Galapagos Islands Weather
Galapagos Islands Weather
DEFINITION OF CLIMATE & SEASONS IN THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
The Galapagos Islands, set right in the tropics, and even crossed by the equatorial line, have two markedly different seasons that set the tone of what happens in the islands, how the islands look, and how wildlife reacts to it. Due to their isolation, and unlike other places on our planet, there are no migration patterns for all of the wildlife here. Thus, regardless of the time of the year you plan on visiting, the wildlife experience will be just outstanding. What will change, though, is what wildlife does at that given time of the year. The two basic seasons in the Galapagos Islands can be described as follows:
DRY SEASON (June – November)
The prevailing winds in the islands at this time of the year are the southeast trade winds. These start at sub-Antarctic latitudes and drive ocean currents along the west coast of South America. This well-known current is the Peru Coastal Current, commonly known as the Humboldt Current. This geographic range includes Chile, Peru and parts of Ecuador and, as the current gets close to the Equator, it shifts direction to the west. It then blends with other masses of open ocean and it becomes the South Equatorial Current, which bathes the islands from east to west. As this happens, the islands develop a desert-like environment resembling places like Baja California, or even the southwest of the United States. It is rather shocking to know you are close to Latitude 0∘ and yet nothing looks tropical. This is the driving force that allows subtropical species like penguins, sea lions, boobies, pelicans, albatrosses, etc, to survive well in the tropics. The cooler waters of the South Equatorial Current bring in plenty of nutrients and that supports the breeding of the large colonies of sea birds existing on the islands. The onset of winds is gradual around late April and then it peaks in August & September. Winds will gradually diminish by the end of December, and that triggers the start of the hot season.
HOT SEASON (December – May)
Since the south east trade winds have lost most of their strength, the South Equatorial Current now barely reaches the islands. The currents from the south have lost their presence in tropical latitudes, allowing the northerly waters to make their journey from Central America down towards the Equator. These waters are warmer, have a high evaporation power, and produce enough moisture in the air to develop tropical downpours. By late December, with this new moisture build-up, the islands start developing a little bit of green growth, foliage starts appearing everywhere, and the islands adopt an emerald-green look. The tropical side of Galapagos peaks in March, and most of our land-dependant species are reproducing everywhere to the high amount of resources available. The waters have increased visibility due to the lower levels of plankton available, and the shocking encounter of a penguin in warm water leaves a bizarre impression on snorkelers. The same effect occurs when we go on land and see fur seals carrying a heavy fur coat under scorching tropical heat. Around April, the south east trade winds are slowly making their trip back to the islands, and all foliage gently vanishes in order to welcome the start of the dry season.
WHEN SHOULD I VISIT?
Many people wonder when is the “best” time to visit the islands. In the case of Galapagos, as you can see, there really is no “best” time, because there is always something special happening. Those of us who love the archipelago say that the only “bad” time of the year is when we are not visiting! That said, visitors do have personal expectations and preferences and we hope that this general guide will allow you to make your plans based on the two seasons and their realities.
Some scholars agree that visiting Galapagos in the shoulder months of each season (aptly called transition months) can give you the best of both worlds. This, from a merely biological standpoint, is accurate, and these transitional months are late October to mid December (dry season into hot season), and then late March to mid June (hot season into the dry season).
The month-by-month list is just a guideline that matches what generally happens to wildlife when the two seasons unfold over the course of the year. Nature has no strict agenda and the natural conditions on the islands – and around the world – are constantly changing. Therefore, the information presented below, based on our almost 50 years of experience as Galapagos pioneers, is nevertheless only referential. Please contact us for current conditions on the islands and for any travel-related questions.
Galapagos Month by Month
NATURAL EVENTS IN GALAPAGOS
- The hot season is under way.
- Land birds start nesting, generally after the first heavy rains.
- On Española (Hood) Island adult marine iguanas become brightly coloured (green & red + black).
- The green sea turtles arrive to beaches in GPS for egg-laying period.
- Land iguanas begin reproductive cycles.
- Both, water and air temperatures rise and stay warm until June.
- Northern migrants are gradually arriving to these tropical latitudes (great for avid birdwatchers).
- On Floreana Island, American flamingos start nesting.
- Bahama pintail ducks (Black-tailed pintail) start their breeding season.
- Nazca boobies on Española are at the end of their nesting season.
- Marine iguanas nest on Santa Cruz Island.
- The highest water temperature reaches 25°C (77°F). This temperature remains constant until April.
- Nesting season of the Galapagos dove reaches its peak.
- Some cetaceans migrating north to south may reach the Galapagos Islands.
- The hot season reaches its peak and very occasional tropical downpours occur (Note:
- This does not mean it rains everyday; in fact, March is the month with the most sunlight).
- Intense tropical sun and hot climate. Air temperature can reach up to 30°C (86°F). Humidity is high at 88%. In the morning, some outings may happen earlier than expected in order to avoid excessive heat and maximize observation of wildlife.
- Marine iguanas nest on Fernandina.
- By late March, Galapagos albatrosses gradually arrive to Española.
- Even the western islands have warm waters where snorkelling is excellent. Punta Vicente Roca (Isabela) can be an amazing site. Penguins still active in the water, next to tropical fish – how bizarre!
