When to visit the Galapagos
At any time of year, there is always something different happening in the wildlife calendar of the Galapagos (see below).
Weather-wise, no season has perfect weather in every respect, so deciding when to visit based on the weather is very much a personal decision. The warm Panama current usually dominates between December and May, bringing sunny weather with occasional tropical showers that turn the islands green. Seas are generally calm, the average water temperature is 26°C (79°F) and underwater visibility is good at 20-25m (60-80ft). The daytime air temperature is generally 26-30°C (79-85°F), but rather humid.
Between June and November the weather is cooler and drier under the influence of the Humboldt current. Temperatures are typically 23-26°C (72-79°F), reduced by wind-chill that can make it a bit nippy to be on deck without a fleece. Skies are often cloudless and rain is scarce, but a fine mist called garúa can cloak the islands at a height of 300-600m. Snorkellers in the water for any length of time should use a wet suit as water temperatures decline to 19-23°C (67-72°F). Nutrient levels rise, so underwater visibility may decrease to 10-15m (30-50ft).
The El Niño phenomenon occurs every 4-7 years. The Humboldt current weakens and trade winds die down. Sea temperatures rise and there is an increase in rain primarily affecting the December to May season.
A year in the Galapagos
The Galapagos year is always changing and there is plenty to see at any time, so there is no ‘wrong’ time to visit. Here is a summary of what you can expect to find month-by-month.
December: The islands green over as the rainier season starts. Still great weather: mostly sunny days, hardly any wind, waters warmer. Giant tortoise eggs hatch from now until April. Pacific green turtles breed on Santa Cruz. Waved albatrosses fledge. First red pouches of great frigatebirds at Genovesa. Northern migrant birds and some whales and dolphins rest and feed on their journey south.
January: Land birds nest. Marine iguanas turn green, red and black on Española. Green sea turtles arrive to lay eggs until March. Land iguanas breed on Isabela. Nazca boobies nest on Española. Air and seas are warm until June. Ideal for snorkelling.
February: Greater flamingo start nesting on Floreana. Bahama pintail ducks start breeding. Marine iguanas nest on Santa Cruz. Galapagos dove’s peak nesting season. Highest sea temperatures, 25°C (77°F)
March: Marine iguanas nest on Fernandina. Waved albatross start to arrive on Española on about 21 March. Snorkel with penguins and tropical fish off Isabela. Wettest month in rainy El Niño years. Hot and humid. Air temperatures up to 30°C (86°F). Swells on north shores.
April: Rains end, yet islands remain green. Waved albatross mass arrival and courtship, Española. Green sea turtle eggs begin to hatch. Land iguana eggs hatch on Isabela. Giant tortoise hatching season ends. Good visibility for snorkellers. Together with May one of the best months to visit.
May: Blue-footed boobies begin courtship on North Seymour. Galapagos penguins very active on Bartolomé. Last of the sea turtle and land iguana eggs hatch. Palo santo trees begin to shed their foliage. Waved albatross start to lay eggs on Española. Band-rumped storm petrels start nesting. Sea temperature starts to drop towards the end of the month.
June: Start of the drier season. Southeast trade winds return, currents become stronger, seas pick up. Giant tortoises on Santa Cruz migrate from highlands to lowlands in search of nesting places. Magnificent frigatebird males on North Seymour develop their red pouches. Southern migrant birds rest on their way north. Humpback whales seen. Sea purslane near the shore turns red until December.
July: Sea birds actively breeding. Flightless cormorant courting, Fernandina. American oyster-catchers nest, Santiago. Lava lizards start mating rituals until November. Whales and dolphins most likely to be seen off Isabela. Seas cool, 21°C (68°F)
August: Galapagos hawks court on Española and Santiago. Nazca boobies and swallow-tailed gulls nest on Genovesa. Migrant shore birds start to arrive and stay until March. Giant tortoises return to the highlands of Santa Cruz. Sea lion pupping starts in west and central islands. Seas at their coolest 18°C (64°F) and a bit choppy.
September: Peak of the garúa season. Air temperatures at their coolest: 19°C (66°F). Galapagos penguins very active on Bartolomé. Sea lions very active on west and central islands—harem-gathering males barking and fighting. Sea birds remain active at their nesting sites.
October: Garúa mist in most locations, but less prolonged in the western islands. Lava herons nesting until March. Galapagos fur seals start their mating period. Blue-footed boobies raise chicks (Española and Isabela). Sea lion pupping continues.
November: Nice transitional weather between seasons. Sea lions harem-gathering on the eastern islands. Brown noddies breeding. Sea lion pups display aqua-gymnastics to snorkellers. Trade winds have dropped, seas calm. Water temperatures are slowly rising.
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