Galapagos Islands tourism activities guide

Galapagos Islands tourism activities and services

The following section gives you parameters based on what Galapagos islands tourism activities are allowed for visitors.

Galapagos Nature Tourism:

The Galapagos is one of the few places in the world where tourism is orientated distinctly around the nature. It is considered more of an educational activity.

Tourism in the Galapagos was started in 1969. The first tourism boat to arrive was the “Lina A”. Today, the travel industry  is the principal force of the economy of the region. Tourism is also the main guideline for changes in structure of the insular space.

Galapagos Park authority and tourism

The Galapagos National Park authority have evaluated each island and have determined a set of locations, where guests can admire the unique wildlife in a non intrusive and friendly matter. The most popular activities for guests visiting the archipelago are:

  • Birdwatching
  • Hiking
  • Snorkeling
  • Sea Kayaking
  • Scuba Diving
  • Swimming
  • Camping
  • …amongst others

The areas of the National Park that are established for public use are found clearly marked and distributed in almost all of the main islands of the archipelago.

There are 54 land sites to visit and 62 marine sites.

Most of the sites are accessed by sea and the Galapagos islands tourism industry has developed to be carried out in:

  • Organized groups in company of a naturalist guide
  • 16 guests maximum to 1 guide ratio
  • Mainly accessing visitor sites by boat

Visitor sites on Populated Islands

There also are many visitor sites in the four populated islands: 

  • Santa Cruz
  • Isabela
  • Floreana
  • San Cristobal

These site have easy land access, where it is permitted to visit without a guide as individual travelers, never as a group (groups always need a guide).

Galapagos National Park Guides

Visitors to the PNG (Galapagos National Park) require the presence of one or more guides, the same that help the PNG in the work of control and vigilance of the visitor sites, a job of great importance considering the size and dispersion of the archipelago and the high cost of management.

Tourism Approved Itineraries

A system of fixed annual itineraries for the tourist trips have been organized, these itineraries are carried out taking into account:

  • The capacity of burden of each site
  • The proper limit of anchorage based on the size of each boat
  • A reasonable number of boats on each location
  • Fragility of each site

There exist various tour agencies, both in Ecuador and abroad, that offer a great quantity of travel services at different prices, however for more information you can contact the Galapagos Chamber of Tourism.


The Naturalist Guides of the Galapagos National Park are highly qualified people without being functionaries of the PNG, that have assumed responsibility to hire their services to conduct visits to the Park and to guide people in the knowledge, interpretation and conservation of resources.

Services offered by Galapagos guides:

  • Information and interpretation of the resources of the Park to visitors.
  • Control of the visitors and their belongings
  • Responsibility of guest actions in relation to the ecosystem of the Park.
  • Comply with and help enforce the Galapagos rules and regulations
  • Participate in technical-administrative dispositions that the National Park emits relative to preservation and conservation.
  • Cooperate in the patrols of the National Park and Marine Reserve of the Galapagos to ensure conservation and rational use of resources.
  • Monitor areas of the National Park and Marine Reserve of the Galapagos.

Forms of Tourism

Galapagos Islands Tourist Services

Cruises: These constitute the main part and are carried out in small ships and yachts with a capacity from 8 to 100 passengers, the passengers live on board the boats for the entire itinerary.  Approved routes have durations of 3 to 7 nights although cruises of 15 days are possible.

Day Tours: The visitors can stay in hotels available in the populated Ports and take day tours to different visitor sites of the Park, returning at the end of the day.

Bay Tours: Activities available in the Ports that consist of short trips using small boats with outboard motors.

Daily Diving Tours: A variation on the Bay Tours in which available boats are equipped with diving gear, most of the dive shops are located on Santa Cruz Island

Navigable Dive Tours: A variation on cruises with access to marine sites far from the populated centers. Liveaboard dive cruises allow visitors to reach Darwin and Wolf Islands.

Non-Guided Sites: These sites are for recreational purposes and are near to populated center. For example Garrapatero beach on Santa Cruz island.

Filming & Documentaries in the Galapagos archipelago

It is permitted to carry out filming and documentaries of a scientific, educational and cultural nature and in this form, commercial nature as well.

Requirements: Formal application form in which the character of the filming must be specified, its objectives etc. We require to know the exact date of arrival and the exact dates of the proposed itinerary. For filming of a commercial nature, the producers pay the rights of filming and provide the guarantee as soon as it is established.

Depending on the time of duration of the filming, the group must pay rights of filming and give a banking guarantee in the name of the Galapagos National Park, emitted by the Banco del Pacifico. This guarantee will be given back once the copies of the finished production have been received in a stipulated period of time by both parties.

