Frequently asked questions
The Galapagos Islands are a year-round destination with perfect holiday weather; wildlife is teeming throughout the year, and each season has its own charm. The overall climate is quiet and warm, and unusually dry for the tropics, saving local micro-climates in the moist highlands. The weather is calm as well; the islands aren’t located on the path of cyclones or tropical storms.
Although this archipelago is situated on the equator, the climate can actually only be characterised as tropical in the first half of the year. This ‘hot season’ never gets excessively hot, but has a very intense equatorial sun, blue skies, alternated with some rain or an occasional shower. From about June to the end of the year, it is the cooler, dryer and overcast ‘garúa season’. Despite being called the ‘cool season’, these months still enjoy pleasant summer weather most of the time, and give the opportunity to avoid the most intense sunshine.
Interplay of ocean currents
The overall climate of these Pacific islands is regulated by an interplay of no less than five ocean currents that meet. The most influential players are the cold Humboldt Current, arriving from the Antarctic and the tropical Panama and Equatorial Counter Currents.
In the cool season, roughly between June and November, the south-eastern trade winds push dominant cold waters from the south to the Galapagos, cooling the air and water temperatures. These rich waters also bring large quantities of food for seabirds and their chicks. Condensation at an altitude of just 300-600m (1000-2000ft) forms a light overcast sky (especially in July and August) which is usually broken open by the burning afternoon sun. In the south-eastern highlands these clouds appear as a fine drizzling fog, locally known as garúa. In August and September the sea becomes somewhat rougher as well. For sailing, weather conditions are generally are ok from June to November and most favourable from July to September, when winds are strongest.
In the hot season, from December till about April, the trade winds calm and the Humboldt Current is no longer strong enough to invade the tropical waters of the Pacific currents. Supported by prevailing eastern winds, warmer waters enter the archipelago (comfortable for snorkelling). Moist air can evaporate freely and clear the overcast sky, but form higher rain clouds while day temperatures rise. Highest temperatures are in March (sometimes over 30˚C or 86˚F). Seas are generally at their calmest from January to April.
During the transitional months weather is changeable, and shows the characteristics of both seasons. The start of each season tends to vary yearly and the change can take over a month.
Every few years (irregular) the tropical currents are more powerful and cause a climate phenomenon known as ‘El Niño’, named after Jesus, both born at the end of December (last occurrences in 1997-1998, 2002-2003, 2004-2005, 2006-2007 and 2015-2016). The causes are not fully understood yet and are a serious matter of scientific investigation. The consequences may be severe for human, marine and seabird life, although present Galapagos species have proved to be able to survive longer periods of considerably warmer waters and scarce food. Nevertheless, Galapagos penguins and flightless cormorants are very vulnerable to this phenomenon, while the larger populations of Galapagos sea lions and blue-footed boobies suffer as well. Land birds, on the other hand, thrive during ‘El Niño’ years.
Within this general climate story, the Galapagos Islands owe their wealth and variety mainly to the diverging microclimates. It has no less than 7 different climate zones, contributing to Ecuador’s amazing biodiversity! While the south-eastern highlands receive the most rain and are covered by dense escalesia cloud forests, the northern slopes lie in the rain shadow and have a completely different look.
The same applies to seawater temperatures. These tend to vary strongly locally, ranging from 16˚C-28˚C (60˚F-82˚F) on the surface, depending on the season, the depth of the water, currents, among other factors. West from Isabela, where the Cromwell Current wells up from the deep sea, snorkelling waters are coldest and a wetsuit is recommended to be able to stay longer in the water (and for divers: Darwin and Wolf are surrounded by very cold waters).
Although the Galapagos may have calm and perfect holiday weather, the harsh reality is that its climate is tough for species that have to cope with it; and it is a critical element for natural selection; not only due to a lack of fresh water, but also dramatic climate changes such as El Niño.
Line charts (both in ˚F and ˚C)
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