Galapagos Islands Packing List

Packing for a 10 day cruise of the Galapagos is a daunting task, especially when flying to and from the frozen tundra.  OARS provided us with a packing list, which made for a good starting point.  There were definitely things I didn’t use at all (tripod) and things I’d wished I’d brought along (fleece or lightweight down jacket)

Here I’ll show the suggested packing list, along with my comments and notes, in the hopes that someone may find this useful for their own Galapagos trip.  I should note that we traveled at the end of December, on the cusp of rainy season, so we had some overcast days, but no rain.

Equipment and Personal Items:

  • Duffel bag: bring your gear packed in soft luggage or a duffel bag rather than a suitcase that will stow easily on the boat – We used the LLBean Large Adventure Rolling Duffle, and shared it for two of us (not realizing luggage on international flights is free!)  We were sweating the 50 lb weight limit, but just scraped by!  The closets on the boat actually had room for a small roller-style suitcase , so a collapsible duffle isn’t totally necessary.  Since we were sharing luggage, I used several Eagle Creek packing cubes to keep my stuff organized.
  • Daypack: it should be large enough to carry your water bottle, camera and rain jacket and can double as your flight carry-on bag I brought my usual daypack and almost never took it hiking.  My mom used a fanny pack, which worked perfectly.  I usually stuffed a bottle of water in my camera bag and that was fine.  None of the hikes were long enough to require a full daypack.
  • Water Bottle: heavy duty and minimum 1 liter capacity. For day hikes, hydration systems like a CamelBak® are great but you will need a water bottle while in the kayak. 1 liter bottles didn’t really fit under the water purifier faucet, so we ended up just reusing the 16 oz water bottles that were provided with our cabin.  Again, the hikes weren’t super long, so 16 oz was usually enough water
  • Headlamp or flashlight, extra batteries and bulb I didn’t bring this, and didn’t need it. Some people wore them to read on deck after dark, but we were more interested in stargazing
  • Plastic bags: 1 large trash bag and assorted zip-loc bags to separate wet or dirty clothes These did come in handy, especially for packing stinky shoes and wet clothes for the long ride home!
  • Sunglasses (preferably polarized) with securing strap and a spare Polarized glasses are a must.  I bought a cheap-ish pair specifically for this trip as I didn’t want to get my good sunglasses ruined or lost.  Saltwater and sunscreen aren’t great for plastic.  I brought, but never used, the securing strap.
  • Small, quick-drying towel I packed a couple of these, but didn’t use them.  They would have been helpful to dry off our feet for hikes after wet landings, but I always left them on the boat!
  • Toiletries including biodegradable soap and shampoo Each bathroom on the boat had soap and shampoo, so this wasn’t really necessary either.
  • Sunscreen: waterproof & SPF 30 or higher A must!
  • Lip protection: SPF 30 or higher Also a must!  My mother assumed her lipstick had SPF and looked like Angelina Jolie after a day in the sun.  Sunburned lips are extremely painful and can ruin an otherwise enjoyable meal, so make sure you have plenty of lip SPF on hand!
  • Moisturizing lotion or cream This was good to have as well as aloe vera.  It’s nice to smell good after a day in the ocean 🙂
  • Insect repellent: Mosquitoes are generally not a problem, but it’s always best to be prepared I brought only a small tube and never used it.  There were flies on some of the hikes, but not enough to warrant putting more chemicals on our ski.
  • Personal first aid kit (Band-aids, antibiotic ointment, ibuprofen, sea sickness and stomach medication, moleskin, eye drops, etc.) I went overboard here and brought a motherlode med kit with a little bit of everything….just in case.  And ended up sharing with several people.
  • Spare pair of glasses and/or contacts (blowing sand can cause problems for contact wearers)
  • Earplugs: we may motor into the night and waves slapping the hull can be loud Didn’t need these either, as I’m a very sound sleeper, but several people did mention the noise so it’s not a bad idea
  • Cash for National Park entrance fee, gratuities and incidentals  I brought $600 cash, which proved to be just enough.  I didn’t really shop on this trip, but there were people to tip in Quito, which I hadn’t thought about ahead of time.  In addition to $100 fee for the Galapagos, I tipped $120 to our guide, $140 for the crew. I had a small bar bill for my daily Coca-Cola, and various other small expenses. I think I came home with a bit of cash.  Soda was $2 on board, and I think wine was $5 a glass, which was very reasonable.

Footwear:

  • Sport sandal or amphibious sport shoes (such as Teva) Keen’s were great for this trip.  My mom only brought Keens (no hiking shoes) and did OK.
  • Athletic shoes or light hikers: 1 pair, comfortable and with good tread for hikes, the city and travel I would still recommend hiking shoes as some of the hikes are pretty rocky.  Since we flew out of the frozen tundra, my Merrell hikers were the shoes I wore on the flight, too.
  • Hiking socks: 3 or 4 pair, light-weight synthetic or synthetic/wool blend I think I brought 3 pair of socks on the cruise.  With short hikes, I re-wore socks for a few days as I only wore them an hour or two at a time
  • Comfy socks with grip soles or slippers for onboard the boat (no land shoes onboard); you can go  barefoot I brought flip flops, but only wore them on the flight to and from the Galapagos.  We were barefoot on the boat.  Socks would have just gotten wet, so I don’t see the need.

