For so many wildlife lovers and avid scuba divers, Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands are a top bucket-list destination. Months of planning go in to crafting the perfect island-hopping travel itinerary, but it’s always challenging to know just what to expect, and therefore what to bring, when visiting exotic, far-flung places like the Galápagos.
I recently spent a week exploring this beautiful part of the world and compiled the ultimate packing list of all my must-have items (including all the things I wished I’d brought)— use this post to create your own packing list and enjoy the trip of a lifetime, totally prepared, in the magical Galápagos Islands!
The Galápagos experience two seasons: a wet, warmer season from December to June and a dry, colder season from July to November. Note that the “cold” season doesn’t mean it will be cold on the islands— the water temperature does vary, but the air temperature doesn’t fluctuate more than a few degrees throughout the year, hovering comfortably between 20-30C all the time.
This packing list is therefore suited to Galápagos trips at any time of year. And regardless of whether you’re travelling in the dry or wet season, the weather here does pretty much whatever it wants, so it’s always best to be prepared. I’ve also included some essential rain gear below!
What’s available to buy on the islands?
Despite their popularity, the Galápagos are no where near as commercialised as I expected, and that means you need to do a thorough packing job, because certain items will be difficult to come by. This is particularly true of both Isabela and Floreana, which don’t even have ATMs or more than a few basic shops.
I’ve tried to include items on this packing list you’re likely to need and might be tricky to get on the islands, such as sea sickness meds, as well as items that can be bought but are insanely expensive, such as reef-safe sunscreen.
How much should I pack?
Finally, even though you do need to be prepared, the Galápagos really isn’t a destination where you want to be hauling a 30kg suitcase around. You need to catch ferries between islands, including to the airport, so carrying a lot of luggage is majorly inconvenient, not to mention the strict baggage limits imposed by most airlines (remember to check these when you buy tickets!).
Leave the unnecessary stuff at home so you can travel light as you island hop around the Galápagos. This list will help you pack smarter, not more.
2-3x shirts: I’d recommend packing at least one quick-dry athletic shirt for any bike rides or long walks, it can be really humid on the islands and you’re likely to sweat
Jumper or warm jacket: Even though the afternoons can be toasty, you’ll want an extra layer like this cozy jumper in the evenings or on early morning boat tours
Rain jacket: Regardless of whether you’re visiting the Galapagos in the rainy season or the dry season, there’s a good chance you’ll get at least a little bit of rain during your stay
1-2x shorts: A pair of athletic shorts are great for any bike rides you might do or even to wear over a wet swimsuit, and then a pair of denim shorts or similar for more casual use around town
Skirt: I like bringing a wrap skirt when I go on island trips; it can easily be worn over my swimsuit, but also looks nice for dinner and drinks
Tights or comfortable pants: Especially in the dry season, you might want a pair of pants like these tights for the evenings when the temperature drops slightly
Summer dress: A lightweight summer dress is great for going to dinner or just to throw on over your swimsuit in the afternoon
Sandals: I’d recommend packing a pair of versatile waterproof sandals like these Tevas; I wore them on all of the snorkelling and diving tours, as well as into town with a skirt for dinner
Runners & socks: For biking or hiking on any of the islands, a lightweight pair of runners will be really handy. If you aren’t planning any hiking, though, you can definitely get away with just a pair of Tevas, even for biking
Leave it at home: Don’t worry about bringing any dresses and heels (or for the guys, slacks and dress shirts)! The Galápagos is primarily a beach destination and you don’t need to dress up for any reason at all.
2x swimsuits: Thanks to the humidity here, it takes swimmers about 2 days to dry out, so a second pair is a good idea
Sun hat: A baseball cap or even a wide-brim hat is a great way to keep from badly burning your face, especially out on the water
Towel: I always travel with a full-size microfibre towel like this one from Kathmandu; it is lightweight and compact, yet still comfortable enough to use on diving tours or to lay on the beach
Dry bag: A dry bag to take to the beach and on dive boats or day tours is a great way to keep your camera, phone, wallet, etc protected from the salt water; get one with a sling to double as a carry bag when you’re riding a bike or walking around town
Mask & snorkel: You can rent snorkel gear on the islands pretty inexpensively, but if you have room in your bag, bring your own for max convenience
Leave it at home: Even if you have your own wetsuit and fins, I wouldn’t recommend bringing them to the Galápagos for a casual trip. All snorkel and dive tours include gear hire, so it probably isn’t worth filling your bag with bulky diving gear.
Kwells: If you get seasick on boats, packing motion sickness tablets like Kwells or Dramamine will be a life-saver on the 2.5hr ferry rides between islands
Sunscreen: The Galapagos are really close to the sun due to their location at the equator and you’ll definitely notice that the heat and UV intensity is different here (pretty similar to what we have in Australia), so you need to protect your skin or you will absolutely fry on the beach; make sure to get reef-safe sunscreen so you don’t damage the delicate ecosystem with harmful chemicals
Aloe: In case you don’t do a good enough job with the sunscreen (and I certainly never seem to), it’s a good idea to pack a small container of aloe or after-sun lotion; I couldn’t find any on the islands, but I’m sure that it would have been expensive anyway
Carmex/chapstick: Your lips can get incredibly dry from all the mouth-breathing you’ll do while snorkelling or diving, so definitely try to keep some chapstick handy to avoid painfully cracking
Leave it at home: Don’t worry about hair dryers, straighteners, or make-up on a trip to the Galápagos! Everyone rocks beach waves and the natural look on the islands, so there’s absolutely no need to waste precious adventure time getting ready in your hotel room. Plus, the humidity has its own plan for your hair anyway. Let it happen.
Tech & travel essentials
Camera with zoom lens: For good quality photos of the local wildlife, you really need more than just an iPhone or a point and shoot (especially since you need to give all animals at least 2m of personal space). I brought a 28-300m, and I thought this was perfect for crisp photos of the animals and the landscapes.
GoPro: I love my GoPro Hero 8 for shooting underwater photos and videos on diving or snorkelling tours around the island
Phone or iPad: I always back my photos up to my iPad and again to a USB when I travel so there’s extremely little risk of losing all my pictures even if I happened to drop my camera in the water (touch wood, it hasn’t happened yet). For non-travel bloggers, an iPhone might be all you need!
Travel adapter: Ecuador uses 2-pin powerpoints like those you find in America or Japan, but with 120V, so Americans should check their appliances carefully before using them (almost all phone and camera chargers are dual voltage these days, but hairdryers usually aren’t); here’s a good travel adapter for Aussies.
US Dollars: American dollars are actually the official currency in Ecuador, so it’s a good idea to either bring some cash from the mainland or from home to pay for your hotel, tours, and food while in the Galápagos. ATM access is basically non-existent once you leave Santa Cruz (and even here, the withdrawal limit is often as low as $200), so you’ll probably want to bring around $500USD just to be on the safe side. You can read more about money in the Galápagos and what things cost in this post: ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT A LAND-BASED TRIP TO THE GALÁPAGOS (WITHOUT A CRUISE)