The Galapagos Islands are known for their unique species and landscapes, and that uniqueness extends to the weather. Unlike what most travelers believe, this tropical destination offers two markedly different seasons, and understanding their attributes will generate perfect satisfaction on the chosen trip. This equatorial paradise can be visited all year round. Read more to learn about the weather when visiting the Galapagos Islands.
Because the famous Galapagos Islands are situated on the equator, many visitors simply assume that the weather is always tropical. However, this particular paradise is influenced by many factors. The surrounding ocean and hidden currents make this an ever-changing location. As a result, you need to plan for almost any weather when you venture onto these islands. Take a deeper look at the seasons of the Ecuadorian coastline in order to plan your next trip. One thing is true: there is no bad time to explore the archipelago because of local weather, and that alone brings the advantage of exploring Galapagos at any time of the year. Better yet, think of exploring the islands, not only once, but at different times of the year for unforgettable memories. To understand Galapagos weather, we must look at one crucial factor: the presence of winds. The southeast trade winds drive from subantarctic latitudes all the way to tropical & subtropical latitudes, and here they shift direction and eventually reach the islands. With winds is how ocean currents move.
As the southeast trade winds gradually start moving in by early May, it is only in the month of June when we can really witness why scholars refer to the last six months of the year as the dry season. Although the islands aren’t necessarily dry across all slopes, the coastline remains extremely dry as no tropical downpours occur at this time of the year. You could experience a fine drizzly mist by the start of the day, and turning into full moisture up in the highlands, which is a sight to see in person. Venture toward the coast for drier conditions. The reason for the abrupt change in weather is that the Southeast Trade Winds blow along with the cooler, Humboldt Current moving in. The sea becomes cooler, which affects the atmosphere and island weather. You might have more humidity as you walk around, but you won’t experience tropical downpours that are common to the earlier months of the year. This somewhat cool ocean for tropical places blooms in plankton life, and this is why during this season the majority of sea-dependent species (sea birds, sea lions, etc) will actively reproduce. Quite a sight to see all these heavy mating rituals. September is considered the peak month of the dry season.
If we say that the winds regulate all in terms of the islands’ weather, then it is easy to figure out what happens during the hot season. Between December and May, the Galapagos experiences its very sunny and hottest days ever. Also, it is the time when the islands develop for a very short time a perfect tropical green lush look, due to the presence of some rainfall. These are, however, tropical downpours like those in Florida during the summer and not like rainfall Portland or Seattle style. The southeast trade winds don’t blow strong at this time, and that allows the Panama Current to flow southward and bathe the Galapagos, as well as the west coast of South America. It is not only hot, but humid too. The ocean has warmed up quite a bit and the waters can be as warm as 26°C (80°F) with visibility over 30 feet. All of these factors create alternating clear and cloudy skies with rainy days almost on a daily basis. The main benefit to this visiting period is the corresponding air and sea temperatures. If you’re looking for relatively comfortable temperatures throughout your Galapagos experience, this time frame is one of the most comfortable seasons on the islands. March is considered the peak month of the hot season.
Now, transition months can be quite amazing, as they could certainly pack up best of both worlds…a little warm ocean with a gentle cooling breeze, or how about dry sunny conditions with clear skies at night for stargazing? The months of blending of both seasons can bring rewarding wildlife contacts too, particularly from all migratory species. The true transition months are May & June (from hot into dry) and then December & January (from dry into hot). Many local connoisseurs agree that transition months are truly “the best time” for exploring the Galapagos.
For many visitors, the main draw of the Galapagos Islands is the underwater view. Choosing the right time of year to hit the water depends on your chosen activity. The hot season that brings the warm currents is the best time for snorkeling or wading in the water, for those who prefer warmer temperatures, higher visibility, and overall calm water conditions. Now, scuba diving and snorkeling conditions are often better in the dry season when the nutrient-rich cold waters move past the area. Marine life follows these currents because of food resources, which gives water explorers a perfect view of that elusive wildlife. Therefore, the idea here is to understand the differences between the two seasons, and not label one season better than the other one. Both seasons are great for water activities. If cool water is a concern, then make sure you select an expedition vessel that has snorkeling wet suits for free or a nominal rental.
If you’re traveling during an El Niño year, be aware that the conditions will be warmer and wetter than usual. El Niño current is a yearly event and aptly named as the official spark for the onset of the hot season. El Niño phenomenon is when these normal hot and wet conditions go way beyond the normal (thus, the term “anomaly”). Because food resources dwindle in the ocean during an El Niño year, occurring as an unpredictable cycle every 8-10 years, the sea life may drop in quantities, but then other factors make this time unbelievably unique: other species do arrive from the west Indo-pacific province and spectacular visibility can be witnessed with some up to 50-60 feet. Focus your trip on land animals that readily pick up the benefits of these unusual conditions, such as giant tortoises, land iguanas, land birds, lava lizards, and more. Watching nature and El Nino in action is part of a unique evolutionary process too, since these harsh environmental conditions are the ones that put a test on individuals where only the really fit ones survive. That’s full Darwinism at full speed.
Regardless of the time of year that you visit the Galapagos, always wear layers to this location. The cool sea breezes might chill your skin, but the midday sun may feel like it’s baking the land. Wear lightweight layers that can be removed as the temperature changes throughout the day. Although the temperature swings aren’t that large, you also want layered clothing to protect your skin from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Being at the equator means that you have the full force of the sun on your body. Use your clothing and sunscreen as protectors against sunburns and skin damage. Highly recommended is any sunblock with factor SPF30 or higher. Check your packing list here
Your vacation to the Galapagos isn’t just limited to the physical islands. You may also take a cruise around the various islands during your stay. After a full day of land fun, you’ll probably enjoy some leisure time on your ship. Bring clothing that can keep you warm on the ship at night. Sea breezes can pick up and give you a bit of a chill. Being closer to land will warm the breezes, but many ships move out into the deeper water at night in order to move swiftly to the next destination. Be ready for any temperatures while enjoying a unique experience. Sailing is for sure a strong component of a Galapagos expedition.
Don’t be afraid to bring extra items in order to work with the changing weather when visiting the Galapagos Islands. Umbrellas, raincoats, insect repellent, and waterproof shoes are perfect additions to your suitcase. Although you may not use them at all, they’re incredibly handy if wet weather does set in. These islands are known for their changing weather patterns, and you still want to have a good time regardless of rain or shine. Bring a sturdy backpack to hold these items during your day trips. Many tours visiting the highlands will be full of misty or rainy conditions. You’ll be thrilled to have some coverage from the moisture as you gaze upon nature’s wonders. It is for sure a holiday to be well remembered, because of its many changing and unpredictable conditions.