You’ll need modest attire for visits to the city’s many historical churches, too; women are expected to cover their shoulders and men cannot wear shorts.
What You Won’t Need
All luggage, both checked and carry-on, will be inspected before you’re cleared to board the aircraft bound for Baltra in the Galapagos. Biosecurity is extremely strict here, as invasive species will damage the delicate ecosystem of the islands.
Therefore, don’t pack any fruits or vegetables as they’ll be confiscated. Pre-wrapped snacks are best, but limit these to the flight. Don’t bring a drone, either, as their use is forbidden on the islands. The Galapagos has eliminated the use of single-use plastic as well, so steer clear of things like plastic water bottles.
Ready to start exploring? Browse Galapagos cruises on our website and start planning the expedition of a lifetime.