- Some shores, especially those facing the north side, can receive a deep ocean swell (ola de fondo) coming from the northern currents. At certain locations, wet landings can be quite an adventure.
- Massive arrival of Galapagos albatrosses to Española. Amazing courtship rituals start.
- End of hatching season of the giant tortoises.
- Eggs of green sea turtles begin to hatch.
- Eggs of land iguanas hatch on Isabela.
- While the rains have ended, the islands remain quite green and tropical looking.
- Good visibility in the water for snorkelers.
- Blue-footed boobies have started their courtship.
- Sea turtles are still hatching.
- Palo santo trees begin to shed their foliage.
- Galapagos albatrosses on Española start laying their eggs.
- Band-rumped storm petrels begin their first nesting period.
- Although anytime of the year is great for exploring Galapagos, scholars agree that April, May and June bring best of both worlds, as the two seasons (hot and dry) interbreed here and produce outstanding weather and wildlife encounters.
- Beginning of the dry season.
- Giant tortoises on Santa Cruz Island migrate from the highlands to the lowlands in search of suitable nesting places.
- Beginning of the nesting season of giant tortoises.
- South east trade winds return. Currents become a bit stronger. Seas gradually pick up in some surge and wave action.
- Male magnificent frigatebirds on North Seymour display their red pouches.
- Southern migrants have started their journey towards the north. Galapagos is a rest stop for such birds. Some species of cetaceans also follow this pattern of migration.
- Some groups of humpback whales that migrate up to equatorial latitudes along the coast of Ecuador can reach the Galapagos too.
- Sea bird communities are very active (breeding), especially the Blue footed boobies on Española.
- Flightless cormorants perform beautiful courtship rituals and nesting activities on Fernandina.
- If you walk along the shores of Puerto Egas (Santiago Island) or Punta Suarez (Española Island) you could find American oystercatchers nesting.
- Lava lizards initiate mating rituals until November.
- Cetaceans (whales & dolphins) are likely to be observed, especially off the western coast of Isabela and Fernandina, although these encounters can happen anytime.
- Great month to see the four stages of nesting in Blue footed boobies: eggs, chicks, juveniles and sub-adults.
- Water temperature does not reach more than 21°C (68°F). The use of wet suits is highly recommended (all of our programs have wet suits).
- Galapagos hawks court on Española and Santiago.
- Nazca boobies and swallow-tailed gulls nest on Genovesa Island.
- The temperature of the ocean drops to a minimum of 18°C (64°F). Wet suits are a must in the water.
- Southern migrants start to arrive, and stay on the islands until the beginning of the hot season.
- Giant tortoises return to the highlands of Santa Cruz.
- Oceans could get a little choppy, currents at some locations can be a bit strong, and some surge can be expected along the shores that face west or south.
- Pupping season (births) of sea lions has started. Western and central islands are common places for such sightings.
- Peak of the dry season.
- Galapagos penguins show remarkable activity on Bartolome. Since May, swimmers and snorkelers have been delighted at Bartolome or Isabela with penguins active at the surface or torpedo-like while underwater.
- Sea lions are very active. Females have reached estrus stage, and so harem-gathering males are constantly barking and fighting. Shore fighting is heavy. The western and central islands are the most active ones in terms of sea lions’ activities.
- Most species of sea birds remain quite active at their nesting sites.
- The islands are at their driest level ever, showing a low relative humidity of barely 47%. It is quite strange to know these islands are tropical, yet they resemble desert plateaus.
- Lava herons start nesting until the beginning of the hot season.
- The Galapagos fur seals begin their mating period.
- Blue-footed boobies raise chicks all over Española and Punta Vicente Roca (Isabela).
- Giant tortoises are still laying eggs.
- Days are not excessively hot or sunny. Garúa (fine drizzle) can be expected at some locations, except the western islands where most days have a misty start but after few hours of daylight it burns off.
- Sunrises in the west can be quite beautiful after the garúa covers only certain locations of the western volcanoes. Summits are clear, but low-lying fog covers the shoreline.
- Pupping of sea lions continues.
- Sea lions are sexually active on the eastern part of the archipelago.
- Breeding season for the brown noddies.
- Band-rumped storm petrels begin their second nesting period.
- Seas are gradually turning calm. South east trade winds have decreased strength. Water temperatures are slowly rising.
- Generally great weather due to transition between the dry season and the hot season.
- Sea lion pups (especially at Champion Islet) do playful aqua aerobics next to snorkelers. Most pups here are curious enough to nibble at snorkelers’ fins. The average age of most pups is 3-4 months.
- Hatching of giant tortoise eggs begins and lasts until April.
- Green sea turtles display their mating behaviour.
- The hot season officially starts. All plants in the dry zone start producing leaves. Galapagos gradually becomes “emerald green”.
- The first young Galapagos albatrosses fledge.
- Great weather with sunny days as the dry season officially ends and the hot season gradually starts.
Our advice to many of our guests who plan to return to the islands is to do so at a different time of the year than your first voyage. Then you will see the islands from another perspective that will bring many more enchanting surprises. Every day is a day of discovery when you visit the Galapagos Islands!!