A cruise to the Galapagos Islands is a bucket-list worthy trip that I personally dreamt about for years. And when I finally went, it was every bit as amazing as I expected! The landscapes are otherworldly, and the wildlife is unique and unafraid of humans, making for such a memorable trip.
But when I was planning my small-ship Galapagos cruise, a big question I had was about what exactly I needed to pack. What would the hiking be like? Did I need any special clothing? Were mosquitos an issue? What type of shoes should I bring?
Some of these questions could be answered by various articles online and some questions directed at the tour company I booked with. But some of them were only definitively answered by just going and finding out for myself.
So, to help YOU know what to wear in the Galapagos and figure out what to pack for a Galapagos cruise, I decided to write this detailed post! It’s 100% based on my own experience on a 7-night Galapagos cruise I took with my dad, and all the things we did/didn’t use.
What you REALLY need to pack for the Galapagos
This first list represents my personal must-haves for a Galapagos cruise, from clothing to sun protection to other extras you’ll be happy you brought.
(If you’re just here to see my full Galapagos packing list, keep scrolling!)
The 10 things I think you need the most in the Galapagos are:
- Serious sun protection – The sun at the equator is NO JOKE. It (and its UV rays) are much stronger in this part of the world, and your skin burns quicker and more easily. I packed a mixture of sun-blocking clothing (this Columbia shirt is my favorite) and SPF 50+ mineral sunscreen to help protect me from the equatorial sun. (My favorite sunscreens are all listed further down!)
- Seasickness meds – The Galapagos Islands are further apart than most people realize, and open water can be rough year-round (it’s roughest from July-October). Packing seasickness meds is never a bad idea, especially if you’re prone to it! I had no issues while taking Dramamine (active ingredient Meclizine) prophylactically every day, and also packed a ReliefBand, just to be safe.
- Multiple swimsuits – You’ll be swimming/snorkeling at least 1-2 times per day, sometimes directly after hiking. So unless you constantly want to be putting on a wet swimsuit, pack at least 2-3 you can rotate through!
- Wet brush or detangler – Frequent swimming in salt water can be rough on longer hair especially, so I recommend packing a good detangler spray and/or detangler brush. Believe it or not, the TikTok viral Unbrush is an excellent detangling brush, and it’s what I brought with me to the Galapagos.
- Day pack – You’ll be on and off the ship quite a bit to go on hikes and beach walks. You’ll always want to have water and sunscreen with you, plus probably your camera and a place to stow an extra layer. I highly recommend a good daypack – I brought a lightweight REI daypack (the Flash 22 is what I took), while my dad went with a larger chest/hip pack option.
- Reusable water bottle – You’ll want to bring your own reusable water bottle on this trip. Single-use plastic bottles are actually banned in the Galapagos, and not all ships will provide water bottles (but they’ll all provide ample drinking water). I love my Camelbak Chute bottle; mine has been to so many countries with me.
- Hiking shoes and sandals – I was happy to have both lightweight hiking shoes and a pair of hiking sandals with me for the different terrain we encountered. Whatever you bring, make sure you can put them on easily, as you’ll be doing many wet landings and then will put your shoes on on the beach.
- Ship shoes – You also may want to bring a pair of flip flops or slip-ons to wear on the ship; our ship had a strict “no outside shoes indoors” rule, meaning the shoes you wore onboard could only be worn onboard. Plenty of people went barefoot though!
- Phone lanyard or dry bag – A small dry bag is never a bad idea since you’ll be doing wet landings, but what actually came in more handy for me was a phone lanyard to ensure my phone never fell out of my pocket on zodiac rides or hikes. Some people brought waterproof phone pouches on lanyards, which kind of did double duty.
- GoPro for video – While a phone in a waterproof pouch is fine, for truly great underwater footage of things like playful sea lions, penguins, sharks, and more, using a dedicated action camera like a GoPro really is ideal. You can even get an older model – all my underwater footage was shot on a Hero 7 Black!
Things you don’t need to pack
A few things that you might consider packing but probably don’t *really* need to pack include:
- Fancy clothes – You’re going to be wearing hiking clothes and swimsuits and be slathered in sunscreen most of the day. “Dressing” for dinner on a Galapagos cruise is not really an expected thing, so don’t bother with anything fancy if you don’t want to pack it. I wore linen pants and a soft t-shirt to dinner every night.
- Your own towel – My dad and I did pack our own quick-dry towels for the beach, but ended up barely using them. Our ship provided ample towels, including small towels to dry our feet after wet landings, and warm-out-of-the-dryer beach towels anytime we came back onboard after swimming or snorkeling.
- Your own wetsuit and snorkel mask – You CAN bring your own wetsuit and mask/snorkel (and some people opt to bring their own masks if they are serious divers/snorkelers, or if they use a prescription mask), but you don’t have to. Your cruise ship should supply a mask, snorkel, and fins for your whole trip, as well as wetsuits if the water is cold enough.
- Water shoes – The same goes for water shoes; pack some if you want (my dad did), but you don’t really need them. The beaches we walked on and swam at generally had really soft sand, and anywhere else we went you could wear sandals or hiking shoes.
