For many experienced travelers, packing for an upcoming trip to the Galapagos Islands may be very routine, obvious and almost natural. However, there are many (both experienced and novice travelers alike) that may gain a better insight of what will come in hand while excitedly packing for your explorations in the Galapagos Islands.
First, you need to keep in mind the following luggage restrictions (imposed by the airlines). Each tourist is permitted one standard carry-on (no greater than 8 kg or 17.6 lbs) and one check-in piece (20 kg or 44 lbs). If you exceed the weight limit expect to pay excess baggage charges of US $2 per kg.
Upon checking in for your flight out to the Galapagos Islands (in Guayaquil or Quito), all passengers are required to have their luggage screened by SICGAL (its acronym in Spanish) or the Galapagos Inspection and Quarantine System. Basically passengers are not permitted to pack any plant, animal or agricultural products (e.g., fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, plants etc). For greater detail, please review this pdf.
For more info on invasive species, there is a good relevant article by Galapagos Conservancy.
It’s always a good idea to travel light by bringing only what you need for your trip. Being over burdened with luggage can make transfers and travel difficult.
Now that you have a clear idea of your Galapagos luggage weight restrictions, and what you are NOT permitted to pack, lets move on to what you SHOULD pack!
The Bare Essentials
- Travel Documents (Passport etc) - All foreigners are required to travel with their valid and original passport. You will more than likely also need to bring along your planned and arranged travel service documents (e.g. cruise or hotel voucher, electronic airline ticket print out etc.)
- Day (or Fanny) Pack – this is what you will generally take almost everywhere, and will most likely include extra clothing and other necessities during your daily island visits (e.g., sunblock/suncream, camera, glasses etc).
- Duffle bag (or backpack) – In addition to your carry-on bag, you will need one principal piece of luggage to pack your main items – like clothes, toiletries etc. Although you can take a suitcase, it is advisable to have something that has wheels.
- Comfortable walking shoes (or boots) with good traction – keep in mind that your itinerary may include walking on sharp, hot volcanic lava or hiking on rocky trails.
- Teva style sandals – good for hiking on beaches and without the worry of getting wet. Keep in mind that several of the landing are “wet landings” (i.e., stepping from a zodiak onto a beach, where you may get wet up to your the calf of your leg). Most people (myself included) live perpetually in these during my stay in Galapagos. Thong (or flip flop) sandals are not appropriate.
- Swimming (bathing) suit – for your times swimming and/or snorkeling. I recommend packing two … which allows for one to dry from the previous day’s activity.
- Light to medium fleece jacket – It can be anything from windy, wet, misty to cool at times … especially in the late evening aboard your vessel after a day in the hot sun.
- Gortex (or similar) rain jacket – this comes in handy especially during the ‘garua‘ season and early fall, where it is not uncommon to experience drizzle or light rain.
- Shorts – you will generally live in these most of the time. Quick-dry are the best.
- T-shirts – again, you will use these frequently.
- Long-sleeve short or blouse – contrary to popular belief sunblock/suncream is not the best sun protection … a light long sleeve shirt act more efficiently, covering your arms against the strong sun. In addition, these come in handy for the cooler early mornings and late evenings.
- Lightweight full length pants (or trousers) of either synthetic or cotton – as above, for the cooler periods.
- Hat or cap – A wide brim hat is the best – as it tends to protect more of your body (including neck) from the hot sun. I recommend one with a chin strap … you will thank me when you are standing in areas that are very windy and don’t have to go chasing after you hat!
- Sunglasses – preferably polarized, as it will help you see more when looking in the water to spot turtles, rays etc. As some of the beaches have talc-soft white sand, the sun can be almost blinding at times!
- Socks – athletic style socks for walking & hiking.
- Regular underwear – keep in mind that the majority of vessels and hotels do not provide laundry service (exceptions do exist).
- Toiletries – Toothpaste, toothbrush, shaving kits, razors, comb (or hair brush) etc.
- First aid & medication – Aloe Vera gel, sunblock/suncream of the highest SPF possible, insect repellent, hand sanitizer or gel, moisturizing cream, pain relief (e.g. aspirin etc for headaches or muscle pain). Although many vessels carry sea (motion) sickness medication, for those of you susceptible to this ailment I strongly recommend bringing your own supply to be sure.
- Cash $$$ – USD $100 per person for the Galapagos National Park entrance fee (must be paid upon arrival in Galapagos, and only in US cash), USD $10 per person for the INGALA Toruist Control Card (payable only in US cash at the airport [Quito or Guayaquil] of departure, and enough for extra drinks, alcoholic beverages, tips and personal spending.
- Camera and/or video camera- what is going to the Galapagos Islands without being able to permanently capture and record those memorable moments? A good rule is to bring more film/memory than you think you will need! Also, I recommend bringing along extra batteries (or battery packs) …. it’s most frustrating to have your camera run out of juice JUST when you are about to capture something fascinating! I also recommend a polarized lens. While a telephoto lens could come in handy, it is not absolutely necessary as most of the wildlife is almost within touching distance (other than many of the bird life). Similar to a telephoto lens, a tripod could come in handy but is not absolutely necessary. If you are semi-pro or professional, obviously you will bringing these latter two along! An underwater camera is highly recommended.
- Travel adapters & chargers – sooner or later you will need to charge something!
- Water bottle – ideal for your island hikes in the hot sun. Many vessels may provide you with one … but best be prepared.
- Plastic (Ziplock) bags – to protect valuables from the drizzle, rain, salt water and sand. Sand and seawater are the enemies of any optical or electronic instrument. Keep this in mind when considering what to bring. A wise idea to take any photographic equipment is large high quality Zip-Lock bags to keep your camera in, especially when crossing to shore etc. Bring a few, to allow wet ones to dry out.
- Alarm clock – some may need this companion to ensure you get up in time for those early morning sunrises or breakfast!
- Spare batteries – better to have them and not need them then to not have them and really need them!
- A journal book – for recording your thoughts, experiences etc.
- Towel – although all boats and hotels will provide you with this, it often comes in hand to have an extra one of your own.
- Reading book(s)
- Binoculars - Useful to see some of the more distant and timid wildlife (e.g. Galapagos Hawk, Whales etc).
- Snorkel equipment (mask, snorkel, fins) – Most boats and tour operators provide this equipment (sometime there is an extra charge involved), but if you have your own and have the space, bring them along.
In closing …
The following (in my humble opinion and experience) are other things to bring along with you on your trip to the Galapagos Islands:
- … a Sense of Adventure and curiosity;
- … a Sense of Respect and responsibility (for the islands, wildlife and ecosystem);
- … a Sense of Humour (for those moment when things don’t always go as planned)
Enjoy … but to Not Destroy.