Galapagos are a province of Ecuador. Most visitors must travel via mainland Ecuador. Some nationalities are required to obtain visas before arriving in Ecuador. Check with your travel agent or the local Ecuadorian Consul.
There are daily flights to the islands of Baltra, San Cristobal and from 2007 to Villamil on Isabela. If you arrive in Baltra and do not board your boat there, then you must travel by bus and ferry to Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz. Puerto Baquerizo on San Cristobal, Puerto Ayora and Villamil on Isabela have hotels and guesthouses. Reservations are recommended especially during peak seasons, December through March and June through August.
To visit most of the visitor sites you need to travel by boat. The majority of the boats offer cruises around the islands lasting from 3 to 15 days. It takes about 10 days to see all of the best sites, but much depends on the size and speed of the boat you are on. Some boats are available for private charter, or you can just join as an individual. Many tour operators offer group trips, sometimes with special interests such as scuba diving, photography, botany or ornithology.
You should certainly aim for at least a one week cruise, possibly with a 3 or 4 day extension on land to visit the highlands. While it is possible to arrange a number of day trips these are generally less satisfactory than overnight trips as you tend to be visiting the sites during the middle of the day. Wildlife is best viewed and photographed early and late, when it is also cooler. Generally, a boat will visit two sites a day, morning and afternoon, possibly with swimming, snorkelling or scuba diving in between.
Remember that you are close to the equator and the sun rises around 0600 and sets at about 1800 every day, all year round, so an early start is always recommended. Some of the larger boats remain on continental time to ensure an early start.
There is no ‘best time to visit’, but it is warmer and may be wet from December through April, the warm season, and cooler from June through November, the garua season. The one endemic species that is absent for a period of the year is the Waved Albatross Phoebastria irrorata, which arrives in April and leaves by mid-December. If you are worried about seasickness, consider a larger boat and remember that the sea is generally calmer in the warm season than in the garua season.
Darwin’s first thoughts on the islands were not complimentary: ‘The country was compared to what we might imagine the cultivated parts of the Infernal regions to be.’ He was I think you will agree, being singularly ungenerous. The Galapagos Islands are a very special place and will have a very special impact on you.