As soon as you locate the Galapagos Islands on a map, and long before you know the details about its stunning wildlife, two things sharply come to mind: a.) they are a group of islands in the tropics and b.) they are right along the equator.
Their unique location surely conjures up images of lush-equatorial islands, yet nothing impresses travellers more than finding out that they’re actually a set of arid islands that happen to sit along tropical latitudes. It might even seem for some that they’ve arrived at the wrong location at first, given Galapagos weather! Despite sitting relatively close to these coordinates that are very close to 0° 0′ 00″, the Galapagos remain anything but
tropical for specific reasons.
A table detailing Galapagos weather and the different temperature patterns throughout the year.
Galapagos Weather: A Convergence of Meteorological Phenomena!
It is also rather bizarre that these islands are bathed by relatively cool waters
(as opposed to what common sense would tell us about the tropics), and this is all because of the presence of southeast trade winds
. These cool waters retain interesting physical properties, such as the fact that Galapagos water temperatures
tend to hover around 21 °C/70 °F
, have a high level of salinity
, productivity, and low levels of evaporation. These characteristics, in turn, can only mean one thing: there’s hardly ever any rain in Galapagos
. It is these conditions, too, that provide the islands with their subtropical and “dry” appearance that lasts from June until the end of November. Once the last month of the year sets in, however, these cold waters gradually rise in temperature, leading to decreased levels of salinity, productivity, and increased levels of evaporation. This is another “anomaly” when it comes to the supposed tropical location of the Galapagos weather, as it appears that the islands face two noticeably different seasons (contrary to the ordinary tropics, which often experience consist conditions all-year round).
Out of nowhere, the islands will also seemingly go from brown to green – a phenomenon that can happen in a matter of weeks! Yes, it is amazingly fast, and with that same speed it will go from lush to arid a few months later in the year.
The beauty of the Galapagos Islands’ oceanographic conditions are directly related to how much physical change occurs throughout the islands throughout the year. Species here need to be strong enough to withstand these extreme opposites
. Consequently, tropical creatures will face survival pressures once the dry season
sets in, while non-tropical creatures will end up having to deal with a hot season
right as the New Year kicks in. With such a semi-dramatic oscillation between Galapagos weather patterns, it’s no wonder penguins and mangroves manage to thrive here while flamingos peacefully live beside sea lions. And it’s all the result of the islands uniquely having a beautiful dry season (June-November)
and also an equally beautiful hot season (December-May)
The very last days of the dry season can evidence how unusual and different these “tropical” islands can be. Photo: Prince Philip Steps, Genovesa (Tower) Island
The onset of hot season and tropical, balmy days in the Galapagos Islands: Some like it hot!
Check out that imaginary line that separates yellow from green (that’s the ITCZ!). That boundary is about 4°C different. Photo: NOAA SST Temps-12/25/2017
This reality brings us face to face with a very unique time of the year that’s happening right now in December: the turning point for the real beginning of the hot season
. It’s during the latter half of this month that guests are able to witness the onset of a relatively short-lived, more “tropical” side of the Galapagos Islands. As the winds decrease, warmer ocean temperatures
(that sit some 60 miles / 96 kilometres north of the archipelago) gradually begin moving south. Technically, that imaginary line, or the “aquatic frontier” between warm and cool waters is called the ITCZ
(Inter Tropical Convergence Zone
). As hot season rolls in, an enormous volume of warm water that has been sitting to the west of Central America throughout the year begins to travel south. As it reaches the Galapagos islands, trade winds start to get replaced by doldrums as relative humidity levels suddenly rise from about 60% to 80%. These changes will continue as the New Year slowly unfolds.
Vegetation is perhaps the easiest way to notice the arrival of the hot season
Only seen in December/January. The first new bursts from deciduous trees. Evidence of the hot season ready to kick in. Photo: Santa Cruz Island
. Deciduous trees will now show signs of sprouting – a budding that only happens between the months of December and January. How special for explorers that opted to come at this time of the year! Guests are guaranteed to see some rather extraordinary changes if they find themselves aboard Yacht La Pinta
during this period. Once the islands enter this tropical stage, land birds (such as Darwin’s finches, mockingbirds, and yellow warblers) will feel the arrival of the first real rains. This triggers a change in behaviour, which also triggers a progressive hormonal change that eventually manifests itself into mating season
! Males and females will need to prepare in both strange and fascinating ways
in order to reinforce the fabric of natural selection
that is reproduction
. Because, yes: some like it hot!
Galapagos Weather During Hot Season
Godzilla ready! In preparation for their mating season, male marine iguanas engage in territorial disputes. Photo: Punta Espinoza, Fernandina Island
With these warm and humid conditions, insects will be out and about, perusing the flowers that are sure to be blooming at this point and which will later turn into fruits that hold nutritious seeds. These huge sources of protein and other nutrients will help sustain the hardships and energy investment that these unique individuals have gone through. Marine iguanas, despite being dependent on algae found in colder ocean waters, will have to push themselves extra hard this hot season, as the climate provides optimal moisture in the ground and warm enough temperatures for egg/embryo development
. The next 2-3 weeks will be the only time when these blunt-headed creatures will exhibit unusual colours and peculiar fighting rituals. It all happens now, and nothing beats the uniqueness of late December and early January in the Galapagos Islands than the onset of the Hot Season
! So come and see the very beginning of the green and tropical look of these islands today, via any one of our Galapagos itineraries
Text & Photography by Francisco “Pancho” Dousdebés – Galapagos Expert
Other Image Credits:
Rabida Island – GALAPAGOS, December 28th, 2017 :: Lat & Long: 0°39′74″ S / 90°71′02″ W