Although we know there is no cookie-cutter perfect packing list, since each and every traveler has their own needs and habits, we want to get you started with our best tips and advice about the essentials to get you thinking. We have years of experience with Galapagos travel, so we know there are a few things that every traveler should know about before going.
During the day in the Galapagos, most people prefer to wear shorts and some sort of loose, comfortable tee shirt or tank top because of the heat and humidity that is so often present on the islands. A wide-brimmed or long-billed hat and a good pair of sunglasses are indispensable for protecting your face, eyes, ears and neck from the scorching equatorial sun. On some boats and especially on cruise ships, evenings are more formal, with dress shirts, blouses and sun dresses being the norm during dinner time. On the majority of boats, there is no dress code, so your daytime clothes are also appropriate for the evenings. It might be a good idea to consider bringing just one or two pairs of light pants with you to the Galapagos because most of the time, it will be too warm for pants outside, but you may want them for your plane rides. Ocean nights can also be chilly, so those light pants might come in handy while you stargaze in the Galapagos, along with a light sweater or sweatshirt.
If you pass through Quito, having some warmer clothing on-hand is also wise. Although it too is located on the equator, it is high in the mountains with a much cooler climate than the Galapagos Islands. You might pack a jacket, preferably one that can double as a raincoat for when you’re exploring the islands.
Durable, strappy sandals in Teva or Chaco style are the absolute most useful footwear that you can bring to the Galapagos. They can be worn during any season, any day on the islands because they will prepare you for both the driest and wettest days, keeping your feet cool and comfortable all while protecting them from the hot, harsh volcanic terrain. Sometimes you might also opt for the protection and support of traditional sneakers, but we recommend that you choose an older, broken-in pair rather than new shoes, since your shoes will likely be victim to the rough salty, volcanic and sandy terrains of the Galapagos Islands.
Bringing a bathing suit to the Galapagos Islands is a must, but you should be fine with just one or two suits since the intense sun will surely dry your suits quickly. A comfortable bathing suit is key for lounging, but you might also consider bringing a suit that is well-equipped for water activities like snorkeling.
As far as equipment goes, if you have your own snorkeling gear and would like to bring it with you, by all means, please do so. It is often better to have your own equipment that you are comfortable in and that you are certain will fit, rather than renting the gear from a shop or boat. If you do not have your own, don’t want to bring it or your boat does not provide it, don’t fret – many shops in Quito have the equipment for rent. For those that might spend hours snorkeling and diving deep, bringing a shorty wetsuit might also be a good idea. Deeper waters can have a temperature of 64.4⁰F (18⁰C) – 73.4⁰F (23⁰F), and a wetsuit can make those dives more comfortable.
We give sunscreen its own section because it is so important to your Galapagos Islands trip. The sun is much stronger at the equator than most people who are not from the area are used to and will burn your skin faster than in other places. We recommend SPF 45 or greater sunscreen from a brand that you trust. It is also advisable to choose a sunscreen that is waterproof. It can also be more expensive on the islands than at home, so we recommend bringing plenty along with you. Strong sunburn can be a debilitating condition, especially for those with lighter skin. We repeat, do not forget your sunscreen!
It is also helpful to have a hat that most importantly covers your face. Bonus points if you bring one that covers your ears and/or neck. For the most sensitive skin, bringing along a lightweight long-sleeved shirt for moments that you find yourself in the sun’s most direct glare might also be a good idea.
With animals at every turn, some of the most stunning landscapes in the world and constant opportunities to capture it all, we know you’ll bring your camera. The shots that you’ll get will be innumerable, so we suggest that you consider bringing an extra memory card. Your storage might fill up quick with all the rarities, wildlife and oceanscapes that you’ll be exposed to and getting extra memory can be extremely expensive and difficult on the island.
For those with DSLR cameras, bringing a wide-angle/macro lens and a 70-120mm zoom lens is ideal – the zoom lens will let you frame all the animals at a variety of distances, while also reducing the amount of camera equipment that you have to lug along with you to and around the islands. A polarizing filter is also valuable on the Galapagos Islands because with all of the marine life and at-sea sunsets that you’ll experience, you’ll likely want to have a tool to reduce the glare of the sun over the water.
Another tool that you might find useful for photography in the Galapagos is an underwater camera. If you have one, bring it. If not, popular disposable camera brands like Kodak, Konica and Fujifilm all offer disposable underwater cameras that work surprisingly well. You’ll be snapping photos of the sea lions that you befriend and the playful dolphins in no time.
You’ll also have many opportunities to capture videos during your visit to the Galapagos Islands. Although a video camera can be bulky, heavy and worrisome at times, if you decide to bring it, you’ll probably be glad you did. Lightweight video cameras made for extreme activities, like Go Pros, are a good way to go if possible. A small tripod that can also come along on a hike is also a great addition.
All boats are equipped with a first aid kit, but they may not be complete or fit for those with very specific needs. Travel with all prescription medicines that you may need. You may also consider bringing along motion sickness medication (in case your sea legs don’t develop quickly) and aloe vera gel (in case the equatorial sun gets you). It is also important to keep in mind that Quito is located at 9,500 feet (3,000 meters) and some people experience symptoms of altitude sickness. In most cases, these symptoms will be relieved by hydrating, getting lots of rest (even though it can be difficult to get hat rest while travelling), taking aspirin or, if you experience mild headaches, by taking DIAMOX, a drug that increases the profusion of oxygen in the body. It is readily available in pharmacies in Quito. If you experience severe headaches or breathing problems, see a doctor immediately.
You might also consider bringing binoculars to the Galapagos, whether you’re habitual bird watcher or not – oftentimes the most interesting wildlife are hidden in trees or on the horizon and can be seen most easily with binoculars. We recommend 7×25 binoculars. If your camera takes batteries, extra batteries are also key.
Remember that you will be traveling on a boat out in the waters of isolated islands 600 miles (965 km) from the nearest continent and even further from the closest major city. Bring whatever you know that you can’t do without. If you’re unsure if you will be able to access something that you might need, you should also bring that along, just in case.