I will say, all shoes go into a bin on the boat to avoid dragging mud and sand all over the boat.  This bin can get pretty stinky, so a quick drying shoe is a good idea.  The Keen’s were pretty bad by the end of the trip, so garbage bags came in handy!

They suggested socks for the tortoise day, as ants were common, but then we all wore wellies anyways.

Clothing:

  • Long-sleeved shirt: lightweight, quick-drying and light color for sun protection (UPF-rated shirts are great)  I brought a few quick dry shirts, but wished I had brought more of the lightweight UPF style with the rollup sleeves.  The quick dry were too heavy in the heat.  I had brought one UPF shirt, and bought another one in Puerto Ayora.
  • Long pants: lightweight, quick-drying and light color for sun protection  I wore pants once, it was just really too hot for pants at all
  • Lightweight fleece jacket or top I talked myself out of bringing my fleece and I regretted it.  It definitely got cold(ish) and damp up on deck after dark and a fleece jacket would have been great.
  • Shade hat or visor with securing strap and a spare  I love straw hats and any excuse I can find to wear them!  I brought a hiking-style hat too, which was great for dipping in cool water when it got too hot.
  • Rain jacket & pants: a lightweight, hooded jacket is recommended. Rain pants are optional. I wore the rain jacket a few times, and it came in handy as an extra wind layer when we landed in Chicago.  The rain pants stayed in my suitcase the whole trip, though.
  • Swimsuit / swim trunks: 2- piece suits recommended for women. Tankinis are a great option. I brought 2 tankinis so that I could alternate each day and have a dry suit to wear.  Ialso brought two cover-ups which were great for hiding from the sun while on deck.
  • Underwear: quick-drying While it is possible to wash these out in the sink, underwear don’t take up a lot of room.  I brought enough for every day.
  • Pajamas I brought PJ bottoms, a tank top, and a lightweight cotton robe, which was nice to have
  • Quick-dry shorts: 2-3 pair  I think I wore the same pair of shorts every day.
  • Quick-dry t-shirts/tops: 4 2 or 3 was plenty for me.  Really, you’re in and out of clothes all day, so you can really re-wear a lot.
  • Casual clothes for evenings and in Quito (Note: evenings can be cool) This is true, one good heavier outfit is good for your time in Quito.

Floppy hat is must in the strong sun!


Optional Items:

  • Sarong: useful as a cover-up from the sun, or as a wrap Very useful as a towel, coverup, skirt, etc
  • Rash guard tops for snorkeling and paddling 1-2 I searched high and low for my rashguards and couldn’t find them.  Definitely would have come in handy with my neoprene pants that I brought.
  • Personal snorkel gear (we provide gear but many prefer their own) I found the provided gear just fine, no need to bring my own
  • Shorty wetsuit (can be rented for $5/day) The boat provided full wetsuits, which I wore every day.  I had also brought neoprene capri pants, but without a rashguard to wear with them, it was too cold for me.
  • Binoculars: compact Definitely would have been useful
  • Camera and accessories Of course!  I had my Nikon D3000, my iPhone and a borrowed underwater camera.  The tripod, however, was useless.  The boat moves constantly, and we were on the go on all of our hikes.  With the Nikon, I had 3 lenses and got the most use out of the zoom lens (70-300mm), even though we were close to the animals, I got some great shots with the zoom.
  • Walking stick: collapsible I never used one – the boat had a few to loan, not enough for every passenger, so if you’re not comfortable rock hopping, you might bring one
  • Clothes pins Definitely used these to dry our things on the deck every day!
  • Sketchbook, notebook and pen, paperback book I’m not much of a journaler, but I had brought out the printed itinerary and each evening, tried to write down what we had seen.
  • Bandana Always!  Great for dipping in water to cool down your neck or forehead.
  • Spare rollup duffel for purchases while in Ecuador (or purchase one in Ecuador) I didn’t bring an extra bag, as I knew we wouldn’t shop much.  Ironically, the only souvenir I bought was a tote bag at the Galapagos airport.
  • Not on the list, but I brought a paperback book, plus my Kindle, iPod shuffle and some G2 powder, which really came in handy.  It was nice to have an alternative to water day after day on our hikes.

We’ve turned the deck into a clothesline

If you follow the suggested packing list line for line, you’ll survive just fine, but there were definitely a few things not needed.  It will really depend on the individual traveler, but as a backpacker, I’m used to living with what I can carry on my back!

