Understanding the Weather of the Galapagos
The Galapagos Islands are blessed with a climate that means there’s never really a bad time to visit. Visitor numbers to each of the islands are strictly monitored by the national park conservancy, however, so most wildlife holidays in Galapagos tend to be in the same peak periods in order to minimise the impact on the habitat and animal species.
While the archipelago is on the Equator, the weather is not tropical. It has its own microclimate that could best be defined as sub-tropical in nature. There are two seasons – the dry season and the wet season – and, while it can be visited year round, the best wildlife holidays in Galapagos tend to be centred around the months between November and February.
Fast Facts on the Galapagos Climate
• The weather in the archipelago is governed by the ocean currents. It is at the convergence of three major currents: the Humboldt, the Panama and the Cromwell.
• Even though the archipelago is located in the tropics it has a unique microclimate, which is surprisingly dry.
• The El Niño weather phenomenon occurs every 5-7 years, causing sea levels to rise markedly.
• The El Niño effect can have a negative effect on the marine wildlife of the islands – particularly the sea lions and Marine Iguanas.
• In the warm season, temperatures average from 27ºC to 32ºC and water temperatures are between 21ºC to 26ºC.
• In the dry season, temperatures average from 21ºC to 27ºC and water temperatures are between 18ºC to 24ºC.
• The warmest months are January and February, while the coolest are from May to September.
• Due to its equatorial position, the archipelago has an equal number of daylight and darkness hours throughout the year.
The Warm Season: December to May
The most popular time for wildlife holidays in Galapagos are the months between November and May. Both the air and water temperatures are higher and it is peak breeding time for land birds and nesting turtles.
Although this time of the year is classified as the rainy season, there is also plenty of sunshine around. Periods of rain are usually short (although daily), interspersed with warm, sunny stretches. The islands are teeming with active wildlife and the warmer oceans provide calm seas and better visibility, making the perfect conditions for snorkelling and swimming.
The Dry Season: June to December
In the dry season, the Humboldt Current coming from the southernmost reaches of South America sets a chill in the ocean and the trade winds bring colder and often stormy weather. Mist settles around the high altitudes – this is the time the highlands are at their most verdant and lush. Due to the nutrient-rich waters brought by the southern currents, there are huge numbers of fish in the waters surrounding the archipelago. This results in a greater number of seabirds, including penguins and albatross. However, the chillier oceans are not quite as appealing for snorkelers or divers, and guided wildlife holidays in Galapagos are not as frequent.
How the Weather Affects Biodiversity
The islands’ three distinct ecosystems are all strongly affected by the weather patterns. In the years of El Niño, the terrestrial region is abundant with flower and fruit bearing plants, which also causes an increase in the populations of insects and birds. The marine ecosystem thrives with the arrival of the Humboldt Current, but the colder oceanic temperatures mean that the seaweed on which the Marine Iguanas and sea lions rely as a food source is greatly diminished. This causes problems not just in the immediate population, but also sees a decline in reproduction. In the years of La Niña (which produces the opposite conditions to El Niño), the reverse of all these effects is true in all three ecosystems.