Galapagos Islands Tourism Activities chart

Galpagos Tourism Activities by Island Walk Hike Snorkel Scuba Dive Bird Watch Bike Ride Sea Kayak Sun and Beach Horse Ride Bars, Dining & Discos Tours Surf
Seymour Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Santiago Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Santa Fe Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
San Cristoba Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Rabida Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Plazas Yes Yes Yes Yes
Yes Yes
Tower Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Marchena Yes Yes
Mosquera Yes YesYes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Isabela Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Floreana Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fernandina Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Espanola Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Darwin Yes Yes
Wolf Yes Yes
Daphne Major Yes Yes Yes
Chinese Hat Yes Yes Yes Yes
Bartolome Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

BIRD WATCHING: The Galapagos islands are a bird watcher’s dream. — especially if you’re set on seeing and identifying all 13 Darwin Finches (endemic to the islands), the waved Albatross, tropical penguins, the flightless Cormorant and countless other jewels of the islands. Bring your highest magnifying binoculars and best camera lenses.


SEA KAYAKING: What better way to get up close and personal to Blue Footed Boobies, sea lions and more than with an adventure sea kayak?. Rent them from The Red Mangrove Inn if staying at Puerto Ayora or ask for a Galapagos cruise boat – – that carries them.


SCUBA DIVING IN THE GALAPAGOS MARINE RESERVE: Listed as one of the top diving spots in the world. Diving in The Galapagos is an adventure come true. Whale Sharks, White Tips, Hammerheads, Garden Eels, Sea Lions, whales, schools of colorful fish, corals, and crystal clear water characterize a typical adventure day diving in the islands. Go with one of the best — Scuba Iguana.  They work with top dive masters and select the best diving spots around the Galapagos islands.

For more advanced divers, Scuba Iguana also does adventure live aboard charters to Darwin and Wolf (there you’ll dive to great depths to see the most mystifying animals of the oceans!)


GALAPAGOS SNORKELING: For those of you not ready to emerge themselves 30 meters in the sea, snorkeling in the Galapagos islands is an amazing adventure activity. You’ll see everything from sharks and turtles to penguins and boobies flopping around the water. You can spend hours in the water enjoying the show!

GALAPAGOS HIKING: This is one of the most common of the Galapagos islands tourism activities. Hiking allows visitors to explore trails and come into close distance with the unique wildlife of the archipelago.

Few to no places are open to free hiking in the Galapagos, though you can find a few adventure trails on San Cristobal and Santa Cruz islands.

We recommend, though, for all hikes, to go with a Galapagos approved guide.

The Galapagos guides can point out the fascinating details of the islands, turning a beautiful activity hike into an encylopedic experience. Take good walking shoes, lots of water, and don’t wander off! It’s easier to get lost on these islands than you think.

GALAPAGOS SURFING:  Surfing in the Galapagos islands is a rather old activity practiced by locals and visitors. It’s not common, but it can be done. Ask around, and you’ll be sure to find somebody to take you out adventure surfing or body boarding. We include a listing of tour operators that offer this activity in our tour reviews section.

WALKING ON PRISTINE BEACHES: If you want to just relax and go to the beach, try out Tortuga Bay on SANTA CRUZ island. There are few places a Galapagos adventure tourist can go on his own, and this is one. The beach is magnificent — it has fine,white sand. The main beach is not for snorkeling because of the wind and waves, but it’s great for surfing, body boarding, and catching rays. The second beach at the end of the first one is a quiet bay where you can snorkel and swim in calm waters.



Although the only reason you should visit Galapagos is for the wildlife and nature experience…

A few of the Galapagos islands, SANTA CRUZ in particular, have many clubs to cater to the adventure tourist. There you can get an icey (though pricey) beer and enjoy the Galapagos island atmosphere after an 8 day adventure boat tour. For poetry, live music, and an enchanted evening, we highly recommend Casa del Lago. The owner, Elena, is a Galapagos artist of exceptional taste and invites the most talented musicians, artists, poets, singers, and orators to share their art in her outdoor pub.

Scientific Research & Investigations are also regulated Galapagos Islands tourism activities

The GNP authorizes studies and scientific investigations by means of permits and subscriptions of agreements.  These agreements are necessary when there is a forecasted plan to exceed six months.

Collecting Samples

Some studies or investigations require the collection of samples of species, specimens, constitutive elements, samples or materials.

For these type of studies the Galapagos National Park determines the quantity, physical and biological conditions, times and places of collection, qualifications of methods, instruments of collection, means of transport and permitted processes.

Taking species from the Galapagos is against the law

The collection, internal movement and exportation of specimens or constitutive elements of endemic species is prohibited. 

The exception is in the case of authorized scientific investigation and when sampling is of extreme importance to the survival of a species.

Getting Authorization for scientific research in Galapagos

The authorization is given by the Director of the Park.  After proper analysis of each case. Permits are given without harm and in account of the the remaining required authorizations of the Laws and international agreements.

The persons carrying out the studies or investigations must provide the Park authority, without charging, with 10 copies of the publication in Spanish (castellano). The remaining stipulated regulations in the permitted document or agreement remain in force.

The movement and exportation of specimens or constitutive elements of established organisms for CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Any exceptions are only authorized by the Director of the Galapagos National Park.