 

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Christmas Sailing the Galapagos Islands

Remember OARS, the rafting company I love so much?  I pore over their annual glossy catalog every year!  After a few U.S. river trips with them, I decided to check out their international offerings.  I chose the Galapagos Adventure Sailing Multi-Sport trip in the Galapagos Islands, and I somehow talked my mom into going with me, despite the fact that she doesn’t kayak, swim or snorkel.

Thus began a year of anticipation and preparation.  We started with our flights, which we booked using American miles for the departure and United miles for the return.  This trip required evacuation insurance, so we purchased the policy offered with our flight, from Allianz.  Fortunately, we didn’t need it, but it wasn’t expensive for the small policy we purchased.  Better safe than sorry, since we don’t have Jeff Bezos’ money! (he was airlifted out of the Galapagos with kidney stones recently)

We had one free day in Ecuador and then it was off to the Islands!  It’s a 45 minute flight from Quito to Guayaquil, where we stayed on the plane for about an hour layover, then another 2 hours to Baltra in the Galapagos Islands.  As soon as we landed, we were met by our nature guide, Carlos, and transferred to the dinghy which took us to our boat, the Nemo III.

Nemo III waiting for us near the airport (another Nemo inthe background)

Ahead of us were 8 days of luxurious sailing the Southern route of the Galapagos Islands.

Flock of birds feeding

Most days were structured the same, so we had a nice routine.  At dinner each night, Carlos gave us the run-down of the following day’s activities. We pestered him with questions like what kind of shoes to wear and how much water to bring, but he was very patient with all of us!

Galapagos Islands Nature Guide

Each day began at 7am with fresh juice and a breakfast buffet, usually including eggs, meat and cheese, granola and yogurt.  At 8:00 we’d jump in the dinghy for our first hike of the day.  We would then return to the boat, usually to some waiting snacks and juice, then change into our wetsuits for a snorkel outing.  Lunch is served at noon, starting with soup.  Lunch was more like dinner portions – pasta or meat, always with fresh fruit for dessert.  Afternoons included another snorkel and another hike, another snack, followed by some downtime before a 7:00 dinner.  Needless to say, we were well-fed on Nemo III!

Galapagos Islands Cruise

The Galapagos Islands are best known for wildlife. It’s funny that the passport stamp and the guide logo are a Giant Tortoise and a Hammerhead Shark – both of which were less common than you would think.  I guess those look better than a lizard and a sea lion as the official mascot!  However, the overall diversity of wildlife was really impressive. I think the only thing we didn’t see was a hammerhead shark!  It wasn’t enough just seeing a bunch of species, but the interaction between them, the diversity you might see all in one photo opp, as well as some pretty special experiences.

Early in the trip, we saw a sea lion with a bloody tail and thought it had been in a fight.  As it turns out, she had just given birth!  Nearby was a squawking little pup, crying for mama.

Galapagos Sea Lion Pup

This sea turtle looked dead on the beach, totally motionless – we could see she had laid her eggs overnight, but just couldn’t go any farther.  We all gathered around to see if she was alive.  I don’t know if it was our annoying presence, but slowly and surely, she got herself turned around and began a very slow crawl back to the ocean, to the cheers of ours and another group.

Galapagos Sea Turtle

Of course, there are the famous Galapagos Tortoises, which we saw only on Santa Cruz – first at a farm/sanctuary and then at the Darwin Research Center.

The most colorful inhabitants were the Sally Lightfoot Crabs.  The bright color on these guys is a defense from birds – bright colors usually means POISON!

Sally Lightfoot Crab

And then there’s the birds….so many birds.  Oddly enough, the famous Darwin finches are mostly all black and the diversity there is more in diet and habitat, not appearance.

Magnificent Frigatebirds (their name, not my adjective)

Magnificent Frigatebird

Blue Footed Booby – their feet are so blue, it’s actually reflected on their feathers!

Galapagos Booby

Nazca Boobies (with babies on the way!)

Galapagos Island Booby

Albatross

Galapagos Island Albatros

The last full day we finally got to see penguins, which I was most looking forward to.  Aren’t they cute?!

Penguins

And last but not least, our cold-blooded reptile friends.  So many iguanas (land iguanas and marine iguanas), lava lizards, chameleons, etc.  There were places where you really had to watch your step because they were just everywhere! Way worse than Chicago rats, which will scurry when you get close!

Iguana

Other than the first and last day at the airport, we only visited 1 town, Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz.  That meant no wireless or cell for pretty much the whole week!  This was A-OK with me!

All in all, this was absolutely the trip of a lifetime!  At about $6,000 all in, it was the most expensive vacation I’ve taken so far, but definitely worth every penny.  Aside from the trip cost, flights and tips, there really wasn’t much to spend money on – I bought 1 T-shirt and a tote bag at the airport.  Definitely not a shopping kind of trip.  Also OK with me 🙂

Given the isolated location, I can’t say I’ll ever go back to the Galapagos Islands, but I can’t recommend this trip highly enough!

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For more pictures, click here!

 

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