- Mosquito repellent – Mosquitos aren’t a huge problem in the Galapagos – most of the islands are too dry and lack standing fresh water for them to breed in. You still might want some bug repellent for other biting insects (flies were the main bugs we ran into), but you don’t need to stress about mosquito spray.
- A big telephoto lens – If you even bring a good camera (plenty of people just bring their phones these days!), you don’t necessarily NEED a huge telephoto lens. You can get up close to so much of the wildlife that a zoom lens might actually make some situations tricky. A big lens might be good for some bird photography, but for everything else you don’t need it. (I use a Tamron 28-200mm lens on my Sony A7iii, and took all my Galapagos photos on that.)
(You can of course bring whatever you want from this list! At the end of the day, you do you.)
Full Galapagos packing list
Here’s my full list of what to wear in the Galapagos on a Galapagos cruise:
The bag(s) I used
First off, I’m still traveling with my trusty Osprey Sojourn rolling travel pack. This thing is a beast, and has survived nearly a decade of world travel!
And like I mentioned above, I brought an REI Flash 22 pack as a day pack.
I also brought a small cross-body anti-theft purse, which was useful for our time in Quito (where pickpocketing is indeed something to look out for).
Clothing for the Galapagos (for women)
Wondering what to wear in the Galapagos Islands? The key here is clothing that is lightweight, breathable, and comfortable enough to hike in and climb in/out of zodiac boats in. Bonus if it’s clothing that includes some sun protection (because, again, the sun is no joke here!).
Here’s what to pack for the Galapagos:
- 2 merino t-shirts (great for moisture-wicking, and also odor-blocking)
- 2-3 active t-shirts
- 2 active tanks/crop tops
- 2-3 lightweight long-sleeved sun shirts (I especially love this Columbia one)
- 3 pairs of biker shorts or hiking leggings (I would have used my biker shorts for snorkeling, too, if we hadn’t been provided wetsuits; no one wants sunburnt butt cheeks!)
- 1-2 pairs of capris or long shorts (like these or these)
- 1 pair of light hiking pants
- 1 pair of linen pants
- 1 set of pajamas
- 2-3 swimsuits
- Underwear, bras, socks (including compression socks for the plane)
- Raincoat (this Columbia one is my go-to)
- 1 wide-brimmed sunhat
- 1 baseball cap
Clothing for the Galapagos (for men)
Shoes for the Galapagos
Tech I packed
- Camera with extra battery and memory card
- GoPro camera (or an Insta360 would also work)
- Chargers (I like this Anker charging strip)
- US wall outlet adapter (Ecuador uses the same plugs as the US)
- Kindle or tablet
- Be sure to download what you need in advance; you likely won’t have cell signal or wifi for most of your cruise!
Toiletries to pack
- Seasickness meds
- SeaBands (or a ReliefBand)
- Sunscreen (my favorite mineral ones below)
- Detangler brush or spray (or both)
- Shampoo and soap bars
- Good conditioner
- Aloe lotion (in case of sunburn)
- Eye drops (my eyes got really dry from all the saltwater!)
- Bug spray or bug repellent lotion (mostly for horseflies)
- Electrolyte packets (great for trips when you sweat a lot)
- Basic first aid kit (with Band-Aids, pain relievers, sleep aid, etc.)
- Decongestant (by the end of our cruise, many people had stuffy noses from so much ocean swimming)
And for a good toiletry bag, I love me a good hanging bag. This Sea to Summit one is great if you don’t have a ton of stuff, while this larger hanging bag (I have the XL size) is excellent for a longer trip.
Misc + money
- Sunglasses (polarized are best)
- Day pack (I liked the Flash 22 from REI for this trip)
- Reusable water bottle (I love my Camelbak Chute bottle)
- Small dry bag
- Phone lanyard
- Buff or headband (mostly to protect the scalp when you don’t have a hat on)
- Optional: Quick-dry towel
- Optional: Hiking pole(s) (my dad brought one of his own, though our ship also provided some)
- Optional: Your own mask/snorkel
- Optional: Deck of cards or small games for onboard (remember, no wifi or cell signal!)
You also NEED $120 USD in cash for this trip. $20 is needed to purchase a INGALA Tourist Control Card (TCT) before you fly to the Galapagos, and $100 cash is required when you arrive in the Galapagos to pay the Galapagos National Park entrance fee.
You also want to have some cash (Ecuador uses the US dollar) on hand so you can tip your guide and crew! Our ship did have one credit card machine to close out bar tabs (alcohol was the only thing we had to pay for once we got onboard), but cash is required for tips.
I hope this post was helpful for you to figure out what to pack for a Galapagos cruise of your own!
Basically, no one cares what you look like on an active, outdoorsy trip like this. As long as you’re prepared to be outside in the sun and water all day, you’ll be good! Pack for sun protection and comfort first, and fashion last.
And most of all, pack your sense of adventure! This is the trip of a lifetime, and you’re gonna love it.
Do you have any other questions about packing for a Galapagos cruise, or what people wear in the Galapagos? Let me know!
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Amanda Williams is the award-winning blogger behind A Dangerous Business Travel Blog. She has traveled to more than 60 countries on 6 continents from her home base in Ohio, specializing in experiential and thoughtful travel through the US, Europe, and rest of the world. Amanda only shares tips based on her personal experiences and places she’s actually traveled!